As time has gone on, you have checked off all the boxes in caring for your bonsai tree. You watered it. You pruned and trimmed it. You repotted as needed. You even successfully managed to bring your bonsai back from the brink of death!
So… now what? Your bonsai does not look like any of the pictures or any of the movies you have seen that featured bonsai trees as a background image.
You have developed a system of repotting and basic pruning, but you aren’t sure about how to work at the shaping component you keep reading about.
Then, while chatting with a friend who has been working with bonsais for a little while longer, she throws out the phrase “wire training” and acts as if you know exactly what she means.
But, in reality, you don’t.
To save face, you nod along as she discusses the pros and cons of wire selection and try to make a mental note of everything you need to look up after your coffee date.
And, now, here you are! Confused and concerned, but ready to move to the next stage with your bonsai. I mean, after all, you have been going through the motions for a couple of years now. It is about time your bonsai start to look like the ones you see in the pictures.
So, let’s do this!
Why is it important to wire train your bonsai tree?
Wire training your bonsai tree is when the true artistry of working this plant is shown. Another important thing to note is that wire training is vital to the successful development of your bonsai tree.
For the sake of clarification, the basic concept behind wire training for bonsai trees is using wire to shape the branches into desired growing patterns. Now that we are all talking about the same thing, it is time to delve into some of the finer details that will get you headed in the right direction with your bonsai.
There are two ways to use wire with the branches: single-wire and double-wire.
The single-wire approach is when you use one wire for one branch. This allows you to shape the individual branches unique of one another.
The double-wire approach is when you use one wire to train to nearby branches. This creates uniformity with the branches and helps with stability as the branches grow.
Important Things to Remember About Wire Training Your Bonsai Tree
It is often said that tending to your bonsai tree is a never-ending journey. In fact, that is one of the reasons so many choose to adopt this gardening lifestyle. It is cathartic to continuously cultivate your tree. With this journey in mind, there are two important factors to remember as you embark on this next leg of the journey.
1. Pruning is essential
This is true of general bonsai care and well-being, but pruning is especially important before and during the wire training periods. It is only through active pruning that the branches will be able to grow appropriately following the wired patterns.
2. Health is wealth
Only work to use wire training when your bonsai is in good health. If your bonsai is showing signs of distress, focus your time on nourishing the plant to optimal health. Wire training an unhealthy plant will be more detrimental overall.
When to Start Training a Bonsai Tree
While there are no hard and fast rules for when to start wire training, a generally accepted time frame is about three to five years. Regardless of the length of time, you want to make sure you do not start wire training until after the roots of the tree have been fully established and the trunk is beginning to grow.
Just like if you were to try to start wire training your bonsai that is in poor health, if you try to start the wire training process too soon, the plant will not be developed enough to take on and maintain the shape given by the wire training.
The second question being asked here is: what time of year should you start wire training your bonsai?
This is when you want to refer to the type of tree you have because that will greatly influence when you start wire training each year.
For deciduous trees, you want to start wire training in the early spring. This will need to happen before any new buds appear on the branches. This is because this will allow you to see the branches clearly without obstruction. This time of year will also give you the best access to the branches when you need to place and manipulate wires.
For coniferous trees, you want to start the wire training process during late autumn or early winter. Because the plant development is cyclical, the limbs and branches are never completely bare. However, it is during this time of year that the tree sap in the branches is the lowest, which will help when you begin wire training.
If you have questions about what kind of tree you have, be sure to check out our article: How to Identify A Bonsai Tree.
Another important note about timing is you are best to wait until you have just repotted your bonsai before you start wire training. This is because it will help with stability during the growing process. It is also best to repot right before wire training because it ensures you will not have to repot while the wire is in place and the plant is being shaped.
How Long Do You Leave Wire on a Bonsai Tree?
Another time-related question people often ask when they begin the wire training adventures with their bonsai trees is exactly how long to leave the wire on the branches. I mean, how long does it take the branches to be stuck and grow in a predetermined pattern anyways?
As is the case with most things related to bonsai cultivation, it really just depends on your individual tree. As a generally accepted practice, the wire is to be left on the branches for a few months in order to allow the branches time to set into the sculptured design set by the wire training.
But, as I said, this is just a general rule and is not set in stone. It could take longer, it could take less time. How long you leave the wire on a bonsai tree is more about the results and not about the number of days the wire is wrapped around the branches of your bonsai.
That being said, though, there are a couple of red flags that you should closely monitor your bonsai tree for. First, you should remove the wire once the desired results have been achieved, even if it is sooner than the approximated three months. Also, you should remove the wire if the plant begins showing any signs of distress, particularly if the wire has begun to grow into the branches due to plant growth.
If you leave the wire on too long, you can permanently damage the branches of the tree.
Bonsai Bending Tools
As with anything, before you get started to a task, you need to make sure you have the proper bonsai bending tools to get the job done. Sure, you could probably just wing it and hope for the best, but, given the nature of bonsai trees, it is probably best to invest in the most appropriate tools of the trade.
Most of the items discussed below are sold in stores, and all of it can be purchased on Amazon. You are also usually able to find and purchase bonsai wire training kits that contain all the bending tools you will need for successful wire training.
While it may seem like common sense that wire would be required to start wire training your bonsai, it is important to recognize which wire is best as well as be able to determine the sizing that is needed.
There are two common types of wire that are used for wire training: anodized aluminum and annealed copper.
Anodized aluminum wire is typically used for deciduous trees because it is more malleable. This type of wire is recommended for beginners because it is easier to work with and the most readily available.
Annealed copper is best for conifers and pines because the wire is bulkier and provides more stability during the wire training process. Because of the more sturdy nature, though, the wire is much more difficult to manipulate.
In terms of what is the most appropriate wire size as a bonsai bending tool, you will once again need to refer to your bonsai. As a general rule, the wire should be no more than one-third of the thickness of the branch. You want to make sure that it is thick enough, though, that the wire will not buckle as the branch continues to grow.
To be safe, especially when you are just starting to wire train your bonsai, you should be sure to purchase the following sizes: 1mm, 1.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4mm. This will give you enough sizing variance to accommodate the beginning wire training efforts.
Bonus: Bending Tool Tip from the Pros!
Something not everyone knows is to wrap the branches in raffia (a palm fiber) that has been soaked in water. This will protect the branches from damage from the wires during the bending process. This raffia is available on Amazon and in most gardening centers.
Now You Know… Go Out and Do
Now that you have been given the basics and important tips, the final thought on wire training your bonsai is to remember to be patient. This is definitely not going to be a skill that is mastered overnight.
It will take time. You will struggle. You will get frustrated. But, in truth, that is all part of the circle of bonsai life.
I wish I had the magic pill or secret guide that would make beginning the process of wire training with your bonsai a snap! Unfortunately, while there are basic guidelines and Do’s and Don’ts that have been learned over the years, that magical guide does not exist.
This is because each bonsai must be approached with a unique lens that will be altered based on the amount of watering, plant location, amount of sun exposure, and any number of other factors that you alone have the power to control.
And that is the beauty that exists in growing bonsai trees. You are not simply following an instruction manual verbatim in the hopes of getting a pretty flower at the end. Working, pruning, and wire training a bonsai is so much more.
There is an intuitive nature that exists as well. You have to be able to read the signs from your bonsai to recognize when it is time to start wire training your bonsai. You should be able to identify the best use of wire and shape of the plant to develop.
Yes, you should be able to do these things as part of the healthy development of your bonsai. But this intuitive nature that I am talking about is not something that grows overnight.
This is something that is developed over time spent consistently cultivating your bonsai. With some patience, you will begin to notice how you are more in tune with the needs of your bonsai.
Now, the next step is to begin to express your artistic vision through pruning and wire training your bonsai. But, this skill is also going to take time to develop. Be patient with yourself and this journey.
Remember, especially with wire training and shaping, working with your bonsai is not a sprint or even your typical race. It is an endless journey.
Learn More About Bonsai
Growing a bonsai requires horticultural skill, artistic skill, patience, and dedication. Bonsai trees are fragile pieces of art that need constant and proper care.
As a bonsai artist, you will need to have an extensive understanding on topics including:
* How to get started
* Bonsai History
* Major Bonsai Styles
* Bonsai tree species
* Bonsai specialty tools
* Healthy, Aged appearance
* Trunk line & Branching Patterns
* Potting your Bonsai
*Wiring and Shaping
* Watering & Fertilizing
* Repotting & Seasonal Care
* Displaying your bonsai
If you want to learn these topics quickly and ensure that your bonsai trees thrive, check out this easy-to-follow guide on How To Grow and Care for a Bonsai Tree.