tree with bonsai wire on the branches

The Ultimate Guide to Bonsai Wiring for Beginners

Bonsai Wiring Guide For Beginners

Bonsai wiring is a standard practice in bonsai but it does come with a few cautions and lessons that need to be learnt first to ensure success. In this article we hope answer some of the common questions beginners have when it comes to bonsai wire and wiring bonsai trees, some of the topics covered in this article are
  • Bonsai Wire, Copper Vs Aluminium
  • Bonsai Wire Thickness, Why Its Important
  • Bonsai Wire Size Chart
  • When Is The Best Time To Wire Bonsai
  • Bonsai Wire Alternatives
  • How To Remove Bonsai Wire
  • Bonsai Wire Damage, Do Bonsai Wire Scars Heal?
So now that we know what will be covered in this article lets jump straight into it.

Bonsai Wire, Copper Vs Aluminium

We have covered this numerous times in other articles but it is a very common question that beginners have when they begin shopping for bonsai wire. They will go to their favorite bonsai nursery or online bonsai store that sells bonsai wire and come across 2 options, copper or aluminium.
aluminium bonsai wire
Aluminium Bonsai WireAluminium Bonsai Wire is the best wire for beginners to start off with for all trees. There are a few reasons for this, It is a cheaper wire so it will be more forgiving to your wallet if you make mistakes and have to cut the wire back off the tree and try again. Wasted copper wire can be expensive so practicing first with aluminium is a great way to ensure your not wasting money. Aluminium is also a litte bit easier to apply to a tree so as a beginner before you have honed your wiring skills this is a good way to ensure minimal damage to your branches. Aluminium how ever stands out a lot more then copper and also doesn’t hold branches in place as well as copper does.
Pros : Cheap and forgiving to mistakes
Cons : Stands out and doesn’t hold bends as well
copper bonsai wire
Copper Bonsai Wire : So this is basically the opposite of everything that was just said about the aluminium wire. Copper bonsai wire is more expensive to purchase, in most cases it can be double the price for the same amount of wire. Copper is also slightly harder to apply to the tree so having confidence and good wiring skills is recommended before trying to use copper. But like mentioned earlier copper wire is more incognito on the tree which is why is preferred by professionals and enthusiasts not only at home in their personal collections but for trees being displayed. When a tree is displayed you don’t want people concentrating on any wire that you have on the tree so having a wire that is harder to see is a bonus. Because copper wire is annealed this makes it a bit softer to apply then just regular copper wire but once you bend it the wire will harden again giving you a stronger hold preventing branches from bouncing back after wiring. This also means that you can use a slightly smaller gauge of wire to hold bends then if you were to use aluminium.
Pros : Is harder to see on trees and has a stronger hold
Cons : Is more expensive and less forgiving to mistakes

Bonsai Wire Thickness, Why Its Important

A common mistake I see in beginners wiring technique is choosing the incorrect thickness of wire for either trunks or branching. Wire that is too small wont do anything and will just waste your wire, on the other hand wire that is too thick increased your chances of damaging the tree during application.
I recommend that if you are starting out in bonsai you try to get each size of wire on hand so you are not tempted to use the wrong size because you want to wire your tree and you don’t have the correct size on hand. We do have a Bonsai Wire Starter pack that gives you 1 roll in each size at a discounted price to get you started.
A good rule of thumb for working out the thickness of wire you need is the wire should be 1/3 the thickness of the branch. Now this can change sometimes as some species of trees are a little more stubborn then others. Another trick you can use is pull out about 20mm of wire from your roll and push it down on the branch, if the wire bends up and the branch stays still the wire is too thin, but if the branch moves and the wire doesn’t bend then the wire will hold ok. Obviously with this technique you will want to start with smaller wire and work your way up until you find the size that doesn’t move.
Now I should also mention that as a branch gets more lignified ( harder wood ) the less the 1/3 guide will work. You may need to move up to close to half the size of the branch in terms of wire thickness. Also remember that because this is a beginners guide we are mainly talking about aluminium but I will mention that choosing the correct size copper wire will be different again but knowing what size copper to use normally comes with hands on experience.
You can also run 2 wires side by side if you need extra holding capacity. So if you only have 2mm wire but you needed 4mm wire you can run 2x 2mm wires next to each other to make up for that holding capacity. This is also a good trick if you are working on trees with very brittle branching. Its easier to apply 2 smaller wires then a single larger wire.

Bonsai Wire Size Chart


bonsai wire size chart


When Is The Best Time To Wire Bonsai

You might think that wiring bonsai seems like something you can do anytime, which is some what true. But if you want optimal results and to minimize your chance of damaging your tree with bonsai wire lets have a chat about when the best times to wire your tree might be.
Winter : Me personally i usually don’t wire anything in winter, the reason is that in winter the trees are dormant and for a branch to hold properly it needs it fibers to set in place, this usually happens as the branch is growing and new fibers grow in the direction of the wiring and set. This means that the branches wont begin to hold until spring. With deciduous tree a lot of the branching is brittle during the dormant season so breaks and damage or more likely to occur and the amount the branches set will be less then in the optimal times.
Spring : This is another season I usually don’t recommend wiring in, there are 2 main reasons. The first is that the trees are growing so fast and swelling quickly so you are taking the wire off as quick as you are putting it on. Most trees will hold the shape but if you miss taking the wire off you can end up with scaring which may or may not be ok ( we will talk about that soon ). The second reason is spring is when the tree is growing new tissues such as cambium, at this time of year they are very wet and prone to tearing, which means if you bend a branch too much you can tear the inner tissues of the branch or trunk. Most of the times the branch will survive but if you bend it in too many directions you could essentially stop all flow of water and nutrients to the branch causing die back or a complete loss of a branch. You also want to avoid wiring branch new fleshy growth as it is very prone to just tearing straight off the tree.
Summer : This is usually the start of my wiring season, I have allowed the trees to flush in spring and I am now trimming back and making minor adjustments to first, secondary and tertiary branching.
These are usually just smaller movements to redirect branches or adjust the tips that have began to grow back up towards the sun during the growing season. You can also now do some minor wiring on the new shoots that grew in spring as they should now be semi lignified and less likely to tear off the tree. Still proceed with caution though.
Autumn : This is my season for major bending and for wiring deciduous trees. Lets start with deciduous. I usually wire in autumn within 2 weeks of leaf drop. The reason for this is as the leaves drop off the tree it is easier to apply wire with less in your way, But why within 2 weeks of leave drop? Well remember when I said earlier about branches setting when the fibers set? Well a similar thing happens with our deciduous trees after leaf fall. Once the leaves have dropped the branches begin to harden as they move resources back into the trunk. This will allow the branches to set how you wired them with very minimal chance of wire scars. Just remember to remove the wire before spring begins.
Now lets talk about larger bends, you will want to do this during autumn as this is the time when all those new tissues that grew this season have began to harden and set so there is less chance of internal damage on the tree. Autumn is also somewhat of a goldy locks season, its not too hot and its not too cold. This means the tree will be under less stress during its recovery stage after the major bends have been done. It is recommended how ever that if you live in a cold environment with snow and frost during winter that you protect any trees that have had major work done during autumn in a green house or an unheated garage or basement.
I should point out this is just my mind set and procedure for wiring and some other teachers may have different thoughts or techniques so it will be up to you to decide what makes more sense for you and also your environment. Some places are very different to where I live so this could change when wiring is performed but with the information I have about you should be able to figure out when the best times in your environment would be.

Bonsai Wire Alternatives

I often have people ask me is there anything else I can use to wire a bonsai tree beside copper or aluminium wire. My answer is always no. The only time that though should cross your mind is if you can not get aluminium or copper bonsai wire anywhere. Usually when im asked this question these people are standing right next to a wall covered in copper and aluminium wire so availability is not an issue for them, its usually just trying to get away with a cheaper way of doing it with stuff laying around the house. Most other wires are too stiff and hard to apply which will cause damage.
If you are in a situation how ever that you can in no way either in person or online get access to copper or aluminium wire then I would suggest some alternative ways to shape your trees such as clip and grow which just involves shaping the tree through strategic pruning. Or some people hang weights on branches to move them but this gives very lazy soft bends in the tree which doesn’t usually look any good.

How To Remove Bonsai Wire

When removing bonsai wire it is good practice to take as much caution as you did applying the wire, you can do just as much damage during removal as you can during application. There are 2 ways to remove bonsai wire, 1 way is to un coil it which can be risky as the branch can flex and break if you are not supporting the back end of the wire properly while you are un coiling the front. This technique can be used but just be cautious and learn the proper technique. The 2nd way to remove wire is by cutting it off with special bonsai wire cutters. These wire cutters are designed with a rounded nose to prevent from cutting into the branch or trunk during wire removal. Cutting the wire off in section down each rotation of the wire is the safest and easiest method for wire removal.
People often try to uncoil wire so they can straighten it back out and re use it but I wouldn’t suggest this as once the wire has been used once it is now weaker and wont hold as well. Also you never get it perfectly straight again so when you re apply the wire with all the little kinks in it they can stick into your bark and cause bruising and damage.

Bonsai Wire Damage, Do Bonsai Wire Scars Heal?

This is a Yes and No Answer. On a deciduous tree you will likely never get rid of scaring as the bark is very thin on most deciduous trees with not a lot of thick barking. On most ever greens and conifers you have a much thicker callus and also barking which can completely get rid of even major wire bit and scarring. So it comes down to the species ultimately. Take extra care with your deciduous tree because if they bite in you might need to cut the branch back and try again if you are going for a scar free appearance. Most junipers and black pines will completely heal and you wont even see evidence of the scaring or wire bite on the tree, I have done this time and time again. If your wire has bitten in so far that you cant cut it out then un coil the wire out of the scar with great caution so you don’t do any more damage that has already been done. If you did have wire bite on your tree that was deep then if you wire that branch again make sure you coil the wire in the exact same direction otherwise if it bites in deep again there is a risk of ring barking your tree.
I hope this article has helped give you some useful information on wiring bonsai trees and some considerations you can take moving forward. Don’t forget to check out our range of wire we sell online with shipping to most parts of the world.

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Author : Joshua Hooson

Joshua Hooson is an author and enthusiast of the art of bonsai. He has built his knowledge and understanding of bonsai through a combination of self-experience, lessons learned through hands-on practice, and extensive research. His articles reflect his passion for the subject and offer insights gained through his own personal journey in the world of bonsai. All the information provided in his works is a result of his own experiences and the knowledge he has gained through his studies. He is dedicated to sharing his love of bonsai and helping others grow in their understanding and appreciation of this ancient and beautiful art form.

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