- David Hale
Wiring is a core skill in bonsai and a very important part of the art form. Applying wire to your tree allows you to add interest and drama to a composition, as well as maintain the shape of more established trees with a vigorous phototropic habit (growing strong upwards towards light).
Many beginners are unsure how old a bonsai tree should be before wiring, which means they can sometimes be overcautious when it comes to applying wire.
If that's you, don't worry! We've all been there.
Let's take a look at when you should start wiring a bonsai tree, and why it's a good idea to apply wire as early as possible.
When to start wiring a bonsai tree
The term 'bonsai tree' is very broad and can mean different things to different people. We are going to approach the topic of when to start wiring from the very early stages of pre-bonsai material through to collected yamadroi.
Wiring a bonsai sapling grown from seed
If you have started with a bonsai tree seed kit, then the first two years of your tree's life should be spent growing roots and developing vascular tissue by thickening its trunk.A bonsai tree should be 3 years old or more when you first start to wire it.
When your tree is this young, it will have a very thin and flexible trunk. This means it is the best time to add dramatic movement through the use of wire.
These Scots Pine seedlings are 3 years old and now ready to be wired.
Saplings this young are generally extremely supple and bendable, so there is very little danger of damaging the tree.
The older and thicker the tree gets, the more brittle its trunk and branches will become. This will reduce the degree to which you can bend and also increase the risk of snapping the branches or the trunk.
If you have a seedling that is past the 3-year mark and you haven't wired it, then go for it! There's no time like the present.
Wiring a nursery stock tree as a bonsai
Buying a nursery plant and turning it into a bonsai is still one of my favourite things to do. It's also the best thing I would recommend a beginner do to build a collection and practice their skills.
Nursery trees are generally cheap, healthy and tolerant of potential mishandling by someone who is still learning the basics.
Once you've bought a nursery tree there are generally two approaches you can take.
The first is to start developing the root system. This means waiting for late winter/early spring to roll around (the best time to repot) and repotting into a bonsai pot. You should leave the foliage untouched, so it can fuel the development of new roots in the bonsai container.
The second approach is to style the tree in its nursery container. Once it has had a year or 18 months to recover and re-grow some foliage, you can then safely repot to a bonsai container.
Recently wired larch sapling. It would be very difficult to get this kind of movement in an old/bigger tree.
There is no right or wrong answer to this. If I'm buying nursery trees at any time after the repotting season I will generally style them first, because I'm far too impatient to start developing the tree.
Nursery trees are generally anywhere between 5 and 15 years old, and if you've decided to style them before repotting you can go ahead and wire them as soon as you want.
Note that seedlings and nursery trees will probably grow fast, and you may need to remove wire from your bonsai trees earlier than with older, more established specimens.
You should also be aware that it is not a great idea to wire some species (such as larch) when they have foliage, as this can get in the way of the wire causing damage to the tree.
Other trees, such as Spruce bonsai, are very flexible and can take a long time to hold the new branch position. Startinng as early as possible will help with this.
Styling a tree collected from the wild (yamadori)
Yamadori trees have a certain character and wildness that is very hard to replicate. As with the term 'bonsai', 'yamadori' is used as a wide umbrella term for 'tree collected from the wild'.
The way you approach a piece of yamadori mostly depends on the tree itself, but all trees should be left alone for at least a year after collection to help them recover and acclimatise. You really need to focus on precise watering during this time.
After that, you need to consider the age, health and characteristics of the tree.
Young and healthy trees can be handled sooner, but older trees should be given longer to recover. This means leaving them for two or three years, or sometimes longer. The sign that your tree is ready to be worked on is when it starts producing vigorous growth.
I would usually recommend styling a piece of yamadori before repotting it, so the roots have a longer period in the collection container to establish themselves.
The benefits of wiring a bonsai tree at a young age
There are a few reasons to start wiring your tree as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
Firstly, as mentioned above, the younger the tree is when you first wire it, the easier and safer it will be. This applies to nursery trees as well as seedlings. The younger a tree is when you style it, the more drama and extreme movement you'll be able to create. This will set the tree up to be the best bonsai it can be as it grows and develops.
Secondly, wiring a tree can help its growth and development. If you are following sound wiring practices, then you should be laying out your branches in a way that means they do not cross or cover each other. This means all foliage in the tree will be receiving the most amount of sunlight it can. Since the tree generates its energy from sunlight, this will help the tree grow and develop, and will also reduce the chances of branches being shaded out and dropped by the tree.
Finally, if you have a nursery tree or a piece of yamadori sitting in an ugly (albeit functional) container, having it wired and styled will make it a much nicer feature in your garden, and since bonsai is all about making trees look good, why wouldn't we want that?
I hope you've found this helpful and now feel empowered to wire your bonsai trees as soon as you can! Don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list to hear about our latest updates.