How To Shape Bonsai Trees

Bonsai is a Japanese art form of planting (sai) a tree on a shallow tray or bon. A bonsai uses a plant that is normally started from a seedling, a cutting or a specimen of a very small tree or plant. The plant is trained to a certain shape and kept small according to the rules of bonsai and the aesthetic vision of the planter with the use of pruning, trimming, shaping and wiring. With the proper bonsai-growing techniques, even a young plant can resemble a mature plant growing in the wild. And with the right maintenance, a bonsai tree can live for several years. Below are some ideas on how to shape bonsai trees.

There are two types of wire that can be used to shape a bonsai tree. You can either use coated aluminum or copper wires in different gauges depending on the amount of bending and twisting you need to train the tree in the shape that you want it to be.

  • Shaping a bonsai tree should be done when the tree is in its slow-growth phase. This is usually during the fall or winter months. If you are just starting to add shape to the tree, push the end of the wire into the soil close to the trunk of the tree. Wind the wire around the trunk until you reach the first branch. Wiring should be done delicately. It should not be too tight that the wire will cut off circulation of the trunk and branches. It should not be too loose either because it will fail to shape the trunk or the branches that you are training.
  • Press the wire on the trunk and branches with your thumbs on both sides. Always work on the part of the wire closest to the branch as holding the wire by its tip will cause you to wind the wire tightly. Cut off the excess wire when you have reached the end of a branch and move on to another branch that needs wiring.  Take care when wiring a main branch that extends from the tree trunk as you may break it off.
  • Place wire under a branch that you are training to point upwards and wind wire around a branch that you are shaping to point downwards.  Take care that you do not injure the branches or trunk of trees with softer bark. Protect the bark by wrapping paper tape or raffia first before winding the wire around the branches and trunk of the bonsai tree for shaping.
  • Lay two pieces of wire along the top and underside of a thick branch before you wind wire around it. This will help to shape the branch better and safer.

Do not expose a wired bonsai tree in the sun. Place it in an area where it can receive light but will not cause the wires to get hot. In the same token a wired bonsai plant should not be exposed to extreme cold temperatures as the wires can freeze. Wired bonsai trees for shaping should be observed carefully. You should remove the wires when you see any sign of the wire cutting into the trunk or branch. If you have to remove the wires, cut the wire in small portions instead of trying to unwind it. The wire will be easier to remove this way. Also take care that you do not harm the leaf buds and the mature leaves as you shape your bonsai tree.


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