How to Wire a Chinese Elm Bonsai
Wiring is an essential component of the design techniques used when creating a bonsai. The shape and growth of the tree will be influenced by the wire, as the wired branches are gently bent to reflect your design. Once the branches are solidified and growing as you desire, the wire is removed.
Your wiring mantra: Use as little wire as possible, but as much wire as necessary.
What are you trying to achieve by wiring?
In other articles on the site, we have seen that the Chinese Elm can be molded to suit any of the accepted bonsai styles, but the young tree that you have either grown or purchased will not look like any style until you help it along.
We are trying to make a young tree look old and well weathered. To do this, we need to help the branches into a ‘weathered’ shape by carefully blending them to reflect how older trees in nature will look.
What do I Need to Wire a Tree
There are very few tools needed to wire a Chinese Elm bonsai, but here is a list of what you will need.
There are several types of wire that you can use. The most common are copper or anodized aluminum, but brass and occasionally steel wire are used. If you use steel wire, be aware that rust can cause some problems, so watch carefully for this.
It would be best if you had a range of different gauges or thicknesses of wire. You cannot wire a thin twig with thick wire, and likewise, wiring a trunk with a thin wire is a recipe for disaster. Keep a variety of wires on hand.
Ideally, two wire-cutters are required, one for thick and one for thin wire.
A pair of long handle pliers are required. Depending on the wiring you are carrying out, choose a needle-nose pair for wiring among closely packed branches or a flat blade pair for easier twisting.
Scissors and Branch Cutters
You will likely be trimming off unwanted branches at the same time, so a good set of scissors along with branch cutters is required.
Soft PVC Pipe and Turnbuckles
If you intend to train sturdy branches or the trunk, you may require some PVC pipe to wrap around the branch or trunk before wiring to prevent damage to the bark and turnbuckles to hold the wire in place.
Now let’s look at how you go about it.
Wiring the Tree
You are fortunate that the Chinese Elm is a tree that can be trained into almost any shape. If this is a very young tree, you can choose your form and begin the training process, but you will need to follow this basic process if this is an established tree.
1. Decisions, decisions, decisions
Before you start, make sure you have the time to spend, as you need to look carefully at the tree and decide how to go about shaping it. This process cannot be rushed and can result in a spoiled tree if done in a hurry.
Turn the pot and look at the tree from all angles. Which side looks the nicest and will be the face of the tree? Do you see movement in the trunk or branches? Do you have a beautiful set of nebari (exposed roots) that you can use as a focal point? Are there any dead wood areas? Does the tree have jin (stripped branches), shari (stripped trunk), or uro (an open wound in the trunk)?
All of these can have a bearing on what you decide to do. Don’t be afraid to tilt the pot and look at the tree from an angle. Could that make a more beautiful shape?
Once you have a plan in your head, you can begin the wiring process.
2. Prune out the branches you don’t want
There are likely some branches that you will not want, so start by taking those out. Be careful that you do not remove a branch that, at this stage, is growing straight up or down, but you could use it to train sideways.
Sometimes, it is helpful to take poster paint and dab a bit of color on the branches you think you will lop off. Then stand back and look at the branches with a dab of color. If you are unsure, don’t cut anything; start wiring and lop off as you go.
3. Start wiring
The usual process is to follow the growth of the tree. So start at the bottom of the tree, working your way up and dealing with the fine branches last.
Take the correct weight and length of wire and bend it in half.
Wrap the wire around the branch and slowly continue wrapping until you reach the tip.
- Don’t wire from the tip toward the trunk – wire from the trunk outwards.
- Try to keep the wrap at a 45° angle to the branch and keep the wire in contact with the branch.
- If the wrap is too loose, you risk the branch moving within the wrap and damaging the bark.
- Clip off any excess wire at the end of the branch.
Hold the branch and support it while you gently bend it to the desired shape.
If you are undertaking some serious wiring of larger branches or the trunk itself, you may have to secure the wire to the pot or to an external point to move it to the desired place. Be extremely careful about this, as it is all too easy to break things if you are too violent.
Once you have finished the tree, again stand back and ensure that all are in the correct place.
After Wiring Care
Once you are happy that you have completed the wiring, make sure to feed and water your tree.
Remember that the wire will get hot, so it is preferable that the tree not be placed in the direct sun, as you could end up with scorch marks on the bark. If you have a greenhouse, place it in there or in dappled shade.
Now you wait for between five and nine months for the branches to retain their new shape.
During this time, scrutinize the tree to ensure that the wire is not biting into the branches. This will damage the bark. If you see it happening, carefully unwind the wire and discard it. If the desired shape has not been achieved, take a new piece of wire and repeat the procedure.
The Chinese Elm buds very quickly, and you will need to trim the tree regularly.
Your Chinese Elm is a forgiving tree and will take wiring very well. Wiring is not an overnight fix, and like everything in bonsai, it takes time to see the results. Be patient, look after your little creation and enjoy the gorgeous end result in a year or so.
If you are new to wiring and nervous about starting, there are many excellent video clips on YouTube that will give you some excellent pointers.