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What techniques can I use to wire my bonsai? Is it really necessary?

Not all plants need wiring to achieve their desired shape or to achieve official 'bonsai' status. The Fukien Tea plant for example, can be trained quite easily without the use of wire. Contrary to what many novices may think, wiring of a bonsai is not done to keep the plant small, but rather is a temporary measure used to hold branches in a desired position in order to enhance the shape of a tree. Wire should not be left permanently on a tree and should be checked regularly.

When wiring, try to imitate the natural curves of trees in nature. Make sure that you only attempt to wire branches that are unlikely to break when pressure used to twist the wire around the branch is applied. There are two types of bonsai wire available - copper wire and aluminium wire. Although easy to obtain, less expensive and naturally a better colour than uncoloured aluminium wire (silver) - it is much harder to apply to branches, especially for beginners, and if applied incorrectly - which is easy to do, could ruin your most prized bonsai. Undoubtedly, the better wire is aluminium wire which is usually coloured to look just like copper wire and is available at any bonsai nursery. It is much more maleable than copper wire and generally has the same effect. The size of wire used depends on the size of branch you want to train and in most part should be chosen yourself - also dependent on how significantly you want to change the shape of a branch and how stubborn the species of plant is. You should purchase wire in a variety of different lengths and test it out on pruned branches from around the garden. You can always remove the wire (very carefully if on a bonsai), flatten it out and use it again. For pencil-thick sized branches I recommend a gauge 3.5mm aluminium wire. The lowest gauge I recommend you use is 2.0mm.

The safest method to use when wiring is by clenching the branch with both hands (not dissimilar to the look of a clamp) and applying the wire by slowly following it around the branch - making sure it does not damage the trunk. Wire the branch first, and then worry about bending the branch (which is made possible by the wire and using the clamp method) to achieve your desired shape. Be careful of leaves or if in autumn, leaf buds. It is always best to anchor the wire so it does actually re-train the branch. This can be done by digging it into the soil and training the wire up the trunk until it reaches the desired branch, or by anchoring it to another branch. Sometimes, when it is too hard to use large gauge wire in order to train a large branch or trunk, or you don't have the right gauge of wire, you can 'double up' the wiring and wire the branch twice.

It is best to not water a day before wiring, and to keep the tree in shade for two weeks after wiring. Check every few weeks for wire cutting into the bark of the bonsai - particularly during spring and summer, or risk the danger of irrepairible scars. It can take many, many years for wire damage to grow out - depending on how serious it is. Deciduous trees are particularly susceptible to wire damage due to large growth spurts in the growing season.

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