21st century bonsai wire

On April 20 of this year, I got a twinge in my left leg. Unfortunately, it worsened into sciatica and lasted 10 weeks (yes, fellow bonsai people, having this happen at THIS PARTICULAR TIME OF THE YEAR, especially if you live in zone 7, is not good.) For a couple of those weeks I could hardly even walk a few steps. I think the worst part was not being able to sleep. Of course, it was a bonsai-related injury (not the first time for me; I’ve been a bonsai addict for almost 3 decades now, but never had an injury this long-lasting.) Now into my 60’s, and with the nearly 100 trees that I work on, the simple act of watering became quite a chore. Anyway, not to dwell on my sob story anymore, one thing that did happen because of it was I started to think of things that could possibly make cultivating bonsai easier. Since I was able to continue wiring, and as someone whose collection is around 80% deciduous/azalea (that means lots of, but not always, aluminum wire) one thought towards this end was- why hasn’t someone in bonsai invented a soft (paper, styrofoam, who knows?) coating wrapped aluminum wire, mass-produced it, and made it available to the general bonsai public? You know, hasn’t anyone explored this possibility? Why not? In earlier years, after some trial and error, I came to the conclusion that wrapping wire with paper-towel beforehand was much more time-consuming than just wiring without it, and when it bites in, un-wiring, then re-wiring (wash, rinse, repeat.) If I had an out-of-this-world, world-class Beech or Stewartia would I invest the time to wrap the wire if need be? You bet! But it’s just not gonna happen for the majority of my (or anyone’s, I think) collection. You start wiring, you get carried away in the throes of creativity, you know what’s going to happen next. Look, everybody here knows how fast you can get wire scars on a deciduous tree. We invent specific tools for bonsai to make it easier, we’re exploring soil and water science to further our art/craft to make it easier, so why can’t anyone think outside of the box with this. Of course, the more I thought about it, the more ridiculously anachronistic this specific tool (wire) began to appear to me. So, I posed this question to Ryan, mentioning that wrapping paper towel around wire is not the easiest thing to master, and got what I felt was a curt, dismissive answer from him, basically saying- “Yeah, it’s hard, cuz bonsai is hard” (no shit, Sherlock.) Anyway, after reviewing his answer on the tape (live Q&A 158), I realized he wasn’t being all that dismissive, he just gave me an answer I didn’t want to hear. Thing is, though, I don’t want to hear it; the idea of finding a way to reduce wire scarring is/should be as an important a pursuit in the bonsai world as needing to know the PPM of calcium in the soil. And to advance this argument- look how many times people ask him (and all the other pros) about wire-scarring. Whether we realize it or not, every person who grows bonsai definitely has a certain wheelhouse that is specific to them, and hey, if nematodes and kelp are your thing, that’s great, and I am in full support, but personally, I think putting some brain-power into ‘my thing’ is just as important.


Ryan did say that ppl have tried to get around having to paper towel wrap their wire and have been unsuccessful. I think what Ryan was really trying to get at is that there are some things that we’d love to make easier in bonsai that we just can’t.

As far as other means of reducing scarring I’ve seen some ppl say to use an oversized wire. Basically a 1:1 ratio in terms of branch and wire size. Not always achievable and honesty it looks ultra bulky. Another approach could be to wrap the branch itself with a sort of mini-pool noodle foam sleeve.

One thing I’m experimenting with is using a wire spine and then securing the sapling to the wire with raffia. I’ve tried it on two random saplings I found in the ground in my yard so far.

One is a fast growing Chinese tallow. That thing grew QUICKLY at the base. It clearly didn’t like my putting a ton of movement into it and shot all of the auxin to buds at the base of the tree. I had to cut those back and the trunk got all wavy where the trunk escaped the raffia.

The second is a slow growing oak of some sort. Not sure of the variety. I just applied the wire spine and raffia yesterday, so the jury is still out on that one.

On the next tree I may try parafilm as it’ll have a lot more give than the raffia which hopefully will reduce the lumpy effect I got with raffia.

I have thought about using aluminum wire as a spine, wrapping it in grafting tape to branches.

I think you can avoid scars since you’re not wrapping it around branches. I’m not sure about the technical bending portion, or if the tape will hold well. Also, unsure of the holding power on larger branches, but I think it’s worth a try.

I have a few maples I need to unwire soon to avoid bite. Maybe I’ll give this a try.

Yes I heard his response the second time, and thought it was fine. I just think to not explore this a great deal more than is being done is unacceptable. The bonsai community tends to go down rabbit holes and come up with interesting things at times. And yeah, inventing stuff is hard!

This is where the community comes in. I’m giving it a go this year and will hopefully have some decent results. One thing about my approach is that it’s not as easy to turn the branch/trunk as I apply bends.

There’s also not too much money to be made in bonsai lol. Professionals say all the time that if you’re trying to get rich then you’ve chosen the wrong field.

Good luck! And making money is definitely besides the point when it comes to bonsai. I know I prob. sound like I’m coming out of left field with this, anyway! But I’ve seen some real mad scientist-type things in magazines from some of the Japanese masters.

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I wonder if the use of aquarium air line tubing (or larger sizes sold at hardware stores could be used for major wiring. I have seen it used for other applications and have used it with collars around single limbs such as…

Note that this is not structural bonsai wiring, just common wire used as a pull line…and the inner wire so fine that it cut in a bit after only a couple months, right through the guard. But using this on a wrapped wire might increase the effective diameter similar to using a much larger wire and provide just a bit of forgiveness in the contact.

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Yes I use aquarium tubing, garden hose, I even got an old piece of inner-tube laying around that I cut pieces from. I use the tie-down method as much as possible. I gotta tell ya, since I’ve been using the tea-bags with bio-gold (I see you’re using the bags) the last few years, and forcing things to grow throughout the growing season, for me I really have to stay on top of the actual wiring. I am going to try some rapeseed next spring on a few things; I used it years ago and thought it worked (don’t remember why I stopped.) Maybe it’ll cut down on the bugs. I still think we should have some readymade coated wire at our disposal; it’s not rocket science! (or maybe it is.)

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Japanese maples, well at least for me, will accept a little wire-scarring (not a lot!) on the branches and eventually heal over.

Not sure how popular this method is…again, not the kind of structural wiring you are talking about…only for big bends. But this seems to work best where it makes sense to try.

Same superfine high-tensile hardware wire with the smallest drill hole possible. Seems to work well and almost no possibility of scarring.

Hmm… that’s inventive! Never tried that one.

Why wouldn’t you just wrap the wire around the trunk? Now you run the risk of that wire growing into the tree. :confused:

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No chance of leaving a big girdle mark around the base. Two small holes after the wire gets pulled, and they will heal and should be barely noticeable.

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It’s the wire pulling part I’m curious about. Depending on the severity of the bend it can take awhile for that to set. Very cool idea. I’m just kinda thinking out loud in terms of possible drawbacks. Can’t wait to see your results!

In the big box hardware / lumbar / plumbing / large appliance stores (you know the ones), I’ve seen ties that are aluminum core with a foam sheath over the whole wire that is about the size of a soda straw. They are in the section for organizing your garage / cord restraints. If the manufacture of these coated wires could be located, there might be a bulk option.
This was on Amazon:

You may have tried this already or might be an option.

No, I’ve never used it (have you?), but that stuff looks kinda cool! I’m such a purist, haven’t thought about deviating from the norm until lately. And if it didn’t really work, I’d probably use it for other things, so it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Yup. Bonsai is hard


You’re making it look easy over there! Nice setup.

Tx! It’s ok I guess. This is the ‘controlled’ area. It’s a good time to compress that Ponderosa (been letting it go for awhile.) Did you know when you grow bonsai, you also become half a carpenter too lol. You seem like someone that is in the learning phase (and if I’m wrong, my apologies!) so I truly hope you don’t mind if I to give you a little ‘friendly’ advice (if you want to make great bonsai)- don’t deviate too much from what Ryan is teaching, he’s by far the best teacher in the English-speaking world. I wish I had bonsai mirai as a resource in my younger days. Other than Ryan, Peter Warren is very good, too, for information (that’s why Ryan has him as a guest.) Also, try to get used to working on larger trees as much as you can; it’s very hard to achieve scale with smaller material.

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Thanks for the advice. I’m always learning. I’d say the only place I’m waffling rn with Mirai teachings is fertilizer and that’s just barely. Last year Ryan suggested using a 0-10-10 in the fall. This year he’s acting like it’s the dumbest thing anyone can do. Like dude, you’re the one that told me to try it out lol. It seems like he, along with everyone else, is still trying to figure out nutrition in the containerized environment with plants living in a quasi-hydroponic environment.

What do you mean by larger trees? Mine range from 6" to 6’. Actually, I do have some crape murder stumps that are like 2". :laughing: Sourcing material is by far one of my biggest challenges though. Given where I live and what I like Urban Yamadori is going to be my main source. Although I’m trying to arrange a bald cypress collecting trip through the swamps.