The real beauty of bonsai lies in the appearance of age, which is often accomplished by wiring—the most critical element in creating bonsai. Normally done during the dormant cycle in winter, branches are wound with copper or aluminum wire to give the illusion of weight and maturity and to redefine branch angles.
It takes varying amounts of time for branches of different specimens to “set,” or stay in the direction they are wired. Softer woods will set in the wired shape in four to six weeks, but it may take a year before the branches of some species will remain weighted down, or twisted, when the wires are removed.
First, select a branch that you want to alter. Gently wind a strand of wire around the length of the branch, making the turns about a quarter of an inch apart; use heavier-gauge wires for larger branches. Don’t wind the wire too tight; there should be just enough space for a sheet of paper to fit between the wire and the branch.
Wiring is done directionally: Twist the branch gently in the desired direction as you wrap the wire around it in the same direction. As the tree grows, the wires can cut into the bark, so loosen and rewire them, or remove wires as the branches grow and harden into the desired shape.
Remember to experiment. Bonsai is not a science; it is an art. And, as with all art, what one creates may never attain show quality, but with practice and patience, your bonsai will bring you joy—in the process of creating it and in displaying it.