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Training of Various Bonsai Styles

Simple and practical guide for anyone who wants to make a start in Training of Various Bonsai Styles. Here you will find complete information starting from materials required and processed involved in Training Bonsai trees.

Materials and Tools Required

  • Raffia
  • String
  • Copper wire

Various thicknesses are available and for young trunks and branches gauge 18, 19 or 20 is usually adequate; for older, thicker trunks something heavier will be needed. It is a help to remember that the lower the gauge number the thicker the wire; in fact, the numbers used correspond to those used for knitting needles. Copper wire is the best type as it does not rust or damage the bark, unless it is left on too long, in which case it will gradually cut into it.

It soon loses the characteristic luster and tones in with the tree. Plastic coated wire can be obtained, but there is not usually such a varied range of thickness and plastic itself never seems to tone in so well as the uncovered wire. Copper wire may be obtained at most wireless and electrical shops. The author finds the cable used for wiring a house for electricity most useful, because this is made of a number of wires of varying thickness. The plastic insulation used to contain them is easily removed with a sharp knife.

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  • Wire cutters
  • Scissors –sharp and pointed
  • Sharp knife
  • Secateurs
  • Split bamboos canes

In most cases training may start as soon as it is possible to fix the wire or tie the stem to a cane. It is much easier to start with a soft pliable young plant than an old one with bark and stem that have become hard and brittle; but some trees, e.g. willow, have very soft bark and may be damaged if wired too young.


Treatment of copper wire

Before using copper wire one should burn it in a low heat to make it more pliable and thus easier to twist round the branches. Where only a gas ring is available the wire can be left on this if its turned to its lowest, and in an all electric house similarly the wire can be placed on a ring set at the lowest heat. The wire will gradually change color and bend quite easily after a few minutes heating. Remember that it will be very hot; so do not pick it up with bare fingers until it has cooled.

Some specimens will have bark that damages rather easily and in these cases the wire should be wrapped round with strips of paper to give added protection. This, of course, will have to be done after the wire has been heated.

Once in place, it gradually regains its original strength and rigidity. If the wire is ever to be reused, it will need to  be heated again. When the time for removing wire comes, great care will have to be taken, as branches can so easily be snapped because the wire will have regained its original stiffness.

Bonsai are created by a combination of training by wiring and tying, and dwarfing by pruning; both processes will need to be carried out simultaneously, but it will be easier to treat them separately.

The best time to start training deciduous trees is during the growing season when the leaves are fully grown. If shoots need wiring to bring them into desired position and shape, they should be atleast two inches long; anything shorter may easily be damaged during the wiring process. Evergreens are, however, best wired in the autumn or winter.

When one is wiring trunks or branches, a wire no thicker than is necessary to keep them in place should be used. If a branch is to be wired, wind the wire round the trunk several times to fix it and then round the branch. Do not wind too close for the growing point as this can easily be damaged, but extend the wire beyond the tip by about half an inch so that the winding can be continued as the shoot grows. To avoid splitting at the point where the branch grows from the trunk, hold this place very firmly with one hand while winding with the other. The coils should be evenly spaced about a quarter of an inch apart and firm, but not marking the bark. The wire will be needed for several years and rewinding may well be necessary after this as little as six months to avoid damaging and marking the bark. Slow growing trees may be left with the same wire for as much as a year. Before rewinding let a few months pass so that the bark may grow unhindered and recover from any possible marking.

Bonsai Training

When deciding on the shape for a specimen, it is always more satisfactory to choose one that is in character with the species in question; for example, do not try to make an Upright bonsai of a weeping willow or a Cascading one of a beech or sycamore.

Upright or Chokkan Style Bonsai

Upright or Chokkan Style Bonsai

Training of Upright or Chokkan Style and Oblique or Shakan Style

In the case of both these styles little or no wiring will be needed to shape the trunk; this can be done by tying it with raffia to a cane in the upright position. There ties should be remade from time to time to prevent damage to the plant by constriction as the stem swells. The branches may need a little wiring to guide them into the desired position, but it will not need to be left on very long.

Winding or Kyokkuk Style Bonsai

Winding or Kyokkuk Style Bonsai

Training of Winding or Kyokkuk Style Bonsai

The winding trunk bonsai is formed by winding wire round the stem and bending it gradually first to one side and then to the other (never backwards and forwards)

The Japanese often start with a plant four to five years old, but most people attempting to style for the first time will find it easier to form if they start training the tree when it is two, three or four years old, before the trunk becomes too thick.

Cascading or Kengai Style

Cascading or Kengai Style

Training of Cascading or Kengai Style

When the stem of a Cascading bonsai is being trained, a stout wire should be pushed into the soil to the base of the container and then bent over the side at the desired angle. The trunk is then gradually persuaded into this shape by frequent ties made along its length; these can be tightened gradually throughout the season. The ties will exert considerable pressure on the bark and should therefore have a protective pad of rubber placed under them. Strong raffia or string may be used. The branches will need wiring carefully into attractive positions as their original ones may look strange when the trunk reaches its own new position.

Gnarled or Hankan Style Bonsai

Gnarled or Hankan Style Bonsai

Training of Gnarled or Hankan Style Bonsai

The most complicated style to train is the Gnarled. This is not only winding but also gnarled and twisted; for this reason it takes very much longer to create. Both wire and cane will be needed, and a reasonably pliable trunk.

If possible the lower part of the trunk should be brought down to the soil level and then twisted around the canes. These twists will in time give gnarled appearance. The canes should be pushed well into the container to keep them firm. If an older tree is being trained, it will be easier to do it while it is still growing in the garden, as the canes can be kept really firm in the deep soil. The ties will need remaking and tightening several times a year for two or three years.

In both Winding and Gnarled styles the branches will need training with wire to make them fit in attractively. Some branches will have to be removed entirely; as if too many are left the resulting effect will be crowded and confused.

Ikadi-Buki Style Bonsai

Ikadi-Buki Style Bonsai

Training Ikadi-Buki Style Bonsai

This is quite an easy style to attempt and little or no wiring will be needed. Deciduous or coniferous trees may be used and there are two ways of starting the Ikadi-buki bonsai. The first is to choose a dormant tree with plenty of buds and plant it so that the main trunk and the lowest branches are lying on the soil surface and partly buried. The lower branches are removed entirely and so also is the leading shoot. The upper branches may be removed if desired, leaving dormant buds in the angle between the branch and trunk to grow out and form the ‘forest’.

Alternatively the upper branches may be left and trained by wiring and pruning to form the ‘forest’. The trunk and pruned branches can be kept down in the soil by placing ties over them and round the container in several places. Care should be taken not to damage the bark; a piece of rubber or similar material can be placed between the bark and the tie. Wire ‘hairpins’ may also be used. This method is best suited to deciduous trees.

Clasped to the Stone Style Bonsai

Clasped to the Stone Style Bonsai

Training Clasped to the Stone Style Bonsai

When attempting to form a Clasped to the Stone Style Bonsai, a young plant with active and preferably long roots will give the best hope for success. The most suitable kind of stone is a fairly soft one with crevices and grooves in which the roots can settle. It should be pleasing in shape and if possible larger at the base than at the top; this will make it easier to fix firmly in the soil. The container should be a shallow one, but its shape will depend very largely on the shape and size of the stone selected and the tree to be grown. The bonsai grower should always try to have an image in his mind of the final product he is aiming to create.

Spring, soon after the growth starts, is the safest time to fix the roots of the stone. Conifers may, if necessary, be fixed in the autumn. In all cases the trees must be well watered before being disturbed. First of all the surface of the stone should be smeared with a clay or soil paste, filling the little crevices and holes. Next the soil is shaken off the tree roots.  The longest roots are taken down any grooves or crevices; the very longest ones may be fixed under the stone. A soft garden twine can be used to keep the roots in place and then another layer of soil ‘paste’ is painted over them. Finally moss, preferably sphagnum or something similar, is packed over the roots until the tree is settled, because if it is left the roots will grow into it. As time passes the roots will take the shape of the stone and grow down into the soil in the container and all ties may be removed.

After being fixed to the stone, the tree will benefit from frequent syringing, especially in sunny weather. To start with the soil will not need watering much, as the roots will only take up water slowly until they are settled.

Once the tree is settled on the stone, training the trunk may continue in the normal way for whatever style has been chosen. The Japanese maples have given some very good results in this style.


Multiman on May 02, 2011:

Great Article voted up

Tuesdays child from In the garden on January 31, 2011:

Very nice hub. Great tips and it answers many of my questions. Beautiful photos and great video! Thank you!

FuzzyCookie (author) on November 23, 2010:

Hi Caroline, I am glad that you found this info useful :)

Caroline Paulison Andrew from Chicago, IL on November 23, 2010:

Wow. Cool hub. Thanks for sharing!

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