How To Style A Bonsai Tree Without Using Wires

Bonsai without wiring

Bonsai without wiring – sounds too good to be true right? One of the things I loved about bonsai when I first started was all the designs. It’s incredible to see how even though most species, like Chinese Elms, start out looking exactly the same, with a little bit of work and patience, you can get drastically different looks. 

The main way in which this is done is through wiring bonsai trees. That being said, a few months back, I ran out of wire and was in a hurry to style my bonsai and discovered that it’s possible to style a bonsai tree without using wires. 

To style a bonsai tree without using aluminum or copper wires, simply replace the metal wires for a replacement that will generate the same effect. Typically using bamboo, thread, yarn, jute rope or even rubber bands tends to work best. To style, simply maneuver your bonsai into position and wrap your material around your branches accordingly. 

So which of these options works best? And are there any alternatives that you can follow if you want to grow your bonsai without doing any artificial wiring, regardless of the material? Keep reading to find out more

Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here

Bonsai without wiring 

Using wiring for bonsai is easily one of the oldest forms of manipulating your bonsai into exactly how you want it to look. 

Struggling with a branch that seems to grow three wrong ways? Whip out the wire! Made a mistake after wiring your bonsai the first time? No worries, simply rewire!

It’s a lifesaver for so many of us, myself included when it comes to bringing our design ideas to life in the easiest way possible.

Aluminum and copper wires then are the go-to for most of us when it comes to wiring our plants and rightly so, with their tough yet malleable nature, the strength of use, and ability to brave the elements it’s the natural choice for a lot of us. 

That being said is it possible to make or design a bonsai without wiring

Well luckily a few months back I was in a hurry (mainly due to me having zero timekeeping skills) and so was in a rush to get my bonsai wired up before I went out. 

The only problem? I was out of wire!

With the stores here in the UK closed at around 4, and Amazon not being able to deliver till the next day I decided to test out a few different materials, all of which I’ll go into later but are happy to report mirrored using copper or aluminum wire very well. 

To summerise then is bonsai without wiring possible? 

It is possible to create a bonsai without using traditional metal wire so long as you use an alternative such as raffia, yarn, or jute rope to manage the same process. If you would like to avoid using wiring techniques all together constant pruning, cutting, and reshaping must take place daily to get the look of a wired bonsai. 

Bonsai without wiring infographic

How to style a bonsai without wiring? 

So if you are interested in the best material to design your bonsai from that are not either aluminum or copper wiring I found that the following items work best: 

  • Yarn 
  • Raffia
  • Jute rope 
  • Bamboo 
  • Rubber bands 

What to do before you start styling bonsai with these items

So before you start using these items to design your bonsai there are a few things you need to do. 

First I would recommend whipping out a pen and paper and making a rough drawing of what you would want your bonsai to look like. 

Whilst there is definitely something for just feeling how your bonsai will look as you start to work it, I’d recommend just styling it out on pen and paper to give you a rough blueprint 

Second, I would recommend trimming and pruning your bonsai before you start using these materials. 

It will make the whole process easier so you can actually see where these materials are going and how your design is taking place. 

How to use yarn instead of wiring your bonsai tree? 

Yarn, (in my opinion), is the best substitute when it comes to replacing traditional metal wiring. 

This is because it is incredibly flexible sometimes even more so than metal wiring meaning that it is a lot easier to maneuver and shape your bonsai. 

To use yarn, ensure your yarn has the same thickness as the traditional wire. I would start with – either 1mm, 1.5 mm 2.5 mm, and 4mm, soak in water, or better yet, palm fiber laced water to ensure you don’t damage your tree. 

Then follow on the traditional wiring process – remove and prune any unwanted branches or leaves, so you can see the branches you are working with.  

Wrap your yarn around the trunk of your bonsai for support, double wire any branches that are close together, and then single wire individual branches that are far apart with smaller-sized yarn.

Then simply move your branches into place and position them. 

How to use raffia to style a bonsai tree?

Another fantastic and organic way to style your bonsai tree as opposed to using metal wires is to use raffia. 

Raffia is a type of fiber that comes from the raffia palm species that are found in Africa and Madagascar. It is commonly used for twine, rope, and other textiles. Raffia can be used in bonsai as an alternative to metal wiring for larger more difficult-to-style branches. 

To use raffia then to style a bonsai, simply pluck about 15-20 strands of raffia and group them together. Using another piece of raffia tie a not at the top and bottom of your raffia and then cut off then ends. 

Once completed wrap it into a small ball shape and let it soak in cold water for about 15-20 minutes. 

This process will strengthen the raffia, making it easier to maneuver. 

Then simply apply to your bonsai as you would traditional wiring. 

Just be aware, however, that raffia is used more often when branches are tougher, so you may want to veer away from using this on smaller branches. 

As with any item, you want to ensure that your raffia used for bonsai is about 1/3rd the total thickness of the branches that you are wrapping it in. 

How to use jute rope to style a bonsai?

So if you live in a place where yarn or raffia is not easy to come by then I think the next best option would be to invest in jute rope. 

Jute rope is a type of natural fibrous rope, that comes from the bark of a jute plant. As it is an organic rope, resistant to UV light and heat, it is the perfect option to be used in agricultural and botanic activities such as bonsai. 

To use jute rope to style bonsai, follow the steps you would using yarn, wrap around the trunk of your tree, and then around the individual branches after pruning. 

Just be warned however that jute rope might need a little bit of extra support so consider using a bit of bamboo as a support pillar to tie your jute rope too if need be. 

How to use bamboo to style a bonsai?

Now things start to get tricky. 

Bamboo is one of the oldest ways people have styled their bonsai but it is also incredibly difficult. 

This is because bamboo is a very tough type of plant and not very malleable, however, I have found that bamboo works best when paired up with another item such as string or yar. 

To use bamboo to style a bonsai tree, cut one long piece of bamboo the same length as the trunk of your plant. Plant in the soil and attach to the trunk with yarn. Then to style individual branches, get thinner bamboo stalks about one-third the size of the branches and place them in the soil in between the branches. 

You will then use the yarn to tie the branches to these bamboo sticks, styling them for your desired look. 

How to use rubber bands to style your bonsai tree? 

Finally, if you are struggling with bonsai without wiring using the rest of the items on the list you can consider looking into rubber bands to style your bonsai. 

Just be aware that you will need a few different-sized rubber bands depending on the thickness of your branches. 

The only issue when it comes to using rubber bands may come when you try to double wrap branches as they can be a little bit fiddly

To use rubber bands to style a bonsai tree then, wrap a large rubber band around the trunk of your bonsai and across its branches individually – ensuring this is as snug against the branches as possible. 

Then (after pruning your tree) individually wrap your secondary branches with smaller rubber brands and repeat until you have styled your entire tree. 

The reason I have suggested this last however is that if one of your rubber bands breaks, it’s likely that this can ruin the whole design and structure you are going for so handle with care. 

What if you don’t want to use traditional wiring techniques? 

So while the methods I’ve listed above are all effective ways of styling your bonsai tree they still do follow the basic principles of wiring, just using alternative materials instead of metal wires. 

To design your bonsai without wiring altogether, you will need to prune and trim your excess branches more often, every week, ensuring you take care of any unwanted growth as early as possible. You can also use shade at certain angles to ensure your bonsai grows in certain directions. 

How to use shade to style your bonsai? 

So if you are in the process of designing your bonsai without wiring altogether, one method which I have come across that works well for outdoor bonsai is blocking the sunlight at certain angles during the growing season. 

Leafs you see, look for the path of least resistance to grow and often compete for sunlight. It’s one of the reasons why the leaves at the top of your bonsai are likely a lot bigger than the ones deep in the canopy of your tree. 

To do this method then assess the area of the bonsai you would like to grow either upwards or outwards. 

Then block the light or cover your plant in shade apart from the one area you will like to grow. 

A good option to this could be via umbrellas or creating a mini-roof of your bonsai as shown in the video below:

Just be warned, however, doing this could potentially damage the rest of your bonsai with it not getting enough sunlight in the important summer months. 

You may also need to repeat this method for years until you get the desired effect you could potentially get in one season through traditional wiring. 

Is wiring bad for your bonsai? 

Wiring, if done correctly, is not bad for your bonsai and will not damage it. Without wiring, it will be impossible to achieve the desired style or look. Bad wiring which usually occurs if you are new to bonsai can damage your plant, so ensure you master the technique before you start to wire your plant. 

What are some alternatives to using metal wire for bonsai?

Yarn, raffia, jute rope, bamboo, and rubber bands are all great options to use as an alternative to copper and aluminum wiring when it comes to styling your bonsai. To avoid using wiring techniques of any kind, use excessive pruning to achieve your desired result. 

When should you not use wire on bonsai?

You should avoid using wiring on any bonsai if your plant is older and decaying or if your plant is suffering from an insect or fungal infestation. Wiring should also be avoided in younger fresh plants that are going through their first growing season. 

To avoid fungal, Mite, or Scale infestations, check out my blog posts talking about how to nip this annoying problem in the bud. 

What is wiring on a bonsai? 

Wiring on a bonsai is the technique of using metal wires of varying lengths and thickness to shape and style your bonsai to achieve the desired look. This is done by wrapping a wire around the trunk and branches of your bonsai, giving you the leverage to move them into the desired look. 

This wire is then removed once your result has been achieved.

My top picks for the gear you will need!

So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market. 

Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value. 

They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon. 

Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here

Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here

Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.

This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the UK and works in sales.

Fehed Nicass

Fehed Nicass has been passionate about all things bonsai and botany focused for the past 3 years. What started out as a hobby has developed as a passion and he is now on a mission to teach and learn.

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