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Baby Bending

Oak trees often display extreme bends

Oak trees often display extreme bends

When building bonsai we often try to create miniatures of full grown trees. Mature trees are often characterized by extreme twists and bends; Branches may turn as much as 180 degrees within a fraction of the branch-length. And although some techniques exist to make strong bends (Think of wrapping branches or trunks with raffia or tape before bending), one cannot make the extreme bends as seen in nature when working on matured trees.

90 degree angle obtained by young bending

90 degree angle obtained by young bending

When setting branches in a complex shape, three main limitations play a role: First of all, once branches turn woody, they become brittle, allowing only a certain level of bending before they snap. Secondly, when a branch turns woody, it gets more difficult to bend. This makes it difficult to place bends exactly where one wants, or even to place multiple bends close to one another. Thirdly, when wiring older branches, it takes a long time for them to set in the new shape, which increases the risk of wire marks on the branches and in the bark. These grow out only very slowly. In a tree that is nearing completion you may never be able to get rid of the wire scars.

So. What can one do?

Well.. to be honest.. If you are right now staring at a well-developed tree in a certain style.. Not much. However, if you are in the process of building a tree from scratch, with a lot of the branch-growing still to be done.. Quite a lot! Branches do not start their life as the woody sticks we usually work with. During the first weeks of their lives they get their strength from water pressure in the cells. As the water pressure inside cells (turgor) builds up, the cells get strength of themselves and can keep a young branch up in the air. Only after a few weeks, when the first veins start to grow, and the young branch starts to mature, does wood develop through a process called lignification.

The fact that young branches are not woody yet, gives us the opportunity to work with them and create bends otherwise impossible. Young sprouts easily snap when bend. However, letting the plant dry out a little will reduce water pressure in the cells, making it easier to bend and reducing the risk of snapping. As they will mature within weeks and in this process some cells lignify to wood, they will set quite quickly in the new shape, allowing a quick de-wiring. But also somesome species allow bending of somewhat older branches and trunks in extreme curves. FOr instance pine and juniperus may be bend quite extremely during the first year or so.

Wiring young branches

When working with young branches it is very important to keep in mind that all the strength from the branches comes of water pressure in the cells. Therefor it is very easy to damage the tissue in the branches. So use very thin wire for wiring and apply only light pressure on the wire during application.

Bending branches

As the branches are still very young and do not appreciate a lot of handling, bend the wires. Not the branches. Keep in mind that branches will thicken with time. This will result in a reduction of the wiring effect: Branches tend to even out bends as they thicken. Therefore, make quite extreme bends. You will notice that what looked ridiculously extreme right after applying the wires, within a few years looks quite natural.

Aftercare

After you wire the branches, make sure you water the plant directly. As you work on a plant which is on the dry side and you have just wired young branches, the risk of die-back is very real. Watering is of utmost importance. Furthermore: As the young branches mature, the wires can be removed. Keep in mind that young branches may thicken quickly so check every few days whether the wire is not biting in.

Pine before bending, by Alan Adair

Pine before bending, by Alan Adair

Pine after bending, by Alan Adair

Pine after bending, by Alan Adair

5 Comments

  • Jim Kjellgren says:

    I recently purchased a Ginseng Fig and have followed all of the instructions and it appears to be happy as it is growing profusely, however, with the new growth appearing, when and how should I prune it so that it can have a rounded foliage effect. Or is it best left alone. It was potted in 2006.

  • […] start training as bonsai. But then again.. You do not have to sit stil in the first years. You can start baby bending from a few months of age. If you do not have any experience growing from seed, have a […]

  • […] Finally, wire all the spring shoots into place. Pines and junipers have a branch structure that is often bent into place. It’s different with broadleaf hardwoods. That branch structure is grown into place. Once the wood lignifies, it becomes really difficult to put movement into the branches or adjust the angle that they exit the trunk. But these green shoots can be easily shaped with wire. Once the growth has hardened off, they can handle wiring no problem. But watch that wire like a hawk. In a few short weeks it can start to cut in and we’ll be pulling it all off again. Note that this technique was dealt with in the baby bending article. […]

  • […] Nu dat de boomcompleet uitgedund is, is het tijd om de jonge groei te bedraden. Dit is duidelijk verschillend van naaldboom bonsai. Bij naaldbomen bedraden we als de boom in rust is, en worden takken op hun plek gebogen. Bij loofbomen laat je de takken op hun plek groeien: De jonge takken zijn nog niet verhout. Door ze nu te bedraden, zetten ze zich binnen de kortste keren op hun plek vast. Bijkomend voordeel is dat de afgeharde takken nog erg flexibel zijn: Je kan nu veel fijnere buigingen maken in de takken. Dit is bij takken in de winter niet meer mogelijk, omdat ze veel te taai geworden zijn. Hou de bedrading ZEER goed in de gaten: Het kan een kwestie van weken zijn voor het draad begint in te bijten, omdat takken in dit stadium zeer snel verdikken. Dus moet het draad er snel weer af. Deze manier van bedraden terwijl de plant nog jong is, is ook behandeld in het stukje over baby bending article op de engelse versie van deze site. […]

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