Wiring Tips

The other day, as I was wiring away on a Douglas Fir, I was thinking about more of my Hard One Truths to stockpile for upcoming newsletters. As my fingers were dancing around branches, I decided that there were just too many tips for wiring and that they might better be presented as a whole collection. What follows are tips that will help you in the process of wiring and styling your trees. This is not a treatise on how to wire, nor is it the fundamentals. I could try and explain the fundamentals, but the truth has been made all too clear over the years. 

One cannot fully grasp wiring fundamentals unless you under the mentorship of someone who is a lot more experienced at it than you are. The best teachers are the professionals that have studied in Japan. Not because they went over there, but because they spent umpteen thousand hours wiring and just as importantly, unwiring many, many trees. Wiring is a tactile activity and requires hands on instruction. Don’t worry, I am still working my technique too and I get plenty of scrutiny from my instructor, for which I am grateful. So maybe you have some of that tutelage under your belt and you need some refining. Here are some tips to help you along the way. 

1.  OK, right out of the gate. If I have limited resources and can afford only one set of wire, I choose copper, because I can do anything I need to with it. I do prefer aluminum for deciduous, but I can get by with just copper. And believe it or not, copper wire is actually cheaper per branch because a smaller wire will hold a much larger branch. Remember, you can use almost half the size of copper that you can for aluminum. I have large rolls of 4, 4.5, 5, and 6 mm aluminum that I bought twenty years ago and have never used because it is just too horsey. If you can, buy a whole set of wire in the sizes you will need. If you are working on large collected trees that will mean stocking all the way up to #4 for copper. If you are more of the shohin type, then you may only need something up to #14 or #12. If you don’t have a proper range of gauges, you will either use too large of a wire, and possibly damage the branch, or use too small of a wire and thus be ineffective. Unfortunately, there is no one size that will do everything, even on a single tree. By the way, we refer to aluminum by its actual measurement in millimeters. For copper, it’s a nominal number and as the number increases, the wire gets smaller. #4 is freakin’ huge and #22 is hard to feel between your fingers.

2.  If you are applying the main wire on a branch and wish to wire two tertiary branches together with a second wire, you must pass at least one turn of the main wire between the two branches or you will be forced to cross the second wire over the first.

3.  OK. So you were not so successful on number 2. If you are using fine wire, go ahead and cross over the main wire. I give you permission. But remember, it still has to look neat and work effectively. Even when I don’t have to, I sometimes cross wires with an extra wrap because it enters the branch at abetter angle and supports the branch better. And that is what we are after. If you don’t, you may tear the branch off in some situations.  

4.  The pinch. Just really realized this last year. I have known for sometime that the important hand in wiring is really the off hand – the one guiding the wire and branch together. What will help is if you can think of actually pinching the wire against the branch. This will help snug things up and actually make things scar less. It allows you to maintain wire contact better while you bend the branch. Ever put wire neatly on a branch, only to have it all separate when you start bending? This is for you.

5.  You are not going to like this, but just like good medicine, it works. Unwire a tree done by someone who wires well. Deconstruct what they did, and even evaluate if it worked or not.

6.  Don’t wire everything. I used to do this and am still tempted at times. Instead, work smarter.

I usually try to wire a pair of branchlets by extending a wire from the main branch out to where I have control of one branchlet. Then I use the wire to bend the branches so that they sit at the same level, and in the proper place. This usually means a slight twist, but I only need the one wire. Save money and save time. This also leads to a softer and more natural aesthetic. Remember, the wire only needs to extend far enough to where you get control of the branch tips. Often on the tops of trees, I need only wire the main branch, because everything else is sitting nice and proud.

7.               Apply wire clockwise or counter clockwise in the direction that will tighten as you bend the branch. This takes some planning. Doing the opposite will allow the wire to loosen as you bend.

8.               To provide an anchor for the next wire (usually a smaller gauge) you need to extend your existing wire 1.5 to 2 turns onto the next branch so that the former and latter wires overlap by this amount.

9.               To anchor any wire, you need to get at least one turn around the main branch. This means it is nearly impossible to wire two branches that are directly opposite of each other with the same wire. There must be an anchor somewhere. 

10.            If you are wiring a branch downward, always start the wire on top of the branch. When you bend the branch downward, it will want to spring back up, but the wire on placed on top of the branch will stop it from doing so. The same is true in reverse for branches you want to bend upward.

11.            Use guy wires if possible, for several reasons. First of all, you use less wire, which saves you either by using a lighter gauge, or having to apply a coiled wire at all. Secondly, there are times when you can’t get enough wire on the branch to bend it anyway, especially downward. Try putting on a gauge of wire strong enough to put a sideways curve into the branch. Then attach a guy wire to pull a branch down into the proper position. The one limitation to remember about guy wires is that they only work in one direction. You can however, use a second one for a compound effect.

OK, OK. I can’t resist. Here are the fundamentals, since we are here. It’s kind of like E=MC2. Neat and simple, but figuring out how to apply them can get pretty rigorous in a hurry. Hence the reason for all the tips that I have given above. Wiring must look good and be effective. I don’t think that it is the least bit surprising that the wiring that is the simplest and cleanest is also the most effective

A.              Always anchor a wire by wiring from one branch to another branch or trunk. It is simple math. Four branches, two wires. You use less wire and it works so much better.

B.              V power. That’s what I call it. When wiring a fork of branches, the wire on one side goes clockwise, and the other goes counter clockwise, overall making a vee shape. Always. That’s it. If you can do those two things, you can wire anything.

Scott Elser