Wire Woes–When to Remove Wire

We read it all the time. ‘Take wire off before it bites in.’ Many of us actually do this. And only about half the time is it actually what we should do.


This wire on a hemlock is getting snug. But it should be left on a bit longer. If removed now, most of the benefit of having the wire on there will be lost. As this is fall, and cambium will not grow in the winter, I will leave this on until sometime in the spring at least. Then I will begin checking for tightness again. (There are no problems leaving wire on in the winter—another myth. Not sure where that one started.)

So. Wire. On branches. Big problem, right?

To make it simple, the question of when to remove wire is actually broken down into two questions:

1. Is the tree a conifer or a deciduous tree?

2. Is the wire biting in?

And the answers are, if the tree is a conifer, we need to let the wire bite in a little bit before taking it off. If we don’t, the work will be worthless. We’ll have wasted our efforts.

If the tree is deciduous, try (this is nearly impossible, but try anyway) to take it off just before it bites in. If a wire bites into a branch on an old deciduous tree, you might as well cut it off and start again. If it’s a young deciduous tree or young branch, it might grow out of a modest wire scar just fine.

The reasons for the difference? Conifer branches are springy, and need more cambial growth and wood production to ‘set’ the branch. Deciduous branches will set easier, and need less time. Also, conifers tend to mask their branches somewhat with year-round foliage and often rougher bark. Deciduous trees are shy when naked, and prefer to be viewed sans-scars.

The wire wraps here are in need of removal. Sometimes all you find are a couple of places like this, and then you should only take off the areas where it is biting in. Leave the rest.

These wire wraps are on another branch of the same hemlock, and are in need of removal. They should have been removed a bit earlier. Sometimes all we find are a couple of places like this. Remove just a wrap or two where it is biting in. Leave the rest.

If you have a professional waddling around in your back yard and wiring a twig or two, do them the honor of removing the wire at the proper time. For heaven’s sake don’t waste your time and money by taking it off too early. Prevents exasperated revisitations, when they might wire too tightly out of frustration.

Monitoring one’s own work can be tricky enough. I swear I went in to boil water one day and when I came back out a wired maple branch was beyond help. Some use smart phone technology for checking in on their dogs when away; I think we should use it to check in on what our wires are doing on our deciduous when we’re off taking a walk around the block.

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  1. Don Quixote says:

    Mike your comment, “Deciduous trees are shy when naked, and prefer to be viewed sans-scars”. That will be my thought for the day.

  2. Tony Tickle says:

    Reblogged this on Yamadori and Bonsai material from Tony Tickle and commented:
    loving this about wiring from Michael

  3. Steve Moore says:

    Very useful, Mike! Thanks.

    (And I admire your sensitivity to the social-setting feelings of your trees. )

  4. Maciej Stelmach says:

    I’m still a bit concerned about leaving wire on in the winter. Knowing that metal shrinks in low temperatures will it not damage branches? Keep in mind that some people (myself included) store trees outdoors where temperatures fall to -30 degrees Celsius sometime.

    • crataegus says:

      Great question. Metal does shrink, but so does wood. Have a friend (hi Kurt) from South Dakota who told me about the quick temperature changes there in the winter, when a storm would swiftly arrive in a burst of cold, so it went from warm and balmy to a deep freeze in a few hours, and big tree trunks would shatter. The outer rind would shrink so fast that it would crack around the warm inner core. The difference was the size due to temperature. So I don’t think we have much to worry about with wire.
      If that does not convince, wire is left on bonsai year-round everywhere in Japan, even in the cold regions like Hokkaido.

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