Wiring Prep: All At Once Or Piecemeal?

This is a question that dogged me in my early years…

  • Do we clean out and trim shoots over the whole tree before we wire?
  • Or do it branch by branch as we wire?

Being a huge fan of simplifying, it made sense to me to do all one thing first and then move on the next task.

Applying the ‘all at once’ technique to wiring prep, one would clean out and trim all shoots to length first all over the tree and only then start in with applying wire. And I did that for a while.

But I didn’t do that for very long. Japan kicked me of the habit, where the professionals find the second method more effective.

A Yellow Cedar, Cupressus nootkatensis, with all shoots trimmed and prepped for wiring, using the curiously less effective ‘all-at-once’ technique

Counter-intuitively I found that there was more flexibility to trimming and wiring each branch as I came to it.

The reason? One can relate one branch to another better. If you wire and set a branch, and then move on to the next, you have more options with a full branch than with a pre-trimmed one.

I know this may not make sense, yet handling each branch prep in piecemeal fashion allows flexibility, and working through a tree becomes more organic. It leaves you foxier on your feet. You can adjust branches in a more pinpointed fashion and the length you leave things is decided as you move up and around the tree.

The length you leave the branch or shoot will be heavily determined by whether you lower that branch much or not, or put curves in it or not. For that will affect its relationship to the next branch. And all that is easier to fine-tune if you do it one branch at a time.

Matt Reel and Bobby Curttright thinning, trimming, wiring, and setting branches using the ‘piecemeal method’ as they go up the tree. This is the preferred method of the masters in Japan. (Featured tree is a Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana.)

Try the piecemeal method, or at least ponder it. Of course the all-at-once technique can work. But the pros in Japan avoid it for a reason.

Postscript—The piecemeal approach doesn’t seem to translate well into other bonsai tasks like Black Pine decandling, where there’s an advantage to dividing tasks cleanly into two parts—cutting candles everywhere and then going back and pulling needles.

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  1. kiwijaz says:

    I guess this would only work intuitively so long as only one person works on the tree. If you had two people trimming and wiring they could be working against each others’ ‘visions’??

  2. Bob says:

    I have been taught to remove any branches that aren’t going to be used and clean up the tree and then wire the whole tree at once. Then I go back and set the branches and cut where needed for the design. That way I can look at the tree as a whole when finished and style it to my vision. That to me is better than piece meal because if you are working on branch and set it and then have to move it afterward because it has been moved by accident or just needs to be adjusted that to me is doing it twice which is just more work. IMHO

    • Jesse Strong says:

      The problem one runs into by wiring the whole tree before setting the branches is you’ve worked yourself into a corner as soon as you’ve finished. We bend branches with a slight twist or rotation. Where that branch needs to go directly effects the direction we coil the wire onto the branch. By wiring the whole tree first we lose the option to design the tree organically. For each branch we tackle we’re either forced to only move the branch the direction we’ve wired it or, lose all holding capacity in the wire by rotating the branch opposite the direction we coiled the wire. Once a tree is cleaned and branches are selected we have a pretty good idea where we’re going to place them based on the design we have in mind. Wiring each branch individually as we move up the tree allows us the freedom to make changes as we go and design each branch organically. We have the original design in mind but have the ability to work freely and use what the tree is giving us to eventually end up with our design idea. On the other hand, once we’ve ‘prewired’ every branch we’re either placing branches based on our initial design idea with no or very little wiggle room, or having a poorly wired tree and branches that won’t stay put because we’ve lost the holding capacity of the wire. I’m sure some people can look at the selected branches and know exactly where they’re going to end up before even taking the wire off the wall…I’ve found throughout the years though, that styling trees organically, and letting the tree lead the dance rarely fails.

      Just an observation and something I’ve thought about for many hours over the years. We see some professionals do it, not many, but some do, and that’s fine. Watching them take that approach in videos and demos is actually what made me really think about it. At the end of the day we all have our opinions, ideas, habits and ways of doing things. If it works for you then that’s all that matters. I don’t usually offer my opinion as strongly as I did here, but it is something that’s been on my mind a long time, and more so recently as I’ve been watching a couple different professionals YouTube channels. I thought I’d toss my two cents out there. Food for thought at the very least!

  3. phlkrg says:

    Question: do you work from the bottom up to the apex?

  4. Brendan R Roodt says:

    If you already have a pretty solid idea of your plan for the tree then the piecemeal approach makes sense. But where you need to get the tree cleaned up and wired so that you can explore options then perhaps the job-by-job approach is better?

  5. David Wheeler says:

    ……….the never ending process of learning……..or just experimenting………or experiencing I guess they are all sort-of the same……. thank you for sharing David

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