Prune-and-Grow or Wiring?

Apr 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Pruning & Defoliating, Wiring

Before, bonsai care and design skill was limited to the much revered Lingnan prune-and-grow method developed by the ancient Chinese philosophers responsible for the Literati school of landscape painting and design. It was not until the turn of the 20th century that the Japanese, in an attempt to achieve natural shapes in an expedient amount of time, developed wiring as another training technique suitable for bonsai. And these two schools of thought persist today.

Prune-and-Grow Method

Prune-and-Grow is the recommended bonsai training method. This method increases branch ramification, encourages growth in non-pruned branches, and reduces leaf size (Defoliating is another effective method for reducing leaf size). As new shoots erupt from almost everywhere, especially around old latent bud scars and the bases of the removed branches, the bonsai artist carefully selects buds that will grow in the desired direction, and prune off the unwanted ones. If no such bud is found, then, all one can do is… be patient. A bud that grows in the direction you desire will appear eventually.

Bonsai Pruning & Wiring

Lingnan penjing (Southern Style bonsai) artists use mainly the prune-and-grow method.

Wiring Method

Wrapping wire around branches and trunks allows the bonsai artist to create the desired general form and make detailed branch and leaf placements. When wire is used on new branches or shoots, it holds the branches in place until they lignify (become woody), which usually takes more or less one growing season. Some species do not lignify strongly, and branches of some trees are too stiff or brittle. In these cases, we cannot shape the bonsai trees by wiring, but only through pruning.

So… Prune-and-Grow or Wiring?

There appears to be a great philosophical difference between these two training techniques. As for me, I believe wire should only be used in the development stage. While I shape the new branches and shoots of my bonsai trees with wires, I remove the wires as soon as the desired shape has once developed.

Bonsai Pruning & Wiring
I use wire on my bonsai trees as well, yet only during the development stage, and will remove the wire as soon as the shape has formed.

Today, most bonsai hobbyists apply a combination of the two methods, often without giving the decision much thought. While the prune-and-grow method can help to create a bonsai tree with more branches, smaller leaves, and greater details, using this method alone would take decades; a time schedule of no interest to most bonsai enthusiasts nowadays.

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