How to Bend a Bonsai

one_bonsai

Shohin
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People have probably seen these videos, but how are they able to bend such think branches without them breaking?

 

M. Frary

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First you need a pliable tree like the one featured.
Never be able to this to a maple.
Second you need to have practiced this maneuver in order to be able to "feel" the bend and be able to stop before breakage.
Creaking and some minor snapping is to be expected though.
And strong hands are a must.
 

Shibui

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Knowing which ones will bend and which won't is key. Some species are quite flexible while others are really brittle. Azalea, alocasuarina and hokkaido elm are some that I've found particularly prone to sudden snap even with moderate bends.
Wrapping the trunk or branch helps hold the fibres together while you put stress on during bending. Even if it does crack a bit the wood can't fully open up and it will eventually heal up in the new shape.
Having the tree a little on the dry side makes them more flexible and you can bend further without the crack.
Bending a little at a time is another strategy. Wire and bend as far as you are comfortable. Put the tree aside for a few days then try again. It is amazing how much more it will bend after the fibres and cells have relaxed into the new position.
 

leatherback

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I am sure you have seen in these video's that many of the trees bend are first wrapped with rope? This prevents the wood fibred to break through the bark. Breaking the fibres is not too much of an issue. It becomes bad when they then break through the outer layer of active bark and sapwood. By tying everying nice and tight you stop this break out from happening. So that is part of the trick.

The second thing you see is that they twist the trunk being bend. Most species are easier to bend when twisted, where one direction is clearly easier than the other.

Third thing to realize is that they do this on young nursery stock. I would be surprised if these branches are more than 2, 3 years old. All wood is still sapwood, none had hardened. The speed at which these bends seem to be made .. Do not repeat that on old material.

Finally.. Experience. The skill with which this lady moves means she has done hundreds of these trees.
 

Shibui

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Could you do this with Junipers?
Yes, junipers are regularly bent like this.
For gentle bends just wire and bend. For tighter bends and on older wood wrap first before wiring and making the bend. You may have noticed guy wires to hold some of the bends in place. That's where the wired on the branch are just not quite strong enough to hold it in the new place.

I see you are also in Australia so early summer for us and trees are still growing fast which means the cambium is active and bark can separate when bending. I have wired and bent junipers this time of year but occasionally part of the bent section will die soon after because the cambium was damaged while bending. It is safer to make bends when the trees are less active so later in summer or during the winter.
 
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