Bending Thick Branches

By Chris Pogliano

Raffia and wire

This is a standard procedure found in just about every method of major bending of branches. Wrapping the raffia in one direction and the wire in the opposite direction creates a mesh-like pattern around the branch, preventing separation.

One idea that I have been hearing about recently is the need to double up on wire and not stack it side to side which spaces it so more of the branch is supported by the wire. Another thing that has been coming up is wrapping with electrical tape. This is good with raffia because it doesn’t let the tape contact the bark of the tree but keeps the raffia from separating and creating a weak spot. >>

Cutting notches

This is a very simple idea, cut a notch to weaken the branch and keep it from splitting. The result is a sharp bend. The problem with this is if it is done in the wrong location it often means cutting too much of the xylem and causing the branch to die. If you talk to the more experienced artists they say there are two factors to consider in order to cut notches correctly. Identify the most active veins of tissue and make sure not to cut through them and make sure to not go past half way through the branch when cutting. However, even after following these practices success can be hit or miss depending on the type of tree and the level of your experience. KNOW YOUR TREES!!!!!!!!

Hollowing out

This is much like notching but reduces splitting further and leaves a little more active xylem. It works on the principle that the heart wood of the tree is the most dense and the least useful, hence we can create hollow trunk trees and not have them die. The tree is hollowed out from the back and sometimes has wires placed inside of the hollow to ensure it stays in place. The bend can end up being anything from gradual to sharp. The drawbacks are that there is going to be a large scar and possibly some reverse taper depending on how the hollowed out area spreads.


This is splitting the branch along its length and bending it into place afterwards. The effect is taking one large chunk of wood and turning it into two thinner pieces of wood sliding over each other. This is one of the least invasive methods but has the drawback of producing a large scar, possible reverse taper and possibly having one of the two halves die. This method is used mostly for gradual bends.

Guy wires, turn buckles and weights

This is another method that is often applied in tandem with many of the methods listed above. It involves slowly moving the branch into place using sources of slow steady pressure. Over time the branch will set in the desired position. If used in tandem with some of the other methods listed above it will produce sharp bends, otherwise, it will produce gradual bends if used by itself.

Cut your losses

Either acknowledge that the tree wasn’t that great of material to start with, try to force back-budding to replace the branch so it goes in the direction you want or graft onto the branch and use the graft to re-grow the branch in the direction you want.

Whichever method you choose I would encourage you to talk to more experienced members or conduct your own research to learn the details of these procedures prior to proceeding.