This review demonstrates that ion irradiation is a very useful tool in order to tailor the properties of semiconductor nanowires. Besides optical and electrical doping provided by adequate ion species and ion energies, one can use ion beams also for the controlled shaping of the morphology of nanostructures. Here, one utilizes the commonly as ‘negative’ described characteristics of ion implantation: defect formation and sputtering. We show that ion beams can be even used for an alignment of the nanowires. Furthermore, we report here on several successful experiments in order to modify the electrical and optical properties in a controlled manner of ZnO semiconductor nanowires by the use of transition metals, rare earth elements and hydrogen ions.