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Bonsai Tree Styles & Techniques

A bonsai is not a genetically dwarfed plant. It is any tree or shrub species actively growing but kept small through a combination of pot confinement, and crown and root pruning.

Common Styles

There are many different styles of bonsai, but some are more common than others. These include formal upright, informal upright, cascade, semi-cascade, raft, literati, and group / forest.
The formal upright, or Chokkan, is just as the name suggests, and is characterized by a tapering trunk and balanced branches.
The informal upright
, or Moyogi, is much like the formal, but may bend and curve slightly, although for aesthetic quality the tree should never lean away from the viewer.
Cascade style, or Kengai, and semi-cascade , or Han Kengai, are modelled after trees that grow over water or on the sides of mountains. Semi-cascades lean just over the rim of the pot whereas cascades fall below the base of the pot.
Raft style, or Netsuranari,  bonsai mimic a natural phenomenon where a tree that has been toppled (typically due to erosion or another natural force) begins to grow a new root system out of the part of the trunk that is in contact with the ground. Raft bonsai are typically planted with the original root system still intact and in contact with the soil. The bark on the underside of the trunk is trimmed off until the smooth wood underneath is visible; this wood is then placed in contact with the soil and, typically, the trunk is buried either immediately or over time. This group of bonsai can include many other styles such as sinuous, straight-line, and group planting styles. These all give the illusion of a group of trees, but are actually the branches of a tree planted on its side.
The literati style is the hardest to define, but is seen often. The word literati is used in place of the Japanese bunjin which is a translation of the Chinese word wenren meaning "scholars practiced in the arts". The literati style is usually characterized by a small number of branches typically placed higher up on a long, contorted trunk. Literati bonsai often have the base of the crown beginning at a height lower than an S-shaped trunk bend, and the primary branch growing from below the S-bend, leading down and outwards with graceful sweeping lines. Their style is inspired by the Chinese paintings of pine trees that grew in harsh climates, struggling to reach the light of the sun.
Slant-style, or Shakan, bonsai possess straight trunks like those of bonsai grown in the formal upright style. However, the slant style trunk emerges from the soil at an angle, and the apex of the bonsai will be located to the left or right of the root base.


A group or forest bonsai , or Yose Ue, as the name suggests, is a number of bonsai (typically an odd number if there are three or more trees) placed together in a pot. Typically the number of trees in a forest style display is fifty or less, though there is no formal limit. The trees are often the same species and are styled accordingly; although group or forest bonsai tend to contain smaller trees (which would be classified as mame style bonsai if they were planted alone), larger trees may be used.
The broom style, or Hokidachi is employed for trees with extensive, fine branching, often with species like elms. The trunk is straight and upright. It branches out in all directions about 1/3 of the way up the entire height of the tree. The branches and leaves form a ball-shaped crown which can also be very beautiful during the winter months.
The root-over-rock style, or Sekijoju, is a style in which the roots of a tree (typically a fig tree) are wrapped around a rock. The rock is at the base of the trunk, with the roots exposed to varying degrees.

Additionally, bonsai are classed by size. There are a number of specific techniques and styles associated with mame and shito sizes, the smallest bonsai. These are often small enough to be grown in thimble-sized pots and due to their minuscule size require special care and adhere to different design conventions.


Shaping and dwarfing are accomplished through a few basic but precise techniques. The small size of the tree and the dwarfing of foliage are maintained through a consistent regimen of pruning of both the leaves and the roots. Various methods must be employed, as each species of tree exhibits different budding behaviour. Additionally, some pruning must be done seasonally, as most trees require a dormancy period and do not grow roots or leaves at that time; improper pruning can weaken or kill the tree.

Most species suitable for bonsai can be shaped by wiring. Copper or aluminium wire is wrapped around branches and trunks, holding the branch in place until it eventually lignifies and maintains the desired shape (at which point the wire should be removed). Some species do not lignify strongly, or are already too stiff/brittle to be shaped and are not conducive to wiring, in which case shaping must be accomplished primarily through pruning.

"........Beauty in bonsai can not be achieved if you do not have beauty within........"