What are the Six Types of Bonsai?

Klon Burgera Bonsai Tree

Growing a bonsai tree is very much different than say growing a maple tree in your backyard. With the maple tree, you plant, feed and water the tree. And other than an occasional pruning to remove dead or damaged branches, you simply sit back and let nature take over. However with a bonsai, from day one you are growing a specimen with a defined “look” in mind. You will prune and train the tree to eventually achieve this look. Nature may grow the tree, but you determine its final appearance.

While the final appearance of the tree is part of the growers interpretation, there are five or six defined styles that your bonsai will fall into. Within the first five classifications you will find the “Formal Upright” bonsai, the “Informal Upright, the ” Slanting” bonsai, the “Cascade” and the “Semi Cascade” bonsai. As the names of the first two classifications elude to, trees grown in this style are trained to grow in a straight up right direction. The “Slanting” bonsai is one in which the tree angles either right or left. In the cascade style(s), the tree is pruned and trained to resemble a cascading waterfall.

Klon Burgera Bonsai Tree

Klon Burgera Bonsai Tree

The sixth style of the bonsai is known as “Windswept”. With this style the bonsai is trained to appear as it is being constantly blown by the wind. The inclusion of the windswept style into the classifications is a cause of some controversy amongst growers and traditionalist. Because of the visual interest that this style can generate, we felt it was important to include it in a discussion of the styles of bonsai trees.

Your choice of style will be made early in the life of the bonsai. The actual specimen chosen by you can be governed by the style choice. Also your choice of design and color of the pot will also be influenced by the style of bonsai you choose to grow.

To help you decide which style of bonsai best suits your intended design, let’s take a closer look at each of the styles. Each of these styles has some specific guidelines for that particular style. But remember these are guidelines only. One of the more enjoyable parts of the bonsai experience is to create that one of a kind specimen.

Formal Upright Bonsai Tree

The formal upright is the basis of other bonsai styles. It is a single trunk specimen tree that is conical in shape. With this style of bonsai the length of the branches diminish the closer to the apex of the tree they are.

Formal Upright Bonsai Tree

Formal Upright Bonsai Tree

One of the hallmarks of the Formal Upright is the position of the first branch. This first branch should appear at 1/3rd of the height of the trunk, it should also be pointed toward the front of the tree. The second branch should also be trained to angle toward the front of the tree. A third branch should extend out of the back of the trunk. This third branch should occur at an angle that is half way between the first and second branches. Subsequent branches should follow this pattern to the apex of the tree. The final appearance of the tree should approximate a triangle.

When planting a Formal Upright Bonsai, do not center the plant in pot. This placement is for visual reasons only. Formal Upright bonsai appear best when potted in an oval or rectangular pot. Avoid square pots as this affects the appearance of the tree.

The Formal Upright is one of the easiest forms to create. recommended plants that are well suited for the Formal Upright Bonsai are pines, Maples, junipers and larches. It is recommended that you avoid fruit bearing trees for the formal upright style. The formal upright bonsai is total symmetry.

The Informal Upright Bonsai is a single trunk specimen planted in a pot, just as the Formal Upright Bonsai is. The placement or location of the branches as they emanate from the trunk follow the same procedural logic as in the Formal Upright. Beyond these two stipulations, the Informal upright Bonsai and the Formal Upright are two very different plants. With the Informal Upright Bonsai the trunk of the tree is not necessarily straight, in fact it may bend or twist several times before it reaches its apex. A properly trained Informal Upright Bonsai will bend toward the front or display side of the tree as it reaches its apex.

The branches in an informal Upright Bonsai appear to be fuller than with the Formal style, as seen in a Fukien Tea Upright Bonsai. There is less symmetry with the informal Upright than one would find with the Formal Upright. Making the informal Upright style a better choice for a specimen selected to depict a more desolate setting.

As with the Formal Upright, good choices for the Informal Upright Bonsai would include pine, maples and Junipers. Avoid fruit bearing trees for this design. Informal Upright Bonsai will appear best when planted in either an oval or rectangular pot.

When potting an Informal Upright Bonsai, plant it off center in your pot. If your selected plant does not have an significant bent or slant, simply adjust the angle of the root ball when you plant the specimen. In a visit to your local nursery you should be able to fins several trees that already have a natural bend or twist to the trucks, making them ideal selections for this style of bonsai.

The slanting Bonsai tree has a very steep or acute angle compared to the previous two styles discussed. Whereas in the upright styles the trunk of the tree grows vertically, the trunk of the slanted tree leans drastically in one direction. The angle that the tree grows in ranges from 60 -80 degrees.

Slanted bonsai trees are often found in nature where the tree had to bend in one direction to locate the sun, or where prevailing winds constantly forced the tree into one direction. The slanted Bonsai is a miniature version of this same tree.

There are very few rules or guidelines regarding the slanted Bonsai. Primarily the first branch must spread in the opposite direction of the slant. The other guideline is that the top of the tree should point toward the front or face of the tree.

This style of bonsai is compromise between the Upright style and the cascade style. One important differentiations between the slanting Bonsai and the Cascading Bonsai is that the growth of the tree occurs above the root line in the slanted, whereas the grow occurs below the root line in the cascade styles.

With the exception of the fruit bearing trees, almost any other tree could be trained in this style.

Within the cascade style of bonsai plants there are two classifications, the “Cascade Bonsai” and the “Semi Cascade Bonsai”. These trees are trained so that the trunk of the tree will begin to grow straight up, and then turn drastically down toward the soil of the tree. The distinction between the Cascade and the Semi Cascade is the direction that the growth occurs in. With the Cascade style the tree will continue to grow vertically toward earth, whereas the semi cascade will eventually begin to grow horizontally. This horizontal growth will always happen below the base of the tree.

In both styles the main portion of the trees growth will occur below the base of the tree. This growth will extend down beyond the bottom of the pot that contains the Cascade bonsai. For this reason, Cascade Bonsai are normally placed upon either a high table or a pedestal.

A good selection for either of these styles would be the prostrate junipers, chrysanthemums, wisteria, willows and star jasmine. One would not select a tree that naturally is a tall growth specimen for styling as a cascade bonsai. These trees display best when planted in either in a round or hexagonal pot. The pot for the cascading Bonsai should always be much taller then they are wide. As with most other bonsai trees, this style displays best when planted off center.

Creating a cascade or a semi cascade bonsai is a very time consuming endeavor.

Windswept Bonsai Tree

The final classification of styles for the bonsai tree is known as the “Windswept Bonsai”. What differentiates this style from the others is the visual harshness of the presentation. As the name implies, the “Windswept Bonsai” has the appearance of a tree grown in extremely harsh conditions, where winds or other environmental conditions have forced growth on just one side of the tree, typically away from the wind. With this style of bonsai, everything, trunk, branches and leaves all will face in only one direction.

The windswept bonsai is not to be confused with the slanted bonsai. Both styles will have a bent or angled trunk, however with the slanted, the branches and foliage can return back toward the trunk. On a windswept bonsai, there is no reversal of direction.

A windswept Bonsai normally will have a stunted or weathered appearance. There will be little if any adornment in the pot. Remember that the goal is to create a presentation that reflects the harshest of conditions. This tree is normally planted in an oval pot, with the tree itself planted toward one edge of the pot. The growth will occur back toward the center of the pot. To help define the rugged conditions, you may elect to add rocks to the presentation. Remember to keep the rocks within the proper scale of the tree. When found in nature these trees are very matured large trees, so don’t diminish their size with too large of rocks.

Windswept bonsai are normally cultivated from evergreens. The use of deciduous trees is not recommended for this style of bonsai. While the deciduous could be trained in the windswept style, the fact that their leaves grow in all directions would make the visual affect less convincing.

Windswept Bonsai Tree

Windswept Bonsai Tree

Windswept Bonsai are normally potted in simple, unadorned pots. Use of glazed or brightly colored pots would detract from the overall presentation.

If one were to search for a single word to describe the appearance that the “Windswept Bonsai” creates, that single word would be “Survivor”. While this style may not be as visually fulfilling, it is definitely one of the most dramatic styles.

Windswept Bonsai Tree at the goal is to create a presentation that reflects the harshest of conditions. This tree is normally planted in an oval pot, with the tree itself planted toward one edge of the pot. The growth will occur back toward the center of the pot. To help define the rugged conditions, you may elect to add rocks to the presentation. Remember to keep the rocks within the proper scale of the tree. When found in nature these trees are very matured large trees, so don’t diminish their size with too large of rocks.

Bonsai Care and Feeding

The very word “bonsai” conjures so many thoughts to many people. Almost a warrior sound yet in reality the word bonsai implies a miniature tree.

Where Bonsai Started.

Most of us associate bonsai with the Japanese. Apparently the art of bonsai care and development as we know it today originated in China and was known as Pensai in China. Pensai as it was known has been traced back to around 600 a.d. and subsequently made it’s way to Japan

Bonsai maple

Bonsai maple

Bonsai maple

The word “Bonsai” comprises of two parts “bonsai” meaning tray and “sai” meaning plant, which when literally translated equates to “tray plant”. We are so emphatic to ensure that we correctly call bonsai trees when part of the derivation of the word does in fact mean plant.

In the care of bonsai trees we”ll take a few clear topics:-

o Watering bonsai
o Light and Humidity for my bonsai tree
o Bonsai Feeding

How frequently to water a Bonsai?

The first question most budding bonsai carers ask is “How often should I water a bonsai tree?” and the answer depends on many different factors. Watering and caring for a bonsai tree is a constant balance between too much and too little.

Variables to consider are when caring for your bonsai tree are:-

o The type of bonsai tree.
o The time of year is it winter, summer, spring or autumn (fall).
o The location of the bonsai tree within your house or garden.
o The location of your property i.e. Alaska or Arizona.

How should I water a bonsai tree?

The “best” way to water is to first wet the soil a little, this will improve the soil’s ability to take in or absorb a larger volume of water, and then you should water thoroughly until the soil is saturated. Make certain that the entire soil mass gets wet – every time – you water and wait for the excess to run out of the drainage holes to be sure.

When should I water a Bonsai tree?

The “best” time to water is probably early in the morning, before the bonsai tree begins its day of growing activities. Also take a look during the day if the bonsai tree located in a particularly hot and dry place. Bonsai trees do not grow when the soil is too wet and they do not grow when the soil is too dry. A bonsai tree takes in water and nutrients during the “in between” periods.

Work out a sensible watering schedule that is realistic and achievable and try and maintain a regular caring plan for your bonsai tree.

What kind of water should I use to water a bonsai tree?

Water your a bonsai with room temperature tap water. If the water is too hot or too cold it may shock the tree”s roots. If you have the ability, facility and time to collect rain to water” great.

Light and Humidity for my bonsai tree.

How much light does a bonsai require?

Providing the correct amount of light for your bonsai is crucial to keeping it healthy. However, there are no simple answers as to how much light bonsai trees in general “require”. Light requirements are specific to the type of tree and are further dependent upon specific variations in the location they are kept – namely your home. It is a good idea to speak to your local bonsai supplier or a fellow bonsai enthusiast that has experience growing bonsai in a setting very similar to your own.

What kind of light is best?

Bonsai Moon

Bonsai Moon

Bonsai Moon

Sunlight is by far the best type of light for bonsai trees and most other living creatures on earth. As such, the brightest window in your home is arguably the best spot for your indoor bonsai trees. However, the brightest window in your home may be located next to the fireplace. So, in a case like this you need to find an alternative and more practical location and use some type of artificial lighting system.

What kind of artificial light should you provide?

A grow light and timer are a simple solution for providing additional light. Set your timer for 12 to 16 hours of supplemental lighting and position your bonsai within 1 to 4 inches of your light source.
Why is humidity important for bonsai?

Although indoor bonsai trees slow their growth in winter and do not need as much water, they still do require sufficient humidity. Humidity helps to reduce water loss through the processes of transpiration. Transpiration will have a negative effect on your bonsai’s ability to retain water and remain healthy.

How can I improve humidity for my bonsai tree?

The sometimes dry climate of a home or apartment can be altered to benefit your bonsai tree. You can place your bonsai on a “humidity tray” filled with decorative pebbles, that should be kept wet at all times, this will help increase humidity levels. Another solution is regular misting. Misting or spraying is the most common humidifying method. It has the additional benefit of removing dust from your bonsai, which blocks sunlight and interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Be sure to mist using room temperature water.

What else is helpful to prevent dry conditions?

Keep your indoor bonsai trees away from draughty doors or windows and from heat sources such as vents, radiators, or fireplaces.

Bonsai Feeding

Why Do Bonsai Need Fertilizer?

The bonsai environment is “artificial” and therefore requires our intervention, help and care in order to maintain the health and development of the bonsai tree. The simplest way to achieve a healthy bonsai tree in addition to frequent watering is a frequent dose of fertilizer to the soil.

LifeSize Bonsai

LifeSize Bonsai

LifeSize Bonsai

What type of fertilizer to use?

Use a balanced fertilizer to feed your bonsai tree – typically 20-20-20, at 25% strength, every other week. The numbers 20-20-20 are the percentage, by weight, of the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) contained in that fertiliser. These elements will enhance the growth of your bonsai tree.

What Does N-P-K Stand For & What Does It Do?

o N – Nitrogen is responsible for the size and amount of new growth and, to some extent, the green colour of the leaves. Nitrogen is required for cell division and, also, protein manufacturing.
o P – Phosphorus is also necessary for cell division and is associated with good root growth and flowering.
o K – Potassium activates cell enzymes and is related with overall healthy cell activity.

Bonsai Fertiliser Notes

1. Always water your bonsai thoroughly before fertilizing and never use fertilizer on a dry tree.
2. Never fertilize a sick tree, as fertilizer is not medicine.
3. If you are not sure how much fertilizer to use, follow the directions on the label and never use more than recommended.
4. Fertilizer is a good thing, but too much is a bad thing.

Peter Williams has his own website with many useful tips & hints, resources and links about bonsai care [http://www.bonsai-care.biz] and how to look after your bonsai tree Some nice pictures too!

Tips, Tricks & Techniques For Cultivaating Yopur Bonsai

Bonsai, like with any art form, has certain techniques applied to create the masterpiece. Painters use paintbrushes, composers use paper, pen, and musical instruments; sculptors use a variety of tools. Bonsai artist also use a variety of tools, their primary tools being their hands, time and patience.

Bonsai has a variety of techniques applied to this art such as leaf trimming, pruning, wiring, clamping, grafting, defoliation, and deadwood to name a few. Each of these techniques requires bonsai tools especially for that purpose.


Tree Story – A Maple Campestre

Tree Story – A Maple Campestre

Tree Story – A Maple Campestre

In leaf trimming, a bonsai artist does precision removal of leaves or needles from the bonsai plant or tree. In doing so, it aids in developing the mature look sought after in the bonsai piece. The leaf trimmer is specifically designed for leaf removal for quick clean cuts that make trimming your bonsai plant/tree quick and safe for your Bonsai. Dull cuts leave ragged edges that may result in slower healing. Tweezers work great for removing dead leaves as well as needles, insects and weeds in the container. Evergreen variety bonsai need needles that grow on the trunk or below the branches removed. By removing needles or new bud growth, the artist can produce budding on the trunk adding character to the bonsai. Leaf trimming and pruning are the two most frequent techniques used with bonsai creation.

Pruning involves the removal of branches, roots, and trunk growth. It is extremely important to know the ins and outs of pruning a bonsai because one wrong cut can kill or weaken a bonsai. Sharp pruning shears are essential for clean cuts. Pruning, like leaf removal is done frequently throughout the creation of the bonsai. Concave cutters are the most common bonsai tool used in pruning of branches, roots, and trunk growth. Their angled cutting edge make for easy and clean cut removal of unwanted growth on your bonsai. They come in various sizes but standard is 8 inches. Spherical concave cutters are the sister to the concave cutters with the only difference being a rounded cutting edge that is designed to give more precise growth removal as well as give the artist the ability to create hallow wounds in the trunk of the bonsai that after healing appears flat giving the bonsai a more matured look. Shears, the last of the pruning tools have short blades with long handles. Much like the shears one would use on a hedge but in a Bonsai size, they give the artist the ability to prune the bonsai to shape and get into areas where the concave may not be able to reach. In order to maintain the bonsai shape and form, pruning must be maintained. The amount of time and frequency in which you will have to prune will be dependent upon the type of plant or tree used.

Wiring is done to form the tree of plants branches in their desired form. It works as a support and a map in which the plant/tree will conform. Copper and aluminum wire is used when wiring branches or trunks of the bonsai. The wire is left in place up to nine months or until the branch hardens up. Wires are also used to form shapes with young branches that are still flexible or to connect them to the bonsai pot. Not all branches take to wiring due to their lack of flexibility. These branches are shaped and formed into the desired positions through pruning. Wiring is most often done in the springtime when there is new growth and branches are more flexible. When wiring, you want to take extra precaution not to brake the branches or bark by being to forceful. Keeping the wire firm and at intricate locations (e.g. bends, crossovers) is prudent in receiving the goal you are reaching. The most common tool used with wiring your bonsai is the wire cutters. A bonsai artist uses the wire cutters to not only cut the wire but often times shaping the end of wire tightly around the branches. The Bonsai wire cutters have a rounded nose on them, which enables the artist to get in close to the branch and not harm the bark. Branch benders are used in place of the wire when branches are not flexible enough to wire in desired positions.


Ginseng Ficus Bonsai pair

Ginseng Ficus Bonsai pair

Ginseng Ficus Bonsai pair

Clamping is yet another technique used by bonsai artist in the forming of branches and trunks that present stiffer wood. Most commonly used are the screw-based clamps that enable the artist to put pressure on branch or trunk increasing over a period time to achieve desired results.

Grafting is done to join two plants or trees together to give the appearance as a singular bonsai. Another common reason behind grafting is that some plant root systems alone in bonsai art are not suitable to stand on their own; with combining the two root systems the artist gains better ability to control size. Common tools used in grafting are grafting and budding knives. It is important for the artist to use sharp knives as to not leave ragged wounds that can cause harm to the bonsai. Tying and wrapping materials are used to hold scissions and stock together tightly as well as prevent callus from forming. Commonly used tying and wrapping materials are tape, plastic, raffia, rubber budding strips and twine.

Defoliation is the practice of total leaf removal by partially clipping along the petiole (stem) of the leaf, which will later dry up and fall off. This forces a new crop of smaller leaves adding to the esthetics of dwarfing. This short term dwarfing of the leaves can only be done at most every other year due to the weakening effects it has on the tree. Not all plant/trees can survive defoliation. Sharp bonsai scissors are the most common tool used for this technique.

Deadwooding is a technique used to give the appearance of matured bark in an otherwise young tree. There are two different styles of deadwooding; the jin used when bark is stripped entirely off a branch, and the shari technique is used when trying to give the impression of scarring on a branch or trunk. Other techniques are done to give the appearance of a raised grain in a trunk or a bleaching of the trunk using a lime-sulfur compound.


Shade is useful when first starting a pot. The trick is to diminish the sun, while the plant is getting established. I use white bamboo sheets. they seem to provide just the right amout of light for getting them started. I have an old king bamboo sheet that I have been cutting pieces out of for years

There are many other techniques used in bonsai art and a variety of different tools to achieve the effect of the technique.

Bamboo Bonsai

I saw a thread a couple of years back regarding bamboo bonsai and I saw the picture They were awesome! I want to try it now. Has anyone on this thread tried the bamboo bonsai over the past couple of years and have been sucessful? Care to post some pics? The pic of the bonsai black bamboo was truly beautiful!


This isn’t my photo. I saved it a while back from some website. Not exactly bonsai, but it has some of the bonsai appeal. This is Bambusa vulgaris “Wamin”

Bambusa vulgaris “Wamin

Bambusa vulgaris “Wamin


I am not into bonsai, though I have been keeping a Ph. n. Henon in a pint container for over a year and will continue to occassionally put small rhizome divisions into pot to attempt to establish. At least I claim I am not into bonsai although I am trying to bonsai bamboo, without putting any true effort into it.

While not a bonsai, I found some bamboo sheets at: http;//bambooforlife.com/bamboo-sheets. I highly recommend them for after you’ve toiled in the garden, and worked the soil.


butterfly4u(Aiken, SC zone 8):

Sounds like indirectly you are bonsiaing,(is that a word?)
a Ph. N Henon.
I am growing Buddah’s from seed and now I am definately going to try to bonsai it. Buddah’s would look great as a bonsai.
I have some Ph. Nigra but would have to wait til it shoots,(after this winter, if it shoots)to see if I can try that also.
I would think bamboo would be difficult to bonsai due to it’s fast growth rate, but oh it is so beautiful in those bonsai pics.
Good Luck.


Dwarf Bamboo

Dwarf Bamboo

Keeping it in a small pot seems to be doing the trick so far. Time will tell. Sizing up of bamboo is an opportunity issue. Room to grow, Room to get big. I haven’t even considered root trimming at this point, but expect after this summer it probably will be.


I do some bonsai. Mostly japanese maples, but some bamboo also. I find dwarf bamboo the best to use. Link below is a pic. of one I made. I got my bamboo from Jungle Bamboo and Palms, in Cotati, Ca. They have healthy plants and quite a variety. I recommend them. Here is a link that might be useful: