Skip to main content

Bonsai Tree Size Guide

A broom style bonsai tree.

The broom style, or Hokidachi, is a type of bonsai that mimics the shape of a deciduous tree with a straight and upright trunk that branches out evenly in all directions. The branches are fine and dense, forming a rounded crown of foliage that resembles a fan or an umbrella. The broom style is suitable for species with small leaves and flexible twigs, such as elms, maples, and zelkovas. The trunk should not extend beyond the lower third of the tree, and the crown should cover the upper two thirds. The broom style is one of the most elegant and refined forms of bonsai, and it requires careful pruning and wiring to maintain its symmetry and balance.

A cascade style bonsai tree.

The cascade style of bonsai, also known as kengai in Japanese, is a dramatic and elegant form that mimics the natural shape of trees growing on cliffs or mountainsides. The trunk of the bonsai bends downwards, extending below the level of the pot, and the branches grow horizontally or slightly upwards. The cascade style represents the resilience and perseverance of trees that endure harsh conditions such as snow, wind, or landslides. The cascade style can be further divided into two types: cascading and semi-cascading. The cascading type has the apex of the tree below the base of the pot, while the semi-cascading type has the apex above or at the same level as the base of the pot. Both types require careful wiring, pruning, and potting to achieve a balanced and harmonious appearance.

A bonsai tree clinging to a rock.

The Clinging-to-rock "Ishizuki" style of bonsai trees is one of the most challenging and rewarding forms of the art. It involves growing a tree on a rock, or embedding its roots into the crevices of a rock, so that it appears to be clinging to it for survival. The rock provides a contrast to the foliage and adds a sense of drama and realism to the composition. The tree must be carefully selected and trained to match the shape and texture of the rock, and the rock must be stable and porous enough to allow the roots to penetrate and absorb water and nutrients. The Clinging-to-rock style requires skill, patience and creativity, but the result can be a stunning display of harmony between nature and human intervention.

A clump style bonsai tree.

The clump style of bonsai, also known as Kabudachi in Japanese, is a style that features three or more trunks growing from a single root base. The trunks cannot be separate, unlike a group planting, and they form a single crown of foliage. The trunks should have different heights and thicknesses, with the thickest and tallest one forming the apex. The natural equivalent of this style might be a group of trees that have sprouted from a single seed or a collection of suckers from the base of an old tree. This style is suitable for both deciduous and evergreen species, especially those with attractive flowers or fruits.

A driftwood bonsai

The driftwood or sharimiki style of bonsai trees is a dramatic and powerful expression of nature's forces. It depicts a tree that has survived harsh conditions, such as disease, damage, weathering, or age, and has lost most of its bark on the trunk. The bare trunk, often with jins and shari, contrasts with the living branches and foliage that are connected by a thin strip of live bark. This style requires a careful balance between the deadwood and the live vein, as well as a suitable choice of tree species, such as pines, junipers, spruces, or olives. The driftwood style is not very common, but it can evoke a strong sense of history and resilience in the viewer.

A bonsa forest planting.

The forest style of bonsai, also known as Yose-ue in Japanese, is a popular and creative way of displaying multiple trees in a single pot. The trees are arranged to create the illusion of a natural forest, with varying distances, heights and thicknesses of the trunks. The forest style can be applied to different types of trees, such as pines, maples or satsuki, but they should be of the same species to maintain harmony. The number of trees in a forest bonsai should be odd, unless there are more than 15 trees, in which case it is not so important. The forest style bonsai captures the beauty and diversity of nature in a miniature landscape.

A formal upright bonsai tree

The formal upright style, or chokkan, is one of the most common and classic bonsai styles. It represents a tree that grows straight and tall, with a tapering trunk and symmetrical branches. The trunk should be thicker at the base and thinner at the top, and should not bend or curve. The first branch should start at about one-fourth of the total height of the tree, and should grow in the opposite direction of the trunk. The branches should be evenly spaced and alternately arranged on both sides of the trunk, forming a triangular silhouette. The lowest branches should be the longest and thickest, while the highest branches should be the shortest and thinnest. The apex of the tree should be formed by a single branch that continues the line of the trunk. The formal upright style is suitable for deciduous trees with fine branching, such as maples, elms, beeches, and hornbeams. The style aims to create a natural and balanced impression of a mature tree that grows in an open space with plenty of sunlight.

An informal upright bonsai tree.

The informal upright bonsai style, or moyogi, is a way of shaping a bonsai tree that resembles a natural tree that has been exposed to wind and other environmental factors. The trunk of the moyogi style is slightly bent and tapers toward the top, forming a gentle S-curve. The branches are distributed asymmetrically along the trunk, and they should extend from the outside of the curves, not the inside. The top of the tree should be aligned with the base of the trunk and face the viewer. The moyogi style is suitable for many species of bonsai trees, such as pine, maple, juniper, and conifer. It is one of the most popular and common styles in bonsai, and it can create an elegant and graceful appearance for the tree.

A literati bonsai tree.

The literati or bunjin "bunjingi" style of bonsai trees is a style that reflects the artistic spirit of the Chinese scholars who practiced painting, poetry, and calligraphy. The style is characterized by a long, slender, and often twisted trunk with minimal branches and foliage. The trunk may have exposed roots or deadwood to show the struggle and age of the tree. The branches are usually placed higher up on the trunk and arranged in an asymmetrical way. The style aims to create a simple and elegant image that evokes a sense of tranquility and natural beauty. The literati style is often used for conifers, such as pines, junipers, and spruces, but it can also be applied to deciduous trees, such as beeches and ficuses.

A raft bonsai tree.

The Raft "Ikadabuki" style of bonsai trees is a way of creating a realistic representation of a natural phenomenon, where a tree falls over due to wind, flood, or erosion, and its branches grow upwards as new trunks. The original trunk is buried under the soil, and the new trunks form a unified canopy. The Raft style can be done with sinuous or straight-line trunks, depending on the species and the desired effect. The Raft style is not very common, and it requires patience and skill to achieve. It is easier to do with deciduous trees that can root easily from exposed cambium, such as quince, beech, or crab apple. Coniferous trees, such as juniper or spruce, can also be used, but they take more time and care. The Raft style can create a stunning impression of age and resilience, as if the tree has survived a natural disaster and thrived for many years.

A root-over-rock bonsai tree.

The Root-over-Rock "Sekijoju" style of bonsai trees is a way of creating a naturalistic and dramatic image of a tree growing on a rocky terrain. In this style, the roots of the tree wrap around a rock at the base of the trunk, following its contours and crevices, and then reach the soil below. The rock is an integral part of the composition and should be large enough to balance the tree and show its struggle. The roots should be firmly attached to the rock, without crossing or leaving gaps, and should gradually thicken over time to show age. This style can be applied to various species of trees, such as maples, pines, beeches, crab apples and pomegranates. It takes time and patience to develop a root-over-rock bonsai, as the roots need to grow and adapt to the shape of the rock. The result is a stunning and realistic representation of nature's resilience and beauty.

Ish Seki bonsai are bonsai trees that are planted on rocks, imitating the natural scenery of trees growing in harsh environments. The term Ish Seki means "root-over-rock" in Japanese, and it is one of the styles of bonsai art. Ish Seki bonsai can create a dramatic impression of strength and resilience, as the trees have to struggle to find nutrients and water in the cracks of the rocks. Some of the common tree species used for Ish Seki bonsai are junipers, azaleas, hinoki cypress, and buxifolio. Ish Seki bonsai require careful attention to the roots, soil, and watering, as they are more vulnerable to drying out than other bonsai.

Ishitsuki bonsai are a style of bonsai that express the natural beauty of trees growing on rocks in harsh environments, such as valleys and beaches. The word ishitsuki means "clinging to a rock" in Japanese, and there are two methods for creating this style. One is to plant the tree roots on a rock that serves as a pot, and the other is to make the tree roots cling to a rock that is planted in a container with soil. Ishitsuki bonsai can use various species of trees, such as conifers, maples, junipers, and olives, and they can be combined with accent plants to create seasonal interest. Ishitsuki bonsai are challenging to maintain, as they require frequent watering and careful placement to avoid drying out. However, they also offer great artistic freedom and creativity, as they can show different shapes and relationships between the trees and the rocks.

A semi-cascade bonsai tree.

The semi-cascade "Han-kengai" bonsai style is a classic and popular style that mimics the natural shape of trees growing on cliffs or near water sources. The trunk of the tree grows upright for a short distance and then bends downwards over the side of the pot, but not below the base of the pot. The branches and foliage follow the direction of the trunk and create a harmonious and balanced composition. The semi-cascade style requires a deep and heavy pot to support the weight of the tree and prevent it from tipping over. The tree should be planted near the center of the pot for stability. The semi-cascade style can be achieved with various species of trees, but some of the most suitable ones are junipers, flowering cherries, willows, and some varieties of Ficus. The semi-cascade style is similar to the cascade style, but less extreme and easier to maintain.

Netsuranari Bonsai.  Credit - Bonsai Focus magazine.

The Japanese term "Netsuranari" means sinuous-root style. It is a style that resembles the Yose-Ue (forest) style, but all the trunks are connected by a single root system. It consists of a primary tree with multiple stems, each of which has emerged from various points of the sprawling roots and grown into a tree. This style mimics a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree topples onto its side due to erosion or another natural force.  Netsuranari bonsai are very challenging and interesting to create, as they require a balance of design and technique.

There are only a few species that will grow into a ''netsuranari'' tree. The most popular are ''yamamomiji'' (Matsumurae Maple), ''goyomatsu'' (Japanese White Pine), ''tosho'' (Needle Juniper), and ''sugi'' (Japanese Cedar). 

A slanting bonsai tree.

The slanting style of bonsai trees, also known as Shakan, is inspired by the natural shape of trees that grow under the influence of wind, light, or gravity. In this style, the trunk leans to one side at an angle of about 60 to 80 degrees from the ground, creating a dynamic and elegant impression. The roots on the side of the lean are stronger and more visible than the ones on the opposite side, to support the weight and balance of the tree. The first branch usually grows in the opposite direction of the lean, while the other branches alternate left and right along the trunk. The trunk can be straight or slightly curved, but it should always taper from the base to the apex. The slanting style can be applied to many species of bonsai trees, but it is especially suited for deciduous trees with fine branching.

A twin-trunk bonsai tree.

The twin-trunk or sokan style of bonsai is a style that features two trunks growing from a single root base or nebari. The trunks may split immediately above the roots, or rise as one from the soil and then split after a few inches. The junction of the trunks at the base must be sharply V-shaped and not U-shaped. One of the trunks is dominant, being taller and thicker than the other, and both are clearly visible from the front. The smaller trunk must be no more than two thirds the height of the larger one. Together, they form a common crown, just as we see in nature. The branching from the two trunks should extend in different directions, avoiding crossing or overlapping. The twin-trunk style can create a sense of harmony and balance, as well as a dynamic composition. It can also suggest a story or a relationship between the two trunks, such as a mother-daughter or father-son pair. Any species of tree can be suitable for this style, but some common examples are Japanese maples, pines, olives, junipers, quince, and crab apples.

The term "Shidare-zukuri" means the weeping branch style in bonsai. It is a style that features a tree with branches that droop down, often resembling a willow tree. It is also known as the weeping style or the cascade style. The trunk of the tree is usually grown at an angle and hangs down over the edge of the pot, while the branches extend downwards towards the ground.

A windswept bonsai tree.

The windswept or Fukinagashi style of bonsai trees is a dramatic and expressive form that simulates the effect of strong and constant wind on a tree. The trunk is usually slanted at an angle of 60 to 80 degrees, and the branches grow mostly on one side, opposite to the direction of the wind. The foliage is sparse and elongated, creating a sense of movement and tension. The roots are well developed on the side where the tree leans, to provide stability and balance. The windswept style can be applied to different species of bonsai trees, but it is more convincing with evergreens that have needle-like or small leaves, such as junipers, pines, or privets. The windswept style is not easy to achieve, as it requires careful pruning, wiring, and shaping to create a realistic and harmonious appearance.