The Common Bonsai Tree Styles

Posted by Nursery Tree Wholesalers on

The Big Five In Bonsai

While there are certainly more bonsai styles out there than we are going to cover in this article, knowing these basics will help set the foundation for your bonsai knowledge! At Nursery Tree Wholesalers, we strive to increase your knowledge about our bonsai trees for sale through our online, wholesale nursery so you can thrive in the art of bonsai. With that said - The five basic bonsai styles are:

  1. Formal Upright
  2. Informal Upright
  3. Slanting
  4. Cascade
  5. Windswept

The style is determined by the basic shape and overall look of the tree through training. When deciding on what style to make your bonsai tree, it is best to pick a style that is closely suited to the natural design of the tree, which will make your styling efforts easier. Remember that when you pick a design and style of your tree, you will need to stay with that style, or should at least try to, as changing the style can be rather difficult or impossible after a few years. Keep in mind that bonsai is an art, and art is forever changing and flowing with the whims of the artist, so don’t feel constrained to any of these descriptions if you want to go another direction. You are the artist here! These “big five” will at least help you learn more about classic bonsai styles and will set you in the right direction in your learning.


Formal Upright

Formal upright is the most basic bonsai style and also the most classic. If you are a beginner, this is often the easiest style to pick up on because requires the least pruning, experimentation, and often less strenuous wiring. As the name suggests, the formal upright style is when the trunk of the tree stands straight vertically, or “formally upright”, and has horizontal branches at its side. Typically, the tree will be conical in shape, with the longest horizontal branches at the bottom that will taper off in length higher up the trunk. When picking a bonsai for formal upright, it is best to find a tree that already has a relatively straight trunk and a balanced distribution of branches and foliage. The rule of thumb is to have the lowest branch, which should be the biggest, begin about 1/3 up the height of the tree. Prune away any branches that are lower than that because they will only distract from the overall style. The goal with formal upright is to harness a sense of balance within the tree, but that does not necessarily mean it has to be strictly symmetrical.


Informal Upright

The Informal Upright style is very similar to the formal upright when comparing branch arrangement, where lower branches are longer and taper off in length towards the top, but the difference is the trunk bends slightly to the front at the top. This slight bend makes the branches of the tree appear to be in motion, slightly swaying in the wind. And since most bonsai trees are slightly slanted anyway, this style is used in bonsai – a lot! The slanting trunk enhances the look of informality and flow, and is very well suited for most deciduous trees. As with the formal upright, the lowest and biggest branch should begin about 1/3 up the height of the trunk and the rest of the foliage should be prune accordingly.



The Slanting Style has a trunk that is sharply slanted in one direction, while the lowest and biggest branch spreads out in the opposite direction of the trunk – an effect which counters the movement of the trunk so it does not appear to be lopsided. Many trees in nature grow slanted, called leaners, as they grow towards sunlight or are slanted from other factors such as wind and gravity. A slanted style bonsai tree will give the impression of old age and great strength. As with the first two styles, the lowest branch begins about 1/3 up the height of the trunk and the branches are typically arranged in groups of three.



The Cascade Style gives a bonsai a beautiful and unique look that resembles a tree growing downward off the face of an embankment or cliff. In this style the trunk of the tree starts by growing vertical from the soil, but then has an abrupt downward turn where it will reach either the bottom of the pot or even stretch blow the pot. Therefore, a cascade style bonsai tree is usually placed on the edge of a table of stand so the branches of room to “cascade” down. Generally, the foliage of the tree is all below the edge of the soil surface. The cascade style works well with a low growing species, and training usually takes longer than slanting as more a bend in the trunk is required.

Also worthy of note is the Semi Cascade style, which is similar to cascade but with a less dramatic bend in the trunk. With this style, the branches extend below the surface of the soil, but not below the bottom of the pot – hence “semi” cascade. It is not as difficult to train a bonsai tree in this style when compared to cascade.



As the name suggests, the windswept style simulates a tree that has had very long exposure to powerful winds. The branches of the tree are “swept” to one side, simulating being blown by strong winds. Bonsai trees in this style are mirrored after trees found in coastal areas where high winds and severe weather have sculpted the branches for years.


Picking A Style?

Remember that certain species are better suited towards specific styles than others. Also remember that you are free to pick and mold a style to your own liking, essentially making your bonsai tree your own, unique piece of art.

If you are looking for a place to begin – here is the down low on wiring. That will get you going in the right direction.

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