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The first thing to do when you acquire a new plant is to decide which style will be the best suited to the tree's basic shape. It can also be the contrary, you might be looking for a concrete form or the plant was recovered directly from nature so its basic form might be given by a special growth motivated by special conditions as there are freeze, wind, placement aso.

There are a lot of different style definitions to choose from. However, these styles can be classified into seven basic styles which depend on the overall form of the tree and how much the trunk is deviated from an imaginary vertical axis.

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Chokkan. The trees most likely suited for this style are conifers because of their normally upright and straight proportions. Beginners should start to develop a Chokkan styled tree because it is the easiest form to develop. There is no need for complete wiring and pruning techniques, it is quite simple to form rapidly a tree nice to look at.

Essential for this style is a straight trunk with a naturally balanced branch structure. The trunk should not branch at the top. The form is conical with an erect trunk and horizontal branches, every one extending little farther from the trunk than the next. The lowest two branches should be trained to reach to the front side, one slightly higher than the other. Trim the branches that grow too near to the base as the trunk should be visible, specially in the case of conifers which have a beautifully textured bark.

The trees formed in this style are normally planted in rectangular pots as they shouldn't be placed in the center of it; plant them 2/3 away from on of the ends.

Moyogi. Similar to the formal upright style, but the top of the trunk instead of growing straight bends slightly to the front. The form of the branches are much the same but the bent stem gives the tree the look of motion, slightly moved by a light wind. Informal upright grown trees are one of the most common styles. The species I like most for this style are maples, especially Acer palmatum and buergeranium or flowering trees like pomegranates.

It is much easier to find young plants in this form because in nature trees normally grow this way, because of irregular light exposition, heavy winds or other parameters which influence growth. Another thing you can do is to move the root ball in the direction you want the trunk to slant. Doing this, you will have to prune and wire the branches back to horizontal position.

As the formal upright trees, Moyogi styles bonsai look best in oval or rectangular pots, planting them again 2/3 away from on of the ends. Informal uprights are one of the most common styles.

Shakkan. The trunk slants in much more angle than in the previously mentioned styles. It is also important that the top of the trunk bends slightly to the front and the lowest branches grow in the opposite direction to which the stem slants. Shakan styled bonsai show trees exposed to extreme weather and gravity conditions as there are heavy winds or heavy loads of snow.

The shakkan style can be considered the intermediate stadium between the informal upright and cascade styles as the tree still grows up, but tends to bend down. In nature, this kind of trees are normally called leaners as they seem to lean against an imaginary stake.

Contrary to the previously mentioned Chokkan and Moyogi styled trees, Shakan trees should be centered in round (also square) pots, as the goal is that the trees bends out of the container.

Kengai. The trunk starts growing upward, but then turns downward and reaches a point below the base of the pot and for this reason the bonsai should be placed on a higher base. My cascade style trees are positioned at the border of their stone basements. Normally a great part of the foliage is situated below the soil level as cascade style trees try to simulate natural trees growing at the edge of an embankment or the slope of a mountain.

It is not easy to force a tree into the cascade style as trees normally grow up and never down, so the plant is actually trained into a very unnatural position. The first thing to do is to move the root ball at least 45 degrees to the side where the cascade will be formed. The upper part of the root ball has to be removed and straightened. After that, the rest of the work will be fulfilled by pruning and wiring the branches in a naturally falling form.

Cascaded trees are usually planted in a round or hexagonal pot that is higher than it is wide. The tree is planted at one side of the pot, normally at the cascading side.

Han-kengai. The trunk grows straight for a while and then cascades down at a slight angle, not as dramatic as in the cascade style. I have a pine mugo in semi cascade with three main branches of which only one cascades, might be a special style but looks quite nice. Species to recommend could be al kind of junipers and especially flowering plants. Normally the cascading branch or branches should be the front of the tree, and the semi cascade should not reach below the bottom of the container as the full cascade does but should also reach down below the level of the soil surface.

Semi-cascaded trees are usually planted in the same kind of pot as the cascades with the only difference that the pot needs not to be that high. The tree is planted, as usual, at one side of the pot, always at the cascading side.

Fukinagashi. This windswept style simulates the effect of extreme exposure to strong winds. Every part of the tree is swung in the direction of the gust of wind, nude branches simulate foliage loss due to weather conditions. These trees are usually modeled on trees found in coastal areas (in Spain, particularly on the island Formentera), where ruff environmental have given them their shape.

Bunjingi. The Literati style is maybe the strangest of all the styles. There are lots of different shapes but they all have long thin trunks which can culminate in a small tree top or curve back down finishing in a cascading form. A species often used for this style is the Japanese Red Pine, but every kind of conifer is adequate.

The idea behind Bunjingi is that in nature the tree, under adverse environmental conditions, has found its way to survive, being forced to contortions and un normal shapes.

In conclusion there are a lot of other styles which finally derive of those mentioned previously. Also the trunks can grow in many different manners, imagine single and multiple trunks.

I haven´t either talked about other forms like forests (Yosu-Ue) or trees planted on or over or clinging to rocks, these are styles on their own, with their own characteristics, with a lot of varieties.

Before you plant a tree in a pot, it is very important to visualize what the tree will look like in its new container. No matter how you plant the tree, which style you choose to apply, keep always in mind that you are trying to reproduce a natural scene and that is roots showing up at surface, irregular trunks, dead branches (Jin) etc. You can read more about bonsai styles in the Terms section.

More about styles

If you want to read more about bonsai styles please visit the terms section where you can find brief explanations of a lot of other styles.