Pronounced as “bone-sigh”, Bonsai are trees and plants grown in containers in such a way  that they look their most beautiful--even prettier than those growing in the wild. Bonsai is not a special kind of tree,  it is a method for training trees. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-sized trees. The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation for the viewer and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity for the grower.  Cultivating bonsai, therefore, is a very artistic hobby. The word Bonsai literally means, in both Chinese and in the Japanese language, “tree-in-a-pot”.

Bonsai is only a part of the culture of gardening.  Cruelty in general means callousness and mindless behavior, whereas in bonsai, it requires utmost care and concern for the plant. Moreover it is trying to grow the plant for years, if not generations, perhaps till the life span of the plant. Actions such as trimming the weaker branches is likely to strengthen and improve the overall health of the plant.

Following are the different styles of Bonsai

Formal Upright Style

The bonsai of this style are reminiscent of trees growing in nature in an open location without stress. The trunk line is vertical with the apex located over the center of the trunk base, and must taper from base to apex.

Informal Upright Style

This style is probably the most popular one in the bonsai. It depicts a tree in nature that has suffered from the elements, with a trunk line showing contortion and branches that sag.

Slanting Style

Looking at trees in nature, one often sees individuals that have been tilted to one side by the forces of wind or water, or ones that lean at an angle reaching for sunlight. These trees have developed strong root systems on one side to counter the weight of the tree’s slant to the other side.

Semi-Cascade Style

This style is meant to depict a tree hanging from the side of a cliff by the seashore or a stream. The tree grows over the edge of the pot, and the trunk bends downward beyond the rim of the container but not below its base.

Full Cascade Style

This bonsai style follows the rules of semi-cascade except that the cascading line falls below the base of the container. This requires that the bonsai be displayed on a stand so that the trunk line can extend as far as it needs to. Aesthetically, the tree must never touch the surface of the stand upon which it is displayed. .

Broom Style

Broom-style bonsai resemble the old trees found along city streets or in orchards. A deciduous species is groomed to form a crown of radial branches that show a great deal of ramification (branching twigs), thereby creating a beautiful reflection of an old tree.

Exposed Root Style

In nature, rain and weather can erode soil from the base of a tree, slowly exposing its roots over the years. Bonsai artists like to exaggerate this effect and show a great deal of root structure.

Root Over Rock Style

When a seed lands in a crack in a rock and finds enough soil to survive, the plant’s roots may eventually grow to spread among the thin layers of soil and moss across the rock. In another scenario, the roots slowly grow over and around the rock to the soil below, partially encasing the rock. In bonsai, this effect is created by spreading roots over a rock and then allowing the roots to develop.

Double Trunk Style

This style depicts a tree with two trunks. The trunks, usually of two trees of different diameters, have grown together at the base, and the two trees are styled as one. No branches are permitted to grow between the trunks.

Raft Style

In the natural scenario this style seeks to emulate, a woodland tree is damaged by a storm and blown over, breaking the branches on the downward side. Over time, roots develop from the trunk resting on the soil, and the remaining branches (rising vertically from the undamaged side of the trunk) grow to look like new trees connected by the old trunk. In bonsai, a one-sided tree is wired and laid horizontally on soil, branchless side down.

Clump Style

When a cone or fruit containing several seeds falls in fertile soil and several trees grow at the same time, they may merge to form a tree with multiple trunks. Each trunk naturally bends outward from the group to reach for the light. The clump style in bonsai is created by planting a number of seedlings tightly together and styling them to form outward-reaching trunks.

Forest Style

Using five or more trees, artists can create bonsai resembling small or large forests. Sometimes the forest is styled to look as if it reaches far into the distance. By placing smaller trees in front and progressively larger ones behind, a far-view perspective can be achieved. The trees are all placed at different distances from each other. The overall effect is a canopy resembling a scalene triangle.

Literati Style

The literati style of bonsai is meant to show the essence of a tree. A literati has a beautiful, thin, and unique trunk line. Branches are kept to a minimum. This style is often thought to be the most difficult to achieve. Only a bonsai artist who has mastered all the rules and created great designs can successfully break the classic rules and create elegant literati.

Weeping Style

In nature, weeping trees like willows are often found in damp areas and along streams and lakes. Bonsai artists replicate this vision by the careful use of wire to train a tree like a willow or weeping cherry.

No. All plants are not suitable to be grown as bonsais. Only those that can withstand the re-shaping in the form of trimming, repotting, etc. are suitable to be grown as bonsais. The plant should not merely survive, but should be able to grow well. Adaptability is the key.

Following are certain guidelines in deciding whether a plant can be distinguished as a Bonsai.

  • The tree will appear in a formal container, relatively small compared to the tree.
  • Except for the tree(s) and optional patches of moss, no other plant should appear in a bonsai container.
  • Except for the vegetation, soil, and natural-looking rocks, no other object should appear in a bonsai container.
  • The tree will have a distinct "front" from which it is intended to be viewed.
  • The trunk should taper significantly from base to top.
  • The tree's rootage should be exposed at the base of the trunk and should flare wider than the trunk as it enters the ground.
  • No visible roots should cross each other.
  • Branches should begin about one-third of the way up the trunk, and be continuous from there to the tip of the trunk (this guideline is specifically broken for the literati, or Bunjin-gi, style).
  • Branch size should diminish from the base to the top of the tree.
  • No major tree branch should cross the trunk when viewed from the tree's "front".
  • Branch ramification, particularly in deciduous trees, should increase towards the tip of each branch.
  • Branch shape should reflect the weight of age, particularly in conifers, and branches may be shaped to tend downwards toward the tip in support of this practice.
  • The trunk may be a straight vertical shape or may be contorted in different directions over its length, but in styles where the tip of the tree is above the container, the tip should tilt slightly forward at the top (toward the viewer).
  • Foliage (leaves or needles) should be small and to scale with the tree and its branches.
  • All trees in a multi-tree bonsai planting should be of the same species.

There is nothing unnatural about a bonsai. Nature has the ability to adjust and adapt to various environmental  conditions.  There are a number of trees and plants that have grown fully, except growing in size, due to adverse situations. But a bonsai grower carefully observes the plant and meticulously provides the plant with all the requirements to ensure that it grows to its full potential, except for the size.

The tree is measured from the soil line up to the apex
Miniature Bonsai

Common Name Size
(in cms.)
Keshitsubo 3-8 cm
Shito 5-10
Shobin 5-15
Mame 13-20
Komono 15-25

Medium-Size Bonsai

Common Name Size
(in cms.)
Katade-mochi 25-46
Chumono 41-91
Chiu 41-91

Large Bonsai

Common Name Size
(in cms.)
Omono 76-122
Dai 76-122
Hachi-uye 102-152
Imperial Bonsai 152-203

It is very difficult to generalize on watering the bonsai, since there are a number of aspects like the type of tree, the environment, (humidity, temperature, etc.) size of the pot, etc. However there are certain fundamental points that need to be kept in mind.

Normally bonsai need to be watered every day or two. The ideal time would be morning and evening or late afternoon. The soil should be moist, but not soaking wet.  The bonsai should not be covered by a material that prevents water from evapourating from the surface.  Inserting a finger into the soil, would reveal whether the soil is wet or dry enough to be watered.

Generally trees live outside year round in their native habitat. Thus, the more sunlight they receive, the better they will grow. Some very general guidelines for temperate climate, woody trees are: Most conifers require a lot of light, full sun all day is preferable. Most broad leafed trees like a lot of light but will do well in partial shade. Some broad leafed evergreens like azaleas are shade tolerant. Tropical and semi-tropical trees are equally variable, and must be approached on an individual basis.

Feedings vary from plant to plant depending upon the plant type. Bonsai do not need a great deal of fertilizer, as we do not want to encourage rapid growth. A water-soluble fertilizer is usually applied every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season, in a half-strength solution. Never fertilize right after repotting. Wait for 3-4 weeks. Don't feed if the tree is sick. Never fertilizer a very dry bonsai.

Dimensions relative to the tree size :

  • The pot’s depth should be equal to the diameter of the trunk just above soil level.
  • For oval or rectangular pots, the length of the pot should be 2/3rds  the height of the tree.
  • For round pots, the diameter of the pot should be 1/3rd  the height of the tree.
  • For trees with especially wide canopies a wider pot can be necessary and this can be compensated by using a slightly shallower pot. As equally, a tree with a very thick trunk (in comparison with the height of the tree) may suit a slightly deeper but narrower pot.

Shape of pots for different types of bonsai

  • Rectangular pots are suitable for coniferous species and big deciduous trees with very pronounced taper, wide base, heavy buttressed nebari.
  • Oval pots are suitable for clump style bonsai, groves and forests.
  • Round pots are  suitable for coniferous or deciduous trees, for literati/bunjin trees. These are tall straight or sinuously curved trees with very little taper. The pots that tend to suit these trees are very shallow rounds.

The extent of pruning depends upon the type of plant. However the basic types of pruning are Maintenance Pruning, Structural Pruning and Shoot and leaf pruning

Maintenance pruning  perhaps most need when the tree is at it zenith of growth. Maintenance has primary goal, is horticultural in nature and deals with enriching a plant’s growth and vitality, by encouraging new shoot development and ensuring the bonsai tree does not become to big for its pot

Structural Pruning is resorted to when the Bonsai need to undergo some radical or structural change to its shape and usually involves removing Primary Branches of a Bonsai. Structural Pruning is driven by an artistic need to shape and coax the tree in to a new form.

Shoot and Leaf pruning can be carried out throughout the growing season and is carried out when a lot of new growth appears and begins to unbalance the shape of the Bonsai.

A bonsai must periodically be repotted i.e., after every two or three years to supply a pot-bound root system with fresh soil. This depends on the growth of the tree and also on the size of the pot. Repotting should generally be done in the early spring and water the plant well after it is over. Do not fertilize for 3-4 weeks after repotting. Do not let the roots go dry while repotting.

Bonsai is an art form and not merely a dwarfing process.  Dwarfed plants would be weak and not likely to live for long.  Therefore only healthy plants in a very good condition, readily adaptable to the new environment ( i.e. inside a pot) which will grow vigorously keeping in tune with periodic trimming as per the grower’s creativity and imagination would be grown as  a bonsai. Hence it is an art form rather than mere reduction of size. Bonsai would attain beautiful shapes not likely if it grows about on its own. But the important point is that only certain plants are suitable to be grown as a bonsai.

It is a misconception that bonsai is they should be grown indoors. With the exception of tropicals and sub tropicals, all bonsai should be grown outdoors.

This is a misconception. A good bonsai is never starved and made to be a stunted plant. The mark of  a good bonsai is healthy leaves, trunk, roots, etc.  At times due to lack of knowledge or understanding a novice might not properly feed the tree, under which circumstances, it is likely to be a weakling. Otherwise a bonsai is not meant to be a stunted plant. It is a healthy plant or tree in a miniature form.

A bonsai is nothing more than a miniature version of a normal plant, therefore it can be treated with commonly found insecticides and fungicides according to directions on the package. Insects such as aphids, spider mites, scale, and root aphids are a common problem corrected by sprays, soapy rinse or a systemic.