In the Japanese bonsai tradition, each bonsai must conform to a clearly defined style. There are more than 100 recognized styles in bonsai, but most experts consider five basic styles to be essential - formal upright, informal upright, slanting, cascade, and semi-cascade.

After selecting a plant, examine it carefully and consider which design seems most appropriate. Don't try to force a plant into a design that does not meet its natural shape.

And remember, enjoy yourself. You don't have to follow any Japanese bonsai traditions if you don't want to. The following is only a guide to help you become familiar with various bonsai styles and their Japanese names.

Formal Upright (Chokkan)

A bonsai tree trained in the formal upright style mimics the growth of a tree under perfect natural conditions. It should be balanced, but not perfectly symmetrical. The trunk should have an obvious taper, with the widest point at the bottom. Formal upright style is considered the easiest for the novice bonsai grower.

The best species for training in the formal upright style are larches, junipers, pines, and spruces because of their naturally tapered shape. Plants in the formal upright style look best in oval or rectangular containers. Do not center the plant when placing it in the container.

Informal Upright (Moyogi)

Less strict than the formal upright, this form is the most commonly seen in nature. The trunk can twist, turn, and change direction as it would in nature based on the environment. They can grow away from the wind or upwards towards the sunlight.

Most species of sturdy plants are suitable for training in this style, but the most popular are maples. 

Slanting (Shakan)

The trunk slants in one direction, and the roots often are larger on the opposite side to provide balance. Think of a tree that is reaching to one side for sunlight. Some bonsai trees that have been trained to slant look as if they will fall over because of the angle at which they lean 

Most species are suitable for this style, but the most popular are conifers.

Cascade (Kengai)

This design mimics the growth of a tree on the side of a mountain. In this style, the tree's growing tip extends below the base of its container. The natural tendency for trees is to grow upwards so it can be very difficult to encourage vigor in a bonsai that is forced to grow downwards. Cascades style is not recommended for beginners.

Many species of plants will adapt to cascade training, as long as they are not strongly upright naturally. Juniper is a favorite for training in the cascade styles.

Semi-Cascade (Hankengai)

Similar to the cascade style, semi-cascade refers to a tree whose lowest point of the trunk must be below the rim of the pot, but not its base.

Many species of plants will adapt to cascade training, as long as they are not strongly upright naturally. Junipers, and flowering plants such as wisteria and jasmine as favorites for semi-cascade. 

Tools to help you style a bonsai:

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