Types of bonsai and their care

When we see a bonsai there are several things that jump out at us. The first is the size, you will surely have noticed that there are some tiny ones, others are bigger and more robust. Another interesting detail is that not all the trees have the same shape, some are straight, while others fall in a capricious way. All this is calculated and worked out so that the tree looks like this. In fact, we can classify the types of bonsai according to these well-defined characteristics. Read on and you will learn everything you need to know about how to classify and care for your bonsai.

Types of Bonsai

When we talk about bonsai we refer to the cultivation technique and not precisely to the species of tree. In fact, it is possible to make a bonsai with almost any type of tree, although there will always be some that look better than others and that is why they are popular. It is important to know that these bonsai styles are not mandatory and that adhering to these guidelines depends entirely on the tree maker's interpretation of the tree's natural anatomy, creativity and aesthetic preferences. There are several ways to classify bonsai, but size and bearing are the most popular. If you want to surprise everyone, memorise the Japanese names and you will look like an expert.

By size


These bonsai are about 2.5 to 3 cm tall. They are a rarity and can only be seen at exhibitions and special events, as it is very difficult to keep them for long periods of time.


Shito are another very small bonsai, about 7.5 cm tall. They are very cute, but like keishi they do not usually live for a long time. What is usually done is to display them and then move them to another tray so that they can grow properly.


Mame bonsai are usually about 15 cm long. They are quite small but can be kept for a long time, although they require more specific care to keep them at that size.


The Shohin size is one of the most popular as it is in the middle of the spectrum. It measures a maximum of 25 centimetres, so even though it is small, it is much easier to maintain. Tradition dictates that these trees should be able to be held in the palm of the hand.

Kifu Sho

The Kifu Sho is slightly larger than the previous miniatures. It can grow up to 40 centimetres tall. They tend to be a bit more striking, not only because of their size, but also because they allow more artistic freedom when it comes to forming the branches.


This bonsai ranges from medium to large. For a tree to be considered in this category it must be between 40 to 80 centimetres tall. They make quite an impression because we all have the idea that bonsai are tiny. That said, they are very easy to care for, as you don't have to be so careful with the roots and branches.

Omono and Hachi Uye

These are the largest sizes of bonsai. The Omono should be between 80 and 100 centimetres tall, while the Hachi Uye is between 100 and 120 centimetres tall. They are trees modelled as bonsai and are not as common.

According to their trunk style

When styling the trunk of a bonsai, the aim is to emulate the shape of the tree in nature, but also to take into account the natural characteristics of the tree's structure (branches, size and leaf shape, for example) to create a work of art. This is precisely what makes bonsai so much more than a tree in a tray. Bonsai can be classified according to their trunk as follows:

Chokkan - Formal upright

In this type of bonsai the main trunk is straight, long and upright. The branches protrude from the trunk thicker at the bottom of the crown and become thinner at the top. This gives the tree its triangular, symmetrical shape. The roots should protrude slightly from the substrate, evenly around the trunk.

Moyogi - Upright Informal

The trunk and branches may have curves and bends but the tip of the tree trunk will always be in line with the base of the trunk. In this way, the curves of the branches are in the middle part of the tree, but the tree still retains its upright form. The branches are also progressively tapered, leaving the thicker branches at the bottom of the crown and the smaller ones at the top, giving the conical or triangular shape.

Hokidachi - Broom

Imagine you have a broom, you turn it upside down and leave the bristles in the air. This type of bonsai is characterised by an upright trunk, but the branches form a rounded crown. The branches should be ⅓ the height of the trunk. This type of arrangement is usually done with trees that have very thin and abundant branches, such as elms.

Shakan - Leaning

The trunk is straight, like the formal upright style, but emerges from the ground at an angle. This inclination causes the tip of the trunk of the tree to be to the right or left of the base and roots. The inclination of the trunk also makes the branches parallel to the ground, which gives it a very particular look that I'm sure you've seen.

Kengai - Waterfall

Kengai bonsai are meant to emulate those trees that grow on riverbanks or mountain edges. Here the inclination of the trunk causes the branches to fall all the way down, over the base of the pot. It is easy to identify, not only because it looks as if it is going to fall out of the container, but also because unlike the other types of bonsai that grow in flat trays, this one is planted in tall, slender pots that allow its size to be admired.

Han-Kengai - Semi cascade style

Very similar to the cascade style, only the bonsai branches do not fall to the base of the pot but just reach the rim level. It is a little less dramatic, but just as beautiful.

Bunjingi - Literati

Here the focus of the bonsai is on the trunk, which can be bent into sinuous shapes and the branches and leaves are kept to a minimum. It is not very popular, but it has its charm. The tree seeks to emulate the fine strokes of Japanese kanji or Chinese ideograms.

Fukinagashi - Swept by the wind

It is intended to emulate a tree that has been swept by the powerful force of the wind, as if it were on the top of a mountain or on the coast. It offers a very striking effect, because it looks as if it is exposed to enormous winds all the time, as all its leaves are facing the same way. This style can be combined with other basic styles (informa, formal upright, semi cascade, etc.) and looks beautiful in compositions with several trees. Because of its difficulty, it is a rare style.

Yose-ue - Forest

This rather than referring to a type of tree, covers compositions created with several trees. They are usually done in odd numbers, with the same species of trees although they can be of different heights and ages. The sides of the forest trays are very low, to give height and show the roots.

Ishitsuki - Climbing on rocks

The tree protrudes from a rock, but the roots reach down to touch the substrate of the pot. This arrangement seeks to emulate those plants whose roots grow on rocks, developing long roots that reach the ground. The rock functions as a container, with the tree following the contours of the rock.

Neagari - Exposed Roots

These bonsai represent those trees exposed to difficult conditions, such as stony ground, which have exposed roots. This arrangement allows the plant to obtain a light appearance, because it appears to be suspended in the air by the aerial roots.


It looks like a collection of different trees, but the truth is that all the stems grow from the same trunk. This style imitates a natural phenomenon that occurs when a tree falls on its side for some reason and the branches growing on the exposed side of the tree continue to grow upwards, as if it were a group of new trunks. Sometimes independent roots develop from these shoots.

Bonsai care according to their types

Before discussing bonsai care by type, it is important to stress that a large part of successfully maintaining and caring for a bonsai depends on how much information you have about your tree. You have to know the species of tree, what its requirements are, as well as having an idea about the place where it is located: lighting, humidity, among others. The more you know the better, because you will be able to create the ideal environmental conditions that will also lighten your workload. A plant in the right place will require less attention than one that you have to move to chase the sun or that you have to spray more to maintain humidity levels, for example.

There is no universal care or precise watering schedule for plants. You have to get to know your plant, understand its needs and place it in the best possible location. There are simple, basic cares that will give you a guide to the needs of your bonsai. At Be Green we give you a card with these guidelines when we bring your plant to you, but after that it is a matter of you observing your plant and learning about it. Certain styles of bonsai require particular care:

Shohin and Mame Care

These miniature trees require a little extra maintenance. This is for several reasons, firstly they are in a small tray with little substrate, so the moisture evaporates quickly and you have to be very vigilant about watering. On the other hand, you have to look very carefully at the branches and leaves to notice any strange changes or possible pests that may attack it.

In order to keep its shape and size within the standards, it is important to prune it properly and precisely, as being so small, a new leaf can ruin the whole thing. Another point to keep in mind is that these bonsai are a bit more delicate, so even in full sun it is best to protect them with some shade. Beware of strong wind, which can knock them over and dry them out excessively.

Cascade and semi cascade bonsai care

These are medium difficulty styles. Attention should be paid to the branches as it is the branches that will give the tree its character, simulating that it has grown in difficult conditions. The branches should be straight. Attention should be paid to the fall of the branches, remembering that in the semi-cascade they should never be the same height as the base of the pot, but just reach the edge. Remember to prune the leaves frequently, giving the crown a pyramidal shape if possible.

Chokkan bonsai care

The upright formal style Bonsai requires simulated tree growth in ideal conditions: sufficient light, without having to compete for space, with plenty of water and a good climate. This will produce a perfectly straight trunk, thicker at the base. You need to pay attention to the crown, pruning any branches that stick out and spoil the whole. The idea is to have a triangular crown.

A good pruning trick is to allow a triad formation at the top, i.e. one back branch and two side branches, creating a triangular shape. This allows the tree to look fuller at the top and gives depth to the whole.

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About the author
Ame Rodríguez

Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.

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