How to Style a Bonsai Tree


Styling your bonsai tree is a very important part of growing classical bonsai. The first step is to decide on an overall style for the tree. Although there are many classical styles, the styling techniques are similar for all of them. Classical styles include formal upright (chokkan), informal upright (moyogi), slanting (shakan), cascade (kengai), semi-cascade (han-kengai), windswept (fukinagashi), and literati style (bunjin).

Step 1

Start styling your new bonsai while it is still in its nursery pot. The exact placement in the final pot will depend on the balance you create in early styling.

Step 2

Trim excess branches low on the trunk with a pair of scissors, bonsai cutters, or fingernail clippers. The best tool will depend on the size and location of the branch being removed. Start low on the trunk and work your way up. The amount you can safely remove during the first styling will depend on the type of tree. Some trees, like junipers, are very hardy and can tolerate removing 60 to 70 percent of the green growth with proper aftercare. Other trees, like some Japanese pines, need to be styled over several years to avoid over-stressing and potentially killing the tree.

Step 3

Wire the tree once it is thinned to your satisfaction. To wire the tree, wrap wire around the branches at a 45-degree angle to the branch. Using more loops of wire will help secure the branches. Use a heavy wire to avoid cutting into the bark. Heavy wires also help hold thicker branches in place. Avoid trapping either deciduous or evergreen foliage under the wire. to shape a branch at the trunk, wrap both the branch and the trunk.

Step 4

Shape the wrapped branch gently. Listen carefully for signs of stress and breakage. If you hear any cracking sounds, stop and allow the tree to grow more and heal before continuing the shaping.

Step 5

The amount of time the wire must remain on the tree will depend on the variety. Some deciduous trees don't tolerate long term wiring. On those trees, remove the wire after 3-6 weeks. Other trees, like junipers, can tolerate wires for a longer period of time. If wiring an evergreen in the winter, the wire may need to stay on for a longer period of time. Japanese pines may need wiring for up to 3-4 months to ensure adequate shape changes.

Step 6

Plant the tree in the bonsai pot once you have finished the initial pruning and wiring. The shape and balance of the tree will define where you plant the tree in the pot. Swept bonsai often look best planted off-center in rectangular pots. The exact position will depend on how you have styled your tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • If you do use super glue on the branch, use as little as possible. The super glue can create an unsightly white spot if too much is applied.

Things You'll Need

  • Nursery bonsai tree
  • Sharp scissors
  • Bonsai pruners (optional)
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Bonsai wire
  • Bonsai pot
  • Potting soil


  • Wiring Bonsai
  • Bonsai Primer: Wiring
  • How to Wire Bonsai

Who Can Help

  • Simple Styles & Techniques
  • Bonsai Styles
Keywords: bonsai training, bonsai styling, bonsai wiring

About this Author

Christopher Earle is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, The Associated Press, the Boeing Company, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, Active Voice, RAHCO International and Umax Data Systems. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota.