Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Through the ages, specific shapes have come to be classified as Bonsai Styles. These closely resemble natural growth.

All these styles are subject to your personal interpretation and how you picture the creation you are developing. Your tree can loosely follow one of these styles, or you can ‘do your own thing’ and create a masterpiece of your own.

Beginners may find it helpful to follow one of these styles as it will give balance, movement and bring harmony to your tree. Once you have a little experience, you can feel free to follow your heart.

We will go through some of the most popular styles and discuss if they are suited to the Chinese Elm or not. All illustrations, thanks to the South Australian Bonsai Society.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Hokidachi (Broom style)

This style is fantastic for the Chinese Elm. The trunk is exposed, and as it matures and the beautiful bark develops, the trunk will be a focal point of this beautiful style.

Hokidachi is characterized by a crown of fine branches where the leaves form a ball shape.

If you live in an area where the winters are cold, and your elm sheds its leaves, this style is magnificent during those cold months with the network of branches exposed. During the warmer months of the year, your elm will be majestic with a beautiful canopy of leaves.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Chokkan (Formal Upright)

This is a ubiquitous style in bonsai and closely resembles many trees in nature. For your tree to adhere to the style, the trunk should be clearly visible and thicker at the base and slim down towards the top. The branches should begin approximately ¼ of the way up the trunk, and a single branch should top the tree.

This style will suit your Chinese Elm, but you will have to give it time for the trunk to develop. The Chinese Elm lends itself to wiring and trimming, so creating the foliage pads will not be a difficult task.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Moyogi (Informal Upright)

This is similar to the Chokkan, except the trunk is not straight but shaped roughly into an ‘S’ shape. The branches grow out from each turn. The trunk is still expected to be thicker at the base than the top.

Again, this would be perfect for your Chinese Elm. The trunk must be wired to encourage the correct shape when the tree is young.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Shakan (Slanting)

This style is intended to imitate nature where the wind is consistently blowing from one direction, or the tree is growing in a shadow and must bend to catch the sun.

The angle that the tree is growing should be between 60° and 80° to the ground. Balance is essential in this style, and the first branch must grow out in the opposite direction to the lean.

The trunk should still be thicker at the bottom than the top, and there should be some prominent roots on the side opposite the lean.

Again, the Chinese Elm is ideally suited to this style. The lean can be achieved by wiring or imitating nature using a shadow.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Kengai (Cascade)

This style imitates trees growing on cliff faces that have been forced to grow downwards instead of up. It is a style that needs a lot of attention as you are forcing the tree to grow in the opposite direction to its natural inclination.

The tree should grow upwards for a short time before the trunk bends downwards and is maintained in an “S” shape.

The branches, which must grow horizontally, branch out alternately from the curves of the S.

Your Chinese Elm can be wired into this shape, but other tree species have a natural drape that will be easier to manage.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Han-kengai (Semi cascade)

This is similar to the style mentioned above but is not as severe. This is a style that your Chinese Elm can achieve quite quickly, with a little care.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Bunjingi (Literati)

This style is intended to represent trees growing close to one another. So only the crown has any growth as that is the only place the sun penetrates.

The trunk should not be straight and have no branches. Trees in this style often have some branches “jinned” (stripped of their bark), and the trunk is stripped of bark down one side. This all makes the tree look like it has had a tough life.

The Chinese Elm will be perfect for this style. Be sure to learn more about what a Literati Bonsai is in our short guide.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Fukinagashi (Windswept)

This is self-explanatory, and it is clear what this style intends.

Again, the Chinese Elm will adapt to this style perfectly, with careful pruning and wiring of the trunk when it is young.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Sokan (Double Trunk)

This style can easily be created with a Chinese Elm.

There are two ways to create the secondary trunk. The first is to split the original trunk while the tree is young and force the growth of two trunks, or you can use the tree’s natural inclination to produce multiple buds. You can use these buds to develop a secondary trunk, growing out of the main trunk just above ground level.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Kabudachi (Multitrunk)

This is similar to the style mentioned above but with more than two trunks. The trunks should grow from the same root system, and the largest and most developed of the trunks should create the top of the tree.

This is possible to create using the Chinese Elm. This species buds very quickly, and it is possible to use these buds to create multiple trunks.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Yose-ue (Forest Style)

This style results from planting several trees in the same pot. A large central tree is chosen and planted in the center of a large, shallow pot. Smaller trees are then selected to be planted next to the main tree in such a way as to give a single large crown of leaves at the top of the bonsai.

The trees must not be planted in a straight line as this is not how a forest appears in nature. Plant the trees in a staggered formation so you can see each of the trunks, but the top should give the appearance of a single crown.

Elm trees naturally grow close to each other, so the Chinese Elm will be an excellent choice for this type of creation.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Seki-joju (Growing On a Rock)

In nature, trees such as the juniper and the ficus will grow long roots that straddle rocks to find soil and water.

The Chinese Elm has a robust root system and can be encouraged to grow in this style. When the tree is very young, place the root system over your chosen rock and secure it in place using plastic, hessian, or twine. The roots will grow over the rock creating a pleasing picture. Remember that you will, most probably, not be able to remove the rock later, so choose an attractive piece at the outset so that the finished creation is pleasing to the eye.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Growing in a rock Bonsai style (Ishisuki)

This style is similar to that seen above, but the roots are not exposed and grow over a rock to reach the ground; they grow in cracks or hollows within the rocks.

The Chinese Elm will grow in this way.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide

Ikadabuki (Raft Style)

In this style, the tree’s trunk has fallen over, but there is still enough root system to provide nutrients for new growth. Several branches grow from the old trunk, forming the trunks of new trees. The trunks must be clearly seen like the Forest style, while the canopies create one contiguous top.

With its astonishing number of buds, the Chinese Elm will be able to take this form.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Styling Guide


This style is characterized by part of the trunk and branches being stripped of their bark. The exposed portion is then bleached to a very light color by the sun.

When mature, the Chinese Elm has beautiful bark, which can be a fantastic feature of your bonsai. Equally, the lovely bark can be a nice contrast to the bleached parts of the trunk.

Final Thoughts

It is clear that the Chinese Elm is a very versatile tree that lends itself well to all the formal bonsai styles. As it is a very forgiving tree, it will be easy for you to interpret these traditional styles on your own as you create a beautiful picture.

Bear in mind that these style descriptions are not cast in concrete. They are helpful when describing a tree, but think of them as guidelines and not hard and fast rules. Enjoy creating your little tree, and do not be discouraged if it does look identical to the description.

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