In the cascade style, or kengai, the bonsai trunk and crown grow downward, over the side and below the level of the tree’s container. This is a very difficult yet striking style of bonsai.
The overall shape of the cascade is usually triangular with long flowing branches. The trunk and crown of the tree are trained over the edge of the container, until they point downwards, and the direction of growth is downward below the ‘ground-level’.
Cascade bonsai trees can also be created by just training the major lower branches, and only slanting the trunk rather than bending it all the way down. This is considered a more natural way of cascading a bonsai tree.
Not often found in nature, this form could be that of a tree growing over-hanging a rocky cliff edge, or on the banks of a stream with branches seeking to touch the water.
How to style a cascade bonsai
When growing a cascade style bonsai, your choice of container is very important. The pot you select for your bonsai tree needs to be heavy and deep in order to balance the weight of the tree when it starts to lean over the side. The tree should be planted directly in the center of the pot, not near the edge, again to help with balance.
Placement is also important with this style. As the tree progresses it will need to be placed near the edge of a table or bench so the trunk can hang below the container horizontally with no obstacles.
This style requires extensive wiring, especially initially, to bend the trunk and branches into the desired downward position. You may wish to train the tree to grow up and over, rather than simply over the edge. This gives a natural flow to the form, and provides a central tip as a focal point.
As the trunk begins to grow into the downward U-shape, the branches should be trained to sprout horizontally to give the tree a full appearance. Branches should be trimmed to create a ‘stair-step’ pattern to complement the cascade and give it a ‘meandering river’ look.
Cascade bonsai care
Since the trunk and several branches will be located below the container level, extra care is required to ensure that they receive adequate water and nutrients, since gravity may affect the flow of nutrients.
Foliar feeding is recommended for this form of bonsai. This means a liquid fertilizer which is applied by spraying leaves or needles (which then absorb the nutrients).
Best trees for cascade bonsai style
Many bonsai species are able to be trained to cascade. Some good choices are shrubby species like azalea , or a woody species like cypress.
Note, pine species’ are not a particularly good choice because of their naturally straight trunk.