Formal Upright Bonsai Style (Chokkan)

The formal upright bonsai style, or chokkan style, is a good choice for anyone new to bonsai growing.

It is a straight-forward style that most resembles a regular full sized tree in its mature native state. The aim of the style is to closely recreate a ‘perfect’ version of the natural form of your bonsai tree variety, in a miniaturized version.

Formal upright bonsai style tree in a brown pot.
Formal upright bonsai style.

Form of the formal upright bonsai style

The formal upright is considered the most classical of all the bonsai styles, and is usually meant to represent the ‘ideal tree’. In growing this style, bonsai practitioners try to create a tree that has perfect qualities that would not normally be sustained in the natural wild.

Essentially, the form of this style is an upright trunk, that often tapers towards the top, with symmetrical branches with spaces between them decreasing towards the top of the tree.

The formal upright style usually has a cone shaped form, but sometimes you will find ones with rounded crowns.

Compared to the other traditional bonsai styles, the formal upright is the most flexible, robust, and generic, of all the styles in bonsai growing.

How to grow an upright formal bonsai

Though the formal upright style is more regular than other styles, it need not be planted directly in the center of the pot. Visual variety can be achieved by planting the bonsai plant a third from one end, either left or right as you face the tree.

The smaller branches at the lower parts of the tree need to be trimmed to achieve a consistent space between the branches that should be more or less even, while gradually decreasing towards the tip of the crown.

Some bonsai practitioners prefer to develop a more natural style in an upright formal bonsai. Some interesting visual effects can be achieved, such as deliberately withering the crown, creating dead wood (han), to show natural conditions like lightning strikes.

Trunk tapering

The formal style becomes harder to achieve when you are intend to create a tapering trunk. This requires constant pruning of the top down while letting the bottom branches grow larger and thicker.

Expect this process to take several years to achieve.

Best trees for formal upright bonsai style

This style lends itself best to bonsai species such as the juniper, spruce, and pine, whose natural form, having a naturally straight trunk, suits the formal upright style.

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