Cascades by Rudi Adam

by Rudi Adam

The main variations of the cascade style are applicable to both single trunk and multi-trunk styles.

Simple Cascade

The simple cascade is based on a single trunk and always has a side branch as an apex or crown. The point at which this side branch emerges is called the division. Emphasis is placed on the trunk that rises from the ground a short distance before deviating left or right and slightly forward, but never directly to the front as it descends to below the container. A trunk with an undulating line is preferred to a monotonous straight trunk.

1. Formal Simple Cascade

The salient feature of the formal style is that the apex, the division or the centre of the base, the central dividing line of the container, and the tip of the descending trunk form one vertical plane. Branches are arranged in a horizontal or descending position on both sides of the trunk and should balance each other in length and mass. (Fig. 1).

cascade-fig1Figure 1

2. Common Simple Cascade

Do not be misled by the name common there is nothing common about this cascade. It is similar to the formal style but differs from the position of the apex and lower tip areas. The apex moves in the opposite direction to the cascading trunk and is counterbalanced by the lower tip of the cascade. (Fig. 2).

cascade-fig2Figure 2

Informal Cascades

The informal cascade is characterized by the absence of a live apex. A bend or dead section of the trunk forms the highest point or apex. As the name implies this type of cascade is informal. It may be extremely informal if the whole planting is balanced.

A stable base and container is necessary as the trunk may bend to the left or right as it descends in front of the pot. The trunk crosses the centre-line at the horizontal centre of the pot and the tip turns back to a point directly below the apex. Apex, division, and centre of the pot lie in one vertical plane. (Fig. 3)

cascade-fig3Figure 3

1. Vertical Single-trunk Cascade

As its name implies, the trunk drops vertically to either the left or right after emerging. The drop can be long with horizontally placed branches. (Fig. 4)

cascade-fig4Figure 4

2. Upright Cascade

A damaged upright tree has a single cascading branch to the left or right with its tip coming towards the viewer. The tip of the cascading branch may not even reach the rim of the container. The damaged section of the tree forms the apex. (Fig. 5)

cascade-fig5Figure 5

3. Weeping Cascade

This style is potted in a barrel or round container. This emphasises the soft curves of the weeping branches. All the branches start below the main trunk and near or below the rim of the pot. (Fig. 6)

cascade-fig6Figure 6

Side-sweeping Cascades

1. Single-trunk Side-sweeping Cascade

The main feature of this style is that the cascading section moves away from the container and the tip does not back. All the branches should point away from the container. To counter the strong side-sweeping feature of the formal version, a branch on the apex (on the opposite side of the cascade) is allowed to elongate. The informal design has no live apex, and with no counterbalance, the foliage should be sparse. (Fig. 7).

cascade-fig7Figure 7

2. Multi-trunk Side-sweeping Cascade

The formal multi-trunk side-sweeping cascade has the same attributes of the single trunk version, except that only the main trunk has an apex. All the other trunks follow the informal pattern, i.e. no apex. (Fig. 8).

cascade-fig8Figure 8

Waterfall and String Cascades

Neither of these two styles has a true continuous trunk-to-apex line. The trunk is very short, divides into branches that may flow to the front or to the side. Secondary branches are arranged to be outward pointing and slightly upwards.

In string cascades, foliage is kept to a minimum to expose the branches that make up the strings. The cascade is normally vertical with no obvious apex.

Branch Cascade

This is a minor variation rather than a true cascade because with major cascade styles the trunk cascades. The trunk-line follows through to the apex and only branches cascade into a side-sweep! It is important that the cascading branch is longer than the distance between the dividing point and the apex. These trees are normally potted in containers that are much shallower than those of true cascades.

Rock-grown Cascades

All the above styles, except the formal cascade, may be grown on or over a rock. The apex may be on the tree or it may be formed by the rock. Should a flat, shallow container be used then the planting site should be situated on the upper half of the rock. If the container is small and deep, the tree may be planted within the first third of the rock. The tip of the cascade, however, must reach below the rim of the pot.


The root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.

Training cascades from young material

Most trees, genetically, grow upwards (stricta), some have a spreading growth pattern (horizontalis), and very few grow in a naturally cascading manner. Many bonsai cascades are, therefore grown from young, pliable stock.

Method I

Plant a young, supple tree in a soak-away pipe (a porous earthenware pipe open at both ends), and place the pipe in the ground at an acute angle. After a few weeks, the plant will start growing upwards. Because the pipe is planted at an angle the plant is now growing at an angle (40° - 45° is ideal) to its previous direction. When the plant has reached the height you need. that is, the length of the cascade, tie the leader shoot in a horizontal position and allow it to continue growing. You can use string, rubber bands, raffia, or any other suitable material for this. You will find that the side shoots (your future branches) will turn to grow upright. Do not prune anything! All growth will help to thicken the trunk.

Depending on the material, the initial pruning can start after two or four growing seasons. At this time the roots will have grown out of the bottom end of the pipe. This uninhibited growth will have given the plant maximum vigour. If the trunk has not reached the thickness you need, leave the roots as they are, re-plant it, and leave it for another growing season or two. If, on the other hand, the trunk has reached the diameter you want, trim the roots that protrude from the pipe. To remove the root-ball from the pipe, withhold water for a few days, the root-ball will shrink and it is easier to remove from the pipe. Repot the tree into a cascade pot for further training.

Method 2 - Tying and wiring

Plant the young tree into a cascade pot or any other deep container and allow it to stabilise by letting it grow for a few months. The trunk is pulled into position by guide wires tied to the container.

Wiring the trunk so early can produce softer, more interesting curves, but it also takes longer to achieve a reasonable trunk thickness.

Method 3 - Prune and grow

This technique is used on material that is too stiff to bend or on collected material with large lower branches. Prune the trunk to have a clear line and leave only the lower section to elongate until it is long enough. Now grow the branches in reverse order of length and size. That is, the lowest branches first. The resulting cascade has more angular curves that give it strong character and can be very pleasing.

Points to watch

  1. It was previously said that the root system must be evenly distributed around the trunk.Maybe the roots are uneven or lopsided. Then position the largest of the surface roots at a point that is opposite to the descending trunk but slightly towards the viewer. This maximises the effect.
  2. The surface roots must be clearly visible above the rim of the container so that it does give the appearance of a stick in a vase.
  3. Do not remove the tap root completely at first. Retain between one half and three quarters the length of the container to give stability to the planting.
  4. Cascade containers are square, hexagonal, or round. If you use a square or hexagonal container, then the front may be a flat side, or one point. Round containers usually have three legs one of which must be positioned under the descending trunk for stability.


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Random Bonsai Tip

When creating Ishizuke or a rock clinging bonsai planting there must be harmony between the tree and rock, that is, the style of the tree and the shape of the rock must have artistic harmony and it must be natural.