(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener October 2012)
Text and Photos by Ellen Barredo
You ask…What is Kokedama? Well Kokedama is the Japanese art form of enclosing a plant’s root mass in moss. Kokedama means “moss ball”. This trend is growing and can be quite fun. A current spin off of the Kokedama trend is String Gardening. The moss balls are suspended with string.
Kokedama originated through a combination of both Nearai and Kusamono bonsai styles. Nearai style bonsai is when the plant grows tightly root bound in the pot, and then taken out of the pot to stand and enjoy. The root and soil would maintain its shape when taken out of the pot.
Kusamono style bonsai features potted arrangements of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays. The container may be anything from rock or wood to ceramic. Kusamono was originally used to show the seasons and was often presented with a moss gathering at the top of the soil.
- Bagged soils, we used Perfect Play which is a heavier soil. The soils will be discussed in more details below.
- Moss, long fiber is best
- Cotton crochet thread or fishing line
- Bucket to mix soil in
Mixing the Perfect Soil
This is the tricky part is finding the soil components.
There are many bagged soils that may work for Kokedama. The soil must be a heavier soil, which may contain peat moss, peat, clay, a small amount of sand, or perlite. Bagged garden soil comes to mind, perhaps mixed with an indoor potting soil. A ratio we have seen online is 70% peat soil and 30% clay/garden soil. Play around with different mixtures to come up with the best recipe that won’t fall apart.
We used a peat moss based soil and mixing with pitching mound clay, courtesy of Perfect Play soils. The most important step is to mix your soil well! Use a small amount of water to make the clay and soil bond together. The clay must be thoroughly mixed in with the peat-based soil so as not to crack over time when displayed. Your soil should be sticky and pliable once the water is added and the soil and clay are carefully mixed.
Next, form the soil into a ball. The ball’s size may range from the size of an orange to the size of a small grapefruit. You should be able to drop this ball several inches into your bucket and it should not break apart. This is the base of your Kokedama.
Insert your thumbs slowly into the middle of the ball, using your hands to keep the form of the outer sphere. This is the hole your plants root system will go into.
Now for the Plant!
Kokedama can be done with almost any variety of smaller indoor plants. Smaller plants will be easier to handle and won’t grow too large too quickly. Think about the light where you will display it when choosing your plants.
Take your chosen plant out of the container. Gently shake off excess soil. You might dunk the roots in water, which will help eliminate any unnecessary soil. You may also have to trim roots.
Insert your plant’s root mass into the soil ball. Gently form the soil around the root mass, adding more of the Kokedama soil if necessary. Be careful not to get the soil too high around the plant’s stems.
Now cut a long piece of fishing line or string, perhaps 3 yds. You will also want to cut a few pieces of wire two inches in length and bend in half to create a floral pin. Make a loop at one end of the string, insert pin through the loop, and insert the pin close to the bottom of the clay ball.
Moisten your moss in a container of water and squeeze out excess water. Start the mossing procedure by placing and pressing the moss around the soil ball. This procedure may require two people.
Once the soil is covered with moss it is now time to bind it with string and tie it off. This is where two sets of hands help the procedure go more smoothly. One person holds the ball and may be adding moss and one person is winding the attached string binding the moss to the ball. Note: do not crowd the plants crown with moss. Leave enough room at the top of the moss ball in order for the plant to breathe.
After you have made your Kokedama, you need to water it, so prepare a bucket that contains enough water to cover the green moss ball (not the plant) and let the ball soak in the water for about 10 minutes.
At this point you will either display your Kokedama sitting or you may decide to make a string hanger and suspend it!
Remember, as with any procedure you may end up modifying it!
If you have any questions please feel free to call us at Bowood Farms!
I would like to thank my co-workers Jessica and Kathy for working through the Kokedama procedure so we could share it with the Gateway Gardener!
Ellen Barredo is a Missouri Certified Nursery Professional with more than 30 years in professional horticulture. She works at Bowood Farms and can be reached at (314) 454-6868.