Kokedama–Moss Ball Bonsai

Kokedama–Moss Ball Bonsai

If you are looking for a way to freshen your space this summer, try hanging a “kokedama” moss ball!

What is Kokedama?

Everyone knows about bonsai (盆栽), but have you ever heard of “kokedama (苔玉)?” Kokedama is a type of gardening art related to bonsai, and as its name suggests, it is a moss-covered ball of soil that serves as a living flower pot for a plant, often a plant that reflects the season. Like hundreds of other typically Japanese things, kokedama developed during the Edo Period. It originates from the practice of repotting plants, also known as “ne arai” (根洗い, literally, “washing the roots”).

Kokedama has been around for hundreds of years, but it did not gain popularity even in Japan until the 90’s. Recently, thanks to social media, kokedama as interior decor has become extremely popular in the West, particularly when multiple moss balls are displayed together as a “hanging string garden.” If you live in the US, UK, or Australia, there is probably a workshop near you. 

How to Make Kokedama

Although the basic steps of making kokedama are basically the same–cover a plant’s roots in soil formed into a ball, and cover the ball of soil with moss–the details can vary. In our research for this article, we discovered a slightly unconventional but very practical and possibly foolproof kokedama tutorial by Khamen-kun. The video is 28 minutes long, so you can watch it at 1.5 or double speed if you are in a hurry. On the other hand, if you prefer reading to watching YouTube videos, or if you want a few extra tips and tricks to make your kokedama-making experience even better, come back to the video when you have time. For now, keep reading!

How to Make and Keep Your Kokedama Alive

Kokedama are fairly affordable and easy to make, but keeping them healthy can be a challenge, because if they become too dry  they will wilt, and if they are too wet, they will mold or experience root rot. However, if you are careful about the basics, kokedama are fairly low maintenance house plants. Here are three things to consider:

  1. What plant you choose
  2. What soil you use
  3. How much you water

What Plants Work Best for Kokedama?

Photo Credit: Chenea Bigby

Because moss itself needs at least a little indirect sunlight every day but will be scorched by direct sunlight, one key to a happy kokedama is choosing a plant that likes similar conditions. Some good choices are: 

  • pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • asparagus fern
  • ivy
  • kapok tree
  • Pachira
  • lucky heart (Hoya kerii, Hoya heart)
  • parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans, often used as Palm Sunday palms)
  • polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

What Kind of Soil is Best for Kokedama?

Loose soil that drains well, rather than the commonly used clay-based soil is what kokedama likes best!

When To Water Your Kokedama

Your kokedama needs water when it begins to feel lightweight, or if the plant’s leaves start to wilt (this is not a sign of you being a bad house parent–it’s just a sign that it is thirsty!).

Note: When using liquid fertilizer, dilute to half strength.

How to Water Your Kokedama

Water your kokedama either by misting with a spray bottle until it is fully saturated or by dunking it in a bucket until it stops releasing air bubbles (a few minutes). For clay-heavy soil, leave it in the water a bit longer. Dried out clay does not easily absorb water, meaning that although your moss might be happy, the water may not reach the roots of the plant inside. After dunking your kokedama, make sure to let it drip dry before putting it on display again.

How To Make a Kokedama

Photo Credit: Chenea Bigby

So finally, how do you make a kokedama? Here is what you will need:

  1. Potting soil 
  2. “Haigoke” (ハイゴケ, carpet moss) Use sphagnum or fern moss
  3. Silicon dioxide (*optional, prevents mold)

Other helpful materials:

  • cotton thread
  • a bowl
  • a square of burlap or other perforated fabric bigger than your bowl
  • a tray for your soil
  • sharp scissors
  • gloves (if you want to keep your hands clean)

Here is what to do:

Step 1: Prepare a small bonsai tree or another plant by brushing off the extra soil around its roots.

Step 2: Place the burlap square in your bowl and the plant in the middle of the burlap

Step 3: Pour potting soil and powder silicon dioxide into the bowl so that it covers the roots

Step 4: Bring the burlap together around the plant’s stem and lift out of the bowl. Shape the burlap-covered soil so that it forms a half moon (round side up, flat side down).

Step 5: Use your sewing thread to secure the burlap (watch the video from 11:35 to see Khamen-kun’s simple yet amazing wrapping method).

Step 6: Once secured, cover the entire burlap ball in sheet moss, except for the very bottom (this is to avoid root rot), and secure with string in the same way you secured the burlap.

Step 7: Snip off any extra moss, and display your finished kokedama on a saucer, a china plate, in a “masu” (枡, traditional square sake cup), or if you are want to be très wabi-sabi, on a piece of bark. Alternatively, you can hang it somewhere in your house with good airflow.

To Wrap It All Up

Even a single kokedama will brighten the whole room! Photo Credit: Photo AC

Thanks to their petite size, relatively simple care, and refreshing green, kokedama has won the hearts of people worldwide. As with any green plant, they serve double-duty as decorations and as natural air filters. If you love the kokedama look, but are not quite up to the task of caring for a plant inside of a plant, you can opt for a simple moss terrarium in a glass jar.

This easy moss terrarium tutorial is soothing to watch, even if you don’t plan on making one yourself!

If you are already a kokedama master, are an art collector, or if you are into bonsai plus physics and magnetic force, you might be interested in Air Bonsai, floating kokedama, produced by artisans through a Kickstarter project.

How about you? Have you successfully made a kokedama (or two, or three)? If so, post it on Instagram and tag us #wafuuinthewest. Happy gardening!

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