A friend of mine who is affectionately known as the “moss ball queen” first introduced me to this enchanting and addictive form of bonsai a few years ago during a gathering of fellow plant heads with wine in her basement. Since then, we’ve endeavored to spread the love of Kokedama throughout Portland.
The Japanese word “Kokedama” literally translates as “moss ball”. It is an ancient botanical art form that likely originated in Japan during the Edo period (between 1603 and 1868). Kokedama has recently gained renewed popularity and is a fun project for any time of year that can be enjoyed by all ages. Since it is basically a ball of moss-covered soil surrounding a specimen plant, the plant and moss can be admired without the distraction of the pot; Kokedama’s beauty is in its simplicity.
Supplies & Tools
- Moss: Packaged sheet moss or dried Spanish moss (great for arid specimens) work well. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can collect sheets of living moss from shady patches in the yard, which is most compatible with ferns and other more water-dependent plants.
- Plant specimens: Kokedama is suited for both indoor and outdoor applications. Here are some of our favorite plants to use. Dwarf daisies (Bellis perennis) have super cute pom pom-like daisy flowers in shades of pink, red, and white. Ferns are another perfect match for moss balls (the tougher the better). Aloe ‘Hedgehog’ or Zebra Plant Haworthia are irresistible and make great drier moss ball plantings.
- Soil mix: 2 quarts peat moss, 2 quarts bonsai soil mix, and 1 pound bentonite clay (important binding agent). Mix well and add water until mix is well-saturated and holds its shape when molded into a ball (will make approximately 5 small to medium-sized balls).
- Sphagnum moss: 1 small package, moistened
- Garden twine or clear fishing line
- Bucket (for mixing soil)
- Full watering can
- Plastic sheet/tarp: Be prepared to get messy!
1. Remove the plant from its grower pot and shake off soil to expose the roots; if the roots are tight or tangled you may need to work at them a little more.
2. Wrap the roots with the moistened sphagnum moss (some people are sensitive to wet sphagnum so you may want to use gloves).
3. Form a ball from your soil mix (about the size of a naval orange for most 4-inch plants) then crack it in half and press around the roots so that if forms a seamless ball.
4. Cover the soil ball with your chosen moss (you’ll need to hold the moss on with one hand to leave a hand for wrapping).
5. Cut a length of line about 3-4 yards and begin wrapping the around the moss like you would a ball of yarn, keeping the line taught and switching angles so that it holds the whole package together tightly.
6. Dunk the freshly planted ball in water for 5-10 minutes, and then let it drain.
7. You can either attach a line to hang kokedama or display it in a decorative bowl.
Kokedama Care & Maintenance
Kokedama are best kept in full or partial shade (protect from hot sun) to keep the live sheet-moss green; if using more arid selections and/or preserved moss, be sure to give plants enough sunlight to thrive. Watering needs can be determined by feeling the weight (a light ball is dry). Best watering is done by dunking the entire ball in a bucket of water for 5-10 minutes. In summer, daily dunking is required for most outdoor creations; less watering is necessary during cooler, wetter seasons. Plant can be misted periodically, but this does not fully saturate the soil. Indoor and/or arid selections need similar care, but watering can be done less frequently.
If using jute or other natural twine, check for twine in need of replacement; re-wrap with twine about every 4-6 months or more frequently, if necessary.
To maintain plant health and nutrition, add diluted organic fertilizer (half of normal strength) to the soaking water once per month during the growing season.
Kokedama in hanging displays tend to dry out faster than those that are sitting in a tray or bowl. If you are leaving town for the weekend (2-3 days) take all hanging plants down and group together in a low shallow dish or tray, fill tray with half inch to 1 inch of water, and place in dappled or full shade.