I had a large bag of moss left over from my attempts at creating driftwood sculptures. I didn’t want to throw it away so looked for a good use for it. As its way too early to make hanging baskets I delved into the process of making up Kokedama displays.
What is Kokedama?
Kokedama or “moss ball” is the practice of getting a bare rooted plant, rolling the roots up in a muddy ball and then wrapping the whole mess in moss before winding it in string or cotton. This can then be either hung up or displayed on an altar-like platform like they originally did in japan. The most popular place to see them is on wedding tables at the moment.
Kokedama is a contemporary form of bonsai. The history of kokedama is a bit vaugue, but is said to be an offshoot of the Nearai method popular in Japan’s Edo period (1603-1867). In the Nearai style, the bonsai is grown so fully and tightly in a pot that the root and soil maintain its shape when taken out of the pot. Essentially the bonsai was grown in a pot until it became so root bound that the soil and roots would stay in place when removed from the pot. The plant would then be placed on a stand, without a pot, to be enjoyed.
Kokedama takes the planterless bonsai method a step further and covers the root base with moss. There needn’t be any root trimming as with bonsai and we can make displays from any indoor plant.
Creating a masterpiece
For my displays I chose variegated ivy but any low maintenance plant will do. Putting together the display was surprisingly easy.
The only things needed are a plant, a big piece of moss, some compost/soil mix and some string.
- Soak the moss in some water and squeeze the excess water out of the piece of moss. Trim off any really brown bits and compost.
- Remove the plant from its pot, you can tease out the roots and remove some of the compost too if it’s too large.
- Wet the compost/soil mix and form the soil into a sphere.
- Put the soil in the centre of the piece of moss, with the moss facing downwards.
- Fold the moss around the soil and firmly mold it around the roots
- Wrap the string around the construction. Make sure you use enough rope to ensure the moss stays on.
- Secure the string firmly; I used cotton on some of mine as it’s invisible. I’d think waxed types are better as they will last longer.
Care of the planters
I’ve put one or two of mine on concrete bases and I think they look pretty good. I’ve suspended the ball on a large screw and if you decide to display yours in a dish it might a good idea to have a few stones under the base to allow for air flow so the moss doesn’t get all gungy.
They can be hung on pieces of string too and make a really useful addition to rooms with no display areas as they can be hung in awkward places.
Types of plants
The displays benefit from indirect sunlight to keep the moss green so this will also guide you to the type of houseplant that will thrive in these conditions. Ferns, ivies and other shade plants will do well.
My watering techniques differ. The stand ones I immerse in water in a bowl or put under the tap with tepid water. The hanging ones I put a bowl of water up to them and let the water soak in for a few seconds. They are like sponges so it takes no time at all.
They do dry out pretty quickly so ferns will need a drop of water every few days. Succulents on the other hand can go a week or two without water although it’s the moss you’ll need to keep moist so they will benefit from a mist spray of water quite often. I am finding that there are types of succulents that are a bit too delicate for the displays but you’ll soon get a feel for what plant is right for you display, if they don’t get knocked about there’s no problem.
Water the kokedama when the plant base becomes dry and light.
Gently squeeze your kokedama root base to get rid of excess water and lightly reshape after watering as they can drip for a while afterwards (my dogs think it’s always raining as I have one over their bed in the house)
All kokedama appreciate bright, indirect light as this keeps the moss green. If you don’t think they will be practical in the house you could try planting up violas, geraniums, bulbs, alpines, in fact any drought tolerant plant and hang them outdoors. It’ll give the kids something to hit with their tennis rackets.