Evocative of bonsai, kokedama is the Japanese art of creating potless plants that have an economical yet very intriguing and effective design.
Only a few ingredients – plant, soil mixture, moss and twine/string and you can easily inject artistry and simplicity into your home. That’s in short how to make kokedama creations.
Making kokedama is a very meditative and soothing process that brings you into the present moment and gives you a small haven of tranquility.
Here’s the list of topics we shall discuss here:
- What is Kokedama?
- How to make Kokedama?
- Kokedama DIY- Instructions
- How to care for Kokedama?
- Frequently asked questions
Read on to learn how you can create one of your own. Love it by taking good care of it and it will love you in return!
- What is Kokedama?
- How to Make Kokedama?
- Kokedama DIY- Instructions
- How to Care for Kokedama?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is Kokedama?
Kokedama (koke-=moss; dama=ball) is a sweet, small, green, moss-covered dumpling that gives life and home to the plant growing in it by taking the place of a pot.
It is a work of bonsai art made of moss, as its name suggests. Kokedama evolved from the Kusamono and the Nearai style of bonsai which exposed the roots as they are, but nowadays they are covered with moss for protection.
They are extremely versatile and can be made in any size, shape and color to suit the setting. Furthermore, they can be suspended and it is very easy to adjust their position and height if you are going to hang them against the walls.
Moss balls only appear simplistic, but in fact they have a lot to offer – they add nature and peace to your home.
How to Make Kokedama?
Making kokedama is easy if you have all the necessary tools and ingredients.
- Newspaper to protect the surface
- A measuring spoon to measure soil
- A bowl large enough to accommodate soil and other ingredients
- Spray bottle and water
- A cloth and a brush/dustpan to clean up afterward
- Scissors to cut strings
- Secateurs to prune and shape the plant
- Strings, hooks, chains for a variety of wrapping and hanging styles. Here you need to be careful because natural fiber will gradually degrade and strings can rot away. Synthetic options are the best for plants that remain wet and less likely to degrade. You can use nylon ones first and then cover with soft wire or natural twine.
One of the first steps you will have to do is to choose a plant or plants you want to transform into a moss ball. If you are a beginner, consider getting a plant that’s easy to grow and care for, like ivy, wisiteria or ferns.
In a nutshell, choose plants that will perform well in your household conditions, hardy plants and plants whose needs match the needs of moss. These can be foliage, flowering plants, herbs and even succulents. Choose the one that matches the environment you can provide, your setting and your personality.
You can make a more complex creation by adding flowering and non-flowering plants together. Pop here to learn about best plants for kokedama and their needs.
Soil is indubitably the most significant part of making kokedama. This should be a home for a plant and not just something to wrap up in moss.
Choosing the medium
It is important to know how to choose the right type of soil. Here you should keep in mind:
- Adequate drainage- that water drains easily from the moss ball.
- Good water retention-the soil has to retain a sufficient amount of water.
- Good aeration – tiny gaps are necessary for a plant to grow well.
- Soil should be fluffy and crumbly so that nutrients can travel easily from the roots up. Don’t make the soil dense and compact because the nutrients will stay at the roots.
- Proper humidity of the soil.
Test the soil
Poke a finger into the soil. If it goes down all the way through your third knuckle, it is good. Add lime if that’s not the case. Vermiculite is another good option.
A soil called Musou is designed for moss ball gardening because it has the ability to retain moisture and provide good drainage at the same time, so it can be used on its own.
If you can’t find it in your region, use can use keto soil but it tends to dry up quickly and doesn’t absorb moisture well. For this reason, it needs to be improved by adding akadama soil and Fuji sand.
So, five soil types are vital for making kokedama:
- peat soil which retains water quite well
- Akadama soil made up of granules, so it ensures breathability, good drainage and water retention
- Fuji sand (black volcanic rock sand) that drains well
- river sand also has excellent draining properties
- rice hull charcoal that prevents root decay
Procedure for making planting soil
- Place six parts of peat soil, three parts of Akadama soil, one part of Fuji sand and river sand and a little bit of rice hull charcoal in a bowl.
- Mix together.
- Add a little water at a time and mix. If it sticks together, it is good.
- Knead as you would a regular dough. Break down the peat and make a ball.
If you can’t find all the ingredients, combine 1/4 Akadama soil, ½ keto soil and 1/4 coco fiber. Alternatively, use a thick layer of sphagnum moss, coconut husk chips to hold the structure for epiphytes, coconut fiber for humidity, coco coir as an alternative to moss peat that retains water, perlite for good drainage and organic slow-release fertilizer. Still, the abovementioned mixture is the best one you can find.
? Pro-Tip: Don’t make the soil mixture until you are ready to make kokedama because the soil needs to be wet.
Moss is one of the earliest life forms on the planet that can survive as long as it has light and moisture. There are thousands of different types of moss and they are displayed in various ways, in glass containers, terrariums, tray designs or kokedama.
What kinds of mosses are suitable for making kokedama?
Sphagnum moss works well for most kinds of moss balls. There are other specialty mosses that grow in different parts of Japan which you can find in bonsai shops and online.
- Haigoke is the most popular one because it is relatively resistant to dryness. You can purchase Haigoke on amazon or at bonsai specialty stores.
- Yamagoke moss is used as topdressing for plants that prefer slightly acidic soil.
- Thuidium requires humidity, so it is not the best option.
- Brachythecium has a matte texture and grows on soil, rock and bark.
If you are a more adventurous gardener, you can learn how you can find and collect moss and how to care for moss.
Kokedama DIY- Instructions
Now that we have prepared all the tools, soil ingredients, plants and moss, it is time to get the ball rolling.
- Prepare the moss by soaking it in water for an hour before squeezing it out and waiting for it to dry a bit. Also, cut off any dry bits of the moss.
- Combine dry soil ingredients, gradually adding water so that they stick together to form a ball. Akadama soil is similar to clay or dough and you have to press it into water. The final result should be a ball that can stand up straight on a plate.
- Remove the plant from the pot and dust the soil off it. You can remove some of the old roots too.
- Push the roots into the center of the soil ball, spraying the soil with water so it is easier to work with. Don’t bury the stem.
- Wrap the soil mixture around the roots.
- Cover all surfaces with the moss by pressing it down, making sure the ends don’t overlap. In that case, cut off the excess moss.
- Wrap the moss around with string or twine around 10 times from different angles.
- Water the ball.
Below is the visual representation of the steps.
You have made your kokedama, but you want to make a hanging display?
Before you know it, your ceiling, shelves and windows will be full of hanging kokedama.
Simply wrap the moss ball with another layer of string without cutting it. Depending on how low you want your kokedama to be, take the scissors and cut left and right string, making sure they are long enough. Tie the two strings together and voila- your kokedama are ready for the exhibition.
How to Care for Kokedama?
Moss balls can be displayed both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, you can keep them on a porch or in a garden, preferably where the ball will be sheltered from the wind. Never place moss balls directly on concrete or ground since summer heat absorbed by them can kill the moss.
Indoors, you can keep them by the windows, in a dish or a decorative plate. You can add some decorative stones underneath, the ball will be more stable.
You can also suspend the moss ball in the air, making sure that the structure and the string are stable enough.
Moss is happy with about half a day of sun and plenty of shade. However, you must consider the needs of the plant contained in the moss ball.
If the plant needs a lot of light, place it in the indirect light for most of the day. Find a place with good ventilation, enough shade and let strong breezes in sometimes. A bright room out of direct sunlight is ideal.
Bear in mind that moss balls don’t like drastic and sudden changes in the environment. Avoid air-conditioned rooms since that will weaken the moss.
Moss is relatively resistant to snow and freezing temperatures, but the plant inside it might not be. That’s why you should avoid displaying the moss ball in a very cold environment or outside.
Maintain the winter and nighttime room temperatures at above 8 degrees C depending on the plant’s needs.
There are two ways to water the moss ball. The first one is to submerge it a bucket /bowl full of water. Hold it in the water until it stops releasing bubbles, then remove it and lightly dry it off before placing it on a platter. Do not submerge leaves or flowers. Watering in this way will help to get rid of the dusty coating that accumulates on it. It can take 10 minutes to fully saturate the ball or even more, depending on how dry the ball is and how big. After watering, let the excess water drain out for 30 minutes.
Secondly, you can use a watering can but it won’t reach every bit of it and you risk overflooding the moss ball. Water thoroughly until there are no dry patches left.
Misting is suitable for moss and kokedama as well. Spray it until the mist has been absorbed into the soil. However, if moss balls are larger, misting is insufficient. In that case, refer to one of the two methods above.
? Pro-Tip: Misting is sufficient for moss tray landscapes, but dipping is best for dry kokedama.
How often to water?
The frequency of watering will differ depending on where you place the ball in summer, its size and the plant’s needs and size. The general rule is to water more frequently in the summer and if moss balls feel light in your hand, it is time to water.
Some plants require daily watering while other more hardy plants require watering once every 15 days. Become familiar with the individual plant’s needs. In any case, always use soft, room temperature water so as not to cause unnecessary shock.
When to water?
Always water early in the morning or during sunset, since if you water during high summer temperatures, a lot of water will evaporate and weaken the moss and the plant.
In the winter, water the moss ball only when the soil is dry. Allow the ball to dry out by 2 thirds between watering.
Misting the ball between waterings can help to increase humidity, but this is just a temporary solution. Alternatively, you can use Mizugoke moss which takes in a lot of water and retains moisture.
Yes, you can even mist foliage, once a day in the morning.
One thing to remember here is that, unlike other plants, the roots of kokedama encounter air. Dry air puts a damper on the plants’ growth and health. So, always ensure a sufficient level of humidity.
You can do that by placing a tray of pebbles near kokedama or using a humidifier.
Your moss ball will need only two requirements: light and water. That said, there is no need for fertilizing since we are not trying to enlarge the roots and it could be even harmful to moss.
However, if you still decide to give your plant a boost, add very little liquid fertilizer. This should be done at least once every season.
Water, light and time will eventually lead to breaking the strings. At some point, you will have to re-wrap the ball. Use synthetic twine or fishing nylon.
Mistakes to be avoided
- Not being familiar enough with how to care for the moss or the plant inside it
- Not ensuring enough light and shade
- Overwatering and underwatering
- Wiring the moss ball the wrong way
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you need for kokedama?
To make a moss ball, you need a plant for kokedama, moss, soil and a few tools such as scissors, tweezers, gloves, a roll of string, a measuring spoon, a bowl, a spray of water and newspaper to protect the surface.
How long does kokedama last?
A moss ball can last for three years, given the right conditions such as adequate light and amount of water. Once the moss becomes old or the plant in it seems unhappy, change the soil or the moss. When the ball is about to reach its end, plant it in the ground.
What moss do you use for kokedama?
For starters, stick to simple mosses like sphagnum, Hagioke (Hypnum plumaeforme) that’s resistant to dryness and has a mat-like quality, so it is easy to work with. You can also get Hosobaokinagoke (Leucobryum juniperoideum) which is very neat and simple-looking. Some other options are Yamagoke moss and Brachythecium exile. Large ones like Sugioke aren’t suitable for making moss balls.
What kind of string should you use to make kokedama?
The one that is likely to last longer is a sturdy nylon one, preferably in green or black so that it is inconspicuous. You will have to change it after a while and re-wrap the ball. Another option is to get soft wire that degrades more slowly than other strings.
Can I use potting soil for making kokedama?
Yes. It is advisable to combine pebbles and soil, such as Akadama or Musou, which ensure good drainage, water retention and aeration. You can purchase akadama soil here or combine keto (peat) with Akadama soil and Fuji sand.
How do you care for kokedama moss balls?
Place moss balls in a dish or a plate and find a spot away from heaters and air conditioners where they will receive bright indirect light for at least 4 hours a day and a sufficient amount of shade.
Provide good airflow, too. Water frequently in the summer by submerging the ball in the soft water, ideally in the morning and letting the excess water drain out. Water sparingly in the winter, only when two-thirds of the ball have dried up. Don’t soak the leaves or flowers, but you can mist them once a day. No fertilizing is necessary.
Does moss attract pests or diseases?
Moss is resistant to diseases and the only thing to worry about is not to overwater it, which poses a risk of moldering.
Making a moss ball is a soothing and extremely enjoyable process that will result in an exceptional creation – a soil dumpling covered in green moss that nurtures another plant.
Having a moss ball garden will bring you closer to nature and instill an element of peace into your home.