Kokedama – the Japanese art

Modern green has become interesting when it is not about potting a plant in a pot but designing a miniature landscape such as a terrarium, bonsai, as well as kokedama. Kokedama is a Japanese word that means moss ball. It is a creative art of creating a display of living color that can be suited for both indoor and outdoor. Generally, it is a ball of soil that is covered with moss for a creatively growing ornamental plant. It usually hangs in the air by using string or fish thread that is transparent to create a levitation effect or one can simply place it as a table centerpiece or tuck it into a nook for a surprise! It is important to take note that kokedama has a strong relationship with the art of bonsai. Therefore, some of its properties and practices are similar.

The idea has origins in Japan, whereby it is the combination of nearai bonsai and kusamono planting style. Nearai deals with the treatment and the horticultural care of the roots when they are reported. With the help of water, water is used to remove the dirt that has been clinging onto the roots. Meanwhile, the roots are protected from getting damaged altogether by breaking down extra soil and dirt. Kusamono is a bonsai style when the plants are designed to be the center of attention as a bonsai. However, it could stand on its own but commonly displayed with stones, driftwood, or special pots. Kusamono means “grass thing” as it is made with bulbs, bamboo, small flowers, lichen, grass, or moss.

Nearly all of the houseplant or indoor plants are suitable to be made into kokedama. Before one starts to make kokedama, the selection of the medium is very important. A good medium must have good drainage, water retention, aeration, fluffy, and crumbly. A little bit of animal manure is fine. This is because this moss ball is tied up and the medium needs to retain water while allowing moderate aeration for the plant roots at the same time. Poor quality of the medium tends to trigger root rot which results in the death of the plant.

Akadama is the best medium not only for bonsai but also for kokedama. It is a kind of soil that is clay-like, granular, and naturally occurring. It could be sifted easily as it comes in numerous grades. A mixture of akadama with peat, bark, compost, crushed lava, and sand made them a great growing medium. The amazing property of akadama is that it shows distinct changes in the colors that “inform” the growers to water and fertilize. Other than its great characteristics of retaining water, it provides porosity that allowed well drainage as a growing medium. The peat, which is sometimes referred to as keto is a combination of organic matter or vegetation that is partially decayed which has high carbon dioxide efficiency that is needed by plants for them to live.

Before you start to make your moss ball, you will need a work surface with newspaper, gloves, bucket, spray bottle, water, string, scissors, moss, and plants. To prepare the moss, you may harvest some floral moss and soak it and then wait for it to dry. Some flowers or grass can be used to replace the moss if the moss is less likely available in your area. Dry moss like sphagnum moss can be used, but it needs to be soaked in a bucket containing the water and squeeze before using it. The soil mixture is added with water until it can form a ball out of it as akadama is like clay. Push a hole down on the ball of the soil before planting the plants. The dirt and soil of the plants should be removed before planting in the hole of the soil ball. The plant is then wrapped around with the soil mixture and compact with the base of the stem. Subsequently, moss is used to cover the soil ball. Then, the moss ball is tied tightly with thread, string, or twine as well as aluminum wire and nylon wire. Fish thread is commonly used as it is transparent and made the moss ball looks like no artificial sting was used in the process. The thread should pass around the surface twice until there is no loose part that will fall out from the moss ball. Finally, you may cut away any unnecessary parts. It is either you display the ball by hanging it or placing it near a wall or whenever you see fit.

As similar to bonsai, a great variety of plants can be used as the plating material for kokedama. Most tropical plants tend to be the most successful, but you can use other plants and even trees. For example, Anthuriums, Philodendron, spider plants, Monstera, ferns (such as Boston ferns, staghorn ferns, and birds nest fern), asparagus fern, orchids, begonias, angel hair vines, coleus, aloe, jade, Echeveria, and other succulents, as well as rosemary and other herbs. Climbers like spruce or Picea and ivy plants can also be used to make kokedama. Furthermore, you may combine bonsai with kokedama to boost the beauty of both arts to the next level. DIY plant hanger using a twine vase hanger can also be done at a different pattern to decorate the beauty of the moss ball further. The location of placing a kokedama greatly depends on the choice of plant you used. Certain species need full sunlight while some can be placed indoor that received partial light source or indirect sunlight.

Since we cannot see the condition of dryness of the soil, how are we going to take care of the kokedama? Generally, you need to soak your kokedama in water occasionally, whenever you feel the moss ball is almost completely dried up. All you need is to soak it into a bucket containing water for about one to two minutes. Once it is done, you may remove the ball from the water and allow excess water to drip in a basket or basin. Aside from soaking, you may mist the plants with water using a fine mist spray bottle in the morning around the foliage and slightly spray on the moss ball. The leaves will turn brown when the substrate is dried. Therefore, constant checking of the dryness of the medium is needed every two to three days, depending on the seasons.

Similar to bonsai or any other houseplant, moderate fertilizers are needed to apply on the kokedama to keep the plant healthy. Solid fertilizer like slow-release fertilizer is good, and it can be mixed with the medium covered with moss sheets. You may use a liquid fertilizer that needs to be diluted before using. Avoid over-fertilization and fertilize sick plants especially during the formant season. It is undeniable that kokedama as a neat and tidy modern green. If you have a kokedama, where you will place it?

Further reading:

Takayama Fuji. How to create stunning kokedama Japanese moss ball bonsai plants. (2017).