How to Make a Kokedama—The Japanese Art of the Moss Ball

Kokedama on a table against a wall.

 Andres Mora / EyeEm / Getty Images

Translating from "koke" meaning moss and "dama" meaning ball, Kokedama is the practice of suspending the root ball of a plant in a mud ball coated in moss. This display piece can be secured on a piece of driftwood or bark, placed in a clear container, or suspended from twine or mono-filament fishing line.

When hung in groups, a Kokedama moss garden is called a string garden. Akin to the practice of bonsai, it offers a small yet treasured home for a beloved shady specimen.

This living art form is centuries old, and it's now making another pass in the gardening realm. With just a few materials and beginner's skill, you can practice this meditative art and create a distinctive gift for yourself or another plant lover. Here are the materials needed to make a Kokedama:

  • A shady plant specimen
  • Peat moss
  • Clay-based soil
  • Sphagnum sheet moss, dry floral moss, or harvested moss
  • Scissors
  • String, twine, or fishing line
  • Water
  • A spray bottle
  • Gloves
  • A bucket or bowl
  • A measuring cup
  • Newspaper or a tarp to cover the work surface

Plant Selection

Choose the plant wisely. Those with small root systems or that are slow-growing are best for Kokedama. Consider, too, where it will sit or hang. Overall, the plant should be easy to care for and be able to tolerate sodden soil. Because moss may burn easily in full sunlight and annuals usually don't last long indoors, explore perennials that thrive in part to full shade.

Some ideal examples include pothos or philodendron, begonia, ferns, grape ivy, dracaenas, cyclamen, lucky bamboo, peace lilies, elephant’s ears, rabbit’s foot fern, peperomia, Jacob’s ladder, prayer plant, creeping fig, anthuriums, and asparagus ferns. Rosemary could work well too.

Avoid succulents and cacti because the clay-based soil will be too moist for such dry-loving plants. Avoid African violets and orchids, too, because their roots require better air circulation from a porous soil mix. Kokedama can also serve as a home for conifer, olive, pear and apple trees, but trees require extensive care in this way.

Step 1: Make Soil Balls

Traditionally, this Japanese art is made of heavily clay-based soil that adheres to itself mixed with peat moss to retain moisture. This soil is called "akadama."

Mix 85 percent clay (or bonsai soil) and 15 percent peat moss. To make a 4-inch ball, measure two cups of soil in a bowl or bucket. Add water and mix slowly. Press firmly on the medium and when it holds together, it is ready.

Firmly pack the soil ball to the size of a grapefruit. Throw it in the air to make sure it stays intact. Then take the plant out of its pot, dust off as much soil as possible, and gently break apart the root ball.

Make a small hole in the soil just large enough to nestle the roots and gently lay the roots of the specimen inside.

For added moisture and malleability while working, spray the soil with water. Nudge the soil around the roots and compact the soil around the stem's base.

Step 2: Wrap Soil with Moss

Dampen the sphagnum moss with warm water as this will make it flexible to wrap around the soil ball. Set the sheet moss face down and the soil ball in the center. Wrap the moss around the soil and up to the plant so that all the soil surfaces are covered.

Dry floral moss can be used if soaked first. Properly harvested moss works well too. To harvest, gently scrape the moss off along with a thin layer of soil using a flat, sharp-edged tool such as a paint scraper or spatula. Avoid tools made of metal, which may harm the health of the moss. Remove only small portions to ensure the colony will continue to thrive in the wild.

Step 3: Wrap Moss Ball

Begin wrapping the moss with string, twine, or mono-filament fishing line. Hold the ball in one hand and with the other hand wrap the ball, making at least two passes around the surface. Wrap in every direction, start at the top, leaving a long tail, and cut the excess.

Step 4: Display

Tie the ends to hang, secure the ball on a piece of wood, or place in a clear container. Welcome the Kokedama to brighten an empty corner of the home, especially in the bathroom where it will soak up the moisture or perhaps above a kitchen island or on the dining room table for added greenery.

Light

Whether indoors or outdoors, ensure the location is in part to full shade.

Water

Pick up the ball to determine its weight. If it feels light, soak in a bowl of room-temperature water for 10 minutes. Place the ball in a colander for a few minutes to drain excess water. When the ball stops dripping, it's ready to be displayed again.

Another sign of dryness is browning leaf tips. Pinch off any brown parts to prevent the brown from spreading.

The main symptoms of overwatering or not letting the plant fully dry are yellow leaves and mold. If mold occurs, trim the infected leaf or rinse with a towel soaked in warm water.

Fertilizer

Once a month, feed the ball a water-soluble indoor plant fertilizer. This timing may line up with the watering schedule for easy care. If the plant shows signs of stress or outgrowing its home, move it to a larger Kokedama.