How to Make Kokedama Japanese Art

Step-By-Step Instructions for Creating Unique Moss Balls

Kokedama on a table against a wall.

 Andres Mora / EyeEm / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $30

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.

What is a Kokedama?

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 that's coated in a sheet of moss. To display, this plant can be secured to a piece of driftwood, placed in a wood bowl, placed in a clear container, or suspended from twine or monofilament fishing line.

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 skills, you can practice this meditative art and create a distinctive gift for yourself or another plant lover. It will last for a year or two before it needs to be rewrapped. Here's how to make homemade kokedama step by step.

Before Getting Started

Choose a plant for your kokedama wisely. The plants that are best for a kokedama are slow-growing and have small root systems. 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 for your homemade kokedama include the following plants:

Avoid using succulents and cacti for kokedama 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Garden gloves
  • 2 buckets or bowls
  • Measuring cup
  • Spray bottle
  • Scissors

Materials

  • Clay-based soil
  • Peat moss
  • Shady plant specimen
  • Water
  • Sphagnum sheet moss, dry floral moss, or harvested moss
  • String, twine, or fishing line
  • Display item (wood, clear container, etc.)

Instructions

  1. Make the Soil Mixture

    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." To make akadama, mix 85 percent clay (or bonsai soil) and 15 percent peat moss in a bucket or bowl.

  2. Prepare the Soil Ball

    Make a 4-inch ball by measuring 2 cups of soil and putting it into another bucket or bowl. Slowly add water and mix. Add water drop by drop and press firmly on the medium until it holds together (which means 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. If it is still crumbly, add a few more drops of water and pack it again until it stays together.

  3. Prepare the Plant

    Take your plant out of its pot. With your hands, lightly dust off as much soil as possible from the root ball. Then gently break apart the root ball to free the roots.

  4. Place the Plant in the Soil Ball

    Make a small hole in the ball of soil just large enough to nestle the loose roots. Gently lay the roots of the specimen inside the hole. The soil ball will become the plant's new pot.

    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.

  5. Wrap Soil Ball With Moss

    Dampen the sphagnum moss with warm water to make it flexible so it easily wraps around the soil ball.

    Set the sheet moss face down and place 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.

    Tip

    Dry floral moss can be used as an alternative if soaked first. Properly harvested moss also works well. 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.

  6. Wrap the Moss Ball With Twine

    Begin wrapping the moss ball with string, twine, or monofilament fishing line. Start at the top but leave a long tail of the string, twine, or line so you can tie it when you are finished wrapping the ball.

    Hold the moss ball in one hand and with the other hand wrap the ball, making at least two passes around the surface.

    Wrap in every direction. End the wrapping at the top and leave another long tail of string, twine, or line. Tie the two ends securely together if you plan to hang the kokedama. If you do not want to hang it, you can cut the excess string, twine, or line.

  7. Display

    Hang your creation, place the ball in a wood bowl, or put it in a clear container. You can be creative with how you choose to display your art.

    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.

Tips for Keeping a Kokedama Happy

  • Whether indoors or outdoors, ensure you keep your kokedama in part to full shade.
  • Learn how often you should water your kokedama by picking up the ball and determining its weight. If it feels light, soak it in a bowl of room-temperature water for 10 minutes. Place the ball in a colander for a few minutes to drain the excess water. When the ball stops dripping, it's ready to be displayed again.
  • The plant's browning leaf tips can also be a sign that the kokedama is dry. Pinch off any brown parts to prevent the brown from spreading.
  • Yellowing leaves and mold can be symptoms that the kokedama is overwatered or it did not fully dry before it was watered. If mold occurs, trim the infected leaf or rinse it with a towel soaked in warm water.
  • Once a month, feed the ball a water-soluble indoor plant fertilizer.
  • If the plant shows signs of stress or outgrowing its home, move it to a larger kokedama.