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Garden Detective: How to make a DIY kokedama

Wrap waxed thread around the sheet moss-encased ball

Wrap waxed thread around the sheet moss-encased ball of soil and tie into place. . Credit: Jessica Damiano

Kokedama is the Japanese method of growing plants in a ball of moss-covered soil. It may not sound like much, but the living planters are a beautiful and unique way to display common houseplants — and they make lovely holiday gifts. Here’s how to make your own.

Gather your supplies

2 large bowls 

Peat moss

Bonsai soil or ordinary potting mix that contains peat moss and perlite

Water

Preserved moss sheets (available at craft and fabric stores) 

Scissors

Waxed thread or fishing line (avoid cotton or jute twine, as it may wear over time)

Plant

Roots contained in an exposed soil ball will dry out more quickly than potted ones, so using plants with low-water needs will increase your chances of success. Opt for plants like pothos or philodendron for lower-light areas, and succulents for sunny spots. Succulents like lace aloe or Gasterworthia will give your kokedama a trendy, pineapple appearance. Norfolk Island pines are especially well-suited for holiday table centerpieces, but consider them temporary décor, as they want to grow large and are difficult to maintain as kokedama.

Follow these steps

1. Place a preserved moss sheet into one bowl and cover with warm water.

2. Remove plant from its pot and gently shake or wipe excess soil from roots. Set aside.

3. Mix 7 parts peat moss with 3 parts soil in the second bowl.

4. Slowly add a little water at a time, combining the mixture with your hands until you are able to form it into a firm ball large enough to surround the plant’s roots. Pack the mud tightly as if making a snowball. Toss it gently into the air and catch it; if it doesn’t break, you’ve achieved the right consistency.

5. Split the mud ball in half.

6. Place one-half of the mud ball on each side of the plant’s roots and mold it gently but tightly around the roots with your hands.

7. Remove preserved moss sheet from water and lay it facedown on a flat surface. Place plant on the sheet and wrap it around the mud ball-encased roots, trimming excess moss if necessary.

8. Wrap waxed thread or fishing line all around ball to secure moss, and tie it into place. You can place a single kokedama on a plate or lay several on a tray to create a decorative focal point or centerpiece. (If you'd like to hang your kokedama, fashion a hanger by tying three pieces of waxed thread or fishing line to the string on three sides of the ball, then tie them together at their tops and hang.

Caring for your kokedama

Your kokedama will require water immediately, then water twice a week to once a month depending on the plant used (check the weight of the ball; if it feels light, it needs water). Soak ball in a bowl of water for 15 minutes until saturated. Squeeze gently and place in a colander in the sink until water no longer drains from the plant.

Fertilize only once a year, in spring, by adding a quarter teaspoon of soluble organic fertilizer to the watering bowl.

To retain a manageable size, you can prune many plants (philodendrons, pothos, etc.) by up to half their size in spring. If allowed to grow too large, your plant will outgrow its kokedama and become stressed and die (typical signs of stress are wilting and/or browning). You can replant it into a larger ball, but not indefinitely.

To keep kokedamas from drying out, especially in winter when heating systems are operating, run a humidifier nearby, place them in a bathroom with daily shower traffic, or set them in shallow rimmed dish or pan to which you’ve added pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it will create a humid microclimate around the plant.

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