Moss, mud and string can elevate a typical houseplant into an aerial art project.
Display them individually or in dramatic groupings to heighten the appeal. Kokedama (ko-keh-dah-ma) is a Japanese gardening technique related to bonsai. Yet it’s relatively foolproof, low cost and low maintenance. We asked Jessica Douglass of Flowers & Weeds in St. Louis, Mo. to teach us the steps to cultivating a successful kokedama, or string garden.
Plants (3- to 4-inch tropical varieties work best)
Clay (mixed with water until like thick milk, to add to soil; or use roughly 2-to-1 ratio of peat moss and bonsai soil)
Sheet moss (live, not preserved)
Bowl of water
String, twine or fishing line
Floral wire (bent into two small U-shaped pins)
Ceiling hooks (or some means of attaching it overhead)
1 Plant selection Small tropical house plants are recommended, but you can use anything from flowering bulbs to small trees if you follow the lead of Dutch artist Fedor Van der Valk, who recently caused a Pinterest sensation with his magical hanging garden. Try Schefflera arboricola, dwarf umbrella tree, begonias, ferns, Anthurium, Rhipsalis, Hedera, Platycerium, Epipremnum pinnatum, Ficus pumila, Fittonia, Philodendron, Pilea, Peperomia, Selaginella and most orchids.
2 Prepare the plant Gently loosen the plant from the pot that it came in and remove excess soil from the root system. (Note: Some techniques say you should remove all the soil even if it requires rinsing under water. Then you are advised to trim the root and leaves to the desired size and wrap the roots in a layer of dried sphagnum moss and string. However, Douglass said you can have a good result without removing all the soil.)
3 Prepare the soil Mix the clay water and soil until you can create a firm ball or hamburger-type patty with the mixture. Depending on your soil you may need more clay water or a splash of regular water. (Instead of the clay-soil mix, you can use the peat moss and bonsai soil.)
4 Cover your roots Encase the root system in the firm soil, creating a firm round bulb. (If you wrapped the roots in dried sphagnum moss and string, encase that in your soil mix.)
5 Wrap in moss Dip the sheet moss in water, then cover the soil bulb completely and wrap it securely with twine or string. To start a secure wrap, tie a small loop at the end of the string and then use the U-shaped pin made from floral wire to attach it to the bulb (sort of like inserting a hat pin), then start your wrap and finish the same way with a loop and pin at the end. Be careful to criss-cross and wrap from top to bottom to prevent the plant from falling loose.
6 Water your plant Soak the kokedama in a bowl of water for 10 minutes or so and let it air dry enough so it does not drip. When bubbles stop rising from the ball, you can take it out to drain.
7 Hang and enjoy The same string or twine that you used to wrap the plant can be used to hang it for display. An S-hook makes it easy to take down the plant to water it or add a thin decorative cord or chain.
8 Care and maintenance Care for your plant with regular misting. Get to know the weight of your plant. If it seems especially light or the outer layer of moss feels dry, soak it in water for 10 to 15 minutes to rehydrate. Add a little fertilizer to the water during active growing periods (March to October) to provide essential nutrients. Bright, indirect light is best.
Want more help?
Watch a video tutorial at stltoday.com/stylefile or pick up a copy of “Rooted in Design: Sprout Home’s Guide to Creative Indoor Planting” by Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give ($25, April 2015).