January is a great month to learn a new indoor gardening skill. I suggest kokedama. Kokedama literally means, “moss balls” in Japanese. It is the poor man’s version of bonsai, where the size of a plant is limited by the pruning of roots and the growing parts of a plant above the soil. In kokedama, pruning is also done to reduce the need for food and water and to keep the plant small.
The art of kokedama opens the practitioner to a world of possibilities. One starts to look at plants around oneself as possibilities. For example, a new patch of European ginger grown in a garden has small leaves making it a perfect plant to use for kokedama. A kalanchoe can be kept small as well, but its flowers grow full size, making it less desirable. A crab apple tree sprouting under its parent tree can be dug up when only a few inches tall and incorporated into a kokedama. The fun comes when the kokedama gardener prunes the top of the tree to keep it from using up all the nourishment and attaining a large size. The goal here is a miniature tree with reduced leaf size. Young ferns especially lend themselves to this art form, as their visual impact is immediate and easy to maintain. Practitioners of kokedama may find themselves making cuttings of ivies, for example, and then gradually reducing the total leaf size by removing larger leaves and letting new smaller leaves grow.
After experimentation with plant mixes using soil mixed with peat moss, I found a commercial potting mix (Baccto) that works beautifully for kokedama. Individual plants were removed from their growing pots, roots teased, and usually pruned. Then the soil mix was mixed with water and formed into a ball around the roots of the plant. When the ball was deemed to be of the right proportion and the water/soil mix held together, sheet moss that had been briefly soaked in water was wrapped around the ball. It was held in place by fishing line used by modern-day Japanese, as it is invisible, or by jute string, which is charming and traditional.
Some people like to make a hanger using the twine or the string to hang their kokedama. Others display them on a tray or dish. Periodically, the root ball needs to be soaked in water. It is easy to tell when this is necessary, because kokedama balls become quite light when they dry. Do try this. It is great fun.