All about the art of kokedama

All about the art of kokedama

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Perhaps you have already seen it, exhibited in the Albert Kahn garden in Boulogne-Billancourt (92) or at a garden fair in your region? The concept of kokedama, graphic and innovative, is intriguing. This involves presenting a plant such as a small work of plant art, suspended or placed on a support (a slate, bamboo or wooden tray for example), by wrapping its roots in a sphere of specially developed substrate and coated with foam. A poetic and original staging that could become an alternative to the traditional terracotta pot for some of your young shoots!

A Japanese foam ball suitable for Europe

Fruit of the union of three ancestral Japanese techniques (bonsai, ikebana and nearai), kokedama was created in the 1990s and was very successful in the land of the Rising Sun, which now has many specialist shops. The technique was introduced in France only 6 years ago, and is just beginning to be known, thanks in particular to Adrien Bénard, the kokedama specialist in Europe, who himself was trained in Japan.

Kokedama cup

Under the surface moss, the specific substrate adapted to the needs of each plant is a mixture of black clay from Japan called ketho (in specialized bonsai stores), vermiculite (which lightens the whole and which is an insulator - in DIY or garden centers) and Akadama (Japanese substrate used in the bonsai technique) in different percentages. Cleaned of its old substrate and cut to 1/3 of its length, the root bread of the chosen plant is coated with this nourishing cocktail. Modeling it and holding the natural green foam with nylon requires a certain dexterity!

Azalea, chamae dorea, cryptomeria.

For which plants?

In theory, you can present any plant as a kokedama. But if you want it to be sustainable, it is better to avoid certain species with difficult root adaptation; the very demanding azalea, for example, will find it difficult to survive for several months in the kokedama version. To optimize your chances of keeping it as long as possible, favor resistant plants and easy root adaptation, without vegetative cycle therefore persistent, like the davallia fern (small) or a tropical plant: the small palm tree chamae dorea or asparagus.

Same needs as in pot…

Whether the plant is in a pot or in a kokedama, it keeps the same physiological needs: light (shade or sun plant), humidity and temperature must be adapted to the plant in question. European species will accept exposure outdoors, while tropical species will stay indoors. What differs is the way to water. Two possibilities: bathe the whole or use a mini-funnel which makes water penetrate into the root ball. A hint: you can water when the sphere becomes lighter.

… But watch out for the foam!

Keeping the green moss is also one of the challenges of kokedama, especially indoors, because the humidity of our houses is much lower than that of an undergrowth, from which it originates. The simplest solution is to spray it regularly (morning and evening during a heat wave) but without excess so as not to cause the roots of the plant to rot, and with slightly mineralized water (rainwater or Thonon, Évian brands, Plancoet, Valvert, Volvic, Mont Roucous…). Adrien Bénard of Aquaphyte Design also advises never to wet the foam with water containing conventional liquid fertilizer (N-P-K), at the risk of burning it. However, there are several types of foam, some of which may prove more suitable for indoor kokedama. Also watch out for drafts! And if the mossy grayness but the plant is doing well (it is indeed only a question of aesthetics), you can of course replace it by buying a fresh one in a garden center… Please note, it is illegal to use it in wood.

The limits of kokedama

Since the sphere contains the roots of the plant in a reduced substrate, monitoring is necessary when the plant begins to be cramped - after about 6 to 12 months. It then suffices to repot it… but it then loses its singularity. Don't hesitate to recreate your kokedama or get a new one!

Want to try?

There are several techniques for forming the foam ball (traditional, sphagnum compressed or not ...). Experienced gardeners will be able to try this exercise, but we advise novices to follow the teaching of a specialist during a practical workshop. It will help you to carry out fine and quality work for a harmonious and lasting kokedama, while indicating the techniques to follow for easy maintenance.
Thanks : - Franck Prost, specialist in tropical horticulture ( - Adrien Bénard ( - Christine de Novion de la Fabrique in Kokedamas (//