How to Create a Japanese String Garden

Learn the Japanese art of kokedama and introduce a new form of gardening to your indoor or outdoor space.
DIY String Gardens

DIY String Gardens

A wide variety of plants can be used in string gardens.

Photo by: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Photo by Melissa Caughey

A wide variety of plants can be used in string gardens.

Kokedama is a Japanese form of art. It dates back hundreds of years and is based on bonsai gardening. It began when one bonsai artist removed a bonsai plant from its growing vessel. The roots were wrapped very tightly around the plant, so that there was no need for a planter. Therefore, the artist left the plant out of its pot. Eventually moss began to grow on the plant's root ball and kokedama was born. Originally, kokedama artists let nature take its course and did not speed up the process by using moss and twine to achieve this look without pots as some do today. 

Often kokedama are hung and clustered together, creating a string garden. Many varieties of plants can be used to create kokedama. These string gardens can be hung inside or outside. Ferns, blooming bulbs, perennials, houseplant, orchids and annuals all can adapt to living in these moss covered balls. I first discovered kokedama when I attended the Boston Flower Show and was enamored with this new type of planting and knew that I had to try it myself.

For my kokedama, I selected a maidenhair fern, verbena and the house plant peperomia. I had a blanket of moss in a shady portion of my garden that would work perfectly around the root base. You can also use clumped moss that you find at the craft store. The types of strings can also vary. I stuck with the tried and traditional garden twine. I love the rustic look and I didn't want to detract from the beauty of the plants but I have seen them wrapped with colored twine, yarn and cording.

Make a Bunch

Make a Bunch

Try making a few and hanging them in a cluster for a living piece of art.

Photo by: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Photo by Melissa Caughey

Try making a few and hanging them in a cluster for a living piece of art.

I decided to attempt this craft outside as it can get messy.  It was really a fun project and I picked up a couple of tips to share with you. When you mix the bonsai soil and the potting soil together add the water slowly. Mix it up until you have very moist but workable soil. The soil should hold a ball shape when you let go and put it down. If your mixture is too wet, just add a bit more soil and go from there. Also add the moss to the soil ball as you wrap the twine. 

I hung this string garden on the side of my garage where the garden gate greets visitors to the backyard. The possibilities are endless. Try hanging them in a tree, under the picnic table umbrella and even on shepherd's crooks that bird feeders are not currently occupying.  Inside they look lovely hanging from the center of a curtain rod or over a kitchen sink.

The kokedama will dry out more rapidly than potted plants. Therefore a good soaking of the root ball is required one to two times per week depending on your temperatures and humidity. To water, simply submerge the entire moss covered ball in water for at least 5 minutes. Then let it drip dry. Here's what you will need to get started on making your own string garden:

Supply List:

  • Assorted plants
  • Potting soil
  • Bonsai soil
  • Gardening gloves
  • Mixing vessel
  • Water
  • Garden twine
  • Moss
  • Scissors

String Garden How-To

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DIY String Gardens

Inspired by Japanese kokedama, learn how to create hanging gardens with your favorite plants, moss and garden twine.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Gather Your Supplies

Gather Your Supplies: plants/ potting soil / bonsai soil / water / mixing vessel / gardening gloves / scissors / garden twine / sheet moss / craft paper or newspaper to protect your surface from mess.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Mix it Up

Cover your work space with newspaper. Playing in the dirt can be a bit messy. If you prefer, wear gardening gloves. Begin by adding the same amounts of potting soil and bonsai soil to your mixing vessel. Then slowly add a bit of water. Mix and continue adding water a little at a time until your soil mixture can be molded and hold its shape in a ball.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Loosen Up

Gently remove your plant from its pot and tease off as much soil as you can from the roots.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Take a Bath

Then rinse off as much soil as you can from the roots.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Make a Ball

With the wet soil mixture, shape a ball large enough to accommodate the roots of the plant. 

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Add a Plant

Very carefully poke a hole in the top center of the soil ball and insert the plant and its roots. Using your hands, rework the soil ball if necessary to reshape it.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Add Moss

Cut a length of twine at least 3 yards long. Wrap moss around the soil ball and secure it into place by tightly wrapping the twine. Continue until the entire soil ball is covered with moss. Tie off the twine ends in a knot. Trim excess twine.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Hang it Up

Next cut another length of garden twine about two feet in length. Tie it into place to use as a hanger.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Soak in Water

These plants tend to dry out more rapidly than potted plants. Be sure to monitor their watering needs. To water, submerge the root ball completely in water for a few minutes and hang to dry. The plant we use here is peperomia.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Endless Possibilities

Many varieties of plants including annuals, perennials and even houseplants can be turned into kokedama. Here an annual verbena is featured.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Kokedama Shortcut

If you enjoy the look of kokedama but are short on time, try removing the plant from the pot and immediately wrapping it with moss. The look is identical as in the case of this Maidenhair fern.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Make a Bunch

Try making a few and hanging them in a cluster for a living piece of art.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Now take a peek at the photo gallery and its captions below for all the step-by-step directions.

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