Going potless

Staghorn fern via Shutterstock

How did I miss this? I got in on the terrarium revival, but somehow, kokedama has been raging throughout the U.S. and U.K. unnoticed by me. It’s also known as string gardening or moss ball gardening, and originated in Japan, receiving some innovative tweaking in the Netherlands.

Of course, I’ve seen plenty of orchids growing this way—as well as some staghorn ferns—at our botanical gardens, but I had never considered it for my own house plants. It’s a container-free method that wraps the roots in mud, moss, and string. It looks better than it sounds. You can pretty much do with any kind of plant.

The watering seems like a bit of a chore. They have to be soaked and then drained every once in a while—the best way to gauge when they need water is by the weight.

It addresses some of the aesthetic issues of indoor gardening. I insist on houseplants—they add beauty and help clean the air—but sometimes a houseplant can be too beholden to its pot. It’s interesting to take the pots out of the equation. They still need to sit on something if they’re not hanging, but you’re still getting more of the plantness of the plant.

Are any of you trying this—or have been doing it all along? Downsides?

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I’ve had a Rabbit’s Foot Fern kokedama for a few years. Although it’s meant to be suspended, I never got around to hanging it and so it lives in a dish by the window. I love its roundness. Reminds me of a mossy version of The Little Prince’s planet with one baobab tree (or fern, rather) sprouting from the top. It’s easy to care for — I just soak it every few days and we’re both happy.

  2. I’ve had an anthurium with some dwarf mondo grass growing on a coquina rock for several years. The rock sits in a tray of water. Two kinds of ferns and some moss just appeared on their own. I never have to wonder if it needs watering. I just keep water in the tray. It looks like it’s high maintenance but it’s just the opposite.

  3. Drip. Drip. Drip. Has it’s problems for house plants. Although OK for plants hung out of doors for the summer, when you bring fiber balls or even hanging baskets or planters in for the winter you’ve got the watering problem. Now I’ve discovered a nice drip catcher for hanging baskets or pots (soon to be posted at the Phytophactor). They would work for moss/coconut fiber ball if you could figure out how to attach them. Another handy hint is to put them all in the shower at once, give them a nice gentle, tepid shower for 15 mins and then let them drip for an hour of two before rehanging. Outdoor R&R for tropicals during the summer and well into the fall really promotes flowering.

  4. I love the little half-dome dishes used in the link. I’ve had friends doing this for many many years, but usually hanging. The dish seems like a great compromise to keep them from dripping!

    We tried making a few of them two or three years ago here at the nursery where I work. Very attractive (especially with a rabbit’s foot fern!), but what a PAIN they were to water! We had to submerge them at least every other day. Daily in the dry season. I think they succumbed to neglect before ever selling. Takes a fussy, constantly hands-on gardener to do them successfully!

  5. I’ve done it with Platyceriums and orchids. One must remain vigilant about watering, and definitely an outdoor thing, but quite easy care, all in all.


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