At Racine kokedama workshop, gardeners learn to hang plants in moss balls.

What’s old is new again. That’s the case with kokedama, a centuries-old Japanese garden form that translates to moss ball.

Local audiences are discovering this art form using plants and flowers.

“It’s like living art in your house,” said Joanna Luebke. She and Kristina Campbell co-own Rooted, a modern houseplant, accessory and crystals store in Uptown Racine.

“You can create anything out of it. You start with a pile of mud that’s formulated to grow. Then you make it beautiful by adding plants and moss and putting it in a fun macrame plant hanger.”

Kokedama emerged hundreds of years ago in Japan as bonsai growers found new ways to display their small-rooted plants, according to GardeningOn. Kokedama plants are commonly used in tea ceremonies and to harmonize a room.

Instead of putting a plant in a pot or vase, kokedama means creating your own living planter. Hanging from the ceiling, it’s a display piece.

And for inveterate gardeners, it’s a chance to indulge even in winter.

An art project with dirt

From the ceiling to the floor, Rooted is covered with plants, creating a lush environment reminiscent of the tropics. Under this jungle-like canopy, more than a dozen people gathered in late September to learn about kokedama.

Paige Haney, a store employee, led the group’s craft project. Water and spiked seltzers kept the visitors comfortable as they got their hands dirty squishing root balls. They worked with shallow-rooted plants including cactus and philodendron.

Questions rang out as the work progressed.

Does this look right?

Is this too much moss?

Am I using enough string?

Haney assured guests that the kokedama would turn out fine. Staff members circulated to help out until the guests completed their own root-balled plantings.

A pandemic hobby turned business

Luebke started off with a self-described black thumb, but she’s made plants her business.

Luebke and Campbell, who also own the Uptown wedding venue called The Branch at 1501, had to pivot during the pandemic when all in-person events stopped.

“We were looking for something to take our minds off of what was going on with the world and our business,” Luebke said. .

“Plants make people happy, and we just wanted to spread that joy to everyone.”

Rooted took shape in the basement of Luebke’s house in 2020 and then was moved to the basement of their wedding venue with grow lights.

Since the venue was still closed and finances were tight, she decided to give some plants away as Christmas gifts.

The gifts were well-received and gave her the confidence that she knew what she was doing.

“That’s what started it all,” she said. And in 2021, Rooted officially opened at 1436 Washington Ave.

Luebke and Campbell started offering kokedama workshops at Rooted this summer, and they have more workshops scheduled through the end of the year.

How do you make kokedama?

To make your own kokedama, you’ll first need to choose a plant. Luebke recommends anything that’s well rooted. You can make the root ball as small or as large as you need, depending on how big the plant you’re using is. You can also mix different plants together in the same root ball if you know they would grow well together in a pot.

From there, remove the plant from the plastic container it comes in and shake off as much soil as you can. Then wrap some sphagnum moss around the roots and tie it together with jute twine.

Next, combine one part bonsai soil to two parts peat moss in a plastic container. Add a little water at a time until you can form a ball that’s about the size of an orange.

After breaking the ball in half, wrap each half around the root system, adding water as necessary to get the soil to hold together.

Wrap the entire root system with dampened sheet moss and secure it with more twine.

From there, you can place your kokedama in a macrame plant hanger.

How do you care for kokedama?

To water your kokedama, remove it from the macrame holder and soak the bottom of the root ball in a bowl of room-temperature water. Let it dry for a day before returning to holder. You can also use a needle-nose watering can to water it (about a quarter cup) from the top.

Make sure your plant is completely dry before watering it. Because some plants like to be more moist than others, follow instructions for your specific plant to find out how much water you need, in addition to how much sun is required.

How long a kokedama will last depends on the plant and how aggressive the root system is.

“That will determine how long it takes to break out of the dirt ball,” Luebke said. “Even aggressive roots take about two years before they start outgrowing the ball.”

If that happens, she suggests re-forming the kokedama into a bigger moss ball or transplanting it to a larger pot. She says plants with shallow roots, such as succulents, cacti and sansevieria, should be able to stay in their moss ball forever.

Alysha Witwicki is a freelance writer living in Whitefish Bay. Contact her at [email protected]

If you go

Rooted, 1436 Washington Ave, Racine,, has a workshop on kokedama planned Oct. 26. Holiday kokedama workshops are set for Nov. 27 and 30 and Dec. 7 and 10. The two-hour workshops cost $35. Details can be found on Rooted’s website, The plant shop also posts on Instagram accounts @rooted.uptown and @joannaluebke.

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