Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The premiere bonsai club of south-central Pennsylvania

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Young Choe and kusamono/ kokedama – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

Recently the Susquehanna Bonsai club had a presentation on how to make kusamono and kokedama. The club was honored to have Young Choe as the presenter. Young Choe has studied extensively on these subjects and travels all around the world teaching the arts of kusamono and kokedama. Young studied kusamono in Japan under master Kusamono artist, Keiko Yamane, a former student of Saburo Kato. Please enjoy reading the below notes from our latest club newsletter (editor – Ross Adams) written by club member Darlene Tyler. Thanks for the article Darlene!

By Darlene Tyler


Kusamono are potted arrangements of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays selected to suggest a season or place where they grow.  There are three basic styles of Kusamono: moss-ball ( Kokedama), out-of-pot, and container.
Many meadow and woodland plants are suitable for Kusamono compositions including blue stem grass, flowering onion, Japanese anemone, goldenrod, Iris cristata,  Virginia strawberry, shining sumac, ferns, lily of the valley, Epimedium, chrysanthemum, Canada mayflower, red columbine, American wintergreen, narrow leaf mountain mint, Solomon’s seal, cobra lily, culver’s root, hawkweed and Japanese blood red.
Young chose a naturalistic tray-like container for her first composition. Think about the color of the plants and flowers and the container. Choose the front of the container first and add a layer of potting soil (Buffalo Organic Potting Soil or fine grain Kanuma and charcoal).  The pH of the soil should be about 6.5.  Next add the rocks on top of the soil.  The rocks were chosen and carefully arranged on the tray. Use 1, 3, or 5 rocks and leave space in front  and place rocks slightly to the middle-side of the container.  Be happy with each step of the process.  After the arrangement was pleasing to Young, she chose a woodland aster as the first plant (the tallest plant is placed first).  Loosen up the roots of the plant but don’t cut too many roots in the summer.  The wood aster is placed with its face facing forward between the rocks and more soil is added.  Golden rod,  Chrysanthemum crispum( a small flower and white edged leaves), a spring flower (Oenothera) and Campanula were added. Be sure there is soil between the rocks and the plants.  A fine moss was added to finish the composition.  Use chopsticks to push the moss into the soil.  Water with a fine spray and keep it in shade for two weeks before introducing it  to part shade.  Do not allow the plants  to dry out.


KOKEDAMA (moss ball)

Muck soil is used to create moss balls.  Add enough muck to the soil so that the ball will maintain its shape.  The ball is created on top of a tile or screen which has four wires protruding to attach the  ball. Start selecting a combination of plants that seen to relate to each other place the tallest plant first than the supporting plants adding more muck tot the ball as needed.  Finish off by applying moss to the composition.  Press the moss into the soil and affix it to the ball with fine black thread.  Oat grass, golden rod, penstemon, and chrysanthemum were used for one of the balls.
When the composition no longer absorbs water, it is time to separate and re-pot a kusamono.


Thanks for reading and for more info about Young Choe, please check out her website provided below.

Young’s website is  for more information about Kusamono.

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Owen Reich – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The Susquehanna Bonsai Club was given the pleasure to have Owen Reich as a guest speaker. Owen has vast knowledge about bonsai and kusamono, a lot of which he gained while doing an apprenticeship at bonsai nursery Kouka-en which is owned by famous bonsai master Keiichi Fujikawa. 

Owen’s “twofer” presentation gave us a brief re-potting demo using a beautiful NWS [tree?] but primarily focused on kusamono from the Japanese aesthetic perspective, then treated us to a brief re-potting demo using a beautiful hornbeam. 

Owen shared that kusamono was initiated in the Kyoto area using local native plants and is now practiced as a “side art” and that there are three basic types of kusamono: moss balls as companion plants, or accents, for bonsai display; seasonal arrangements that are put together in recognition of the current or upcoming season, and stand-alone kusamono that are displayed alone in a similar fashion to bonsai. 

Many fine kusamono examples such as these can be seen at Owen’s blog, 

Two major points of difference Owen observes between U.S. and current Japanese kusamono are that Japanese kusamono usually are much longer in training before display and kusamono as companion plants for bonsai are much smaller in Japan than in the US. 

While seasonal arrangements may be put together and dissembled after an event or season has passed, the general approach in Japan is to plant an arrangement and train it via defoliation and allow it to mature for a few years before it is exhibited. 

In the past Japanese kusamono-as-accent plants were at least as large as those most commonly seen in the US but the current Japanese vogue is for them to be no more than an inch or two in size, if not smaller! Owen said that as much plant material as possible is stuffed into a container and that which survives over time creates a very attractive display. 

Owen said that many of the general design considerations of bonsai also apply to kusamono such as considering compliment and contrast between the material and the container. He said it is important to know the environment different plants thrive in so everything in a combined planting is healthy. His final observation was that success will come from studying and learning the Japanese methods first, then stepping out and doing your own thing. 

Owen’s pointers on re-potting focused on root treatment and tree placement. His main emphasis was on the need to make sure large non-feed roots are removed and the remaining feeder roots are groomed to be radiating out from the trunk.

Please enjoy the gallery of photos taken during Owen’s lecture/Demo 🙂

(click on first image to scroll through gallery)

Again thanks for reading!