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How to Make a Wabi-Kusa 


Wabi-Kusa is a fairly new term to a lot of people. It comes from a Japanese aquarium artist named Takashi Amano. He is well known in the aquarium world for revolutionizing the entire industry. His aquariums look like works of art. While developing his technique in aquarium-scapes he had plants pre-grown in moss balls to use in the aquarium construction. This was extremely smart since he was able to get well grown plants set up in the aquarium instantly after insulation. The moss ball technique was later used to develop a whole new low maintenance aquarium movement. The idea was to set a moss ball with plants growing on it in a shallow tank or bowl of water and allow it to grow. The results can be very rewarding and it reminds me a lot of an aquatic version of bonsai. Much like bonsai the different variations of wabi-kusa have become only limited to what can be grown on a moss ball.

The first step in making your own Wabi-Kusa is getting the right materials together for the project. You will need the following items:

  • A glass bowl or tray for displaying the Wabi-Kusa
  • Scissors
  • Fishing string 
  • Long fiber sphagnum moss
  • Bio-felt (Optional) 
  • Clay mudd
  • 3 bowls
  • Water
  • Plants
I prefer to use clay in my wabi-kusa because it gives it weight which helps it say settled in the display and wicks water to keep the ball moist.  It also provides a lot of nutrients once the plants grow roots into the clay.  I use our natural clay soil straight out of the ground which I clean all other debris from after wetting.
The clay soil should have enough moisture to form a ball with your bare hands. If the clay is to damp you can use some of the dry peat moss mixed in with the clay to help dry and firm up the clay. Glove may be need as this looks pretty rough.
Add water to the long-fiber Sphagnum peat moss. I would suggest using a good brand of peat. I use the nice clean peat commonly used in orchid mixes sold in bricks. 
Bi-Felt (Optional)
I have used our Bio-felt in the making of several wabi-kusas in the past and have had great results. The bio-felt is a felt material that acts similar to sphagnum peat moss but in sheet form. It is used to hold things in place but also wicks and holds water well. It also does not rot or deteriorate quickly and can last over 30 years.  I have used the bio-felt in terrariums and living walls. 

The bio-felt is then wrapped over the clay ball and tied up with fishing string to hold its round shape. If you do not use the bio-felt use the damp sphagnum peat moss to form a ball.  The bio-felt will slowly begin to get covered in moss with age.
The wabi-kusa ball can be any sizes needed. You should keep in mind the size of the jar or container that will be holding the ball as well as the plants that will be growing on it. I prefer to place plants on the wabi-kusa that grow to a max of 1 feet tall.
I have built larger Wabi-Kusa balls over 1 foot wide for larger plants.
You can now add the long fiber peat moss to the ball. I first tie the fishing string to the ball and begin to spin the it while adding more peat moss till the entire ball is covered and the size I want.
I add a small amount of peat moss to the roots of each plant then attach the plants with fishing string. I  wrapped the spring around the ball several times to make it secure. I will keep the string attached for the next plants and will tie it off once all the plants are added. 
Once all the plants are added, the wabi-kusa should be set into a tray of water. Plants that prefer a more humid environment will do fine sitting in a tray and taking in water and humidity from the wabi-kusa that is enclosed. 
Once you have made a few wabi-kusa you can experiment with different plants and techniques. I have made them very small to quite large. From growing on rocks to growing mostly in water.