How to Make a Rainforest Drop!

I completed this vertical garden in less than 30 minutes, using nothing but:

    - a grapevine ball, available at craft stores
    - orchid bark, available at garden centers
    - sphagnum moss, available at garden centers
    - epiphytic cacti, drought tolerant and easy

The cuttings take root quickly, and will eventually form a solid mass of luxuriant rainforest growth.

UPDATE! The above photos were taken on April 3rd, 2013, two years after planting.
Click here for the updated and easier way to make Rainforest Drops.

Or HERE for the even better adaptation for Christmas: the Living Kissing Ball!

I planted these grapevine balls with Rhipsalis, but Christmas cactus and Easter cactus are also readily available choices. You can even use epiphytes like bromeliads, orchids, and ferns. I also recommend completing this project when the days are warm, so the cuttings will take root faster.

 Here's how I made this little sphere of rainforest joy!

1.  Purchase a grapevine ball for your frame, with gaps large enough to insert chunks of orchid bark.
2.  Lay cuttings of the rhipsalis along the bottom. This helps to hold in the bark and moss, especially after the cuttings take root.
3.  Start filling the ball with a layer of bark. Insert cuttings through the ball so that they sit on the bark.
4.  Add a layer of sphagnum moss to help retain moisture, and water thoroughly.
5.  Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the ball is full.
6.  After the ball has been filled, fill in gaps with more rhipsalis cuttings. They will take root in a matter of weeks.
7.  Use a strong wire (I used picture hanging wire), install a hook in the ceiling, and attach the wire to the hook so it hangs down at eye level.

Too complicated? I just added an easy three step recipe to save you the headache.

Caring for your Rainforest Ball

1. Water often until the roots have established, by whatever methods suit you best. I prefer to water with a spray mister, but after the roots have taken hold, it's easy to simply dunk the ball in water for a solid drenching from time to time. This is by far the easiest method for indoor growers.

2.  Fertilize lightly by dissolving a fertilizer solution in each watering. Follow the label's instructions.

3.  Rhipsalis and other epiphytic cacti are sensitive to cold, and must be brought indoors when a freeze is expected. 

I have had success growing them outdoors through freezes as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit in protected locations, and many species of rhipsalis happen to be native to areas of South America that receive frost. There is a lot of experimentation to be done with rhipsalis' cold tolerance, but luckily they reproduce so quickly from cuttings that there will soon be a multitude of plants to take a chance on.

I hope this helps, and feel free to ask me if you have any questions. If you'd like to see more of my living indoor arrangements, check out my book, Plant by Numbers!


  1. Excellent work. Can't wait to see it fully covered. I've been making tillandsia balls with my pups. I don't use a frame though so they aren't as perfectly shaped as yours.

  2. ohhhhhhh I want to do this.

  3. Very neat idea! Thanks! Show us some pictures of the rainforest ball when the Rhipsalis grows fuller and cover the ball.

  4. This is really a great idea. Christmas cacti would make a pretty gift.

  5. Very clever! I can't wait to see a photo of it when the ball is entirely hidden by the plant. Please keep us posted.

  6. Coolness! Keep us updated on how it fills in.

  7. great idea! I can just see a "mobile" effect with a couple of them at various heights.

  8. That is so cute! Thinking of getting some epiphytic cacti so I can make one too :)

  9. Wonderful idea. Guess I am going to Michaels Craft Store tomorrow for my grape vine ball. thanks for sharing!

  10. Now that's the coolest idea I've ever seen! So clever and unexpected!

  11. That's wonderfully crazy looking!

  12. Very cool, I may have to try this! My drunkards bottle will look neat in one.

  13. This is a great idea and looks like fun to put together.

  14. Can't wait to see it filled in. very great idea!

  15. Oh wow, I love this! Definitely one I want to do myself. I would also love to link to this in my next Outdoor Roundup if you didn't' mind.

  16. Fun idea... and the mobile concept is great. Thanks!

  17. This is a great idea and one that I could definitely get into some trouble with.

    Just wanted to let you know that I tried to share this link on FB but was told that the "content has been marked as abusive".

  18. Thanks for all the mad props, everyone! By the way, I tried posting it to Facebook myself and it worked just fine... hopefully it was a one time glitch!

  19. Re-visitng your ball tutorial today! Maybe this would be something I could accomplish before back to work on Monday. They sure are neat!!! I am thinking of using them as gifts as well. I could see a few strands of wired beads dangling below...

  20. Could these balls be used to grow other plants? Thinking herbs?

  21. Julie: Great idea! If you can't find any rhipsalis, Christmas Cactus works well too!

    Since the balls contain only bark and moss, they're for epiphytes only... however, if you wrap some soil up in burlap inside the ball, you might be able to grow other plants too!

  22. I love the Idea! A flower ball of any flower you would put in a hanging basket.

    I would add light for that extra bling too lol

    Amazing Idea.

    if you wrap some soil up in burlap inside the ball, you might be able to grow other plants too!

    Hanging basket liners would do I think.The liners I use the birds have been stealing, its very fine.

  23. I love the added touch of a bromeliad or staghorn shown in some of your pictures! Could you please explain how to include these? Thank you so much :D

    1. Just tuck the base of the bromeliad or staghorn fern gently into the grape vine ball. To help it establish, use twine or wire.

  24. Dear Steve,

    With your interest in rainforest gardens and plants you might well appreciate this sight, which shows how NASA discovered a plant air purifier which allows one plant to do the work of a hundred in cleaning indoor air and also saves a third on heating.

    Yours truly,

    Martin Mittelmark


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