Dish garden plants care

Dish gardens are the perfect way to gift a variety of plants. Popular for many occasions, Get Well to Thinking of You, New Business or Home to Sympathy, and Congratulations to Best Wishes, these delightful mixed gardens are compact and easy-to-care for by following a few simple tips.

Ideally, a dish garden has plants with similar care requirements. Most of the plants will flourish under medium light–not full sun, but a bright area near a window, such as a counter, coffee table or desk.

Watering a dish garden is not difficult, but does require initial attention to understand the best schedule for your garden. Most dish gardens are planted in a ceramic container or a basket with a liner, which means there is no drainage. These plants do not want their roots sitting in water, so making sure there is enough time between waterings is important.

Generally, dish gardens can be watered about once a week, less than a cup of water for smaller dish gardens, say under a half foot in diameter; more for larger containers. But depending upon the environment, hot and dry or cooler and more humid, your dish garden could require more or less water than this general rule.

Stick your finger into the soil an inch twice a week to understand your garden’s requirements. If the soil feels dry, gently drizzle water into all areas of the container. If the soil still feels moist, wait another day or two and check it again. If you think you’ve watered too much, after letting the water filter in for a minute or two, tip the container sideways over a sink and let the extra water run out.

If succulents are mixed into your dish garden—plants with fatter fleshier “leaves” that can store moisture—these will need less water so balance where you pour the water in accordingly. A European Garden is a dish garden that has not been planted together, but rather the plants have been left in their own pots, so you can water each plant more specifically. A cactus garden prefers some full sun and very little water; let these gardens get bone dry before sprinkling in a light watering.

Plants in dish gardens generally grow more slowly and fertilizing is not recommended as this will encourage more rapid growth and shorten the life of your dish garden. Over time, plants will begin to outgrow the container. Some light pruning with sharp scissors can keep plants in check, but after a period of months, to maintain healthy growth, replant the plants in larger containers with fresh potting soil, fertilize them, and continuing enjoying your garden.


New Life For Overgrown Dish Gardens

Most people receive a dish garden as a gift. They are lovely when they arrive, because they’re usually made of three or more houseplants with contrasting foliage colors and textures. Most are in a low dish or basket, and are dressed up with moss to hid the soil. Dish gardens aren’t intended to be long-term plantings, however. Having so many plants crammed into a shallow bowl doesn’t leave much room for the roots. If you have a dish garden that you’ve enjoyed for awhile, you might be wondering how to care for it long term.

Think of dish gardens as a college apartment where several students are crammed into a small space to save money on the rent: being so crowded is doable for awhile, but it’s not a situation that can go on forever. Eventually, in the interest of future growth, everyone must move on. So it is with the plants in dish gardens…after a few months, it’s time for each of them to move up to private housing.

Start by removing the moss that decorated the top. This isn’t necessary, and in fact it frequently prevents people from accurately judging if the plant is too wet or too dry, so begin by tossing it in the compost. Next, tip all the plants out of the container and one by one, separate each from the roommates. You can do this most easily, and with the least damage to the plants, by holding on to the base of the plant and pulling the roots away from the others.

Pot each plant on its own in a new pot. Fill the entire pot with soil – no rocks or broken pot pieces in the bottom. Don’t cover the drainage hole, not even with a paper towel. Just new, moistened potting soil and the plant. Be sure to leave about an inch of space between the top of the pot and the top of the soil so that you can water it easily without the water running all over the place. (If the plant is too big to allow such a space, find a taller pot.) Water the plants well and let the excess water drain out of the hole, pouring out any that collects in the saucer underneath.

Let your plants recover for two or three weeks before you start fertilizing. Once they start to grow again you can begin to feed them according to the directions on the package of fertilizer you’ve chosen.

A new life for old dish garden plants? You Can Grow That!

Here are the plants pulled apart from each other. I think that they are already rejoicing that new digs are at hand!

Dish Garden Plants: Tips For Designing A Dish Garden

Plants in a dish garden are an excellent way to bring nature inside. In any shallow, open container, a thriving and eye-pleasing ecosystem can be created. While many different types of plants can be put in a dish garden, it is imperative that you choose dish garden plants with similar light, water and soil requirements.

Containers for Plants in a Dish Garden

When designing a dish garden, you need to choose an appropriate container. Select a shallow container that is at least two inches deep. Ceramic containers work exceptionally well for most types of dish gardens.

Once you have selected a container for your garden, it is imperative that you make sure your garden will have excellent drainage. One way to ensure this is to select a container with drainage holes or create drainage holes in the bottom of the container. If it is too difficult to make drainage holes, you can improvise.

Place a thin layer of crushed gravel

in the bottom of the container and cover it with a piece of nylon hosiery or window screen. The planting media will go on top of the screen.

Designing a Dish Garden

It is always best to design your dish garden before you plant. This includes choosing dish garden plants. Select three or five plants in 2- or 3-inch pots that work well together and before you plant, lay them in the container so that you can get the most creative arrangement.

Keep in mind that if all sides of the container will be seen, you will need to put the taller plants in the center. If the garden will be seen only from the front, be sure to put the taller plants at the back.

Choose plants with attractive foliage, texture and color. Cacti and succulents are popular desert dish garden plants, but be sure not to plant them together, as succulents need far more water than cacti.

For low light gardens, snake plant and jade plant are excellent choices while for medium light gardens, grape ivy and pothos work well. Dwarf African violets are a colorful addition to any container garden.

When you are ready to plant, place a generous amount of lightweight planting media into the container. Using one part peat and one part sand helps with drainage. Add a small amount of Spanish moss or tiny pebbles once you are finished planting. This adds a decorative effect and helps with moisture retention.

Dish Garden Cultivation

Caring for dish gardens is not difficult as long as you provide the right amount of sunlight and water. Be extremely careful not to over water your dish garden. Make sure that your container is draining properly, and keep the soil evenly moist.

This Dish Garden Design Combines Houseplants and Spring Bulbs

Think of an indoor dish garden as an opportunity to grow a group of plants in a single shallow container that’s ideal for a tabletop or windowsill. Starting with small houseplants and a container you have on hand makes this a budget-friendly project. Tuck a few prechilled—forced, sprouted, and ready-to-grow—spring-flowering bulbs into the mix for unexpected pops of color.

Full of life and young plants, this potted garden is designed to provide extended pleasure. After a couple of years, the colorful houseplants will be ready to grow on as singles in individual pots or grouped in a larger planter. Prechilled bulbs, widely available from mail-order nurseries and local garden centers in late winter and early spring, readily move outdoors and into the garden after their blooms fade. Toss a handful of fertilizer into their planting holes, and they’ll likely flower again the following spring.

We chose white-variegated plants for a unified grouping. All thrive in the medium light of an east- or west-facing window. When shopping for houseplants, read plant labels and group your selections according to the level of light where they will be placed. Plants receive low light when placed near a north or northeast window, high or bright light in a south or southwest window. Choose plants with similar needs for water, too. We chose Dieffenbachia ‘Camille’, silver pothos, Hedera helix ‘Mini Adam’, Pilea mollis ‘Moon Valley’, and Fittonia ‘Mini White’ as our houseplants. Muscari, Dutch iris. and crocus were our bulbs of choice.

We used a roomy metal tray as a decorative cachepot and fitted it with a pot liner that allows drainage. Letting plant roots stand in water encourages them to rot, so pour off any excess water that may collect in a cachepot.

How to turn gift plants into long-term houseplants

Here are my recommendations for houseplant care after a funeral or hospital stay.

Combination dish gardens

• Gift-type dish gardens are assembled from multiple small plants closely arranged in a decorative container or basket to appear instantly full and pretty, but they’re usually not meant to remain together for long-term growth. Plant types grow at different rates, and slower types will be overshadowed. Limited container space doesn’t provide room for future plant development, causing overcrowding and eventual decline. Separating the plants is best.

• Although they’re pretty, first remove decorative bows, colorful pot wraps and pebbles or moss covering the soil, to better focus on plants and their health.

• Check the container to determine if the small plants are still in individual pots clustered closely together, with pots concealed under moss or pebbles. These dish gardens are easy to disassemble by simply removing individual pots from the collective container and repotting each separately in slightly larger pots for continued growth. One dish garden yields multiple beautiful houseplants.

• If dish garden plants are actually planted into the decorative container’s soil, the soil can be carefully cut into blocks with a knife, giving each plant its own root cube. Then pot separately.

Single-potted houseplants

• Remove decorative pot wrap, ribbons, outer baskets and other ornaments.

• It’s dangerous to keep houseplants in baskets or pot liners because excess drainage is easily concealed inside the base. Pot bottoms sitting in water quickly cause plant decline.

• Many gift-type houseplants are in pots large enough for another year or more of plant growth. If the plant seems crowded, now’s the time to replant into a pot several inches larger in diameter.

Spring flowering bulb gardens

• These can be saved for perennial beds. For best success, locate blooming pots of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and crocus in a sunny but cool window location.

• While plants are blooming and leaves are healthy, fertilize weekly with water-soluble fertilizer. Keep soil moist, drying just slightly between waterings. Fertilizer and sun are vital to rebuild the bulbs’ strength if you’d like to add them to future outdoor flowerbeds.

• When the leaves begin to turn yellow in several weeks, discontinue watering. When leaves turn brown and paper-dry, cut off foliage, remove bulbs from pot, shake off soil and store in a brown paper bag in a dark location, until fall.

• In September, plant the dormant bulbs in a flowerbed, and if they re-energized themselves sufficiently, they’ll grow and bloom the following spring. Saving potted bulbs is not always successful, but worth a try with little to lose.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at [email protected]

He also blogs at ” target=”_blank”>

Dish Gardens

Dish gardens are all the rage these days as a way to add a unique natural accent indoors or out. These miniature gardens combine groups of plants in a decorative container to create fashionable home decor that dresses up a living space with interesting textures, unique shapes, and organic color.

Some of the most popular plants for your succulent dish garden are kalanchoe, aloe, cactus, and jade.

Dish gardens fit just about anywhere – from the kitchen counter to the mantle and even the bathroom vanity. They’re a great way to bring nature indoors, brighten a room, and naturally clean indoor air! With the right plants, dish gardens are maintenance–free, thriving under any condition. They help create a healthy home by removing toxins and create a calming influence that helps reduce stress.


While the origins of dish gardens are obscure, they are said to have begun centuries ago as a Japanese artistic hobby as well as a model for landscape architects. The leading landscape gardeners of Japan would create miniature models of their work to help customers visualize the end result. Three stones were always placed in these Japanese gardens to symbolize Heaven, Earth and Mankind. Americans became fascinated by these tiny landscapes when travelers would bring them home from Japan or make them upon their return.

Emotional benefits:

These hardy plants can thrive for long periods in poor conditions.

Not only can plants fill a home with a burst of color and give caretakers something to nourish, dish gardens also evoke a spirit of peacefulness and serenity. The mere presence of plants in our surroundings brings a feeling of refreshment. They can even lift productivity in the workplace so be wary if the boss gives you a dish garden!

Health benefits:

Houseplants such as dish gardens can filter out toxins in the environment leaving your home full of fresh oxygen to promote peace and relaxation. Dish gardens can also aid in eliminating airborne pollutants and adding humidity to the air making it healthier for us to breathe. Studies have proved that people in indoor environments that contain healthy houseplants exhibit less stress and lower blood pressure. With your new dish garden in place, you may be finding yourself breathing a bit easier- no carbon dioxide needed!

Between dish gardens appearance and livability to their emotional and health benefits, you cannot go wrong with one of these succulents!


You may purchase a ready-made garden designed by a professional florist, or place a special order to get just what you want. They also make a great hands-on project for both kids and adults! Take inspiration from a favorite vacation spot, hobby, or decorating magazine and incorporate it into your very own dish garden. Include accents like stones, miniature figurines, and other features that reflect the theme – from fairy villages, to Zen gardens, to tropical forests. Anything goes.

Looking for a great housewarming present for a new home or apartment? You can’t go wrong with this versatile long lasting gift that brings the outdoors in a lush green instant garden. The plants can always be moved to the garden when it’s time to change the décor.

Dish gardens are perfect for adding a burst of color!

The key to the perfect dish garden is coming up with the right ingredients for an eye-catching display. Most of the time will be spent on choosing the perfect container, plants and accents because the actual construction of a dish garden is quite simple and quick. Dish gardens can be simple or elaborate.

Container: Finding a container is as much fun as the planting! Look for a shallow, open container with an interesting shape, appealing colors, and unique appeal that suites your personal style. Neutral colors are a great choice for any décor, adding a subtle accent. Looking for a focal point? Try brightly colored containers that add sizzle to their surroundings. The container can be any size, depending on how many or few plants you want to include.

Plants: When planning a dish garden, it’s important to select plants that share similar growing needs in terms of light and water requirements. Since they will all be living together in one container, this will ensure all the plants will thrive.

Whatever plants you choose, succulents can add a whole new dimension to your collection of unusual and distinctive houseplants.

Landscaping the dish garden can be done in a multitude of different ways depending upon the look you are going for. Create different levels of terrain by combining tall, medium, and low growing plants and add contrast by varying the size, texture, and color of the leaves, adding flowering plants for unexpected color. When selecting plants, arrange them at the garden center in the dish you plan to use to be sure you purchase the right number of plants and that they blend well together.

Looking for a desert theme? Succulents, cactus, and other desert plants combine beautifully to create contrasting shades and textures. There is a world of fascinating plants to choose from – combine low growing plants like the spikes of haworthia, the rosettes of hens and chicks (echeveria) or crassula, the smooth green surface of living stone (lithops), and the petite leaves of graptopetalum with taller plants like the brightly flowered kalanchoe, and tall stalks of aloe.

From very small pots that hold only one little cactus to large circular or rectangular bowls and pots dish gardens combine a diverse assortment of succulents.

For a tropical theme, look for plants with lush leaves and graceful silhouettes. Start with tall colorful bromeliads, soften the edges with the feathery leaves of podocarpus or ptseris fern, and add drama with the dark green glossy leaves of pittosporum, the variegated leaves of croton or dracaena. Fill in with shorter plants like peperomia and complete the look with low spreading plants like creeping fig, and perperomia.

After the plants are arranged, make sure to water your dish garden to set the soil in place.

Soil: Match the soil type to the plants – sandy soils for cactus and succulents, potting mix for houseplants.

Drainage: The most important requirement for success is adequate drainage. Look for container with drainage holes to keep the soil moist but not constantly wet. Place a layer at least one inch in depth of sand, gravel or broken pottery in the bottom of the container.

Types of Plants:

Kalanchoes are a great flowering succulent that adds compact color and fullness to the dish garden. Their delicate clusters of pink, orange, red, or white flowers bloom throughout the winter months to brighten any room. They’re one of the simplest indoor plants to grow, requiring little care. Like most succulents, they need to be planted near a sunny window and don’t need a lot of water.

Deffenbachia is one of the simplest indoor plants to grow, requiring little care.

Pothos have long growing leafy vines that help purify indoor air. Its leaves are a pointed heart shape and can vary between greens, whites and yellows. This plant does great in indoor environments, as it likes shade making it great for home and office use. Any one can keep this alive and thriving, even those with “black thumbs”!

Dieffenbachia Another great indoor plant is dieffenbachia – it’s green and white variegated foliage add contrast in the dish garden for year-long interest.

Adding a vibrant blooming Poinsettia to your favorite foliage plants is the perfect addition to any dish garden! Mini-Poinsettias are easy to care for and will live several months or indefinitely provided a good environment. While poinsettias alone will offer for a stunning display, they are even more ideal as centerpieces for dish gardens- creating a focal point for your guests with their vivacious color.

Scarlet and emerald poinsettia make for the perfect Thanksgiving and Christmas hostess gift!

Spathiphyllum also known as the peace lily, is a striking plant when used as a focal point in a dish garden. They bloom in the spring, with long lasting flowers that hover gracefully on over the leaves of thin stalks. Spathiphyllum require little water and sun making it the perfect houseplant producing long lasting beautiful blooms.

Source(s): Gary R Peiffer

A dish garden is a collection of compatible plants growing and changing together over time in a small container. Using basic principles of design, you can create, in miniature, the feeling of a sumptuous full scale landscape. First select the location where the dish garden will grow; then select the plants suited to your location.

Careful location and plant selection is the key to successful dish gardening. For example, if you expect to grow your dish garden in the often dry and dark open atmosphere of the home or office, select plants suited to this environment.

What makes a Dish Garden?

A dish garden is composed of the

  • container
  • drainage materials
  • soil mix
  • plants and
  • decorations and trims.

Learn about each of these individual elements in the discussion below.

Unlike a traditional flower pot, there is usually no hole in the bottom of a dish garden container.Virtually any object that holds water and does not leak con contain a dish garden. Suitable containers include metal, china, glass, pottery, and plastic-lined wooden bowls, boxes, and baskets, and antique and reproduction items such as basin and pitcher sets.

Look at your surroundings. Cast-off and yard sale items often have interesting shapes and colors, including dishware, old gardening tools, outgrown toys, and bricks and concrete blocks.

A visually active container demands simple plantings. A container with simple lines and subtle colors permits the variety of exotic plants to catch the eye.

A rather wide and shallow vessel helps to create the illusion of a miniature landscape. Select a container deep enough to provide room for the roots, soil, and necessary drainage materials. Usually 3 inches deep is sufficient.

Drainage Materials

Loose materials, such as small rocks, pea gravel, marbles, and coarse sands, provide drainage for a container with no holes.

Coarse charcoal layered just above the rocks prevents sour soil, s common problem in dish gardens. Sourness results from too much water (H2O) and from a lack of air (Oxygen) between the soil particles. Roots need air too!

Soil Mix

Most foliage and dish garden plants thrive in a soil mix made of

  • sterilized soil
  • coarse sand and
  • peat moss or leaf mold.

You may either sterilize the soil in your oven or buy a commercial sterile soil mix.

For cacti or succulents, double the amount of coarse sand.

Remember: A container with no drainage hole in the bottom requires a well-drained soil mix and careful watering.


Plant selection depends on each plant’s compatibility with the others and its adaptability to the site conditions and the style of the container. Avoid mixing incompatible plants, such as cactus and coleus. Plants thriving under different conditions will not prosper together in a dish garden.

See the table at the end of this brochure for types of dish gardens, their plant selection, and special requirements.

Decorations and Trims

Miniature figures and ground objects, such as bits of wood, rocks, stones, and crystals make appropriate additions to a dish garden. Select shapes, colors, and sizes to create interest and contrast. Toe enhance your dish garden for gift presentation, attach a small ribbon duplicating a color already present in the container of the plants. As a rule, minimal decorations create the greatest charm and delight.

Planting your Dish Garden

The Day Before You Plant

On the day before you plant your dish garden, thoroughly water all the plants you expect to transplant.

Layering Your Container

Follow these steps to layer your container.

  1. Line the bottom of the container with loose drainage material to prevent the soil and roots from standing in water.
  2. Add a thin layer of coarse charcoal to prevent sour soil.
  3. Fill the container about 1/2 full of damp, but not wet soil mix.

Note: To test for proper soil moisture, squeeze a handful of soil. The moisture content is satisfactory if no water oozes out but the soil retains its shape when released.

Planning Your Design

Follow these steps to plan your design.

  1. Temporarily place and view the plants in the container.
  2. Look at your work from all sides and angles and from several distances.
  3. Try your decorations. A figurine can turn a few plants into a miniature landscape. To see this effect, place the figurine in among the plants.
    Viewed from eye level, the plants swell to the size of trees.
  4. On a sheet of paper, sketch a quick plan of your chosen arrangement or make an instant photo.
  5. Gently remove the plants and set them aside.

Note: Consider where you plan to display your dish garden. If it will be seen from all sides, check the views all around it. If it will sit next to a wall, you need only consider the view from the front or at most, three sides. If it will sit in front of a mirror, use this to your advantage. A dish garden viewed from table level benefits from a different plant arrangement than one seen from eye level. Carefully move the plants until you discover a pleasing composition.

Planting Your Dish Garden

Follow these steps to plant your dish garden.

  1. Begin to permanently plant your dish garden. Follow your sketch.
  2. Build a small mound in the dish for each plant and spread its roots over the mound. If a plant has an extremely large root root system, prune its roots a little. Place a little more soil over the roots to hold the plant in place.
  3. Following your sketch or photo, plant the remaining plants in this same way.
  4. Finish filling the container with soil.
  5. Water the soil and mist the leaves.
  6. Place your new dish garden in a warm, shaded location for two weeks to allow the fresh transplants to become established.

Maintaining Your Dish Garden

Follow these steps to maintain your dish garden.

  1. Test the soil moisture with your finger several times each week. Water slowly with lukewarm water.
  2. Turn the container every few days so the plants grow upright.
  3. Fertilize infrequently. Over fertilizing causes plants to outgrow the container.
  4. Repot when the plants grow too large for the container or after a year or so when the soil nutrients deplete.

Remember: Drainage does not exist in most dish gardens. Dish garden success depends on proper watering.

Types of Dish Gardens

Use this table to design and select plants for your dish garden.

Type of Dish Garden Plant Selection Ideas Sunlight Requirement Other Special Needs
Bog Ground & club mosses, small ferns Full to part sun
Desert Agave, aloe, cactus, crown of thorns,
echeveria, haworthia, house leek, jade, sun, kalanchoe, opuntia, panda plant, sedum, snake plant
Full to part sun, Sandy soil
Field and Meadow Ferns, fungi, grasses, hawkweed, juniper seedling, lichens, mosses, pussytoes, wild strawberry Full to part sun
Herbs Chives, creeping thyme, rosemary, other small herbs Full to part sun, Sandy rocky soil
Mediterranean Euphorbias, succulents, small cacti Full to part sun, Sandy soil
Tropical Aspidistra, birdsnest fern, bromelia, Chinese evergreen, croton, dracaena, English and grape ivy, neantha bella Tropical palm, peperomia, philodendron, pittosporum, podocarpus, pothos, pteris fern, sansevieria, snake plant, ti plant, wandering Jew Shade, indirect light
Violet Wild violets, small herbs Full to part sun
Woodland Ferns, grasses, club, hair-cap, & minum
mosses, hepatica, mountain laurel, Woodland partridgeberry, pipsissewa, rattlesnake plantain, rock polypody, wintergreen seedling yew, fir, pine, & hemlock

Center Publication Number: 4

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Choose a container for the dish garden. This may be one of the containers provided in lab or your own decorative container. Put a 1/2 to 1 inch layer of gravel into the container. Add one to two tablespoons of charcoal to the gravel layer. Then fill the container just short of the top with peatlite mix.

Choose a group of compatible plants for the dish garden. Usually this would be three to five plants, three in the smaller sized containers and as many a five for larger containers. The plants should be compatible with each other, all should be able to survive in a dry environment. Choose plants that have varied characteristics, for example one that will be taller than the others, some that are intermediate in height and width and one that will be low and spreading in growth habit. Choose plants with varied leaf textures, shapes and colors.

Inspect the plants before putting them in the dish garden. Check for pests and control them if present. Remove old, yellowing leaves, dead flowers and other unwanted plant material. If the plant is a little too large for the container, prune some of its leaves and/or stems so that it will fit. Very small plants of the same type could be grouped to give them more weight in the dish garden.

Set the plants in the dish garden in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement based on how the dish garden will be viewed. If the garden is to be viewed from all sides, the tallest plant should be set in the center, but gardens that are to be viewed from one side should have the tallest plant or plants set to the side that is to be the back. The tallest plant should go in first, then the intermediate plants and finally the smallest plants. Don’t crowd the dish garden, save space for the plants to grow! Cuttings or newly rooted cuttings are excellent for planting in a dish garden, but they may need a little extra attention for the first few weeks. If you use potted plants, remove most of the potting medium from the root systems. Prune long roots that will not easily fit in the dish garden’s medium. It is better to prune these long roots than to mat them into a pile and cover them with medium. Remember that the dish garden is an excellent place for root development since there is very little stress on the plants

Stand back and look at your dish garden from a distance to be sure that it is aesthetically pleasing. This is often difficult to tell when looking at it from above. When you are convinced that the placement of plants is proper, water the dish garden. Since the peatlite mix will hold a lot of water, add the water in increments to avoid over-watering. In general you would add a volume of water equivalent to one-fourth to one-third the volume of the container.

You may want to put ornamentation in your dish garden. A path may be made of gravel or stones, driftwood could give the appearance of a decaying log and rocks or petrified wood could be used to represent rocks or hills. Avoid artificial flowers and artificially colored stones or pebbles or “critters”. Small artificial birds, toads and lizards are acceptable, but only if naturally colored and used to complement the plants.

When you have finished the dish garden, label it with your name and date and place it under the lights in the light bank in our lab room. Once the plants are well established in their new environment, you may take the dish garden home, but check with your lab instructor before taking it.

Are you looking for a way to brighten up your interior space and bring some nature into your urban environment?

Need a project that will introduce a young child to the world of gardening? Or perhaps you’re stuck for a gift idea? A dish garden might be the answer – but what is a dish garden?

What is a dish garden

A dish garden is a garden grown indoors in a container. Although the name might suggest they are grown in dishes, in practice, almost any kind of container can be used, as long as it’s large enough.

The idea is to create a landscape in miniature by selecting several different compatible plants – “compatible” is an important point and we’ll come back to it – and growing them together while also incorporating other decorative elements as you see fit.

Dish gardens are thought to have first appeared in Japan several centuries ago when landscape artists created them as a way of demonstrating their abilities to potential clients.

Nowadays, they are increasingly in vogue as many people choose to grow them in their urban spaces.

Why grow a dish garden?

They are a perfect solution for otherwise sterile city apartments and bring the well-documented health benefits of being around plants to those who otherwise have little opportunity to be in contact with nature.

Dish gardens are the ideal project to entrust to children to help them learn about gardening and plants, all while giving them an outlet for their natural creativity. Planting a dish garden will allow you to spend quality time with your child as you work on your creation together.

Finally, dish gardens can make beautiful gifts. By planting, tending and growing a garden, the time invested can say so much more than something you simply picked up in a store at the last moment.

what you need for a dish garden

To start your own dish garden, there is very little you actually need. The most obvious item is the dish itself, and you can use pretty much anything you like.

If you choose to, you can spend money on a decorative glass dish that costs a lot of money; or you can just as easily use an old salad bowl or an empty ice cream tub – it’s up to you. As a guideline, a dish that is around 3” deep is about perfect.

One point to remember is that dish gardens don’t usually have a hole in the bottom for drainage, although this is not a rule. If you make one with a drainage hole, just remember to also use some kind of tray to catch the water.

Having chosen your dish, and bearing in mind that dish gardens don’t usually have holes, the next part of the garden is making sure the bottom doesn’t become waterlogged. This means you need to line the container with a drainage layer.

There are lots of possibilities for this; common materials include gravel, coarse sand, small racks or even marbles – the latter could look particularly attractive if used in a clear glass bowl, but it’s entirely up to you.

It is also advisable to add a layer of coarse charcoal to help with the soil quality.

After this, you need a layer of soil for the plants to grow in. Choose a soil that is not too fertile – otherwise, the plants will grow too quickly.

Then you just need to select the plants themselves.

How to start a dish garden

The first thing to do before you even start looking for the materials is to visualize the kind of garden you want. If you already have a dish you plan to use, decide what kind of effect you want to create with it.

Think about the kind of landscape you want to create. Do you want a tropical dish garden or a desert-themed one?

We mentioned earlier that it is important to choose compatible plants, and there is a reason for this. You need to choose plants that will grow well together and that require similar conditions, or it will be difficult to keep them all alive and thriving.

Imagine trying to grow a thirsty tropical plant in the same garden as a cactus and you will see that it simply won’t work. By choosing plants that work well together, your garden is much more likely to be successful. (In fact, dish gardens do best with plants that don’t need too much water.)

When you have an idea of what you want, you are ready to start making your dish garden.

The procedure

Take your dish and fill the bottom with around an inch or so or gravel or other drainage material. Cover over with a layer of charcoal and top off with the soil. Potting soil is recommended rather than regular garden soil.

Depending on the size of your dish, you should choose around three to five plants. Try to choose plants that are not only compatible but that also complement each other. For example, try to incorporate a mix of height, color, shape and so on for a pleasing visual effect.

Arrange them in the dish and observe them from different angles. If the garden will be seen from all side, the tallest plant is probably best in the middle; if it will be seen from only one side, the tallest plants can go at the back.

Once you are satisfied, fix them into place. Once the plants are in, you can then add any decorative elements you have chosen. Again, this is down to your own creativity and imagination – feel free to create miniature pathways, rock features, toy cars or anything else you find attractive or fun.

Tips for the dish garden

It is a good idea to water your plants the night before you move them into the garden to give them the best start.

Since there is no drainage hole, it is important to water the garden just enough; with dish gardens, it is easy for them to either become soggy or to dry out if you don’t get it right.

Choose plants for the conditions. If your garden is going to be kept in a place with low light conditions, don’t choose plants that love the sun.

Perfect for would-be gardeners who lack gardens

Tending to a garden is a pleasure that many people enjoy, whether young or old, but unfortunately, not everybody is fortunate to have an outdoor garden of their own. With a dish garden, you can care for a miniature garden, even if your living space is extremely limited.

How to Create and Care for Dish Gardens

Adding Plants to Your Dish Garden

Make sure that the plants are thoroughly watered before proceeding!

Once you have your master plan worked out, you are ready to plant and landscape your dish garden. The plants can be easily removed from their pots, with their entire root structure unscathed, and ready for planting.

Support the plant by placing your fingers over the soil, forming a ‘V’ around, but not touching the stem of the plant. Turn the entire plant over, and give the pot a light rap with a screwdriver handle. This should dislodge the root ball, allowing the pot to be easily lifted off. (You may have to take a second whack at it.)

Normally, at this point of transplanting any potted plant, you would want to lightly loosen the outer roots of the ball. Because a slow growth rate is desired in most dish gardens, it is better to just leave the roots alone in this case. Remove the pots from two or three of your plants at a time, beginning with the tallest plants first. Set these plants into position, making any final adjustments as to where they will “face”. Fill in around each plant with fresh planting mix, and then continue with this process until all of the plants are in place. Add more soil as needed to fill in areas. Pack the soil gently, and water it lightly.

You can top the soil with a mulch of fine bark or small gravel. Accents like small twigs and stones can be used to hide any bare plant stems, or to highlight an area of the garden. Any other ornaments you choose to add to your landscape, will add to the artistry, the character, and the personal touch…
Your dish garden should be kept in a spot where it will receive the correct amount of light for the chosen plants. “Full sun” type dish gardens should be gradually adjusted to their permanent window area to prevent sun burn. Place them in bright, indirect light first. Each day, for a week, move them closer, until they are in the “full sun” spot.

Watering and Caring for Your Dish Garden

Allow the soil in your dish garden to become nearly dry, before you add a small amount of water again (start with a cup or so…). Never allow the soil to become too dry, or too soggy. Experience will quickly teach you how much, and how often to water.

Generally you will not have to fertilize your dish garden. The plants will seldom be in place long enough to deplete the nutrients from their soil, before they are moved on to a bigger planter. Of course, if the plants have been in the same soil for too long you can feed them, but use a VERY dilute 1/4 strength liquid house plant food.

With a little care, your dish garden will become an ornament for your home, and a living memory.

It is hard to see it in the photos, but there is a small waterfall that falls from the castle turrets then follows a stream through the plants to a reservoir in the bowl.

Other articles you might like:

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8 Foolproof Ways to Keep Your Succulents Alive

Are you one of those people who hangs their head in shame whenever we tout succulents as the easiest plants to grow? You’re not alone, trust us. Succulents, plants adapted to survive in harsh environments and long periods with very little water, play by their own rule book, but they’re still pretty easy to care for. Follow these succulent-growing tips to help you keep your babies alive and thriving.

1. Give them breathing room

While there are a few succulent types that do well indoors (including aloe and kalanchoe), the vast majority of these plants hail from warm, arid climates and depend on good air circulation to breathe. So while that succulent terrarium looks adorable, forget about it. You’ll have way more luck keeping your plants outdoors, exposed to the elements.

2. Provide some shade

Despite widespread belief, most succulents do not thrive if blasted with the hottest temps and the fullest sun exposure. While they appreciate a lot of light (and very few survive in full shade), most succulents need sun protection, especially if the temperature hits the 90-degree-mark, or if they’re small. Varieties that are solid green, pale, or variegated are most in danger of sun burn. Here’s a tip: if you are planning to blast your succulents with the brightest sun possible, opt for plants that are red, gray, blue, or covered densely with spines (which help to reflect the sun’s rays).

3. Start with the right soil

Use a fast-draining cactus mix. Or, if you’re of the DIY persuasion, amend a traditional potting soil with coarse perlite, crushed lava, or pumice. A good recipe is one part amendment and four parts potting mix.

4. Low-water isn’t no-water

Perhaps you’ve killed your succulents by overwatering them (far more common than under-watering) which causes rot. But maybe you’ve already gotten the memo, are diligently dehydrating your plants, and wonder why they are dying. Well, newsflash-they need some water. Succulents like it when soil approaches dry before being watered. But what does this mean, you ask? It means you’ll likely be a-ok if, during dry times, if you water small pots about once a week and large pots about every two weeks.

5. Include drainage

Remember-succulent roots hate excess water. Be sure there’s drainage in your container. Ok, ok-you’ve caught me in a lie. We sometimes create pretty centerpieces in pots with no drainage. But listen-you’ve got to water these compositions especially lightly. And you have to follow all of the other rules.

6. Succulents need food, too

Succulents do often grow in low-nutrient environments, but fertilizer is still essential to their care. Pro-tip: for succulents, once-yearly feeding is enough. Use any well-balanced organic fertilizer, cut the dose in half, and feed at the beginning of the plant’s growing season for best results.

7. Rethink propagation

While you might be accustomed to plucking a stem of your favorite geranium, rosemary bush, or houseplant and dunking it in water to watch roots grow, that won’t work for propagating succulents. You can actually practice the exact opposite method. When you’ve got a plant you like, pluck a stem and let it dry out in the shade for at least 3 days. This process, known as healing, helps form a callus, preventing rot. Place your new stem in the soil mix mentioned above, and you should be good to go.

8. Beware of frost

While some succulents, including certain types of Sedum and Sempervivum, can withstand freezing temps, most cannot. Take care when a cold snap is in the forecast—since succulents are mostly water, their cell walls are prone to bursting, which turns the leaves to mush. When in doubt, assume that any drop below freezing will call damage or death to your plant. The easiest solution for frost protection is to keep plants in containers that are light enough to move indoors or under awnings when a cold snap is predicted. Also, unlike the rest of your garden, succulents actually have a greater chance of survival if they’re dry before a cold snap, not wet.

Have you ever made a dish garden? In case you have no clue as to what a dish garden is or even looks like, think of it as a mini landscape in a shallow container. It usually grows in your home instead of outdoors. I hadn’t made 1 in a couple of years and was inspired by a few peperomias which I had recently picked up. This is all about dish gardening 101 – what you need to know about planting as well as maintenance.

2 Ways to Make a Dish Garden

I show you how these 2 ways in the video below. With 1 the plants stay in their grow pots. The dish garden you see in the lead photo has the plants directly planted in soil. This is how I like to make them and the majority of dish gardens are made this way. The 1 in the turquoise ceramic is going in my dining room with the long haul in mind.

A few reasons to leave the plants in grow pots: it weighs less, there’s no soil required, the individual plants can easily be changed out, the container you’re using has no drain hole, & if you want to take the plants out to individually plant them. This is also easier if you’re doing a temporary planting.

My trusty ole work table holds 2 dish gardens already made along with the ceramic bowl waiting to be planted.

Permanent vs Temporary

A temporary planting would be 1 you do for an event, give as a gift or for a holiday such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter. You can choose any combo of plants because this is short lived.

A permanent planting is 1 that’s made for the long haul so you should carefully choose plants which will grow together well. 1 of dish gardens is a combo of Peperomias & the other is a cactus garden.

Design / Style

You can choose a design or style if you’d like. Popular choices are desert, fairy, old fashioned, Japanese, tropical, sleek & modern, & festive holiday.

They can be made for any occasion, even as wedding centerpieces.

Container Choices

This, along with the plant choices & adornments, is where you can get creative. Dish garden containers are typically shallow & the most popular choices are baskets, ceramics & terra cotta. Resin (or plastic), metal & glass are oftentimes used too.

Flea markets, garage sales & your attic are good places to find a container out of the ordinary. I used my dad’s childhood dump truck, which you see below, for an example of a fun dish garden a boy could make.

Some containers may not have drain holes. Dish gardens need to have some kind of drainage so be sure to follow the instructions here using pebbles & charcoal.

My dad’s old dump truck made a fun dish garden container. The cacti were planted in the pumice stone planter.

Plant Choices

I like to use plants which vary in height, texture, shape & sometimes color. That being said, I love a cactus or fleshy succulent dish garden entirely made with all low plants. Anything which is pleasing to your eye is key.

Head’s up: you want to make sure that the plants you’re combining all have like requirements in terms of watering & exposure. For instance, I wouldn’t combine cacti (high light, low water) with pothos & peace lilies (lower light, more water).

Give the plants some room to grow. I popped in the yellow kalanchoe not only for color but to fill in the space in the front until the peperomias grow.

If the garden you’re making is a temporary planting, then combine whatever you’d like!

2, 3, & 4″ plants are used for smaller dish gardens. 6″ combined with 4″ is usually the size we’d use in larger containers.

Blooming Plants

Bromeliads, kalanchoes, cyclamen, mini roses, African violets, begonias, Easter Cactus, mums, Christmas Cactus, and poinsettias are all good choices & relatively easy to find.

Trailing Plants

Pothos, arrowhead philodendron, heartleaf philodendron, hoya, grape ivy, English ivy, creeping fig.

Upright Plants

Aglaonema, dieffenbachia, neanthebella palm, spathiphyllum, peperomia, snake plant, jade plant, button fern, bird’s nest fern, succulents.

The plants I used included: pothos en joy, variegated baby rubber plant, peperomia “rosso”, perperomia “amigo marcello” & a yellow kalanchoe.

Materials Used

For my Peperomia bowl:

3 – 4″ Peperomias

1 – 2″ Kalanchoe

14″ wide x 7″ high ceramic bowl

1/2 potting soil & 1/2 succulent & cactus mix. I use a locally produced s & c mix. Fox Farm Smart Naturals potting soil has lots of good stuff in it.

Charcoal. This is optional but what it does is improve the drainage & absorb impurities & odors. For this reason, it’s great to use when doing any indoor potting project.

A few handfuls of local compost. (this & the worm compost are optional

A light top dressing of worm compost. This is my favorite amendment, which I use sparingly because it’s rich. Here’s why I like it so much.

A close up so you can see the moss covering the grow pots on this basket dish garden.

Dish Gardening 101: The Simple Steps

It’s best to watch the step by steps in the video. You’ll find them for the garden planted in soil starting at the 9:18 mark. The garden made with the plants in their grow pots in a basket lined with plastic is before that.

Adornments / Topdressing

If you want to jazz your dish garden up a bit, the sky’s the limit. I’ve used glass chips, crystals, rock, & shells as well as driftwood. Fairy garden devotees use a wide variety of miniature accessories so you can really go crazy as far as that’s concerned.

Some people like to top dress their dish gardens with moss. Moss comes in a variety of types as well as colors. I used moss for the basket dish garden because it hides the grow pots.

Use your imagination & your dish garden will become a living work of art!

Dish gardening 101: how to create & care for these mini landscapes

How to Maintain your Beautiful Dish Garden

Do this before the garden is made: make sure your dish garden plants are watered a couple of days before the planting to avoid any stress. Right after the planting you want to water the plants again.


I like to water each individual plant root ball rather than the whole garden itself. This seems to prevent it from staying too wet. A watering can with a long, thin neck is great for this. You’ll see the 1 I use in the video.

It’s still warm here in Tucson so I’m watering this peperomia dish garden every 2 weeks. In the winter, I’ll back off to every 3-4 weeks.


This will vary depending on what type of plants you’re using. My cactus dish garden grows outside in full sun here in Tucson whereas my peperomia garden is in medium light here in my dining room. It’s about 10′ away from a bay window & receives lovely natural light pretty much all day long.


Be careful not to fertilize your dish garden too often. They’re planted in shallow containers & salts & other minerals can build up. They need little if any fertilizing especially if you’ve used a high-quality potting soil. If you feel yours needs it, once in the spring should do it.

Liquid kelp or fish emulsion would work fine as well as a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer (5-5-5 or lower) if you have that. Dilute any of these to half strength & apply in spring.

You don’t want to fertilize houseplants in late fall or winter because that’s their time for rest. Avoid fertilizing a houseplant which is stressed, ie. bone dry or soaking wet.

I give my dish gardens, as well as all my houseplants, a light application of worm compost with a light layer of compost over that every spring. Easy does it – a 1/4″ layer of each is plenty. Read about my worm compost and compost feeding right here.

Additional Maintenance

In general, dish gardens are low maintenance. You may have to prune off an occasionally spent leaf or replace a plant that’s not doing well or if it gets too big. Keep your eyes open for pests (be sure to check your plants before planting to make sure they have none) – some dish garden plantings are prone to spider mites.

A dish garden I made about 7 years ago in a low glass footed bowl. I’ve done a post & video about it so check out the plants used & the making of this 1 if you’d like.

Dish Gardening Tips

Dish gardens will grow. You’ll have to change out & replace some of the plants as they get too big &/or too crowded.

It’s good to position your plants slightly above the soil line as they’ll eventually sink down a bit.

Are your plants planted closely together? Have you used topdressings such as moss, glass chips or rock? Be sure to water them less often if this is the case. These all slow down the soil from drying out.

If your potting soil is on the heavy side & needs more aeration, consider adding perlite or pumice. This ups the ante on the drainage factor. Or, 1/2 potting soil & 1/2 succulent & cactus mix will work. You want it to be on the lighter side & well drained. If you’re using all fleshy succulents or all cactus, then use a straight succulent & cactus mix.

Don’t water your dish garden too often – they can easily rot out.

Happy (Dish) Gardening,

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