Dish gardens are ways to grow micro-gardens in a bowl. They offer the chance to create a garden that will fit on a table indoors, on a balcony or patio, or garnish the plain surface of a wall outdoors. Cactus plants and succulents are ideal for creating these beautiful kinds of miniature gardens.
Succulents (which include cacti) are specially adapted to store water in their adapted stems or leaves. This not only gives them their interesting sculptural forms, but makes them more resistant to variable watering. They are not as dependent on root systems to keep them supplied with water as other plants.
Cacti and succulents do need water to live, just like all other plants, but they are more forgiving of dry periods since they can fall back on their internal water storage systems. Do water them, but make sure you give them excellent drainage. Soil constantly moist is one of the biggest causes of failure growing these plants since persistently wet roots – especially when combined with cool temperatures – will cause them to rot. (The second cause is too little or no water at all because people forget they are living plants that do still need water to live!)
These cactus and succulent plants are ideal for container gardening. Since dish gardens are usually planted in attractive shallow containers, it is not uncommon for them to dry out quickly, something many other plants will not tolerate. Additionally, cacti and succulents come in such diverse colors and shapes that they look more ornamental than most other plants, even when not in flower. Yet if the sculptural foliage and stems aren’t impressive enough, most of the plants offer colorful and sometimes gigantic flowers compared to the size of the plant.
Choose a container for your planting that goes with the look of the room or the area of the garden or patio where you intend to grow your dish garden. Look for a decorative color that will harmonize with the surrounding.
Make sure it will be placed where there is the brightest light possible. And be sure your container has enough holes for proper drainage. You don’t want water collecting at the bottom of the garden.
The best way to create good drainage in a pot or dish garden is to spread a layer of broken crocking or gravel over the bottom of the dish for more drainage. You can also use newspaper or window screening to make it lighter, but most container plantings are light enough that the weight of the superior choice of natural stone or ceramic material will be an asset more than a liability (especially if your garden will be located outside where it can be accidentally bumped or where winds can be strong.)
Then fill the container with a gritty soil mix with lots of sand in the medium. Cactus and succulent plants don’t need rich soil with humus and compost. They prefer fast-draining, lean soil so they grow slowly and firmly, not fast and mushy.
When planting cacti and succulents, place them in the planting medium so the body of the plant sits on the soil line right where it joins the root system. Use at least three different plants with different growth habits. Try one that will grow tall and vertical, one that spreads, crawls or spills over the edge of the pot, and one that mounds.
Do your homework and choose only plants that will stay small. Some large growing cacti and succulents look wonderful when small but will quickly outgrow the restraints of a containerized garden. Adding some rocks or an interesting piece of branching wood can create more interest in the design.
Use the really large growers if you want to create a big focal point with a very wide container. Make sure you choose all your plants according to their adult size and plant them so they have space to grow.
Don’t water in your plants right away as you would other plants. Give them a week or two in their new home before watering them. This way the roots will spread out seeking moisture and forming a larger root system.
The majority these plantings will do fine even without direct sun so long as you give them good light, occasional water and fresh air. They look decorative on vertical surfaces like pilasters and low walls, and on furniture like tables and countertops.
Then place your dish garden where it can be admired and cheer up any room, indoors or out.