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Past Articles Library | Container Gardening

Designing a Dish Garden


A dish garden can add a lot to the indoor environment.  The dish garden can be color coordinated with its environment and can mimic a dream landscape in miniature. To be successful in creating a dish garden, a few key points need to be considered.

Location is one of those important issues that can make or break a dish garden.  When planning a dish garden, an individual may feel that it is easier to pick the plants and then the location.  Unfortunately, if you want your dish garden project to be a success, the first consideration should be where the garden will be placed.  Knowing what type of environment you have to work with will help the gardener choose the correct plants for that location.

Next, the container needs to be considered.  A typical dish garden is made from a wide container that is about 3 inches deep.  This size of container leaves enough room for the “landscaping” of the plants and is deep enough for most roots.  The material that the container is made from can be metal, glass, china, pottery or bowls, boxes and baskets that are plastic-lined.  The largest consideration when picking a container is to make sure it does not have a drainage hole.  A dish garden creates its own drainage through drainage material and charcoal.

The style of the container can affect the type of plant material that is chosen.  A decorative container looks best with plants that have simple lines while plain containers can showcase exotic plants.

Before going out and buying a new container, look around the house and consider repurposing some containers.  Another source for containers is second-hand stores, garage and yard sales.

Once the container and plants have been selected, the next element of the design is the drainage material.  Small rocks, pea gravel, glass marbles, and course sand are all materials that are used for drainage.  Course charcoal is placed on top of the drainage material, regardless of what kind, to keep the soil from souring.  The soil dish gardens sours when there is too much water and not enough oxygen.  This is a big problem with dish gardens.

Soil is another important component to the construction of a dish garden.  Most dish gardens require a mixture of equal parts of sterilized soil, coarse sand and peat moss or leaf mold.  Dish gardens that are going to have cacti and/or succulents in their planting will need to double the amount of sand in the soil mixture.  A gardener can purchase sterilized soil from any home improvement center or plant nursery but they can also sterilize their own at home.

Plants need to be selected according to the type of environment where the dish garden will be located.  Dish gardens that will be in locations that receive full to partial sun can benefit from the following plants.  These include ferns, ground moss, club moss, aloe, jade, kalanchoe, panda plant, lichens, wild strawberry, chives, creeping thyme, rosemary, small cacti, wild violets, seedlings of yew, fir, pine and hemlock, mountain laurel, and wintergreen.  Dish gardens that will be located in shade can use snake plant, birdsnest fern, croton, English ivy, grape ivy, peperomia, philodendron, and pothos.  Keep in mind though, that only plants that have the same growth requirements should be mixed.  Never mix cacti with ferns or hemlock with panda plant.  These plants may both like full to partial sun but they do not have the same growth requirements.

Decorations can add to the dish garden design by creating a story and can be miniature figures or objects found in nature.  These include small pieces of wood, stones rocks, and crystals.  When using decorations in a dish garden make sure they are to scale with the rest of the design.

The first step to creating a dish garden is planning.  Observe the location where the dish garden will be placed.  Is it going to be placed on a table where all sides will be seen or is the dish garden going to be in a corner where only three sides will be viewed?  Next, draw out the design on paper.  Once this is done do a dry run of the plant arrangement in the container and adjust the plans.

The day before the dish garden is going to be planted, wash container in hot water and 1 tablespoon bleach.  Let the container dry completely.  Also, water all the plants and let them drain.    

To start planting the dish garden requires building up the dish itself.  First add the drainage material in the bottom of the container.  Top this drainage material with course charcoal.  Moisten the soil and add a layer of soil in the container.  Make sure that the soil is not too wet.  To test this, moisten the soil and then squeeze it.  If water does not drip out from the soil, then it is moist enough.  Create mounds of soil where the plants will be located and remove the plants from their containers.  Gently loosen the soil around each plant’s root ball and place in the planned location.  Once all the plants have been placed in the dish garden, fill in with soil until the soil level is ¼ inch from the top of the container.  Water the plants in and place in the chosen location.

Check the soil moisture with ones finger before watering again.  Also, turn the dish garden every few days to aid in uniform growth.  If done correctly a dish garden will not need to be replanted for one year.


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