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Past Articles Library | Gardening Design | How to Make and Care for a Dish Garden

How to Make and Care for a Dish Garden

A dish garden is a miniature garden design that is created in a shallow dish, which should be no deeper than three inches.  The supplies to make one of these garden designs are simple and can easily be found around a home or in a thrift store.  Before you jump into making a dish garden, you will need to know some common plants that can be found in a dish garden.

Dish Garden Plants

Several different types of plants can be found in a dish garden but regardless of which ones you choose, there are some basic problems that all plants face when planted in this design.  The first issue is room.  Plants should only be left in a dish garden for up to a year.  After that point in time, they should be transplanted out of the dish garden into a large container. 

The remaining issues can be grouped together as environmental issues, which include humidity, temperature, and light.  Humidity is easily addressed by placing the dish garden on top of a tray that has been filled with pea gravel.  Once the tray is filled, add water to the tray and place dish garden on top.  The water in the tray will create the humid environment that many dish gardens lack.  Temperature and light can be addressed by planting the plants that have the same growth requirements and placing them in the correct environment.  In other words, if your plants are shade loving, do not place them on a table that receives direct sunlight.   If in doubt, place your dish garden in front of an east or west facing window that is covered with a sheer curtain.  This will provide light but will not burn the plants.

To keep your dish garden looking its best, rotate the dish once a week.  This simple act will keep the growth growing even and will improve the appearance of the garden.

Now that you know the requirements of a dish garden, the next step is to know what does well in a dish garden.  Below is a general list of plants that typically do well in a dish garden but do not limit yourself to this list.  A dish garden is a one year commitment, so feel free to experiment.

If you are looking for an herb type of dish garden consider using creeping thyme, chives, rosemary, and oregano.  If you are a green thumb gardener think about creating a desert dish garden with cactus, crown of thorns, jade, kalanchoe, aloe, and sedan.   Another type of dish garden is one that has a tropical nature and consists of such plants as dracaena, snake plant, pothos, birdsnest fern, grape ivy and bromeliad.   Looking to create a wilderness look consider constructing a bog or woodland dish garden.  A bog garden can be made by using plants such as club moss, ground moss and small ferns while a woodland garden requires one to use plants such as small pine, hemlock, and fir seedlings, hair-cap moss, wintergreen, mountain laurel, and rattlesnake plantain.

Creating a Dish Garden

Prior to planting your dish garden, you will need to water your plants thoroughly and allow them to dry.  Once that is done, you will need to clean your container.  This simple step not only sterilizes the pot but also makes the planting look neater.  To clean your container, place it in a sink of warm water with a drop of dish soap.  Scrub the pot to remove any soil and to kill any pests.  Once clean, rinse in warm water and allow to dry in the sun. 

Now that your container is clean and your plants have set, watered 24 hours prior, the next step is the planting process.  To begin this, you will need to add ½ to 1 ½ inch of pea gravel, sand or charcoal.  This will create the drainage layer.  Then, add a layer of fabric, such as old panty hose on top of the drainage layer.  This fabric will keep the soil out of the drainage material, which could prevent the water from draining. 

Next you will need to create your soil.  While store bought soil can be used, I would recommend making your own since you can control the ingredients.  To make your own dish garden soil, combine equal parts of sand and peat moss.  Once the soil has been created and mixed, add a two to four inch layer of soil to the container.  The exact amount depends on the size of the container.

Once the container has been filled with soil, poke holes with a pencil where you would like your plants to go but keep in mind how your dish garden is going to be viewed.  If your dish garden is going to be viewed from all sides, consider placing your tall plants in the middle.  On the other hand, if your garden is only going to be viewed from one side, consider placing the tallest plants in the back. 

After you have your design in mind, begin to plant your plants.  When doing this process, make sure you are not planting the plants any deeper than they were in their pots and completely fill in with soil.  Once you plant one plant, gently push down on the soil to force any air bubbles out of the soil.  After the planting is completed, gently tap the container on a hard surface and water in. 

Finish off the dish garden with small accessories, such as small stones, mushrooms, animals and/or people. 

Caring for your Dish Garden

A dish garden is easy to care for and starts off with testing the soil moisture.  You can do this by simply sticking your finger into the soil and pulling it out.  If your finger comes out covered in soil, then you do not need to water the garden.  If your finger comes out clean, then you need to water. 

Once a month you will need to feed your garden with an all-purpose fertilizer that has been diluted to ¼ the normal strength or during the planting stage add a slow-release fertilizer at ¼ the recommended amount.

To keep the dish garden looking its best, do not forget to prune back unsightly growth and remove any dead plant material.


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