Dish Gardening – A Fun DIY Project For Young & Old

Miniature Dish Garden How-tos

Dish gardening is quite a popular hobby. Have you ever tried to make one? If not, I’ll walk you through the basic steps (it’s really not difficult at all to do!).

But first, I received a nice email awhile back from Pearl who wrote:

Hi … I’ve been working on garden miniatures for garden dishes. Been having a blast. I try to make a lot of what I use in the dishes and recycling as much as possible.

I’ve sold a few, but mostly I’ve been making them for friends and relatives. Some are for outdoors with real plants and some for indoors. Hope you are enjoying the summer and working on projects you love. Pearl

She also asked if I’d share two of her dish gardens with everyone. Of course I will! 🙂 Here they are:

Dish gardening example #1

Dish gardening example #2

Making a dish garden would be a great summertime project for you to try … but how about giving the kids a chance, too? If your children are out of school for summer break, and you want to keep their little minds and hands occupied, this project certainly lends itself to anyone’s skill level. You just never know what their little creative minds may come up with!

Simply stated, a dish garden is an arrangement of several different very small plants in a single container. It’s a great way to carry on the theme of container gardening, however is a bit different from traditional container gardening in that the container you use – that being a dish – is shallow and wide.

Also, many people like to include little decorative accents to add to the visual impact, like Pearl did with hers.

The great thing about a dish garden is that it can be easily placed in most any spot in your garden or outside patio area or even on your front porch you wish. And of course it can be moved to another spot in a jiffy if it’s not doing well in the first spot you chose, or if you discover a better place for it.

Your container can be anything from round to oval to square in shape, and can be made of almost any type of material, as long as the container can withstand constant moisture and the outside elements.

I recommend you choose a container not less than 3 inches deep so that it can hold a one-inch layer of gravel mixed with charcoal, with at least 2 to 3 inches of planting soil on top of that. A dish that is too shallow is NOT going to spell success for you.

If you’re a hypertufa fan … well here’s a wonderful opportunity to make yourself s simple, shallow container that you can then use for this dish gardening project. Just make sure you properly cure and then leach out all the lime before you even think about adding in the dirt and plants. Learn about this subject in my article: How To Properly Cure Hypertufa.

Garden planted in an old shoe Back to choosing a container. Get really creative. How about using a big old tennis shoe or a worn out leather shoe? The kids would probably get a kick out of making their little garden in a shoe!

Another creative recycling idea a neighbor of mine used was an old hubcap that her husband had kept stashed in their garage for years. She was looking for something nice and round and shallow … and voila. She confiscated it and gave it new life! 😀

Or how about an old serving tray? Or a woven basket with sides that don’t come up too high? (If the basket is made from a reed type material, include a plastic liner to help retain moisture. Also be aware that your basket might fall apart or rot in a couple of years due to the constant moisture and outside elements.)

If you do use something “non-convention” to plant in, make sure to provide drainage for water. You might have to poke a hole or holes in the bottom of your container. In the case of a shoe and a hubcap, you just might have to use a drill, and with a fat sized drill bit, drill a couple of holes through the sole or metal.

Your Dish Gardening Project – Main Steps

This project’s success or failure depends upon using plants that are appropriate for the shallow depth of soil and their ability to adapt to the location you will put it in. Too sunny or too shady or too damp a spot might spell disaster for you, depending upon the plants you chose. Hint: do some research first if need be.

**Note: I encourage you to place a small piece of screen, or piece of terra cotta, over the drainage holes to keep your soil or gravel from slowly escaping every time you water.

Use Good Soil: Use a packaged potting soil or make a mixture of one part sand or perlite, one part soil and one part finely sifted peat moss (no chunks or stem pieces in it). Most gardening experts suggest adding one level teaspoon of a granulated 5-10-5 fertilizer for each six-inch pot of soil added. If you’re a fan of pour-on liquid fertilizer, skip adding the granulated type.

Provide Drainage: Good drainage is important for successful dish gardening, just the same as it is for your garden beds or any potted plant. You don’t have to do this, but it is helpful to the health of the plants if you add about an inch of fine gravel with a tablespoon or two of charcoal mixed in. This layer will provide a proper drainage base and will help provide oxygen.

Pick Your Plants: Choose an odd number (better visually for your arrangement). Three small plants might be all you can fit in depending on your container’s size. Whatever, don’t crowd them as they are going to grow! And you’ll want slow growing plants. Succulents are perfect for dish gardening, and small cactus plants are too.

Think about the light, temperature, and moisture requirements for the plants you’ll use. Make sure they are compatible with each other and that the spot you’ve chosen to place the dish garden will provide them the right requirements to stay healthy.

Arranging The Plants & Decorative Accents: You may want to play around with a few different configurations for the plant and accent placement. Keep the plants in their little pots until you’re sure of where you want to plant them.

Two traditional planting configurations are: 1) a symmetrical planting – a tall plant in the center with shorter plants on either side; or 2) an asymmetrical planting – the tallest plant is placed off-center and is balanced by lower plants on either side.

Final Assembly: The usual, suggested way to plant a dish garden is to add the gravel/charcoal mix first, then determine where each plant will be planted, remove the plants from their pots and place them on the gravel layer, and then add in the soil. **Make sure your little plants won’t be sitting up above the final level of the soil after you’ve planted them. You may have to spread out their roots a bit to make them sit lower than how they came potted from the store.

Make sure to firm the soil around the plants. Then add your decorative accents. Then water thoroughly. (Or vice-versa if you desire! 😉 )

That’s about it! My only other suggestions would be to keep an eye on your dish garden for awhile, to make sure you’ve chosen the right spot for it that allows the plants to grow healthily, and to make sure you water it as needed.

Comments

  1. Wow, I am inspired to try a miniture dish garden. They are truely creative and I think this is a great project for kids to participate in too. Thanks for the great ideas!

  2. Claudia says:

    You’re welcome. have fun!

  3. Janit Calvo says:

    Great article Claudia!

    Looks like you’ve been bitten by the miniature garden bug too! It really is a lot of fun, eh?

    Thanks for sharing,
    Janit

  4. Claudia says:

    Thanks for the kudos, Janit! And thanks for dropping by.

  5. I have come to the conclusion that this article and reader comments are very important to my interests. Overall, this is a great site to find info on issues such as gardening. Will someone here show me where to get more detailed articles on this topic, please? Much appreciated!

  6. Thank you very much for putting this information on your blog. It has helped me with a classroom project.

  7. Thanks for such beautiful inspiration! I have made my own dish garden 😉 so cool!

  8. Marc Noel D. Annaguey says:

    what can i do to have that Dish ?

  9. Hi Marc:
    To make one similar, get a shallow dish shaped object to use as a form and apply a hypertufa or concrete mixture to it. Let it set and once cured and the lime leached out, you can plant in it. To learn more about hypertufa and recipes you can try, please visit my maiin website: The-Artistic-Garden.com and look on the left-hand menu for the links to the concrete and hypertufa catagories. Plus you’ll find many more tips about using either of these mixtures right here on my blog.

    Hint: make good use of the search box on either the website or blog to narrow down your inquiry results.

    Have fun!

  10. Thanks for the tips in making these it has really helped me at my school work I got a perfect on my project now my cousins and little sis has been looking for some tips thanks muches! 🙂

  11. What is a good website to get the accents and accessories for Cactus dish gardens? I am looking for dessert accents like cattle skulls and such.

  12. Hi Tony:

    To be honest, I’d have to search online for that answer … so my suggestion is to, “Search online.” 🙂 Use the words you’ve used here in your question. I’m sure something will pop up and you’ll ultimately find a good resource.

  13. michelle anne says:

    what will i do to make a beautiful dish garden?

  14. House Plant Lover says:

    I would love to create a dish garden but my resources are very limited. I want to know if you have any more ideas for dishes that I might be able to find around the house. I have a couple of plants that I think might work for a tiny dish garden: rosemary (if I keep it pruned down I think it might work), sedum (might not go so well with rosemary, rosemary can’t tolerate drought…), some wildflowers from out backyard, maybe even grass if I cut it really short with hand scissors… any recommendations of common garden plants that can be pruned down for a dish garden? Preferably ones that might work for bushes, some evergreen, some decidous.

    Great article, thanks.

  15. Hi Plant Lover:

    The plants you’ve mentioned all seem to be rather large ones, thus I am thinking you’re talking more about container gardening, versus a dish garden, which typically is smaller in scale and uses smaller type plants. So, not knowing exactly which way you’re leaning, I’d say that if it’s a bigger container garden (yes, it could be a “dish” shaped container) you want, then just about any plant can do, DEPENDING upon many factors: inside or outside use; size and depth of container; type of plants you want in your grouping, etc.

    Sedums and other low growing plants work well, along with other compatible and similar sized plants.

    I just can’t give you a definitive answer. I suggest you do some online research regarding the growing habits and conditions needed for the plants you’re interested in. But if it’s a true dish garden, then small, shallower rooted plants are what you’ll have to go for.

    this is a general answer, I understand, but I could go on forever (which i can’t!) about the ins and outs of all the variables. but nevertheless – good luck in whatever you decide to do! 🙂

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