A succulent dish garden won’t take much to create or maintain, and is a perfect project for kids. These fun plants are trendy right now because they’re completely versatile. In fact, they allow you to flex your creative muscles as you play around with containers, rocks, and plants to create stunning mini gardens.
Succulents hardly ever suffer from pest or disease issues, are drought resistant if you forget to water frequently, and you don’t need to do much to keep them thriving. We’ll show you everything you need, help you find the right succulents based on where you live, and allow you to start your own stunning succulent dish garden in just 5 simple steps.
What You’ll Need
To begin planting succulents, you’ll need to select a variety of plants. Choose a container that’s large enough to hold the plants well, and get some cactus or succulent soil. Some people also enjoy using small pebbles, which cover the soil and add an ornamental element to the dish garden.
Types of Containers
The size and type of container you choose to work with will depend on a few factors. Basically, how many plants you want to include, and where you plan to place your little garden. Many people get creative with their container choices, as you can use anything that’s at least 4 inches deep thanks to the plant’s shallow roots.
Any type of dish, shallow pot, saucer, or tray will do. Some people like to use items they’ve found in local thrift stores, like a soup tureen, teacup, or decorative jar. You can reuse things you have around the house as well, like a glass wine bottle or pieces of beach glass. Some people even grow succulents in conch or clam shells.
You can also dress up your succulent dish garden with accessories like driftwood, river rocks, pebbles, or seashells. If you’re feeling mischievous, consider adding model railroad miniatures as well.
Select a container that looks good when juxtaposed against your succulents. Subtle colored plants appear great with paired with brightly glazed ceramic pots. Terracotta, simple clay containers, and monochromatic garden urns work well with vibrant plants.
Also consider the size. Large containers can obviously include larger plants in addition to small succulents, such as jade plants, which will grow as large as your container allows.
Make sure to avoid using plastic or metal containers, however. Plastic doesn’t offer the amount of drainage a succulent requires, which can lead to root rot and other water retention issues. The most important thing is that the container you select offers great drainage. Metal containers are too hot.
Pros and Cons of Different Containers
Terracotta or ceramic containers are popular selections because the material can breathe. This allows the soil to dry properly in between watering, whether the planter is inside or outdoors. Just be aware that if you you place these planters in full sun locations, they’ll heat up quickly.
You’ll need to keep an eye on how fast your soil dries up in the heat. They’re also heavy containers, which means they’ll be difficult to move if you select a larger arrangement, or bigger succulents. Their heaviness makes them more fragile, and less likely to be dropped and broken.
If you want a fun, different way to plant succulents, try wood. Driftwood planters in particular are eye-catching options. They’re much different than regular containers, and the wood is good for succulents in direct sunlight or extremely hot environments. Just keep in mind that if the area doesn’t offer much airflow or sunlight, the wood can rot.
Glass is another fun way to contain a succulent dish garden, but be cautious because most glass containers don’t offer drainage holes. Likewise, glass doesn’t breathe easily unless your container has a large opening. However, you can create drainage holes for water and add a few to boost airflow.
These containers are highly breakable as well, which may not work well for families with young children.
Types of Succulents
Succulents come in a wide array of types, shapes, sizes, and colors. They all tend to be hardy, drought-tolerant plants perfect for harsh conditions. Even better, they look stunning when paired together to make arrangements in miniature dish gardens, which are easy to move around.
These self-sufficient plants will thrive with minimal amounts of work on your part, and with a little bright, indirect light, they’ll last years to come. When selecting the succulents for your garden, pay attention to the hardiness zones for each species.
Make sure each will adapt well to your growing conditions. Sempervivums and sedums are best unless you’re in zones 8-9, but some varieties may not grow in zones 4 or 5. A few varieties can handle full sun and hotter locations, even all year around if you live in a desert setting.
Options to Choose From
Sempervivums and sedums are the two main types gardeners select (outside of zones 8-9). They’re hardy succulents with hundreds of options to choose from, and they’ll self-reproduce each year. However, they’re extremely difficult to grow from seed, so you’ll need to find these varieties in your local garden nursery.
Some other popular succulent varieties gardeners love include:
- Aloe vera: Grows all year in zones 10-12
- Aeonium: Grows outdoors in zones 9-11
- Graptopetalum: Grows as a perennial in zones 7-11
- Haworthia: Grows outdoors all year in zones 9-11
- Lithops: Grows all year in zones 10-11
- Portulaca: Grows as a flowering annual in zones 5-11
- Senecio: Grows in vines year-round in zones 9-12
If you do need a succulent that can survive more intense direct light from a sunny window, try selections from the Crassula and Echeveria species. These succulents need bright light for their vibrant colors, and they enjoy full sun in the morning with shade from the afternoon heat. They’re perfect for outdoors in zones 11-12, and Crassula varieties will grow quite large while Echeveria does well in 3-inch pots.
5 Steps to Make a Stunning Succulent Dish Garden
Once you collect all the materials you need and thoroughly clean your container, use the following step-by-step instructions to make your own stunning succulent dish garden.
1. Place about an inch of small pebbles or pea gravel in the bottom layer of your container.
2. Cover the pebbles with around 2-3 inches of cactus soil, and moisten lightly, without drenching the soil completely. You can also make your own soil by mixing 4 parts perlite with 4 parts potting soil and one part coarse sand. Leave around an inch of room on top if you want to add any rocks or shells for decoration.
3. Remove the succulents you chose from their containers, and plant them in the soil. Arrange the plants based on how you want to view the garden, with the taller plants in the back and shorter plants toward the front. If you want the dish viewed equally from all sides, place taller plants in the center and shorter plants around the sides. Wear gloves if the plants you selected are particularly thorny.
4. Pat the soil down around the plants with your fingertips.
5. If you like, you can cover the top layer of soil with another layer of pea gravel, pebbles, rocks, shells, or decorative marbles for a creative touch. This will also help maintain moisture levels.
Grow Tips for Your Succulent Dish Garden
Keep your succulents thriving all year round by placing them near a sunny window and allowing the soil to dry out between watering. Turn the container every so often or the plants will grow toward the sunlight, and only water them when the soil feels dry to the touch. About a tablespoon of water is enough for most small succulents, while larger plant can take up to 1/4 cup of water.
Feed the plants once per month when they’re growing. Diluted liquid fertilizer at around 1/8 the strength will produce the best results. However, you may not need fertilizer for your dish garden at all. Some plants will grow too quickly with fertilizer, making them outgrow their container in no time.
Care and Maintenance
Succulents are desert plants, so they enjoy dry, warm locations away from a draft or air conditioner. Typical household temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit work well, and the plants should avoid cold drops or locations too close to windows.
When caring for your succulent dish gardens, make sure to bring them indoors during the winter. Furthermore, some may need to be placed under grow lights for 12 hours a day to offer the right amount of light. Some locations stay warm enough to leave the garden outside all year long, especially if your plants are hardier types of succulents perfect for your region. Ask your local garden center or look up how your succulents tend to do in your area.
If you tend your succulent garden properly, you can expect to enjoy it for years to come. As an added bonus, you can also easily cultivate new succulents from your mature plants’ leaves, either to expand your garden or give as gifts.