The small root systems and minimal watering needs of succulent plants makes them an ideal choice for shallow dish gardens. In this indoor gardening project, the succulents are planted in a recycled Swiss Chalet dinner tray, but you could also use the bottom of a plastic deli food container, plastic bowls and dishes from frozen “steamer” meals, or similar recycled containers.
by Jane Lake
- assorted live succulents
- Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix (or a similar mixture from local sources). You can also make your own succulent potting mix by mixing 4 parts ordinary potting soil, 4 parts perlite, and one part coarse builder’s sand)
- aquarium gravel or pea gravel
- Optional: small decorative rocks or mineral samples; live or dried moss; seashells; small natural wood branches
Top the gravel with a moist layer of commercial or homemade succulent potting soil up to a 1/2 inch (or more if your container depth allows it) from the top rim of the container. This allowance gives you room for decorative rocks and other elements.
If you have room, now is the time to add one or two dramatic elements to center and focus your succulent display. I went for a walk in the woods and picked up a mossy piece of twisted wooden roots and a smaller wooden forked branch topped with moss. Small pieces of driftwood, large seashells, or other natural elements of the right scale would all be excellent choices.
Choose Assorted Succulents with appealing and contrasting leaf structures, textures, and colors. Sellers at Amazon will ship assorted succulent cuttings, rooted plants, or ready made container gardens, but you can also find a good selection at local nurseries and gardening centres.
Don’t forget to ask friends for a leaf or a cutting from their specimens; succulents often root quickly and easily from leaves or stem cuttings that are inserted into soil and kept moist until roots appear.
Plant each succulent by first poking a hole in the soil with your fingers. Settle a plant into this depression, gently pushing the potting soil back into place and firming it up as you go until the plant stands securely upright in the desired position.
Continue adding plants to the dish in this way, adjusting the placement of different plants according to height, color and texture, until your succulent garden begins to take its final shape.
If you have them, nestle special rocks or mineral specimens among the plants. I tucked in a small amethyst geode, a rock crystal, and a pretty pink rock picked up from my driveway.
Fill remaining spaces between plants with another layer of pea gravel, small river rocks, or moss. I used mostly live moss gathered from the woods, but also some dried moss around the edges of the arrangement.
Once everything is in place, spray it all with a generous misting of water to moisten the soil and bed in the plant roots.
Succulents, like cacti, do not need much water. Many succulent plantings fail through over-watering, which leads to root rot and other problems. To prevent this:
» Allow the dish garden to dry out between watering.
» During active growing periods, use a cacti and succulent fertilizer, following product directions for application.
» Succulents typically need a two or three month period of winter dormancy. During this time, move the plants to a cool spot in the house, reduce watering to once a month and do not fertilize.
» In spring, move the dish garden to a warmer window exposure and resume watering and fertilizing as directed.
Some succulents, such as Sempervivum (commonly called hens and chicks or house leeks), reproduce by putting out runners with baby plants. Others form clumps of plants that can easily be separated. If overcrowding ensues, remove the baby plants and re-pot.