Dish gardens are small landscapes in a container that are placed on table tops to enjoy. Houseplants are usually planted in the dishes, which are open to the air. They are almost always decorated with some type of ornamentation, like a small statue or attractive rocks. They need little maintenance and can last for some time before the plants start to get too big and have to be repotted.
You can vary the composition according to your taste. The items you'll need include a container large enough to contain the garden. You'll also need drainage material, coarse charcoal, houseplants and potting soil. You can also pick out some decorative elements to add to your garden.
Containers and Drainage
Large bowls made of pottery and china work well as dish gardens. You can use wooden bowls, boxes and baskets as long as you line them with a rigid plastic insert. Try garage or rummage sales for inexpensive containers. The container needs to be deep enough to support the roots of the plants and offer drainage. This means it should be at least 3 inches deep. Because these containers have no hole in the bottom to drain excess water, like flowerpots do, place about 1/2 inch of pea gravel or uncolored aquarium gravel at the bottom of the dish.
A common problem with dish gardens is that the soil becomes stagnant and sour, killing the plants. This is because of a lack of good drainage where the plant roots are starved of oxygen. To prevent this, place a thin layer of course charcoal over the gravel before you add the soil. Use regular barbecue charcoal and place it in a resealable plastic sandwich bag. Take a hammer and pound it.
Proper Soil Mix
Use a sterile houseplant mix for your dish garden. It may also contain some vermiculite or perlite to keep the soil light and airy and retain moisture. If you are planting succulents or cacti the soil, choose a potting mix with some sand.
Plants to Use
Whichever plants you use, make sure they all have the same watering and sun requirements. Do not plant tropical plants with cacti because one of them will not be happy in the garden. Plants that do not need much water and love sun are cacti, sedum, jade plant and other succulents. Those that love shade and moist conditions include pepermonia, prayer plant, sensitive plant and small ferns. Palms, zebra plant, snake plant, and Swedish ivy love sun and moist conditions. Some evergreens also do well in a dish garden, like Chinese evergreens and Norfolk pines.
Add some small statues, rocks, pieces of interesting bark, white stones, crystals or resin miniatures. Place them in a configuration that will draw the eye. For example, mound the soil up a bit and put a pottery pagoda at the top of the mound with a path of stones leading to the plants.
Make sure the container is well cleaned before starting. A speck of dust can start a fungus in your dish garden. Dampen the soil mix by placing in a large pail and spraying with water from a spray bottle. It is ready when you grab soil in your hand and it keeps the form without dripping water. Half fill the container. Use a small trowel or chopstick to dig a hole deep enough to place the roots in the hole. Cover with more soil and tamp down. When all plants are in, fill the container with soil and mist the surface and leaves of the plants. Add ornamentation and place in filtered sunlight for two weeks before moving to its final position.