A cactus dish garden is a miniature garden of two or more small cacti in a container. The container is usually flat and wide because cacti have shallow roots. Cactus dish gardens are ideal for elderly people, inexperienced gardeners and people who live in apartments and have limited space. Miniature cacti are relatively inexpensive; used creatively, they can make a dish garden that has a striking, desert sort of beauty.
Types of Cacti
Interesting small cacti are available at most nurseries, greenhouses and garden supply centers. Cacti of different shapes, textures and sizes are used to create unusual dish gardens. Tall cacti are mixed with short cacti, squat with thin, light green with dark green, long spines with short.
Miniature cacti have shallow roots, so they don't require deep pots. The containers can be made of anything; terra cotta, unglazed clay, is generally preferred, although glazed clay or plastic containers can be used. Terra cotta is porous, helping to prevent overwatering; it also lets the roots breathe and protects them from temperature extremes. The natural color of terra cotta lets the cacti steal the show.
The container can have holes in the bottom for drainage or not. If the cacti are planted in soil that drains well and they are not watered too much, holes are not necessary. Drainage holes should be covered with wire mesh. The bottom of a container with holes should be lined with a 1/2- to 1-inch layer of pea gravel. A 1/2- to 1-inch layer of thicker gravel is used for containers that have no holes.
Most gardeners use a commercial potting mix formulated for succulents or mix equal parts of sand and potting soil. Some growers like to mix potting soil with peat moss.
Cacti should be planted to the depth they were in their original containers. A depression in the soil should be just deep enough to accommodate the root ball of each cactus. The soil should be covered with a thin layer of aquarium rocks, colored sand or pebbles, with 1/2 inch of space left between the rim of the bowl and the top of the garden.
Small cacti usually do fine in available indoor light, but they should be allowed to get light through a window whenever possible. They will survive at room temperature; in areas with cold winters, they should be kept away from windowsills at night.
Cacti are not misted. They are desert plants; they don't require much watering. From the spring to late summer, cacti are watered when the soil starts to dry; after that they are watered just enough to keep them from shriveling.
On hot summer days they should be placed near an open window to give them fresh air.
An odd number of cacti in a dish garden is an aesthetic of Asia, where odd numbers are preferred over even. There is no one right way to do it; gardeners use their imagination and personal taste with whatever cacti and suitable containers are available.
Several large stones placed in a pile behind the largest cactus can simulate a mountain; smaller stones can go in the gaps, and other larger stones can make up the base of the mountain. A mirror surrounded with pebbles looks like a lake. An interesting small rock can look like a boulder; an unusual piece of wood can look like a log. Gardeners aspire to give their cactus dish gardens a rustic, natural look.