Dish Garden Facts


Gardeners use indoor plants as a decorative accent throughout the home. Dish gardens serve as miniature gardens that contain a variety of plants. This type of garden incorporates the use of tropical plants or cactus to create an eye-pleasing houseplant arrangement. Dish gardens differ from traditional houseplants by basic design. Containers feature no drainage holes and tight plant placement in the garden restricts growth.


Containers for dish gardens include any glass or plastic container that allows light to penetrate into the planter. Glass bowls, wide vases or dishes work perfectly to create the confined planting environment required for a dish garden. The design should be shallow with enough room to allow layering of rocks, sphagnum moss and soil. Dish gardening requires a planter shaped to retain humidity within the container.

Growing Medium

When choosing planters, gardeners typically select pots with adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to flow freely out the bottom of the pot. This limits root rot and removes excess minerals from the soil. Dish gardens have no drainage holes so absorption of excess water and minerals occurs with the potting medium. Working from the bottom up, place a layer of sphagnum moss to promote water absorption and limit the amount of soil needed in the planter. Add a layer of pea gravel to keep plant roots away from standing water. Some gardeners choose to add a layer of charcoal at the very bottom of the planter to help absorb organic chemicals. Place sterile soil (unused, fresh potting soil) on top of the pea gravel for planting the dish garden plants. Balance these layers with particular care given to limiting the amount of potting soil to avoid rapid plant growth.


Tropical plants work best in dish gardens. These plants can be found at garden centers and usually can be purchased in 4-inch pots. Smaller plants work best to allow for increased interest in foliage, height and style. All plants should be tolerant of high humidity. Mixture heights and textures and include low-growing tropical varieties for greater absorption of moisture. Choosing plants involves carefully selecting plants with similar light requirements.

Plant Placement

The reduced size of a dish garden requires close placement of plants in the container. The crowded nature of these gardens makes space a concern. Plants tend to grow to the limitations of available space and dish gardens capitalize on the compact growing conditions. Don't expect rapid growth for dish garden plants. In fact, discourage rampant growth by spacing plants close together. You really don't want to be transplanting dish garden plants with any regularity.


Direct sunlight damages the microenvironment of a dish garden and increases temperatures well beyond plant tolerance levels. Indirect light works best to keep plants healthy and thriving in this mini-garden. Water sparingly in small amounts when plants seem slightly wilted. Don't be surprised if the watering schedule stretches out to a month. Dish gardens with higher sides tend to retain moisture for longer periods. Look for lack of condensation on the walls of the planter as an indication that the dish garden requires water.

Keywords: dish gardens, dish garden facts, terrariums

About this Author

Currently studying for her Maryland master gardener certification, Sharon Heron has written professionally since 2006. Her writing includes hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics including gardening, environment, golf, parenting, exercise, finances and consumer how-to articles.