Dish Garden Landscaping

Growing plants in a shallow container, also known as a dish garden, is a form of indoor landscaping but on a small scale. The process involves placing one or more varieties of plants in the container to create an esthetically pleasing miniature garden. Create dish gardens in any diameter of container to use as a design object in an office or home decorating project. Houseplants add value to interior living as they remove pollutants from the air. A NASA study, as reported by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, lists many houseplants that help to remove household pollutants including English ivy.

About the container

The term “dish” implies a shallow container 2 to 4 inches deep yet broader than the typical flowerpot. Choose any color or any shape for the container, such as round, rectangular or oval, to meet the requirements of the decorating theme. Containers may be plastic, terracotta (clay), faux stone, ceramic or any other variety of material. A container with drain holes and subsequent saucer to collect overflow is beneficial. However, a container that lacks drain holes is suitable to use with proper draining material in the bottom of the container to raise the soil about 1 inch from the bottom. Some containers, like clay saucers, may release moisture through the walls of the container. Protect fine surfaces as needed, perhaps with a plastic coffee can cover or plastic plate.

Plants for a dish garden

Read the label of the plant to match the plant’s light requirements to the decorating setting of your dish garden. Select plants of varying height and width. Varying leaf formation, like long and thin or small and near round, add visual interest. Choose plants with shallow root systems. Examples of shallow root system houseplants include (but are not limited to) English ivy, philodendron, some varieties of fern or palm, chestnut vine, crocus, or miniature cacti or succulents. Purchase plants with a rootball height (from the bottom of the container to the top of the soil in the container) that is 1/2 to 1 inch less than the height of the container. The additional space is filled with drainage material.

Potting supplies

Layer the bottom of the plant container with pea-size gravel or broken shards of clay pots to a height of 1/2 to 1 inch. Cover the gravel with landscape fabric to block plant roots. A nylon stocking may be used in place of landscape fabric. Have a fresh bag of potting soil ready, but do not fill the container with the soil yet. If planting cacti or succulents, use a mixture of about half potting soil and half sand.

Dish garden landscape design

Water the plants well one day before planting into the dish garden. While still in their pots, place the plants in the container on top of the drainage material. Arrange the plants as desired with taller plants to the back of a container viewed only from one side or in the center for a container viewed from all angles. Remove the plants from their pots, placing them in the chosen location in the dish garden. Fill the void between plants with fresh potting soil. The top of the root ball of all the plants should be level. Add potting soil beneath any short plants to raise them up. Water slowly when soil is dry to the touch, which may be weekly. Water just until the first drops of water come through the drain hole or until the soil feels most at the level of the landscape fabric.


Cover soil surfaces with final shredded bark mulch, marbles, sphagnum moss or small stones such as shiny river rocks. Create a seasonal dish garden by adding decorations on sticks such as flags, paper umbrella, ribbon, silk flowers, silk leaves, or miniature holiday decorations. Some waterproof decorations may be tucked beneath leaves directly on the soil such as a ceramic turtle or small glass Christmas balls. For twist, go soilless and create a dish water garden.

More from this contributor:

Outdoor Potted Plants for a Beach Cottage

Container Garden Secrets to a Beautiful Landscape

Vegetable Plants to Grow in Containers

Source: Creating Your Dish Garden, University of Georgia

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