Whether you like to baby your houseplants or tend to forget about them entirely, you can create a cute dish garden to match the level of care you tend to provide.

By BH&G Garden Editors
Updated November 20, 2019
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An indoor dish garden is a fun way to display several smaller plants together, arranged like a miniature landscape. We think of them as two main types: dry and wet. For those who can never remember to water, a cactus dish garden is perfect for showing off a collection of prickly but pretty plants. But if you tend to go overboard with watering (hey, it's one of our plant love languages), a moss garden will flourish when kept constantly damp. We'll walk you through how to make each of these indoor dish gardens that will look spectacular with the same amount of care you would give your other houseplants.

Credit: Jason Donnelly

Dry Cactus Dish Garden

Cacti grow best in rooms that are dry and warm, like a desert. Bright light is also a must, so place your cactus dish garden near a sunny, south-facing window. You may want to rotate the dish a quarter turn every once in a while to make sure your plants don't start growing lopsided toward the light. Water your cacti every month or so, and only lightly. If they start losing their green color and become soft to the touch (be careful not to prick yourself), that's a sign you're overwatering.

Step 1: Add Gravel to Your Dish

Select a deep plate or a shallow bowl—look for one that's about 3 inches deep. A decorative ceramic saucer for a larger container can work well. Pour a 1-inch layer of pea gravel or small rocks into the bottom. This will help with drainage so your cacti's roots won't sit in too much moisture.

Step 2: Plant Cacti

Add a thin layer of cactus potting mix (available at most garden nurseries) over the pebbles. This type of mix is sandy and quick-draining, which is what these plants prefer. Before handling your cacti, put on heavy-duty gardening gloves—leather ones should do the trick and keep your fingers safe from any sharp spines. Starting with your largest cactus as the focal point, carefully place plants on top of the soil and pea gravel. Arrange them asymmetrically for a more natural look. Be sure that the bases of the cacti are set a half-inch lower than the lip of the dish.

Step 3: Fill in the Gaps

Fill in the dish with more cactus potting soil. Make sure the top of the soil is at the same level the cacti were at in their original pots. To finish off your cactus garden, add a thin layer of decorative pebbles or coarse sand over the potting soil. You can also add a couple of larger rocks to mimic a desert landscape.

Credit: Marty Baldwin

Wet Moss Dish Garden

Moss naturally grows in shady, moist conditions like under a tree in a forest. This means your moss dish garden will work best in rooms with low light and plenty of humidity, like a bathroom. Be sure to keep it away from direct sunlight, because too much sun can dry out and even burn the moss.  Mist the surface of the garden a couple of times a week so the moss stays consistently moist. Once a week or so, move your dish to a sink and give it a good watering. If your dish doesn't have drainage holes, tip it until excess water drains out (moss make like things damp, but it doesn't like living in swampy conditions).

Step 1: Pour in Pea Gravel and Potting Mix

Select a shallow container of your choice and cover the bottom with about a half-inch layer of pea gravel. Then, fill the dish with potting soil to about half way.

Step 2: Add Small Plants

A few small, humidity-loving plants help enhance the forest floor feeling of your mossy dish garden. Start with your largest plant first as the focal point (indoor ferns like maidenhairs work well), then arrange your other plants around it. Fill in with more potting mix to just below the rim of your container.

Step 3: Arrange Moss

If you have moss naturally growing in your yard, you can harvest a little for your dish garden or you can buy different kinds of living moss. Use pieces of moss to cover the remaining soil surfaces around your plants and tuck it in around the edges. Press everything down gently to help the plants, moss, and soil settle in together.

Step 4: Make a Few Finishing Touches

You can add a piece of driftwood, a sparkly geode, or other interesting rocks on top of the moss if you like. Use tweezers to remove any unwanted debris from the surface of your completed dish garden. Then give it a good watering—a light spray from the kitchen faucet is an easy way to do this—but make sure to drain any standing water in the dish.

In the right conditions, both of these indoor dish gardens will provide you with months or even years of enjoyment. As the plants grow, don't be afraid to edit out plants that get too big and replace them with something new. Beyond using moss and cacti for these mini landscapes, you can also create your own succulent dish garden, spring bulb dish garden, or even a terrarium. No matter how much light or humidity there is inside your house, or how much attention you want to give your plants, you can create a dish or tabletop garden that will flourish.


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