Grow a Succulent Dish Garden

While in California at the Garden Compass Fall Open House I fell in love with a handbag and pair of matching shoes. Now, let me clarify that the handbag and shoes were topiaries made of succulents by the people at Living Wreath Collection in Bonsall, CA.

Seeing the calliope of colors and forms of the succulents used in the topiaries reminded me of what wonderful and versatile plants they are.

When I returned home I decided to pot up an old-fashioned succulent dish garden. More like a colorful bouquet than a container garden, I’ll keep this arrangement on my porch until the weather cools and then move it indoors to enjoy this winter.


  • Various succulents
  • Shallow dish
  • Pea gravel
  • Cactus soil


Depending on your budget, time and patience there are 2 ways you can approach this project. The first method is to buy small pots of fully grown plants and pack them into your container. This will give you instant gratification. An alternative, if you already have some succulents, is to take cuttings. Now this will take more time to grow them out, but allows you purchase fewer plants.

Purchase small pots of various succulents. The textures are fun to contrast, but don’t forget about color. A variety of greens, grays and reds will give your arrangement a jewel box quality. Select a specimen that will be your focal point and build off of it.

Select a container. Any container that is at least 4 inches deep will work for succulents. For a traditional dish garden use a shallow bowl or even a large terra cotta saucer. A collection of small pots is interesting or try using plastic nursery pots that can be slipped into more decorative containers.

Cover the bottom of the container with gravel. This is especially important if the pot does not have a drainage hole.

Moisten the cactus potting soil and add it to the container leaving about 1/4 inch of space between the soil and the lip.

Arrange the plants or cuttings in the soil.

Do not water. The moistened soil is adequate. Wait a week of two and then water lightly.

If you are starting with cuttings, place the container in a shady area and keep the soil lightly moist. You will know that plants have taken root when the leaves begin to plump up and look perky.

Growing Requirements:
A sunny window is best, but succulents will survive in lower light for a few months.

Water when the soil is dry.

Move your dish garden indoors when temperatures drop below 45 degrees F.

As with other plants, succulents grow very little in winter. To accommodate this rest period move your dish garden to a location with cooler temperatures, say around 50 degrees F and cut back on watering to once a month.

During the growing season feed established plants once a month with a liquid fertilizer diluted to 1/8 strength.

Succulents that Make Good Houseplants:

  • Crassula ‘Hobit’ – oval leaves; chartreuse near the stem and orange-red at the tip.
  • Echeveria dondo – pointed rosettes of pale green leaves with a slight pink tint.
  • Echeveria runyonii – rosettes of flat, gray-green leaves.
  • Gasteria batesiana – star-shaped plant made up of triangular, green and white leaves.
  • Haworthia fasciata – three dimensional, pointed cones of zebra striped leaves.
  • Haworthia cymbiformis – stubby, triangles of translucent green leaves.


Good to Know: Succulent Cuttings

To make cuttings simply snip pieces of the plant, including a bit of stem if possible.

Place the cuttings out of direct sunlight to dry for a few days. This will prevent rot.

Slip the cuttings into moist potting soil up to the first set of leaves or leaf nodes. Use a soil that is blended specifically for cacti and succulents.

Place in a shady location with good air circulation.

Keep soil lightly moist.