In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2012
Regional Report

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Succulent dish gardens are beautiful, hardy and easy to create!

Create a Succulent Dish Garden

One of my many jobs as a gardener at Sunset Magazine was to tend the hundreds of indoor plants. I enjoyed that part of my job because it meant I got to know everybody as I carried my watering can throughout the buildings.

Sunset is known as the Magazine of Western Living and particular emphasis is put on the southwestern portion of the country. The executive offices were decorated with bronze Remington sculptures and large cactus plants. Conference tables sported mixed pots of succulents and cacti, for which I was responsible. Because the indoor environment is less than ideal for sun- and heat-loving succulents, I always kept fresh dish gardens ready in the outdoor nursery. I would exchange the planters every few weeks to ensure optimal health and appearance of the plants.

Succulent pots are easy to put together but require some pre-planning. The pot you select must have a drainage hole. Low, unglazed pots are best, but large shells make nice planters too so long as there is some way for the water to drain out. Unglazed clay does not retain moisture the same way a glazed pot does.

The soil for succulent plants should be fast draining. A commercial cactus mix works well or you can use a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and turkey grit (available at feed supply stores).

Unrooted cuttings can be used to create your masterpiece so long as you don't water for a week or two after planting. Succulents in 2 inch pots are the ideal size for planting in dish gardens and are available at your local nursery. Plant selection can include, but is not limited to; crassula, euphorbia, echeveria, aloe, small agaves, sedum, haworthia, mammillarias, rhipsalis and gasteria. Do not use Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) plants. They are forest-dwelling succulents that require less light and more water.

Water potted succulent plants prior to planting. It will be a while before they get their next drink. Next, cover the drainage hole with a few broken pottery shards. A shallow layer of aquarium charcoal on the bottom of the pot will keep the soil sweet. Fill the container half full of fast draining soil mix. Add the plants carefully so as to not disturb their delicate roots. Gently fill around the root balls with remaining soil. At this point you can add unrooted cuttings by simply creating a hole in the soil and inserting the stem of the cutting into the hole. Rooting hormone can be used to promote root growth, but is not necessary. After planting do not water for at least 10 days.

Dressing the dish garden with stones or bits of gnarled bark will add interest to your display. Small figurines can be used to create a living diorama.

Care of indoor succulent dish gardens includes finding a sunny spot for it that's free from drafts, and being very careful not to overwater. Always feel the soil prior to watering. It should feel completely dry to the touch. Do not fertilize.

Dish gardens will live happily outdoors for many years without transplanting. Protect them from frost in the winter.

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