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Succulent dish garden finished
Making a succulent or alpine dish garden is a simple and fun activity. Just follow the instructions below to create an attractive and easy to care for feature that is suitable for placing indoors or in the garden.

Succulents and other plants we grow as ‘alpines’ share some common features. They prefer free-draining soil and dry spells. They can tolerate full sun and tend to be low and slow growing. These features generally make them easy to care for, and possibly, even tolerant of neglect. Some alpines are dwarf versions of much larger plants that are grown in gardens - for example, campanula and dianthus, which have adapted to living in harsher environments.

Most garden centres have regular deliveries of smaller alpine and succulent plants throughout the year. They come in a fantastic variety of shape, form and flower. Choosing which plants to use can be an important and rewarding part of the activity!

  • Easy to do
  • Instant result – looks good as soon as its done, with no waiting involved
  • Some gross motor skills involved in moving materials and mixing compost with grit
  • Fine motor skills involved in planting and moving the gravel finish into place
  • Creative – choosing the bowl or dish, plants and deciding how to place them
  • Getting the kids involved
  • Visit the garden centre to choose the plants and materials
  • Explore the sensorial qualities of the different types of succulent and alpine plants you could use
  • Discuss how plants have adapted to survive in different environments, perhaps doing some internet research into where the plants originate
  • Buy compost and grit/gravel in smaller bags to make handling easier
  • Prepare the dish close to where it will be sited so that you dont have to move it far once finished.
  • Use a small trowel or sweet scoop to make planting easier.
  • A suitable dish or bowl with drainage holes. This can be terracotta or plastic or even an old sink if you prefer.
  • General purpose compost
  • Potting and/or alpine grit
  • 'Crocks’ – pieces of broken pot or similar to cover the drainage holes in the base of the dish.
  • Succulent or alpine plants
  • A potting tidy or tray
  • A trowel or scoop makes it easy to mix and move the potting mixture
Succulent dish garden elements

Step 1

Gather your materials together. This is an activity that can be carried out while seated if you prefer.

Step 2

Scoop out some compost and put into your potting tidy or tray, and add potting grit. The ratio can be anything between 25 – 50% grit.

Step 3

Mix the two components together thoroughly. You may need to add a little water if the mix feels dry.

Step 4

Place the crocks into the bottom of the dish covering the drainage holes. This will prevent your potting mix from falling through the holes and help to stop the holes getting blocked, ensuring free drainage.

Crocks in pot

Step 5

Place some of your compost mix into the dish. Add enough that when you place your plants on top of the mix, their soil level is about 2 cm from the top of the dish.

Step 6

Arrange your plants how you would like them. Experiment with different arrangements until you find the one you like best. If your dish is round you might want to have a taller or more spectacular plant in the centre as a ‘dot’ plant. Also if you have any trailing plants it makes sense for these to be close to the edge.

Arranging succulents

Step 7

There are several different ways to plant your succulents. You could remove them from their pots and put them back in place, then fill around them with your compost mix.

You may prefer to remove the plants and completely fill the dish with compost, and then dig holes for each plant. Alternatively, you could use the idea we showed you in our potting on exercise, using the empty pots to create planting holes.

This last method may work best for plants that are delicate, trailing or spreading, as they are less likely to get damaged during planting. Some succulent plants like sedums have stems that are quite easily snapped off.

Step 8

Once your succulents are planted and the compost mix has been levelled off between the plants, you can add some alpine or potting grit to the top of it.

This only needs to be a maximum of 1 cm deep. This makes the dish garden more attractive and acts as a mulch, slowing down water loss and stabilising the surface. You could also add some larger stones or other features to give a miniature landscape/garden feel.

Step 9

Your dish garden is complete! You can place it where you like and water if necessary.

Succulent dish garden final

Aftercare is easy. The plants will need watering, but should be allowed to dry out between waterings. You can use a mist spray to water them if you prefer. Over time your plants will spread, some may even encroach on the other plants. If the dish is outside weeds may also occur, so there may be some infrequent weeding and trimming back to do to keep your dish garden looking ship shape!

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