Creating a Desert Oasis: Tips for Designing a Cactus and Succulent Dish Garden

Creating a Desert Oasis: Tips for Designing a Cactus and Succulent Dish Garden

Table of Contents

Introduction to Desert Landscapes

Characteristics of Desert Flora

If you’ve ever watched a Western, you’re probably familiar with cactus and succulents and the main properties of desert flora. It’s their characteristics that make landscaping with succulents and cacti such an easy and interesting approach to gardening - especially when it comes to designing desert landscape tabletop designs and dish gardens. 

Desert flora consists of mostly ground-hugging plants and short woody trees. Caudiciforms (plants with swollen, water-storing stems) are common with many plants having water-conserving characteristics that enables them to survive in xeric environments. 

Leaves of cactus family genera and other plants within the succulent family tend to be small, thick and covered with a thick outer layer. In other words, they are perfect for dish garden cactus art or succulent dish garden ideas.

Related Post: Landscaping Ideas for the Perfect Desert Garden

The Beauty of Cacti and Succulents

Cactus and succulents are wonderful in many ways. Their ability to survive in xeric environments means that they are the perfect plants for those living in arid or desert areas where other plants cannot flourish. 

cactus and succulent

Not only this, but their striking beauty and interesting plant shapes make landscaping with succulents and cactus art a breathtaking spectacle in an outdoor garden or even in a houseplant collection. With a spectrum of colors, shapes, textures, and sizes between them, designing with cacti and succulents is an exciting endeavor that reaps unique results.

Oh, and they happen to be super low maintenance plants with a host of properties that boost your physical and mental health too! With so many bountiful benefits, it’s no wonder the Cactus and Succulent Society of America is thriving.

Selecting the Right Plants

The cactus family genera has 127 genera so you are spoiled for choice when it comes to cactus dish garden ideas. Some of the most popular are the moon and bunny ear varieties, which lend themselves to cactus art in a dish garden. Star cactus is another winner when it comes to designing with cacti and succulents, growing two inches tall to five inches wide and having beautiful white scales over its body and attractive areoles along its ribs.

LivelyRoot has beautiful varieties of this cactus family genera which would work well as standalone plants.

desert dish garden care

Choosing Succulents for Visual Appeal

Desert dish garden designs favor succulents for a reason and that’s because their shapes and colors add such striking visual appeal to desert landscapes and tabletop designs. When it comes to cactus art and landscaping with succulents, try and choose plants that will complement each other and create points of contrast and unity in your desert dish garden design.

For example, Echeveria is a large genus of succulents with many of its species perfect for dish gardens. Hens and Chicks, Mexican Snowball, and Woolly Rose are all varieties that add great visual appeal when landscaping with succulents in desert dish gardens. Best of all, the popularity of Echevaria plants means that you can find them easily in a cactus and succulent plant mall or from cactus and succulent suppliers.

Zebra plants and jade plants are also great succulents suited to xeric environments and therefore easy to maintain with some basic cactus and succulent care.

Find your ideal succulent to landscape with here.

Understanding Growth Patterns and Sizes

As we covered in ‘The Art of Dish Gardens’, one of the most important things to understand when coming up with cactus and succulent dish garden ideas is the size of the plants you’re using and their potential spread. An integral part of cactus and succulent care is making sure your plants won’t overcrowd one another as this can affect the wellbeing of your desert dish garden design. 

Therefore, talk to your cactus and succulent suppliers about the growth patterns and sizes of your chosen plants beforehand or find information about how they grow from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America to make sure you plan some cactus art that can stand the test of time.

Designing Your Desert Dish Garden

Creating Elevation and Depth

To create elevation and depth, think about combining vertical and horizontal growers in your succulent dish garden idea. Cactus and succulents offer so many dynamic shapes to create elevation and depth. For example, the ball-like shape of a golden barrel cactus would contrast well with an upward-reaching zebra plant. 

desert dish garden creations

Using Sand and Rocks for Authenticity

When designing with cacti and succulents it’s integral to use sand and rocks. Not only does this add authenticity but it’s also practical for growing. Adding a top-layer of decorative rocks helps to create a neat finish as well as create an extra xeric environment feel to your cactus dish garden ideas.

Incorporating Desert-themed Decor

While you’re at it, why not go all out and add some hardscaping pieces to really bring home the desert themed landscape? Adding bigger rocks to look like boulders or even ceramic figurines or pottery of your favorite desert creatures is a fun way to personalize your dish garden. 

Care Tips for Cactus and Succulent Dish Gardens

Watering Needs and Techniques

Cactus and succulent care can be different when it comes to watering needs which is why it’s important to check all your plants are compatible and have the same requirements before planting them in a desert landscape or tabletop design.

Generally, cacti need less water than succulents and should be watered minimally. Read our Dish Garden Care 101 article to learn more about how and when to water your cactus art.

Light Requirements and Placement

Again light requirements differ for cactus and succulent plants and so your cactus and succulent care needs to reflect this and inform your choices when finishing your desert dish garden design. 

Related Post: How to Care for a Cactus in Winter

While cacti typically love direct sunlight and need lots of bright light, some succulents can get sunburned easily. Therefore, be sure to choose plants that share the same light needs and then place your desert dish garden in an area of your home where these needs can be met - usually near a window and out of draughts if going for mostly cactus dish garden ideas.

Inspiration and Ideas

Combining Colors and Textures

As mentioned previously, visual effects are really important to create a striking display of cactus and succulents. Choose plants with vibrant colors and unusual textures to really make your succulent dish garden stand out. 

desert dish garden

For example, consider feather cactus for its amazing, wispy filaments to bring texture to your cactus art, while the rosette shape and ruby colors of some Echevaria varieties will bring a colorful pop and interesting dynamic to the tabletop design.

Innovative Containers and Displays

Cactus and succulent supplier 1800Flowers has fun containers for a range of desert dish garden designs including heart, star, and mug containers. These not only offer an interesting display alternative but would also work well as a heartfelt present for someone special. Shop their range of dish gardens here.

If you want to DIY your own cactus art, take inspiration from these and use objects you might have around the house as your container. Remember the desert theme that comes with designing with cacti and succulents and try to use containers that will augment it. Terracotta bowls or ceramic pottery would both help to add extra authenticity to a cactus or succulent dish garden display.

If you don’t want to make your own, has a stunning terracotta desert dish garden complete with stones, rosette succulents and some great cacti for elevation and depth. Explore the collection here.

There you have it! Everything you need to know about landscaping with succulents and cacti to create an unusual and personal desert dish garden design. To find out more about how to care for your cactus art, we’ve got a 101 dish garden care guide here to help you!

Keep Reading

Dish Garden Care 101: How to Maintain Your Miniature Landscape for Longevity

Having fallen in love with the art of dish gardens - the ultimate solution for people with limited space for gardens or houseplants - now you might want to know...

21 August 2023

The Art of Dish Gardens: A Comprehensive Introduction to Miniature Landscapes

Understanding the Concept of Dish Gardens What is a Dish Garden? Think of dish gardens like miniature landscapes: they are a kind of container gardening in which miniature landscape plants...

13 August 2023

Beat the Heat: How to Care for Delivered Flowers in the Summer

Introduction Summer is a time when our gardens are in full bloom with some of the most vibrant and vivacious summer flowers unfurling their petals. Many of these flowers -...

02 August 2023