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How To Water A Combination Dish Garden

Did you get a beautiful dish garden as a gift? These are wonderful, thoughtful, and beautiful gifts and a welcome break from cut flowers Your dish garden can grow on, however, you will need to care for it properly for it to survive and even thrive!

To water your dish garden:

  1. Check for drainage holes in the container
  2. Test for soil moisture before watering.
  3. Water thoroughly
  4. Let the excess water drain away
  5. Wait until your dish garden needs water again. (This is the hardest part!)

Simple, yes, easy, no. Let’s walk through these one step at a time so you can see exactly what I mean in more depth.

Check For Drainage Holes In The Container

Adequate drainage is crucial to houseplants thriving. If there are no drainage holes for excess water to drain away, the water pools at the bottom, completely saturating the soil. This drives out all of the air from the soil. Even the roots need to breathe, with the exception of plants that are adapted to grow submerged in water. This leaves only the unsaturated section of soil for the roots to thrive in. Often dish gardens come in plastic-lined baskets, metal containers, or other containers suited for florists (without drainage) rather than for the long-term growth of plants.

For a better understanding, with illustrations- click here to an article discussing how water dynamics work in potting soil in a pot.

You can change a combination planter that was not built for success by:

  • repotting the plants
  • poking holes in the plastic liner
  • adding a layer of gravel under potting soil

Or, consider the dish garden to be a floral gift that lasts longer than cut flowers, but not to grow indefinately, and eventually discard.

Test For Soil Moisture Before Watering

For most leafy houseplants, only water when the soil has dried enough that when you touch the soil, about an inch deep, you do not feel any moisture at all. If in doubt, wait for a day at least. If your dish garden has a decorative covering permanently attached so you can not touch the soil, there are two ways to try.

  • If there is a drainage hole, touch the soil inside the pot through the drainage hole. If it is wet, wait. There is still plenty of water existing in the potting soil
  • Or, pick up the whole container, if it feels lighter than what you expected, then water it.

For most dish gardens, check if the soil is dry, an inch or several cm deep, when you first it bring home and then check again every third day. The dish garden most likely will not need water that often. The reason behind checking this often is there is a pattern that will emerge for your plants in your precise location, humidity, light, airflow, size of plants in relation to the size of the pot, and the exact component mix of the potting soil. All of these factors are why no one can give an exact and correct answer to the question of how often and how much to water a potted plant.

I know. You wanted a formula. Growing plants is an art that is based on science. Like cooking. The recipe is where you start, and as your confidence and experience grow, you can start trying new techniques and venturing out from the recipe.

Water Thoroughly

If the pot is small enough, put it right in the sink. Add enough water to fill up to the top of the pot, wait for it to drain, fill again, wait, and fill a third time and let it drain.

The reason you water three times each session is that water will find the quickest route through the soil. This leaves dry pockets if you water once. The second time you water, the water path widens to include and moisten more soil, and by the third, most potting soils have been moistened. The potting soil is holding as much water as it can.

Let The Excess Water Drain Away

This is the part where the drainage holes come in. Let the excess water that the potting soil can not hold, drain away. This allows the roots to breathe. This lets tiny pores hold air. This makes it hard for root rot organisms to take over.

For larger pots that have a cachepot, a decorative container without drainage holes, or a saucer under the plant, put a layer of gravel under the inner pots that the plants are actually in, can sit on. this keeps the roots out of the area where water is pooling. When the plants’ excess water drains out of those inner pots, into the cachepot or tray, empty the extra water out.

A good watering can for indoor plants is one that is inexpensive, holds enough water to reduce trips to tap to refill (without getting too heavy), and has a large enough fill opening to add fertilizer. Good balance when holding by the handle is also important. I like the option to water with one hand. I also like a focused spout to control water spray inside. Like this one. I have been using it and recommending it to clients for years.  This is the watering can I use at home. You can get one from Amazon by clicking here.

Wait until your dish garden needs water again.

Waiting can definitely be the most difficult step, but arguably one of the most important. Overwatering is NOT giving too much volume of water. Overwatering is watering TOO OFTEN. Wait. Do the test to see if your dish garden needs water yet. If you are in doubt, wait a day.

This bears repeating. wait until your dish garden needs water again. I mean it 🙂

Repotting the Plants

This is my favorite choice because it not only solves the problem of drainage so you can water for happy plants, it opens up your choices moving forward.

When you repot each individual plant into its own pot, you can use a potting soil specific to its needs. You also can water to that plant’s needs. Cactus soil for cactus, orchid bark for orchids, all-purpose potting mix for most houseplants

After repotting into individual pots, you can choose to reset those pots inside the decorative cachepot container they came in.

Or, you can put it in another container chosen for your own decor.

You can also choose to keep as individual plants and distribute the ‘garden’ throughout your home. This is great for memorial dish gardens because a little of that memory can be everywhere you would like to see it. This is also a great way to share a memorial dish garden with other people who are sharing in the memory.

Some dish gardens are designed for looks more than the healthy, long-term living requirements for each individual plant. Putting individual plants in individual pots allows the design without dooming the combination to death because of conflicting watering needs.

Click here to read a post I wrote on plant saucers and if they are necessary.

Related Questions:

Do houseplants grow better with warm or cold water?

Houseplants grow best when watered with water that is room temperature, between 60-75 degrees F. This has been studied more in relation to soil temperature, rather than water temperature, but for houseplants, the soil temperature is greatly affected by the temperature of the water. Just avoid temperatures approaching ice water and boiling water, and you will do fine with your houseplants.

Can I water my houseplants with city water?

City water can have additives that make water safe for us to drink, but that some plants may be sensitive to. Chlorine, for instance, some plants are sensitive to and can be removed simply by setting out overnight. This also brings the water to room temperature. I love a win/win!

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Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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