My Secret Weapon for Planting a Cactus Dish Garden

My secret planting weapon keeps my paws spine free!

I was born and raised a New England girl. You know, mountain laurel, lilac, peony and sugar maple country. Not a cactus growing outside for thousands of miles around. My few years of living in Tucson, Arizona really made me appreciate them.

And now that I’m a Cali girl (SoCal to be exact), they just make plain sense in our current drought. Here’s how to make a cactus dish garden and the secret planting weapon I use.


I bought this pretty Talavera bowl for a video I did for on how to plant a desktop dish garden – you’ll find the link for this at the end in case you’re interested.

I finally took it apart a few months ago and decided with what’s going on with our current water (or lack thereof) situation, that cacti were the way to go. They’re not a soft and fuzzy look but I find them fascinating.

Plus, less watering, less maintenance with no pruning required had me at hello!


Up above, the cacti line up.  Left to right you’ll see Peruvian Old Lady Cactus, Moon Cactus, Echinocereus subinermis and a Purple Split Rock. The little rounded cacti in the front are cuttings I took from my own plant.


The soil I use is an organic succulent and cactus mix from California Cactus Center. The ingredients are a company secret but I will tell you then it’s vey light and drains fast, just what those cacti love.

I put a piece of coffee filter over the drain hole to keep the mix from falling out and then filled the bowl 2/3 of the way full. I sprinkled in a handful of worm castings because they’re a great amendment and a Taylor-made way to give your little spiny plants a boost.

Cacti have small root balls by the way. I started to place the plants and then moved them around until I find the arrangement that suits me, on that given day anyway.


I dump in some of the mix in between the cacti babies as I go to hold them in place. Just be aware that the mix is light and the cacti can be a little top heavy so some tippage might occur. I managed to coerce them into staying with my mystical horticultural powers. No actually, my secret planting weapon plus the mini trowel work wonderful for this as well as for positioning the plants at the desired angle. You’ll see both of these wonder tools in action in the video at the end.

Ta-Da, the moment has arrived for revealing my secret cactus planting weapon. Yes my friends, cheap silver tongs aren’t just for pasta anymore. You can easily take your cacti out of the pots and get artsy fartsy with them without getting your precious paws fulls of spines. They’re not good for planting those huge Saguaros, but for this kind of project, they’re brilliant.  $1.09 wisely spent.


Here’s the cactus dish garden almost finished. I didn’t water it for the first 5-7 days post planting and then gave it a thorough drink so that the water drained out. I let it sit for a couple of months and gave it another good watering so that the mix settles down. I sprinkled on another layer of worm castings and then topped it off with a little more mix. It looks good but there was one more step to do in this cactus dish garden project.


Yup, this is the crowning glory which takes it from “oh, that’s nice” to masterpiece. It’s the colored rock that I seem to be addicted to and have in many colors and sizes. I use it for many of my container plantings, especially those which aren’t flowery, to add a little bada bing, bada boom. I love how this rock so accents the bowl and makes this planting just pop. It’s doubly true being that cacti grow slowly and don’t flower too often or for too long. 


Speaking of flowers, here’s one of the four buds that appeared on my little Echinocereus soon after planting it. The bud is bigger than the plant!

Here’s the lovely flower after it opened. It only lasted for a few days but this planter sits on the bistro table on the patio right outside my office so I got to enjoy all of its short lived live. It’s amazing how the flowers are so soft on such prickly plants.


I wanted to show you one of my other little cactus gardens. The opening on this is very small but I really like the pumice rock planter. Light as can be!

So how do you care for your cactus dish garden after planting you ask?  Two things: give it as much light as possible and ignore it. In other words, water it about every one to three months indoors depending on how warm and dry your home is. They mush out really fast with too much water. Mine live outdoors and the care is practically the same.

Cactus dish gardens are not for everyone but I sure love mine. One grows in part sun and the others grow in full sun. Talk about undemanding container plantings – they get the gold seal! How do you feel about cacti? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Watch the video below & you’ll see me at my work table making this cactus dish garden:

You can see how I made over my succulent bowl HERE

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  1. Hi Nell, Just discovered your site and am so impressed with your dish gardens. I live near Yosemite National Park and all the falls are in need of more water. Fresno as well as our area in Oakhurst has dead grass. yards are just drying up. I had never desired to make a succulent dish garden but this one with shells and colored glass has peaked my interest. I am going to try one and give some as gifts. Thanks for the inspiration!!!!! Jean Wells

  2. Hi Jean – I love Yosemite & used to visit the park as often as I could when I lived in San Francisco. Now I live in Santa Barbara – the 2 lake in this area are incredibly low. I like cacti because they’re low maintenance (almost none!) & in dish gardens they can be even more interesting. Thank you for watching the video & good luck with your dish garden. colored pebbles, rock, glass chips & sand add so much! Nell

  3. Niki – It’s a Talavera bowl. I got it in Fallbrook, CA. I now live in Tucson, AZ & this pottery is very prevalent here. I got a beautiful Talavera pot for my Peperomia a few months back. Nell

  4. These are beautiful! My 8 yr old wants to make one; I’ll be sure to share this with him.

  5. Hi Alina – I love cacti because they’re so interesting & easy to maintain. Just make sure your 8 yr old is careful when planting them. Those spines are sharp & can stick in your fingers. The tongs will help that! Nell

  6. Yeah Nell,

    What you said was absolutely correct regarding the Cactus. When I migrated from Sydney to Dubai the most thing that distressed me was my Garden. I had a good garden with Box Leaf Thorn,Grey Myrtle,Tall Saw Sedge,Willow Bottlebrush etc. which cannot be migrated to Dubai due to some exotic reasons.

    Thanks to my indoor team for planting me Garden rich with amazing Plants available in UAE. Sad to say that my cactus was not showing any growth further. I googled many tips to survive it and one of the best tips was Of course yours.

    Many thanks fr this valuable post. Will refere this post to all my Cactilovers in Dubai. Please do post more

  7. Is there a Web site for the colorful pot you use in your video. Want one. I

  8. Hi Rosemary – Mine is actually a hanging planter & I took the chain off. I bought it near San Diego. I don’t know if you that one, but there are quite a few sources which sell online by searching “talavera planters online. Nell

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