In the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with succulents! Part of it has to do with the fact that our patio has horrible soil and is in full sun in Southern California (read: serious drought situation). So, I’ve been doing tons of research on how to plant a drought-tolerant garden without resorting to spiny cacti alone. In the midst of this, I’ve developed a fascination and love of these gorgeous, water-retaining plants that can look as varied as a water-hungry yard.
I’ve also been successful at keeping many of my succulents alive for over half a year now. Back when I wrote about how to avoid killing your succulents, I wasn’t actually sure if I would be successful taking my own advice. I was. So I’m upping the ante on my relationship with succulents and starting to make some arrangements of my own!
Succulents in a bowl: a word of caution
I used a bowl because we often have them around the house; also, they tend to be cheaper than pots. The bowls used in this tutorial were purchased specifically for this purpose at Target for just a few dollars. Pretty pots and planters can cost much more.
The problem with using bowls (or terrariums for that matter) is that they offer no drainage. This is usually a huge no-no for succulents because the one thing they hate is having their roots stand in water.
However, it’s still possible to keep these gardens thriving; you just need to monitor the water moisture really well. I always try to err on the side of dry soil than wet; without any drainage, the soil can stay moist for days– sometimes weeks– depending on the humidity of your house. You’ll just have to keep watch, and occasionally stick a finger into the soil to test it. I’ll share more maintenance tips at the end of this post!
How To Plant A Succulent Container Garden In A Bowl
Materials you’ll need:
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Any cereal bowl, mug, or ramekin will do. Avoid wood and plastic. Here are some that are similar to the ones I used for this tutorial.
They should go well together with varied colors and sizes. Usually warm and cool colors should not be potted together. You can buy them from Amazon (below) or your local nursery.
Cactus potting mix
This is really important for the health of your succulents. Buy it here:
For a really successful arrangement, use shears to trim plants that have outgrown the container. Here’s the one I use:
Succulent Container Garden In A Bowl: a step-by-step guide
1) Choose your vessel first.
It’s really important to know what size bowl you want to fill (as well as its color and shape) before shopping for succulents.
2) Select your plants. Here’s what I usually choose:
- 2 “centerpiece” succulents– they can be clusters or single rosettes
- 3-4 filler succulents– the ones that will fill up the rest of the space in the bowl
Make sure you buy more succulents than you think you will need. These plants do fine when squeezed together, and you want the arrangement to look as full as possible.
3) Set the potted “centerpiece” plants in your bowls to see how they might fit.
Imagine that you will cut the rootball in half. Add potting soil to the bottom of the bowl so that the base of the succulent is flush, or even slightly above, the edge of the bowl.
4) Break the roots of your first centerpiece plant and get rid of any extra soil.
Breaking up the roots helps the plant re-establish itself. Do not water at this point, unless the soil is bone-dry (almost like dust or chalk). In that case, use a spray bottle to only slightly moisten the rootball.
Place the the first centerpiece plant into your bowl. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stand up straight at this point. You will add other plants to bolster it.
5) Break roots of other plants and continue arranging.
Squeeze the second centerpiece plant into the bowl. Assess the amount of space you have. Remember that you can break apart clusters of succulents. These plants are very tolerant of abuse– and many of them break apart easily so that they can spread!
6) Fill up the arrangement until the bowl is completely packed with soil and plants.
If you have a bare patch in the soil, but no room for another rootball, just cut the plant right at a leaf node and stick the plant directly into the soil. It will eventually root just fine!
7) Use the blunt end of your shears to pack down any soil, and trim unsightly branches.
Make sure the soil is packed in to keep the plants from moving. Succulents do lose leaves, so feel free to trim off anything that doesn’t look plump and pretty anymore. The plant will regenerate faster than you think.
Keeping the arrangement fresh and happy
The greatest thing about container gardens is that they’re like living art! They are always growing and changing, which means you’ll have to keep an eye on your succulent bowl.
Here are some basic tips (plus more in this post!)
- Group together plants with similar watering needs. A cactus indoors can go months without water, while thinner-leafed succulents need weekly watering. Plant the plump-leafed succulents together, and thinner-leafed succulents together.
- Give it natural light. Do not put this arrangement in a room without exposure to bright shade, because the plants will die.
- Water sparingly. If the soil is moist, let it dry out completely. You know that water is necessary when the rootball starts to clump and constrict.
- Trim and replant occasionally. Lots of succulents enjoy the tight space, which is why they are so great for these containers. Still, they will eventually become overgrown and need some trimming. Cut off any overgrown branches and stick them back into the soil for regrowth.
More succulent resources: my favorite books!