Want to grow a miniature garden with living plants? Miniature gardening expert Janit Calvo shares seven common miniature plant-growing mistakes you can avoid.
Once you know these tips, have a look at Janit’s advice for selecting the right mini plants for your garden.
7 Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Miniature Plants
I’m delighted to have Janit Calvo join us here again with this guest post. Her previous resource guide on the Best Plants for Miniature Gardens was hugely popular and had many of you zipping over to her website (links below) to get started in miniature gardening.
Miniature plants—just like your full-size garden plants—can live for years. Give them the best growing environment you can to ensure they thrive.
Here’s Janit’s advice. It will save you plenty of rookie mistakes.
Mistake #1: Using Baby Plants
Many garden centers have a display of baby houseplants plants next to their fairy garden section. While these little plants look absolutely darling sitting there in their wee pots, know that they are just baby plants and they will grow exponentially throughout the season. The same thing happens in the spring too. Garden centers often call baby herb plants “fairy garden plants” but they too will grow quickly out of a miniature setting.
You can use baby plants; just know that you’ll have to pot it forward within a season or two.
Slow-growing, true dwarf and miniature plants work best.
Mistake #2: Growing Outdoor Plants Inside
You can’t fool Mother Nature. Generally speaking, indoor plants are tropical plants that need to live above 60 degrees all year ‘round. If you put an outdoor tree inside, it will think it is an endless summer and exhaust itself if it doesn’t die from the dry forced-air-heat during the winter first. Many plants need the cold temperatures and/or the change in light to know to go dormant and rest.
If your garden will be outside, select slow-growing, true dwarf and miniature plants suitable for your growing zone.
Mistake #3: Pot is Too Shallow
A lot of the recommended succulents, sedums and groundcovers do well in shallow pots. But if you want to grow miniature and dwarf trees in your miniature garden to add more realism to your scene, use pots that are at least 8” deep. This way, your miniature garden will last at least couple of years before needing any repotting and you can happily watch it grow and weave together which is where the enchantment is. If you plant a miniature garden tree or shrub in a shallow pot, just be prepared to repot it within a season or two.
Mistake #4: Wrong Soil
Yes, there is a right soil and wrong soil. Only use potting soil for your planters and containers because it has the right combination of nutrients for a container environment. Amend your in-ground garden beds with organic compost mixed into the existing soil. Use a combination of topsoil with plenty of compost for brand new beds.
An important note about potting soil: The recommended plants for miniature gardening do not need potting soil with any added fertilizers or water-retaining polymers. This type of soil overfeeds the miniature garden plants and burns their roots – plus you don’t want your miniature garden to grow too fast! Use organic potting soil, you can usually find a local mix at your independent garden center.
Mistake #5: No Drainage
There are a lot of different containers out in the marketplace these days that are recommended for fairy gardening but they don’t have a drainage hole in them. Unless you have x-ray vision and know exactly how much water is corralled at the bottom of your pot, a drainage hole is absolute must AND you never have to worry about overwatering. Any excess water or rainfall will simply drain out the bottom of the pot. All outdoor pots need a drainage hole.
Mistake #6: Overwatering
Overwatering can be as detrimental as under-watering. Many plants don’t really care for “wet feet” – meaning their roots are sitting in water. The roots will suffocate, rot, and the plant dies a watery death. To avoid overwatering, stick your finger down into the soil, right up to the first knuckle. If the soil is wet, wait a day or three and check again. If the soil is barely damp, water. This works testing the soil in containers and for in-ground garden beds.
For the smallest of miniature gardens, there is another way to gauge the moisture level of the soil. Leave a small wood skewer hidden tucked in the soil at the back of the garden. The wood will absorb the moisture and change color, so all you need to do is pull out the little skewer to check its color to know if the soil it moist or not. If the wood is dry, then the soil is dry and you can water. If the wood is wet, then you know to wait and check again. This method is particularly useful for sedums and succulents where the soil needs to dry out completely in between watering sessions.
Mistake #7: Ignoring Conifer Dieback
A lot of the trees recommended for miniature gardening are conifers simply because they look like the full-size trees that we see in our full-sized landscape. Conifers shed their leaves or needles at least once a year and you’ll see this exfoliation collect inside the tree or shrub if you part the branches and have a peek inside.
Remove this dieback whenever you see it to allow the air and light get through to the branches so the little shrub won’t suffocate to death.
Keep this quick checklist in mind when planning your next miniature garden adventure; they are your keys to growing success. But also keep in mind that even the most-expert gardeners kill plants all the time, they just don’t tell you about it. So if you do end up killing a plant or two, don’t sweat it and try again. Did you learn how to cook without burning the soup?
Janit Calvo is an artist, miniaturist, gardener, author, photographer, and entrepreneur. She gardens with her husband, Steve, in Seattle, Washington, and is surrounded by her award-winning miniature worlds of all shapes and sizes in amongst her full-size gardens.
Pioneer of the miniature garden hobby and the founder of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center and the Miniature Garden Society, a place where like-minded miniature gardeners from all over the world can create and connect.
Her first book, Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World was an instant bestseller. Find more information and links to her websites, online specialty stores, the Miniature Garden Society, and to her popular Mini Garden Guru blog at MiniatureGarden.com.
Thank-you, Janit for this! And please go visit her sites for more information, plants, and miniature world beauty.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛