How To: Make A Miniature Desert

Terrariums, cactus walls, macramé plant hangers, it seems we can’t get enough of the house plant craze. But what’s next? Let us introduce to you the mini desert.

Created using cacti and succulents, it not only looks impressive but is super easy to care for too. Get one step ahead of the crowd and create your very own miniature desert today with Conservatory Archive’s step by step guide.


  • Cactus potting compost
  • Shallow bowl
  • Selection of small cacti and/or succulents
  • Horticultural gravel and stones
  • Hydroleca or grit
  • Small paint brush


Step 1: The bowl 

Choose your vessel wisely – it’s important that you like it, but it also needs to sit comfortably no more than 2 metres away from a sunny window.

Plant bowl

Step 2: Drainage

Most decorative indoor pots don’t have a drainage hole to protect your furnishings from any made watering that might take place. However – this paves way to a very common dilemma, to pot directly into the pot or not. The answer is to not, your plant needs drainage holes so that excess water can easily drain away, if there are no drainage holes the water remains at the bottom of the pot and can drown the roots. However, having said all this, we are now going to use a pot without drainage holes – so we need to be clever and create an area where the water can pool under the soil. For this we use a layer of hydroleca.

Use a generous amount of hydroleca to fill up a third of your bowl.

Collection of plant pots and soil

Step 3: Soil

The next step is adding the soil. When working with cacti and succulents you need to use a good draining, low nutrient soil. This is really important for cacti and succulents as you want to mimic their natural environment as much as possible. The better draining the soil – the easier it will be to care for your plants and to avoid over watering.

Using a well mixed cactus compost, you then want to fill up your bowl.

Once your bowl is full, it may feel tempting to start patting down the soil, but try to refrain from doing this as it will reduce the amount of air particles (and roots need air). Instead, start moving your soil around in the bowl, thinking about your landscape – are you going to have a mountain scene? Or path running through the middle? A pond or a lake? In this beginning stage it is useful to start creatively thinking about the layout of your miniature desert. However, don’t be alarmed as this will adapt and change during the planting which is all part of the process.

Step 4: Choosing your plants

As we are making a miniature desert we want plants that like dry conditions. You want to select a variety of heights and sizes to play with. It can be really tempting to gather all your favourite plants and put them together but often this doesn’t work. A tip would be to choose around 5 different species and make sure there are a couple of each plant so you can create different areas but also repeat planting to bring your miniature landscape together.

Collection of different plants

Step 5: Planting

Planting the first plant is the hardest as you aren’t always sure where it should go, but nothing is set in stone so things can be moved around constantly. You want to take the cactus carefully out of its pot and very gently tease the roots, encouraging them to start forming new roots into the new compost. Then digging a well in your compost insert the teased roots and gently pat the soil around the cactus. All the roots should be covered. If you find you have a really strong root network you might need to build a little hill up around the plant. Here you can use stones to create structure and hold your plants in place.

Filling a plant pot with soil

Step 6: Stones

After you have some plants in place and are happy with how they look, start introducing pebbles and stones. They create a really nice backdrop to the plants and help create a feeling of a dry landscape.

Filling plant pots with stones

Step 7: Care

Once you feel as though you are finished and the plants are all well planted, you can start to use a fine paintbrush to gently brush off any soil that is stuck on the cacti spines. Water after two days making sure each plant is individually watered – going forward make sure your miniature desert is watered monthly.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to put those green fingers to the test.

Workshops In Store

Prefer to learn in real life? Conservatory Archives will be hosting workshops at our Habitat stores. Whilst making a tiny desert landscape you will learn which soil environment is best for desert dwelling plants, how and when to repot your cacti and succulents, and most importantly the best way to water them.

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