By Judy Weaver/contributing writer

It has been my good fortune to become a Master Gardener in three states: New Jersey, Louisiana and Alabama. Two weeks ago Carol Williams and Ellen Huckabay wrote a column about the upcoming Master Gardener class this August in Mobile. For me, becoming a MG was as much about making new friends as it was a great educational opportunity.

Gardeners are the nicest people. I say that to share this interview with Davanna Hart, who was our succulent expert in Baton Rouge. Hart has raised cacti and succulents since childhood, but got serious about it in the 1970s when she began to keep records of what she grew. She is a charter member of the Baton Rouge Cactus and Succulent Society and has been a Louisiana Master Gardener since 1995.

Q: What is a succulent bowl? 

It’s a mixed planting of succulents, plants that can conserve water in their stems, leaves and/or roots, in times of drought.

Q: How large and deep a bowl is best?

12-inch to 18-inch diameter is a good size for a succulent bowl, and 4 to 6 inches deep. It can be made of ceramic, plastic, clay or even be a big flower pot saucers. Make sure it has a hole for drainage.

Q: What kind of growing medium is best?

Use a fast-draining soil, one that won’t retain moisture for long. Don’t put rocks in the bottom your bowl. Your drainage is better if you use the same soil from top to bottom.

Q: What kind of succulent plants will do well?

I use a lot of aloes; there are so many cousins, aunts and uncles to the aloe vera we’re most familiar with. You don’t want plants that get too big too fast. I also use haworthias and euphorbias; each has many varieties that are available locally. Sedums make nice ground covers and agaves also work well.

Q. How do you actually plant the bowl?

After filling the bowl with fast-draining soil, I plant five or six main plants, which I call the backbone of the bowl. For example, I might start with a 12-inch crown of thorns (euphorbia milii) just off center, and a couple of aloe and agave rosettes, which you pleasingly arrange around the bowl. That gives you five or six main plants in the bowl while leaving a lot of dirt exposed. Add a nice rock, about the size of a baseball, which gives the bowl a desert landscape look.

Next, I might add a portulaca or an ice plant (delosperma cooperi), a flowering succulent that gives the bowl color over the entire growing season. (The growing season is any time you can get something to grow.)

After establishing the core plants, the rest is a process of tweaking with accent plants. You want to cover the dirt, and I use pea gravel as a ground cover. If you see cute little plants, tuck them in, too. Sedums are good, low-growing plants that could spill over the edge and soften the bowl, the rock and the tall centerpiece.

Q. When should you plant succulents?

Anytime you feel like it. These plants have been ripped out of their native habitat and brought here, some from the Southern Hemisphere, which means their seasons are the reverse of ours. Just don’t leave your succulents outside when the temperature goes below 40 degrees. And if you’ve had them inside for the winter, ease them into full sun, because they get sunburned if they aren’t conditioned.

Q. How do you care for them — frequency of water and fertilizer, availability of sun?

The secret to watering succulent plants is to let them dry entirely and then water profusely until water comes out the drain holes. You want to flush from the soil the salts that build up from fertilizer and water minerals.

Most succulents like full sun. Use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer every other time you water in the summer.

Q. How large do they get? How quickly do they grow? How long do they thrive?

Each one is different. When your bowl looks overcrowded, take it apart and give the offsets or babies to your friends. Any dish garden will get overcrowded sooner or later. I have two bowls that are two years old and both are ready to be rebuilt.

Q. What are your personal secrets for success with succulents?

Find an inexpensive water tester and don’t water if the needle moves. If in doubt, don’t water.

Q. How do you define success with a succulent bowl?

If you like it, it’s a great bowl!

You are invited to these upcoming gardening events

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting
When: Thursday, June 1, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Weed Control, Ellen Huckabay

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, June 19, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Tomato Taste-Off, Ellen Huckabay

2017 Mobile County Master Gardener Class
When: Wednesdays from Aug. 9 through Nov. 15, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Cost: $160 for materials and educational field trip (limited number of scholarships available)
Application deadline: June 17

For more information, call 251-574-8445 or email
Print application at
Master Gardener Helpline: 1-877-252-4769 or send questions to