How Do You Grow the Juiciest Fruits and Vegetables?

“What is the best for growing the juiciest plumpest fruits and veggies?” Dave from Springfield, Massachusetts

Answer: Give your fruits and vegetables the best care possible and make sure that you water and fertilize regularly. (Click here for a full vegetable garden growing guide.) It sounds obvious, but limiting environmental and physical stresses as well as those from pests and diseases will also ensure good production and well-developed fruits and vegetables. Uninhibited plants invest their energy into good growth and fruit development rather than self-protection. Happy plants produce happy fruits. Also, be sure to choose fertilizers that encourage flower and fruit development. (Click here for a full article about vegetable garden fertilization from Colorado State University.)

Variety selection is also an important consideration. Some vegetable and fruit varieties are plumper and juicier than others, so make sure that you choose those that are described as being large, juicy, and flavorful. For example, go for big beefsteak tomatoes rather than standard tomatoes, and choose extra blocky pepper varieties rather than thinner-walled types. (Click here to learn more about growing prize beefsteak tomatoes.)

One more tip: Refrain from overwatering when fruits are nearly ripe. Excess water late in the fruiting stage can cause fruit splitting and water down the flavor. This is especially the case with tomatoes and melons.

I hope that this helps answer your question.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist.

Winter-Fruiting Trees for Lasting Beauty

‘Winter King’ green hawthorn has persistent fruits that are loved by cedar waxwings.

Now that fall has passed, it is a dismal thing to look out the window and see no color. But, this does not have to be the case if you plant beautiful trees that still offer bright colorful fruits to the garden in winter. The first one everybody thinks of is holly, but there are several more that fit the bill.

American Holly

American holly has a classic holly look and the trees can become very large.

American holly (Ilex opaca, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) is an eastern native tree that can survive in some shade but grows and looks best in an open area with full sun. The pyramidal tree can reach up to 50-60 feet tall, so find a big place in your yard or garden to plant it.  It has leathery evergreen leaves and bright red berries that turn from green to red in fall that stay on through the winter. A caveat is that it is a dioecious tree, which means that plants have either female or male flowers, never both. That means that both male and female plants are needed to produce fruit. One of the oldest and best varieties is the heavy-fruiting,  ‘Jersey Princess‘, which was bred at Rutgers University. It fruits heavily and has a neat, narrow habit. A good pollinating partner is ‘Jersey Knight‘. Be aware that the leaves are very prickly, so wear thick garden gloves with gauntlet sleeves when handling them.

Yaupon Holly

Smooth-edged leaves and pretty winter berries make this a fine holly tree for southern gardeners.

The more southern sun-loving yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria, Zones 7-9) has smooth-edged leaves and female trees develop copious red berries that remain on the stems through much of winter. It is a native species that naturally exists in open coastal woods from Virginia down to Florida and across to Texas. Wild specimens can reach up to 45 feet high, on rare occasion, but generally do not exceed 25 feet. The golden-berried ‘Anna’s Choice‘ is a lovely female variety reaching 15 feet that bears lots of sunny fruits against its fine, scalloped leaves. ‘Will Flemming‘ is an unusually upright narrow male yaupon holly tree that reaches 12-15 feet. Its spring flowers will pollinate female trees, like ‘Anna’s Choice’.

American Wahoo

American wahoo is a spectacular tree that deserves more attention in landscapes and gardens.

American wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus, Zones 3-10) is a relative of the invasive non-native burning bush (Euonymus alatus), but in fall this non-invasive eastern native shows off exceptional pinkish-red fruits with orange inner seeds as well as purplish-red leaf color. In spring it bears purplish flowers. The multi-stemmed tree can reach up to 20 feet and looks best when planted as specimen trees in a sunny, open lawn. Well-drained, fertile soil is needed. Some stem pruning must be done to encourage an open trunk. Birds love the fruits.

Green Hawthorne

‘Winter King’ offers one of the most spectacular displays of red fruits is any tree.

The green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis, Zones 4-7) is a small native tree that exists across much of the eastern United States. Wild specimens have large thorns up and down stems, so approach this tree with caution.  ‘Winter King’ is an improved variety with spectacular red fruits in winter, profuse white flowers in spring, very few thorns, and silvery bark. The scarlet fruits (called “haws”) resemble very little apples, and technically they are edible, but most gardeners leave them to the birds. (European hawthorns (C. monogyna) are a bit larger and often used to make jams and jellies.) In fall, the leaves turn purple and scarlet, and the brilliant red fruits last well into winter.  ‘Winter King’grows 15 to 20 feet tall, adapts to any kind of well-drained soil and is drought tolerant and disease resistant.


Birds love the jewel-like fruits of crabapples.

There are literally thousands of flowering crabapple varieties. The best flower and fruit beautifully and are very disease-resistant. One that comes highly recommended by my daughter is ‘Prairifire’ (Malus ‘Prairifire’, Zones 4-8), a highly disease-resistant variety first introduced in 1982 and developed by Dr. Daniel Dayton of the University of Illinois. It displays some of the most stunning hot-pink spring blooms against purplish-red spring leaves that turn dark green in summer and bronze-red in fall.  Its fall crabapples turn bright red and are held into winter until birds pick them off. The tree reaches about 20 feet tall, needs full sun, and resistants many foliar diseases that attack crabapples. Plant it in full sun for best growth and flowering.

Click here for a full overview of how to properly plant a tree. Its steps will ensure that any tree you plant will grow beautifully in your landscape. Rich amendments, such as Black Gold Peat Moss and Garden Compost Blend, will ensure their roots will grow deeply in the first year.

Any one of these trees, or all of them, will brighten your winter landscape. I hope this has given you some plants to buy when planning for any garden additions for next season.

Which is Better, Hydroponic or Potted Indoor Vegetables?

“Why should I continue to use Black Gold products for my indoor gardening projects, rather than switching entirely to hydroponics?” Question from Vicki of Brownsburg, Indiana

Answer: It depends on your home, budget, and goals, but I favor soil growing for lots of reasons. Either way, both methods have value. To help you make up your own mind, here are the plusses and minuses of growing in pots versus home hydroponic growing.

Indoor Potted Vegetables: Benefits and Problems

Five Benefits of Pots

  1. Least expensive
  2. Easy if you have lots of sunshine
  3. Less energy needed
  4. Accommodate larger and more vegetables
  5. Crops have more flavor

Five Problems of Pots

  1. Need more space
  2. More light may be needed
  3. More food, water, and pruning may be needed
  4. Attract fungus gnats and shore flies (Click here to learn how to manage these pests.)
  5. Can be messier.

If you are interested in taking this route, click here to learn more about how to grow potted herbs and vegetables indoors. Two great soils for indoor growing are Black Gold® Natural & Organic Flower and Vegetable Soil and Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir. Both are approved for organic gardening, hold water well, but also offer excellent drainage.

Home Hydroponic Vegetables: Benefits and Problems

Benefits of Hydroponic Units

  1. Faster yields
  2. Less messy
  3. Often all-in-one units
  4. Often compact units
  5. Often automated for easy use

Problems of Hydroponic Units

  1. Most expensive
  2. Accommodate fewer, smaller plants
  3. More energy needed
  4. Spread disease faster
  5. Encourage algal growth and can leak

I will let you be the judge, but I happily grow my indoor herbs in pots along my south-facing window. I’ve my basil already growing for the season.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


What are Good Fruits for Cold Climates?

Blueberries are good fruits for cold climates.

“What would be a good fruit to try and grow in a cold climate?” Question from Chelsea of Alpena, Michigan

Answer: Lots of classic garden berries are very hardy and grow beautifully up north. Blackberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, and raspberries are among them. If you are new to berry planting, I would start with lowbush blueberries because they are quick to set fruit, easy to maintain, and very hardy.

Growing Blueberries

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) grow particularly well up north and are able to withstand climates far into Canada. Choose compact lowbush varieties that are easy to maintain. Two classics that are short, heavy-bearing, and flavorful are ‘Northblue‘ and ‘Northcountry‘. These would look right at home along the edge of a sunny patio or even in containers. Speaking of container berries, the new designer lowbush blueberries in the Bushel and Berry® Series are also excellent varieties to try. (In fact, all of there berries are quite hardy and low-care). Of these, I think Blueberry Glaze® is especially beautiful because of its tidy, boxwood-like habit and tasty berries.

Alpena, Michigan is blueberry country, so you should not have trouble growing them, but you should still know the basics. Plant your berries in full to partial sun. The key to happy blueberries is getting their soil right; they like well-drained, acid soils with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. When soils are too alkaline (have a higher pH) blueberry plants cannot access necessary nutrients, and their leaves start to turn yellow. To keep this from happening, amend the soil with Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss at planting time and feed with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving crops, like blueberries. Water your berries if rain has been infrequent and the soil starts to become dry. If you start with robust, good-sized plants this spring you will have berries by summer.

If you are interested in growing other berries on a small-scale, read our article about the best fruits for container gardening. If you are interested in growing strawberries, watch the video below.

Happy berry growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Fruit Trees Grow at a 10,000 ft. Elevation in the Rockies?

“Is it possible to grow fruit trees at 10,000 ft. in elevation (Rocky Mountains)” Question from Wolf of Westcliffe, Colorado

Answer: Fruit trees able to produce at high altitudes must be able to tolerate cooler, shorter growing seasons and cold winters. There are several very early fruit-bearing trees able to tough it out. Ideally, trees should also be late to flower, for spring pollination and fruit set. The University of Minnesota breeds many fruits, particularly apples, that survive under these conditions (click here to learn more).  Here are a handful for you to consider.

Fruit Trees for High Elevations

Apple ‘Centennial Crabapple’ (Zone 3): a tasty crabapple good for eating fresh or making sauce that ripens in late August.

Apple ‘State Fair’ (Zone 4): a tart, sweet eating apple that ripens in August.

Apple ‘Lodi’ (Zone 3): cooking apple for pies and sauce that bears in August.

Pear ‘Summercrisp’ (Zone 4): crisp, sweet pears are produced in August.

When buying a hardy fruit tree, ask about rootstock. Some rootstocks impart more hardiness than others.

Rocky Mountain Native Fruits for High Elevations

Sometimes it pays to go native. Many native fruits naturally exist at your elevation, including bright red wax currants (Ribes cereum), which have delicious, tart red berries, serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), boulder raspberry (Rubus deliciosus) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). You might be able to find these in regional, specialty nurseries that sell natives. (Click here for a list of Colorado native plant sellers.)

Happy mountain fruit growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What are the Best Fruits and Vegetables to Grow in Central Florida?


“What are the best fruits and vegetables to grow in Central Florida?” Question from Sherry of Silver Springs, Florida

Answer: Other than northern fruit trees and berries and a few other crops that require cold winters and droop in hot weather, you can grow most fruits and vegetables in Central Florida. We have many articles that cover some of the best fruits and vegetables for your area. Here are some of our favorites.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Growing Strawberries Indoors or Out in Florida

What Are the Best Tomato Varieties for Central Florida?

When is the Best Time To Grow Vegetables in Florida?

What Herbs Can I Grow in Central Florida?

8 Garden Fruits and Vegetables for Weight Loss and Health

8 Garden Fruits and Vegetables for Weight Loss and Health

All veggies are naturally low calorie, but a few give an extra boost when it comes to weight loss. Some are extraordinarily filling while others have the perk of containing beneficial compounds that increase weight loss. Others are natural diuretics that increase water loss and reduce bloating. Broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, and melons are just a few tasty fruits and vegetables that provide an extra weight loss boost. If you grow them using organic methods, you have the added benefit of free fresh food that is natural and pesticide free.


Adorable little toddler girl with curly hair wearing a blue dress climbing a ladder picking fresh apples in a beautiful fruit garden on a sunny autumn day
Even small-space gardeners can grow their own apples.

You don’t need a lot of space to grow a dwarf or mid-sized apple tree and their bountiful fall fruits are sweet, nutritious, and filling. They also have a secret weapon when it comes to weight loss. Apples are high in polyphenols, compounds that have been shown to reduce body weight. In fact, obese people that ingested three apples a day exhibited significant weight loss (reference). Polyphenols have also shown to reduce the accumulation of “Bad Cholesterol” (LDL cholesterol and triglycerides) associated with heart disease and obesity (reference). So, eating an apple a day will truly keep the doctor away.

Plant apples in spring to give them time to set roots over summer. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, and keep them irrigated a month or two until they become established. [Learn more about planting fruit trees here.]


Beans are so easy to grow and so nutritious. (Image by Marian Keith)

Fresh beans are high in protein and fiber to help you feel full, and they regulate blood sugar. Even better, they contain alpha-amylase inhibitors, or starch blockers, that reduce the absorption of dietary starches by the body. That means that the more beans you eat, the less your body will take up starches that contribute to weight gain. 

Beans are one of the easiest veggies to grow. For smaller gardens, bush beans are recommended. Like most vegetables, they thrive in full sun and good garden soil. [Click here to read more about growing amazing beans in the garden.]


‘Arapaho’ blackberries pictured with chili peppers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Blackberries are sweet and delicious, but they also contain powerful antioxidants shown to reduce inflammation and prevent weight gain. Blackberries contain up to 87% of the antioxidant C3G. Research suggests that eating C3G-rich blackberries may be effective in preventing weight gain and inflammation (reference).

These effortless brambles are very easy to grow as long as you have full sun and good space with rich soil. The thornless variety ‘Arapaho‘ is vigorous, produces loads of berries, and has smooth branches for easy harvest.


Purple broccoli is beautiful and healthful. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Broccoli is filling, tastes great, and has all the right characteristics to help you lose pounds. This nutritional powerhouse is high in vitamins A and C as well as Calcium, and Protein. It is also remarkably high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids (reference). Diets rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been shown to reduce appetite in overweight people and help them lose weight. Broccoli has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and possibly reduce fat storage.

Broccoli is a garden vegetable that likes the cool weather of spring and fall. It requires space, full sun, and friable garden soil that’s rich in organic matter. [Click here to learn how to grow great broccoli!]


Cucumis sativus
Cucumbers reduce inflammation. (Image by Jessie Keith)

There are lots of different cucumber varieties that differ in flavor, quality, and texture, but all are high in water and low in calories. The cooling fruit is a demulcent, which means it reduces inflammation in mucous membranes, and the seeds contain natural diuretics, which induce water loss and reduce bloating.

Cucumber vines need a lot of space but can be trained on a fence or trellis. They require full sun and can withstand hot summer days, but they grow best in areas with more temperate summers. [Get tips on growing all types of cucumbers here.]


Ginger is very healthful and can be easily grown in pots.

Not only does fresh ginger taste great, but it offers a wealth of benefits related to weight loss and overall health. Ginger is high in antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit dietary fat absorption (reference). Ginger has also been shown to have a wealth of anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to many other health benefits.

It’s easy to grow pots of ginger indoors and on a summer patio with partial shade. Fill the pot with fertile, organic-rich soil that is moist but well-drained, such as Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Mix. In the winter, bring your pot indoors as a house plant.  Harvest the growing rhizome pieces by digging and cutting them off as you need them.


Capsicum annuum 'Chervena Chushka'
Peppers are packed with vitamin C. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Hot and sweet peppers are low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamin C. (One cup of fresh sweet peppers have 317% DV of vitamin C!). They have also been shown to have anti-obesity properties (reference). Slices make great low-calorie snacks that may help manage weight.

Heat and lots of sun are required to grow great peppers. Peppers are a must-grow vegetable because they are so expensive in the store yet so easy to cultivate. There are many varieties to choose from that come in many flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes. [Click here to learn how to grow great hot peppers.]


Citrullus lanatus 'Crimson Sweet'
Watermelons are high in lycopene. ( Image by Jessie Keith)

This sweet treat won’t hurt your waistline. The water-rich fruit is filling, delicious, and one cup contains only 46 calories! It is also a natural diuretic, so it can help reduce bloating. Red-fleshed varieties are also high in lycopene, a carotenoid believed to have cancer-fighting properties, as well as vitamins C and A.

Melons grow from rambling vines that can trail along the ground or be trained on a trellis. They need a lot of sun, space, and fertile soil. [Get melon-growing instructions here.]


Growing Melons

Nothing tastes quite like homegrown melons fresh from the garden.

Melons are a summer favorite that always have a home in my garden. Truly, the large, sweet, globose fruits are one of the most satisfying garden edibles to grow. As long as one has a sunny, spacious spot with good soil on high ground, growing watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and other melons is a snap. And for those with smaller gardens, there are always space-saving bush varieties.

Continue reading “Growing Melons”

Putting the Fruit Back in Fruit Trees

Getting the Fruit Back - Flowering Plum - article-top
This purple leaf plum was bred to eliminate fruit for a better ornamental variety with burgundy foliage and pink flowers.

In the hoity toity world of landscape architecture, small flowering trees known as “accents” are often fruit trees bred to enhance the flowers but eliminate the fruit. The Japanese flowering cherry is a famous example in Washington DC. The Bradford pear has become a favorite white accent for urban gardens. But times have changed and my clients are all clamoring to get the fruit back without sacrificing beautiful flowers.
Continue reading “Putting the Fruit Back in Fruit Trees”