Can I Grow Peonies Down South?

‘Coral Charm’ is a peony that grows better down South, and it is one of my favorites!

“I live in south Georgia and I would love to plant peonies, but I was told by a local nursery that they can’t survive here because we don’t have cold enough winters for them to reset, is this true?” Question from Ladonna of Naylor, Georgia

Answer: It is partially true. The most popular peonies in the US are common garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora). The large, bushy plants produce loads of big, late-spring flowers and are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7 (sometimes 3-8b), so you are on the edge of their hardiness. They do need winter cold for several months to produce blooms and survive in the long term, but Naylor, Georgia (USDA Hardiness Zones 8b) is cold enough to sustain some peonies. If you want to be on the safe side, there are other peonies that can survive with even less winter cold. This includes some tree peonies (Paeonia species and hybrids, varying zones, sometimes down to zone 9), and Intersectional (ITOH Hybrids (Zones 4-9), which are hybrids between common and tree peonies.

Peonies for Southern Gardeners

Here are seven good herbaceous peony varieties for southern gardens.

  1. ‘America’ (Zones 4-8b)- a single, red herbaceous peony that is award-winning and has HUGE blooms
  2. ‘Coral Charm‘ (Zones 3-8b) – a semi-double coral-pink award-winner (one of my favorites!)
  3. ‘Felix Crousse‘ (Zones 3-8b) – an herbaceous heirloom (1881) with fragrant double-red blooms
  4. ‘Festiva Maxima’ – an herbaceous heirloom (1881) with fragrant double-red blooms
  5. ‘Red Charm’ – an herbaceous peony with fragrant, deepest red, double blooms
  6. ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ (Zones 4-9) – Another exceptional single-red peony
  7. ‘Shirley Temple’ (Zones 3-8b) – a beautiful double peony of palest cream-pink

Click here to read more about caring for peonies, and click here for a full list of peony nurseries approved by The American Peony Society! 

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do You Get Grass to Grow in Shade?

“How can you grow grass when you have so many trees you get no sunlight on the ground?” Question from Terry of La Place, Louisiana

Answer: Sadly, the best thing to do is to grow something else. Grasses are notoriously sun-loving and none of the common lawn varieties will grow well in deep shade. Beds of attractive, low-growing groundcovers for deep shade are a much better choice. Some options are even grass-like, such as sedges. Here are some of the finest groundcovers for deep shade in Louisiana. You may even mix these up to create a more textural, interesting planting.

Southern Groundcovers for Deep Shade

Ajuga is an easy-to-find, spring-blooming groundcover for deep shade.

Partidge berry and little brown jug are my favorites because they are native, cute, tough, and feed wildlife. There are also lots of ferns to consider if the soil is not too dry beneath your trees. These include wood fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora).

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are Some Good Perennials for Southern California Rock Gardens?

California fuchsia is a good, low, flowering perennial for your area.

“I’ve looked into a lot of options and have decided that Aubrieta / Rockcress is best for our needs. I have not finalized a choice as far as variety. I found it difficult to buy potted plants (even for ones on sale for 2021). I’m going to go ahead and get seeds. *BUT* … as I’ve been reading I’ve run into 2 or 3 sites that say – they will bloom in their second season in the year after planting them (and then every year after that). Is that true? I’ve done my very best to search for an answer…and I’ve come up with nothing more than when I started… I was hoping someone could let me know what the deal is? And/or If there is a way to jumpstart the progress – so I wouldn’t have to wait a year for them to bloom? I forget what number zone I’m in – but if it makes any difference at all… I live in West LA (zip = 90064). I’m also wondering if I can mix some type of Phlox seed with whatever variety of Aubrieta / Rockcress I choose? Is that doable? Or would I need to carefully separate which area I put 1 variety of seed and keep it separate (being careful not to mix) the phlox seed in? I so appreciate your time in this and would very much be thankful for some guidance.” Thank you! Jess of Los Angeles, California

Answer: Sadly, your 10b USDA Hardiness Zone is too warm for rockcress (Aubrieta spp.). The alpine plant requires survives in Zones 4-9, which means that it needs more winter cold to survive from year to year. With that said, there are many other evergreen, flowering, low-growing, rock garden plants that will perform well in your Los Angeles garden. I’ve opted for native options that are as tough as nails. Here are five from which to choose.

Flowering Perennial Groundcovers for Southern California

  1. Wayne Roderick Daisy (Erigeron glaucus ‘Wayne Roderick’): Beautiful little pale violet cover this tough spreader through the growing season.
  2. Margarita Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita’): This tough, drought-tolerant spreader bears beautiful blue flowers in summer.
  3. Coastal Groundcover Gum Plant (Grindelia stricta var. venulosa): If you like yellow, you will love the sunny daisies that cover this spreading California perennial. Bees love them.
  4. Sierra Penstemon (Penstemon heterodoxus): Expect this drought-tolerant California alpine to remain evergreen through the hottest weather. Its purple flowers attract hummingbirds and bees.
  5. California fuchsia (Zauschneria septentrionalis ‘Mattole River’): Hummingbirds cannot get enough of the bright red flowers of California fuchsia.

I hope that some of the options interest you. All are so pretty and should grow beautifully where you live.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Can I Grow Hydrangeas in Central Florida?

“I live in Central Florida, zone 9b, can I grow hydrangeas in this zone? I used to have them in Maryland as they are my favorite flower. Not sure about the sandy soil here.” Question from Eileen of Longwood, Florida

Answer: Many hydrangeas require cold winters to survive, but there are some truly beautiful hydrangeas that will grow well way down South. These are bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) varieties. (Click on this link to view many excellent bigleaf hydrangeas from Proven Winners.) Keep in mind, you are right on the most southerly edge of their heat tolerance. They are able to survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, so you will want to give them extra good care at planting time and protect them from scorching heat.

To keep your hydrangeas protected from the high heat of the day, plant them in a partially shaded location on the north side of your home, and amend the soil heavily with organic matter. Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend will really boost levels of water-holding organic matter. Follow up with a 2- to 3-inch layer of fine bark mulch or pine straw to reduce surface evaporation. If you experience any dry periods, be sure to irrigate your shrubs as needed. It also pays to feed them with a quality fertilizer formulated for flowering shrubs.

Happy hydrangea growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Herbs Can I Grow in Central Florida?

What are the best herbs for Central Florida? Question from Sherry of Silver Springs, Florida.

Answer: You can grow common, heat-loving herbs well in Florida. These include basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. The only potential caveat is that these popular herbs are Mediterranean and don’t like excessive moisture. For this reason, I would plant them in raised beds or containers, which tend to drain more quickly. Choose a fast-draining garden soil, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, for best results. Another important factor is that common perennial herbs like these require cool or cold winters to survive for years. This means that you will have to plant fresh starts a little more often.

Tropical lemongrass, which loves heat, humidity, and moisture, is an ideal herb for your climate if you like its lemony flavor (click here for a full list of lemony herbs). It should grow year-round for you. (Watch the video below about how to grow lemongrass.)

Here’s a little more about these heat-tolerant herbs.


Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is grown as an annual but will survive for several years where winters are mild. It is one of the best herbs for growing down South. (Watch the video below about growing basil in containers.)


Oregano (Origanum vulgare, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10) needs full sun and has low, rooting stems that spread, so be sure to give it space to grow. I recommend a low, wide pot.


Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) is a common herb across Europe with a low, spreading, shrubby habit and pungent evergreen leaves. It requires well-drained soil and a sunny spot.


The leathery, gray, evergreen leaves of sage (Salvia officinalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8) are tasty, and this hardy shrubby perennial bears pretty lavender-blue flowers in summer, which are also edible, and attract bees. Give it plenty of sun and soil with good drainage.


Of all the lavenders, I like ‘Provence’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9) because it is very fragrant and flowers heavily. It is a vigorous hybrid between English lavender (L. angustifolia) and Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia).  (To learn more about growing lavender, click here.)


In the Mediterranean, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis , USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a favorite in landscapes and edible gardens. This sun and drought-loving herb has needle-like leaves that are resinous and fragrant. I recommend protecting is from excessive rain in Florida (click here to read more).

Happy herb gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are the Best Tomato Varieties for Central Florida?

“What are the best tomato varieties for USDA Hardiness Zone 9a?” Question from Janet of Summerfield, Florida.

Answer: The best tomato varieties you grow will depend on the time of year in your Central-Florida location. You are lucky to have the luxury of being able to grow tomatoes almost year-round. For summer, grow very heat-tolerant varieties, and in your milder springs and falls pick fast-to-produce varieties tolerant of cooler conditions. Overall, choose tomatoes that are high yielding and disease resistant.

Tomato Varieties for Florida

Two of the best heat-tolerant varieties include the large, red-fruited ‘Heatmaster‘, which can take the high heat of the South, and disease and heat-resistant ‘Heatwave II‘, which bears deep red tomatoes with good flavor.

Two tasty early varieties for cooler growing conditions include ‘Aurora‘, which bears loads of medium-sized, red tomatoes fast, and ‘Alaska‘, which quickly produces red salad tomatoes on short vines.

From there, I encourage you to read all about our favorite sauce tomatoes, monster beefsteak tomatoes, eating tomatoes, and the 10 best-tasting cherry tomatoes.

Growing Tomatoes

Wherever you live, tomatoes need constant soil replenishment. Getting your soil and feeding regime right is so important. In general, tomatoes like fertile, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter and has a relatively neutral soil pH of around 6.0 to 6.8. If you are growing plants in the ground, amend your soil thoroughly with a quality amendment that’s high in organic matter, like OMRI Listed Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.  Be sure to raise low soils, so they are well-drained. It is also essential to feed regularly with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes and to keep plants evenly irrigated.

Click here to read a great University of Florida Extension article with more information about growing tomatoes in your region. It also details some heirloom tomatoes tolerant of heat.

Happy tomato growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are the Best Fall Vegetables for Southern Gardens?

“What veggies can I plant now [in midsummer] and grow into fall? [I live in Georgia.]” Question from Vesta of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Answer: When you are thinking about growing fall crops, think cool-season vegetables. These are the veggies that will perform the best as the temperatures become more moderate, and most will even withstand frost. In your southern climate, you can certainly grow these crops even longer because, according to your regional frost maps, your area does not see frosts until late October to mid-November, depending on the year.

Fall Vegetables for Northeastern Georgia

Here are some dependable fall vegetables that I would consider for where you live.

Root Vegetables

Cool-season root vegetables are so easy to grow and include beets, carrots, leeks, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips. Choose varieties with high ratings or those that are award-winning. Two include the AAS-winning carrot ‘Purple Haze‘ and ‘Avalanche‘ beet. If you like leeks and rutabagas, they must be planted earlier (now!) because it takes the plants a while to develop large roots. (Click here to learn more about growing fall root crops.)

Flowering Cole Crops

These crops include favorites like broccoli, cauliflower, and broccoli raab. All of these delicious cool-season vegetables taste slightly sweeter if harvested just after the first light frost. This is especially nice for fast-growing broccoli raab, which loses some of its bitterness after frost. Early-to-produce, heat-tolerant varieties of broccoli and cauliflower will be best for your fall garden. Try Belstar Broccoli and Amazing Cauliflower. (Click here to learn more about growing broccoli and cauliflower.)


Kale is so nutritious, and Mediterranean varieties, such as ‘Tronchuda Biera’ Portuguese kale and ‘Black Magic’ Italian kale, are great greens for southern autumns. You also live in collard country, so try any collard sold at local garden centers. Other recommended greens include cabbage, lettuce, and Swiss chard. Two good super late-season greens are arugula and corn salad. Both can continue to produce well after frosts have begun to hit. (Click here to learn more about growing some of these greens.)

Planting Cool-Season Vegetables

All of these vegetables grow best in full sun and rich garden soil. To ensure your soil will produce good yields amend it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss—working both deeply into the soil. If your soil is not of good quality deep down, I recommend double digging. This is especially needed for long, tapered root vegetables like carrots. This ensures amendments are incorporated deeply into the soil. (Learn how to double dig your beds here!)

I hope that these tips help.

Happy fall veggie gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist