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?

Is It Better to Grow Vegetables From Seed?

Is it really better to grow veggies from seeds or do buying big plants work just as well? Question from Donna of Newberry, South Carolina

Answer: It depends on the vegetable and your sense of adventure. Let’s start with the vegetables that should always be grown from seed.

Vegetables You Should Always Grow from Seed

Large-seeded veggies sprout and grow very quickly and are much cheaper to start from seed, so buying them as plants is a waste of money. These vegetables include cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash, and zucchini. I start mine in 4″ pots of Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix (seedling mix is not necessary). Plant the seeds a half-inch to one inch down, depending on seed size and packet directions. Water them in, place them in a warm sunny spot outdoors, keep them moist, and they will sprout in days.

You can also plant these seeds directly in the ground, but I like the pots because I have found that this method encourages better germination, and I can protect the young plants from foraging pests. Once the seedlings are strong and have put on several new leaves, I plant them in the ground. (Check out the videos below about growing melons and cucumbers.)

Cool Vegetables You Can Only Grow from Seed

I like to grow peppers, tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables from seeds because I always want to try new and exciting varieties that aren’t sold at local garden centers and nurseries. Some of my favorite vegetable seed vendors for cool varieties are High Mowing Organic Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Pinetree Seeds. Trying new, wonderful varieties makes starting plants from seed worth it.

I should also mention that some vegetables, particularly tomatoes, can get common diseases in the greenhouse and plant nursery–specifically early and late blights. It doesn’t happen very often, but I have unknowingly purchased diseased tomatoes in the past. Since then, I have grown almost all of my tomatoes at home from seed.

Happy vegetable growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Should I Sterilize Potting Soil to Reduce Greenhouse Pest Problems?

“In an effort to keep down the insect population of my indoor veggie garden, I’ve been sterilizing my soil in the oven or microwave. I’ve had whitefly and fungus gnat infestations from using Miracle Gro and other soils right out of the bag, so someone told me to sterilize, and it seems to work. However, if there are beneficial microorganisms in your Black Gold soil, I fear that sterilization may kill them. So, my question is this… should I heat sterilize my Black Gold organic soil before using it indoors? Or is that defeating the purpose of the soil’s ingredients?” Question from Holt of Georgia

Answer: Theoretically, fresh, straight-out-of-the-bag potting mix should be pest and disease-free. Black Gold® gets good grades in this arena, but if a bag gets slashed or torn during transport or is improperly stored, the contents can pay the price. (Only buy Black Gold® bags that are undamaged with contents that are not waterlogged.) Otherwise, you shouldn’t have to worry. Still, if you prefer to play it safe, soil sterilization is certainly helpful with preventing damping-off (click here to learn more), and it would kill any harboring pest eggs, but beneficial microbes will also pay the price.

The chief potting soil beneficials to consider are mycorrhizae and the good microbes in earthworm castings and sometimes compost. Other soil components, like Canadian Sphagnum peat moss and bark, are not particularly rich in any worthy beneficial microbes accessible to plant roots. Currently, we do not add mycorrhizae to any of our Black Gold® soils (unlike some of our Sunshine® mixes), but we do add earthworm castings and compost to quite a few, including our Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Sterilization would certainly kill any soil good guys, but if you are determined to sterilize, it should not impact your growing dramatically. And, you can always beef up your soil after sterilization by adding Black Gold® Earthworm Castings Blend from a well-sealed bag, or dry mycorrhizae spores, which are available at most garden stores.

Even after the sterilization of greenhouse pots, surfaces, and soil, pests may come. Every open door, window crack, or new plant brought indoors is a threat. When it doubt, fight back early using smart IPM. We have lots of blogs on the topic. (Click here to read an article about managing the worst indoor plant pests, and watch our video below about beating fungus gnats.)

Happy indoor vegetable gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


How Do I Stop Powdery Mildew?

This zinnia has a severe case of powdery mildew.

“Every year I get white mold on the leaves of various plants in my vegetable garden. I don’t use any fertilizer or pesticide, other than an organic compost in the soil. It usually doesn’t cause a great deal of problems but is there something I could or should be doing?” Question from Lynda of West Warwick, Rhode Island

Answer: It sounds like you have powdery mildew, a common fungal infection that attacks leaves, causing white, powdery looking surfaces and blotches, particularly towards late summer. Some flowers and vegetables are more prone to it than others. For example, squash, melon, zinnia, and cosmos leaves typically develop powdery mildew, unless you have chosen mildew-resistant varieties.

The disease acts on leaf surfaces, disabling a plant’s ability to respire and gather sunlight. This weakens them and reduces productivity. Severe cases will kill plants. Here are four things that will stop or reduce the disease.

1. Choose powdery-mildew resistant varieties. Before buying a garden flower or vegetable that typically gets this disease, search for resistant varieties. Choosing vigorous, highly disease-resistant varieties will always result in a happier garden. You can often find lists of resistant varieties at university websites, like Cornell University (click here to view).

2. Provide plenty of sun, water, and airflow. Take good care of your plants and give them lots of sun and air, two things that discourage mildew development. Refrain from planting too closely together.

3. Remove diseased leaves as you see them. Simply prune off bad leaves on sight. Be sure to clean your pruners well after cutting any diseased plant.

4. Apply an organic fungicide. The all-natural product, Green Cure, stops powdery mildew. Apply it when you first see any signs to stop the disease in its tracks.

I hope that this information helps!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


When is the Best Time To Grow Vegetables in Florida?

“I live in SW, Florida – what is the best time of year for growing vegetables? Question from Colleen of Englewood, Florida

Answer: I see that your summers are sweltering, humid, long, and can be cloudy while your winters are short, cool, and sunnier. What you grow in these times depends on the crop and season.

In the “cooler” winter months, you can grow root and cole crops. Late winter and fall are good times to start many warm-season vegetables that don’t thrive in raging heat.  In high summer, grow super heat-loving vegetables, like Southeast Asian eggplant and okra.

Here are some crops that I would recommend for each season:

Winter: cole crops, greens, and root crops. (Click here to read more about the best vegetables for fall and winter gardens in the South. And, click here to learn more about root crop growing. )

Late-Winter and Spring: beans, cucumbers, early tomatoes,  and summer squash. (Watch the video below to learn more about growing cucumbers.)

Summer: okra, eggplant, peppers, and other heat-loving varieties and crops. (Click here to read more about heat-loving vegetables and here to read more about tomatoes for Florida.)

Fall: Plant as you would in spring.

Strawberries are also great for growing in Florida. To learn more about strawberries for Florida, read this article.

I hope that this information helps!

Happy gardening,


What Can I Plant in Midsummer For Fall in New Jersey?

“What can I plant now – mid-July – to avoid having empty sections in my garden?” Question from Glenda of Sewell, New Jersey.

Answer: Choose cool-season vegetables and flowers that look good until frost. These perform the best as fall temperatures drop. Most even withstand frost. You probably won’t start to see frosts until mid to late October, depending on the year, so these should color your garden for a while. Here are my suggestions.


There are quite a few high-performing flowers that shine fall. Some are commonly known, like pansies, chrysanthemums, and other common nursery fare. But, there are others that you can plant now to fill open spaces now for fall.

Dahlias are a great choice. They can tolerate hot summers but really bloom gangbusters in fall. Plant a few tall or compact specimens in empy garden areas now, and you will be rewarded.

Spike celosia: These colorful, upright bloomers will look beautiful until frost.

Marigolds: Most marigolds will continue flowering until fall.

Salvias: Lots of salvias bloom and continue to feed hummingbirds until frost.

Annual cut flowers are lovely fall garden additions and include sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, and others. (Click here to learn more about seed-starting flowers for fall.)

Perennial fall sedums are also great choices that will fill spaces year after year and offer big color late in the season. (Here’s a great piece on tall flowering sedums.)


Rotate cool-season vegetables into your garden now. These should be planted in midsummer or late summer for fall harvest. Here is the standard list.

Cole crops: cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, broccoli rabe, kohlrabi, and kale.

Greens: arugula, endive, lettuce, mustard greens, radicchio, and spinach.

Root crops: radishes, scallions, carrots, turnips, leeks, parsnips, and rutabagas.

Peas are another good option. For ornamental fall edibles, choose colorful swiss chard, kales, cabbages, and ornamental hot peppers. (Click here to learn more about seasonal rotation of vegetables.) (Click here for beautiful container designs with ornamental hot peppers.)

Growing Tips

All of the flowers and vegetables mentioned prefer full sun and fertile soil. Good yields and successful flowers will grow best in beds amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and good, all-purpose fertilizer. Container plants really thrive in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

I hope that these tips help!

Happy fall gardening,

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

What are the Best Raised Bed Plants for High Desert Gardens?

What are the best plants to grow in a raised bed garden in high desert regions?” Question from Jill of Greybull, Wyoming

Answer: With the dry, scorching highs of the day and cool nights, you are certainly limited in what you can grow in the high desert unless you create an enclosed garden conducive to vegetable, herb, and flower gardening. It’s all about enriching the soil (compost and coir are good, water-holding amendments), watering well, and protecting plants from the worst midday sun as well as heat, winds, and hungry wildlife. (Click here to learn more about protective vegetable gardening in the high desert.)

Here is a good list of vegetables and herbs that can take the hot sun, dry heat, and cooler nights.


Artichokes: Artichokes are from dry Mediterranean areas and develop deep tap roots for good water uptake. Their leaves are large, so be sure to protect them from drying winds to the best of your ability. They are perennial and generally produce one to two good crops of chokes per season.

Beans: The pole bean ‘Hopi Purple‘ string bean is a reliable grower in dry regions. For dry beans, ‘Mountain Pima Pinto‘ is delicious and perfectly suited for your area.

Corn: Western dry corn varieties are the easiest to grow in the high desert. Try the beautiful popcorn variety ‘Navajo Copper‘ or the beautiful ‘Glass Gem‘. If sweet corn is your favorite, grow the super sweet, bicolored ‘Trinity‘, which is shorter (5’) and very early to produce.

Peppers: All small-fruited hot chile peppers will grow well in hot, dry areas. Mild chiles, like poblanos, are also excellent in addition to the super flavorful and prolific frying/mole pepper ‘Holy Moly’. If you like sweets, try the small-sized Lunchbox mini bell peppers, which demand less water than those with large, blocky fruits.

Okra: Okra can take the heat and some drought. I would choose a more compact variety, like ‘Jambalaya‘, which is very small but produces early and well with lots of green okra pods.

Summer Squash: Mediterranean bush squashes are good choices for high-desert growing. The compact ‘Clarimore‘ has pale green, thin-skinned squash that tastes great.

Tomatoes: There are loads of tomatoes that are specially bred to grow well in high heat, and if provided good irrigation and fertilizer they grow well in the high desert, too. These include the hybrids Heatwave II and ‘Summer Set‘. Both are classic red tomatoes with good flavor. The heirloom, red-fruited ‘Arkansas Traveler‘ is another with excellent heat resistance in addition to the flavorful ‘Eva Purple Ball‘. A good red cherry is ‘Texas Wild Cherry‘. Tomatillos are also reliable in the west.

Winter Squash: Native American western winter squashes are the best for dryland growing. The rustic fruits of ‘Navajo Hubbard‘ and ‘Seminole‘ pumpkins grow well, but the vines require lots of space. For smaller vines, try the compact, bush ‘Delicata‘, which has some of the sweetest squash around.


Many herbs will grow reliably in your area with adequate irrigation. The best include Thai basil, rosemary, sage, Mexican oregano, and creeping thyme.

Native American Seeds has many more varieties ideal for western raised beds.

I hope that these tips help! If you are interested in bedding and basket flowers and ornamentals for your region, you might also read our list for the high desert.

Happy raised bed growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Edible Landscaping

Pots of lettuce look great in spring or fall gardens.

As I visit gardens, it is a delight to see more and more gardeners incorporating edible plants into their landscape. It has not been that many years ago that vegetables, fruits, berries, and herbs would be grown in their own separate garden spots. In many cases, they would be away from the ornamental plantings around the house. That is not so today, with gardeners being very creative in using edible plants, whether planted in the landscape or in containers.

Ornamental Berries

Blueberries are attractive garden shrubs to add to your landscape.

I think that one of the first edibles to incorporate into the ornamental garden are blueberries (Vaccinium spp.). Since the blueberry is a shrub, this is easy incorporation. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many gardens have blueberry plants mixed in and among ornamentals, and with good reason. The blueberry is a natural in the ornamental garden because in the early spring there are clusters of creamy white flowers, followed by blueberries and, depending on the variety, the harvest season can extend from June through August. If that is not enough, in the fall, they have exceptional fall color with leaves turning shades of yellow and red. Blueberry plants like acidic soil rich in humus, and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Black Gold Peat Moss are ideal amendments to add at time of planting or to use as a top dressing around the plants. Blueberries have shallow roots and the addition of compost around the base of the plant will help keep the roots moist in the summer. Plant at least two shrubs for good fruiting, ‘Bluejay’ and ‘Duke’ are good selections.

Often when we think of hanging baskets, we think of flowers, but consider everbearing strawberries (Fragaria anassa) as an alternative. The plants will fill the basket, and the runners will trail down over the sides. Select a variety such as ‘Quinault’ or ‘Seascape’ that will produce berries over a long period of time. Hanging baskets tend to dry out quickly on hot summer days and Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix is specially formulated to retain moisture.

Ornamental Fruit Trees

These espaliered apples are space-saving and look great.

While most city lots cannot accommodate standard size fruit trees, some innovative gardeners have learned to espalier dwarf fruit trees. In a very limited space, you can grow apples, pears, peaches, and plums. Training a fruit tree on to a wire support system is not difficult, but it does require regular pruning and training to keep the branches flat along the wire. The limiting factor for some gardens would be sunlight, and for fruit trees to thrive, they should have at least six hours of sunlight; more would be preferable.

Ornamental Greens

Rainbow chard makes a beautiful addition to borders.

Pretty and delicious greens are some of the easiest ornamental edible to incorporate into the garden. Plant pretty pots of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) for a colorful and delicious change to bedding flowers. Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla) and attractive kales will also add big foliar interest to gardens and landscapes. Try the fantastically pretty blue-green dinosaur kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Lacinato’) or silvery cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) to make a bold garden statement. Pretty herbs, like lavender-flowered chives (Allium schoenoprasum), also make a great floral and foliar addition to gardens.

Ornamental Vines

Tromboncino squash looks pretty and tastes great.

Growing squash and cucumbers vertically is something I am seeing in gardens both in the ground and in containers. Bush squash or cucumbers are always the best for smaller garden spaces or pots. The pretty pattypan squash ‘Sunburst’ has bold leaves and delicious yellow fruit. If you want a potted cucumber, try the small, pretty ‘Salad Bush’. Its small cucumbers are crisp and delicious.

For vining squash, choose summer squash, which can be easily trained to grow on a trellis. If growing squash or cucumbers in a container, use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix for optimum results. Summer squash can be quite decorative on a deck or patio with fruits of various shades of green and yellow. The long-vined (15 foot) tromboncino squash (Cucurbita moschata ‘Tromba d’Albenga’) is grown for its long fruit, which can reach 3 feet or more. Let the squash grow vertically on a trellis, and plant herbs or edible flowers around the base, like pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) or basil (Ocimum basilicum).

Edible Flowers

Then there is a suite of fantastically beautiful edible flowers to make your garden look outstanding and taste wonderful. Watch this video to discover the best-tasting edible flowers for gardeners to grow.

Some gardeners are making their raised vegetable beds as a focal point of the garden. Raised beds do not have to be square or rectangle but can be cut to reflect different angles.

The possibilities of an ornamental, edible garden or landscape are endless. Do some experimenting, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to have a pretty edible garden providing good looks and fresh produce throughout the summer.

Can I Grow Vegetables in Pots in Summer and Winter?

“I am from SC. Will any veggies grow indoors in pots in the summer or winter?” Question from Donna of Newberry, South Carolina

Answer: There are lots of vegetables that are easily grown in containers. The key is choosing large containers that will give their roots enough space to grow and choosing varieties that are more compact. Providing excellent potting mix, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, and fertilizer formulated for vegetables is also essential. Growing container vegetables in summer is a snap because of the ample sunshine, warmth, humidity, and pollinators. (Click here to read more about growing vegetables in containers, and this article covers lots of miniature vegetables that are just right for container growing.)

Growing vegetables in containers in winter is a different story. First, you generally need lots of sunlight–at least 6 to 8 hours for good growth and production. Also, warm-season vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, need extra warmth and moderate humidity. Greens and herbs are often the best choices for indoor growing because they need a little less light (five to six hours of sun) and are able to withstand cooler temperatures. They are great candidates for a bright, sunny, south-facing window. (Click here for a great article about growing windowsill greens in winter, and here’s an article about growing indoor herbs.)

Because you live down south, you may be able to get really cold-hardy greens to overwinter in pots as well, but this is never a sure-shot deal. Experiment with kale and collards to see if you can get them to survive your winter cold in pots.

I hope that these tips help! Growing veggies in big, tall pots is lots of fun and almost like raised bed gardening.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist