Do Old Coffee Grounds And Tea Leaves Help Gardens?


“Are sprinkling used coffee grounds around flowerbeds or tree and shrubs a good idea?  We have our neighbor dogs and cats issues. Thanks!” Misty from South Carolina

Answer: It’s a question that I asked myself some time ago because my grandmother’s favorite amendments for roses were old tea leaves and coffee grounds. Both organic materials, derived from plant leaves and seeds, are slightly acidic and break down quickly, so essentially they act as quick compost at a slightly low pH suitable for roses. Coffee grounds also contain needed plant macro and micronutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, while tea leaves contain a decent level of nitrogen, a macro-nutrient that encourages leaf growth.

Extra organic matter is always beneficial and encourages beneficial microbes as well, so placing grounds and leaves around other plants that appreciate slightly acid soil would also be a good idea, especially if you work them into the soil. Following up with proven soil amendments designed to make your garden plants thrive, like Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and Earthworm Castings, is also highly recommended.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What is the Best Soil for Herbs?


“What is the best soil to use when planting a container herb garden?” Question from Joanne of Ocala, Florida

Answer: You are in luck! Herbs are some of the easiest plants you can grow, if given the right growing conditions–soil included. Almost all herbs require full sun, fertile soil with good drainage, and average water. Some are perennials (meaning they will survive the winter and grow each year) and others are annuals (meaning they will survive just one growing season and die). All are very easy to harvest. Just clip the leaves as you need them, while being sure to leave enough to keep the plant full and healthy.

Soil for Herbs

At planting time, be sure to give them good soil that holds water well, is porous and fertile and drains well. If planting them in pots, they grow best in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, which is approved for organic gardening. Sometimes it helps to add extra Black Gold Perlite for added drainage. If eventually want to grow them in the ground, plant them in a prepared, weed-free garden, and work some Black Gold Garden Compost Blend into the soil to ensure that they perform really well. After your herbs have been initially planted, water them every other day to help them become established. After a couple of weeks, you can water garden-grown plants less unless the ground becomes very dry. Potted herbs will need to be watered every other day or even daily if the weather is very hot and windy. Add a slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season to ensure that they grow their best. (Click here for more information about essential culinary herbs.)

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What are Shade- and Sun-Loving Groundcovers for Florida?

Texas Frogfruit is a native groundcover that feeds bees and butterflies.

“Can you tell me, please, which ground cover plants do well in SW Florida, in a shady and wet location, as well as an area that is drier and gets sunshine most of the day!” Question from Colleen of Englewood, Florida

Answer: There are several groundcovers, for wet and dry areas, that are suited to your Zone 9 landscape.

Florida Groundcovers for Moist Shade

  • Ogon Golden Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus graminius ‘Ogon’): This evergreen, grassy perennial will tolerate soil moisture, shade, and brings sunny yellow color to shaded spots.
  • Evergold Sedge (Carex hachijoensis ‘Evergold‘, Zones 5-10): Evergold produces moppy clumps of grass-like blades of green striped with gold. The plants will tolerate both moisture and shade. 
  • Snow Drift Caladium (Caladium hybrids, Zones 9-11): All Caladiums are beautiful, but snowdrift is extra elegant and brightens shady spots. They will grow well in moist soils and shade.
  • Fizzy Mizzy Sweetspire (Itea virginica Fizzy Mizzy): These compact shrubs grow well in partial shade, boggy soils, and are natives that feed wildlife. White, fragrant, spring flowers feed bees and butterflies and the fall leaves turn shades of russet-red.

Florida Groundcovers for Dry Sunshine

Texas Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora, Zones 8-11): This semi-evergreen groundcover reaches 3-6 inches and produces small pinkish-white flower clusters that feed bees and butterflies. The flowers may appear from late spring to fall. It is a Florida native that can tolerate sunshine and partial sun as well as moist and dry soils.

Asian Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Minima), Zones 8-11: The evergreen Asian jasmine is compact, slow-growing, and it has deep-green, glossy leaves that are bright red when they first emerge. Throughout the growing season, it produces small, white flowers that are fragrant. Established plants tolerate drought and light frost.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Do You Sell Living Soil Products?

Do You Sell “Living Soil” Products?

“Is Sunshine Advanced Mix #4 considered a living soil? If not, do you sell a living soil product?” Question from Glenn of Leland, Illinois

Answer: “Living Soils” are considered soils that contain microorganisms that naturally break down organic matter and help support plants. They contain beneficial mycorrhizae as well as other supportive microorganisms from earthworm castings and compost. We have several Black Gold soils and Sunshine soils (our sister brand) that contain living elements, which benefit plants and soil quality. These include:

Products with Earthworm Castings

Black Gold Earthworm Castings: Castings are the waste products of earthworms, and they are rich in beneficial microorganisms. So, all of our products that contain them are living soils.

Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix: This fertile potting mix contains earthworm castings as well as natural compost and is OMRI Listed for organic gardening.

Black Gold® Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix: Formulated to hold water well while also draining well, this coconut-coir-cased blend contains earthworm castings.

Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix: Holds water well, contains earthworm castings, and contains a controlled-release fertilizer that lasts for up to 6 months.

Black Gold® African Violet Potting Mix and Black Gold® Cactus Mix: Both drain well for specialty potted plants and contains castings.

Products with Mycorrhizae

Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir: This product contains our proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae, so it is alive and kicking with soil beneficials.

Sunshine® Mix #4 with Mycorrhizae: Drains exceptionally well and contains our proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae.

We hope that this helps you choose the best mixes for your growing needs. If you want a mix with endomycorrhizae and the added boost of castings, then we suggest you purchase some BG Castings to add to the mix.

Happy growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What is the Best Soil for Fiddle-Leaf Fig?

What is the Best Soil for Fiddle-Leaf Fig?

“I’m trying to keep my poor fiddle-leaf fig alive. Can you recommend a potting soil for this house plant?”  Question from Ann of Mesa, Arizona

Answer: This African-native fig (Ficus lyrata) naturally exists in lowland tropical rain forests where the soil drains well but is also somewhat loamy and remains evenly moist. The plants also grow best in potting soil with a slightly acid to neutral pH of 6.5-7. When replanting your fig choose a pot with ample drainage holes in the bottom for quick drainage. We recommend growing yours in Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix or Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix. (Click here for a more detailed overview about how to properly pot house plants.)

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


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


Why Does My Amended Container Soil Become Compacted?

Why Does My Amended Container Soil Become Compacted?

“Why does the soil in my container garden compact super tight? I use garden soil mixed with potting mix and perlite.” Question from Nell of Salem, Indiana

Answer: It sounds like your soil ratios are off, and your in-ground soil is high in clay. If you have not added the right amount of Black Gold amendment or potting soil to clay-rich ground soil, then compaction can be a problem. This is because clay-rich soil has very small particles and becomes compacted very easily. When you add organic matter, such as the peat moss and aged bark found in our potting soil, it lifts the soil, making it more porous and aerated, while allowing it to hold water better. Mineral ingredients, like perlite, also increase aeration and drainage.

You have two options. Either fill your containers with nothing but potting mix–we recommend either Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Black Gold Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix–or mix your ground soil with more organic amendments. We would recommend adding a 1:3 ratio of ground soil to Black Gold Garden Compost Blend with added Black Gold Perlite to maintain porosity. (Click here for more tips for amending clay-rich soil and click here to learn more about succeeding with container gardening.)

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Build My Soil in Fall to Increase Vegetable Yields?

“Hello, I just moved to a place this year that had semi-raised beds for gardening. I planted several “crops” and the yields were not great. I don’t know if it was the seeds I used or if it is the soil itself. I waited until the ground was warm enough, and I watered regularly and planted as directed, but my yields were about 50% for everything but radishes! I am thinking of adding some more soil this fall and let it sit over the winter..any ideas?” Thank you. Question from Lucinda of Pittston, Maine

Answer: There are lots of ways to build up your soil for vegetable growing success. Here are four recommendations that will increase your success next season.

1. Feed Your Soil

Good soil is the key to gardening success. Feed it liberally feed it with organic matter, such as Black Gold Earthworm Castings, Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, and Garden Compost Blend, especially if your soil is rich in clay or sandy. The addition of high-quality, screened topsoil is also recommended. Add at least 3 inches of amendments to the soil surface, and till it to a depth of at least 8 inches. Tilling in amendments will increase water-holding capacity and aeration for better root growth. Use the amendment application formula below to determine the amount you will need.

Amendment Application Formula

([area to cover] ft2 x [depth in inches desired] x 0.0031 = ___ yd3).

Example: If you wanted to cover a 20 square foot area with 2 inches of compost, the result would be: 20 ft2 x 2 inches of compost x 0.0031 = 2.48 yd3.

(For another take, click here for a full overview of how to prep a new no-till vegetable garden from start to finish.)

2. Choose the Right Organic Fertilizer

Vegetables perform better with regular fertilization, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes. Most veggies will deplete the soil of nutrients over time, so replenishment is necessary. There are many organic vegetable fertilizers on the market. Alfalfa, blood, bone, feather, fish, kelp, and shrimp meals are all common natural components of non-chemical fertilizers. Earthworm castings are also a good source of nitrogen and beneficial microbes. Adding mycorrhizae to the soil is also useful because it helps plants take up water and nutrients better. Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir is another of our organic-rich amendments that also contains our proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae. We recommend that you research top-rated organic fertilizers to find the best for your needs.

3. Rotate Your Crops with Legumes

Vegetables, especially tomatoes, should be rotated on a three-year cycle. For example, tomatoes one year and other vegetables in the next two years. Legumes, like beans and peas, are excellent rotation crops because they naturally fortify soils with nitrogen. For more rotation tips, I encourage you to read Spring to Fall Vegetable Rotation: Planting for Non-stop Garden Produce. It will provide all of the information you need to effectively rotate your crops, whether container- or garden-grown.

4. Clean Up and Cover

Weed your beds with quality weeding tools (I am never without my weeding knife (Hori Hori), strong hoe (Prohoes are the best), and Korean hand plow (Ho-Mi)), and then plant them with a green manure crop. Johnny’s Seeds’ Fall Green Manure Mix or annual rye are good cover crops that can be tilled under in spring. They stop winter weeds and add natural organic matter and nutrients to beds for better vegetable production.

I hope that all of this information helps!

Happy soil building,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Rid My Garden Soil of Disease?

“Curious to know if anyone has figured out a way to get rid of viruses and diseases out of your soil. Mosaic, for example. Flea beetles spread it. Is my garden gone forever? I’m willing to do ANYTHING!” Question from Pam of Conroe, Texas

Answer: Different fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases of plants exist in the soil for various amounts of time. Some are not soil-borne at all, while others will remain in the soil without a host plant for several years. For example, tomato mosaic virus and tobacco mosaic virus will survive in dry soil and dead plant debris for up to two years. If the soil is moist, the diseases will only remain in the ground for a matter of months. Here are some methods of general soil health and disease removal.

How to Restore Garden Soil with Soil-Borne Diseases

  1. Keep it Clean – Remove all diseased plant material, from the plant to fallen leaves to the roots. Do not compost infected plants. Instead, dispose of it in the trash or burn pile.
  2. Rotate Crops Click here to read an article about vegetable garden rotation. Click here to read an article about tomato rotation.
  3. Feed Your SoilClick here to learn how to successfully feed your soil in three different ways.
  4. Weed and Mulch – Weeds can be carriers of common garden diseases. Their removal will help keep disease out of your garden.
  5. Stop Insect Carriers – Many insect pests, like cucumber beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers, whiteflies, and aphids, can carry and spread different diseases. Keeping their populations low in the garden can reduce diseases that can become soil-borne. Click here to learn how to naturally tackle the top 5 vegetable garden pests.
  6. Plant Disease-Resistant Varieties – Plants that resist common diseases bring less disease to the soil.

I hope that these tips help.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Florida Garden Plants Like Shade and Wet Soil?

What Florida Garden Plants Like Shade and Wet Soil?

“Can you tell me of a good, hardy plant that can survive in a shady spot that gets wet frequently here in SW Florida? It’s along my house facing North but floods when we get lots of rain, but the flooding never lasts more than a day?” Question from Colleen of Englewood, Florida

Answer: There are a number of attractive landscape plants suited to shady spots with intermittent flooding where you live in Florida. Here are just a few.

Florida Garden Plants for Moist Shade

Canna Lilies (Canna hybrids) grow well in partial shade, have beautiful leaves and flowers, and thrive in wet and average soils. I like the manageability of dwarf varieties.

Florida Gamma Grass (Tripsacum floridana) is a tidy, grassy perennial native to your region that will grow in partial shade. It will tolerate both bouts of drought and standing water.

African Iris (Dietes bicolor) is a groundcover for shade that tolerates periodic wet soil and has attractive iris-like yellow flowers.

Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp) thrive in moist soils and shade, come in many sizes and colors, and have beautiful big, bold leaves.

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum) is a house plant up north but grows beautifully in the landscape down in Florida where it can take moist soils and shade.

White Begonia (Begonia popenoei) is a large-leaved, shade-loving begonia that does not mind wet soils now and then.

For more plants suited to your moist-shade location, reach out to your local Florida extension agent (click here to find yours).

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist