THE BLOG: let's talk gardening



Plant of the Week:

Endless Summer Hydrangeas - The Original

There are some plants that should be in every garden and hydrangeas are at the top of our list ~ an absolute must-have! Nothing says summer like these beautiful blooming shrubs. These shade-lovers infuse color in the garden at a time when many spring-blooming plants are no longer flowering. Hydrangeas make a great addition as a stand-alone “feature” plant, or grown in rows to create a privacy hedge. Their blooms also make some of the best cut flower arrangements. Snip a few blooms for an instant summer vase arrangement! In colors ranging from white to pink to blue, these softball-sized flowers brighten up any landscape.

We especially love the Endless Summer Original -- a customer favorite! It's a mop-head variety with the unique ability to bloom consistently on both old and new wood. The result is a plant that provides beautiful flowers all summer long. The flowers grow up to 8" in diameter, with PINK blooms in alkaline soils or BLUE blooms in acidic soil. It is still the hallmark of the shrub collection and with good reason. It was the first hydrangea discovered that blooms on the previous year’s woody stems and the new season’s growth. With The Original, you get an endless summer of possibilities and incredible color from spring through fall. And, who doesn’t want an Endless Summer?

Learn how to change the color of your hydrangeas! PINK OR BLUE, IT'S UP TO YOU >>

photo from


Grow What You Eat

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Dad was never a fan of ornamental shrubs and flowers. His philosophy was: Grow what you can eat! And, by golly, we ate good from his huge summer gardens filled with potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, string beans, spring onions and anything else tasty he could squeeze into the 40-by-100-foot plot behind my childhood home in Newport News.

Those summer gardens fueled my own desire to grow what I could eat, even though Dad continued to spoil me with fresh produce until his health recently declined. Today, I often grow edibles in raised beds fashioned from plain boards of lumber, or try my hand at straw bale gardening, which I really like because the entire garden can be recycled into compost.

My favorite edibles continue to be tomatoes – small grape tomatoes like Juliet and cherry tomatoes like Super Sweet, as well as mini pickling cucumbers that cut up nicely into fresh spinach salads. Eggplant and squash are also easy to cultivate in a backyard garden.

For the past two to three years, I plant extra miniature tomatoes like Juliet because my yard turtle, Fred, favors them so much. Each morning, bright and early, Fred creeps from the creek, along the grassy back lawn, into my pollinator garden where I place one or two tomato plants just for him. He always knows they will be there, and I know he will always be there – it’s one of the best parts of my mid-summer gardening days when the fruits begin to ripen.

This year, I’m introducing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Mattie, to gardening. Using a kit of cedar boards, she and I will plant a small garden of veggies, things like tomatoes, basil, oregano and onions for a homemade pizza, and surround it with marigolds for color and extra pollination.

In addition to my father, my grandmother in Lynchburg mentored my love for any kind of gardening. We spent many hours under her grape arbor, shelling fresh-picked butterbeans and shucking corn. I hope to pass that love onto Mattie and inspire her to grow what she can eat – it’s a healthy way to love your grandkids, for sure!



Homegrown Herbs

Fresh herbs are easy to grow and can make all the difference between a good dish and an extraordinary dish! Once you begin to use fresh herbs in your favorite recipes, you'll never want go back to using just dried herbs again. Chefs know that fresh food is always best and fresh herbs are no exception.

Here are our favorite herbs to create the basic kitchen garden. Of course, this is just a start, there are many others to experiment with in your garden that will add bold flavor. A herb garden can be as simple as having a pot just outside your kitchen door or a group of planters in your window sill or even an extensive garden planted outside. No matter the size, cooking with herbs can be fun and you can’t make a mistake - so be creative and savor the flavor.

Basil - With lots of varieties to choose from, this king of the herbs offers something for every palette. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes that are true to their name like: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil.

Parsley - Use this herb for the mild flavor it adds to a savory dish and for the coloring it adds as a garnish.

Sage - This is a must-have herb for seasoning any poultry dish. It has a slight peppery flavor and is best used on meats in a marinade but is also good in stuffing and sauces. We also love Pineapple Sage which is great in pitchers of water to offer flavor.

Rosemary - Rosemary is best used to season fish and seafood products, but it is also a great seasoning for grilled meats, lamb and potatoes. Try Barbeque Rosemary to use as skewers on the grill.... a real crowd pleaser!

Thyme - This is the basic herb used in dishes from all over the world including French, Italian, Indian, Greek and Spanish cuisines. Use thyme on lamb, meats, poultry, soups and stews.

Oregano - This classic culinary herb is one of the most commonly used herbs worldwide. Use in Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking. The flavor is strong enough to stand up to bold flavors like tomatoes, onion, garlic, and beef. We love the Hot & Spicy Oregano in pasta sauces.

Dill - This easy to grow herb is a member of the parsley family. Cut often to keep producing. Dill pairs well with fish and is used for pickling, to flavor salads and in soups.

Mint - Is a beautiful herb that has one of the most recognizable aromas. Spearmint and peppermint are the most popular types of mint, but more unusual varieties like Mint Chocolate are available. Use in drinks, or simply gather a small bunch to offer aroma for a room.



Let's Talk Tomatoes

Check out what's trending in the tasty tomato world. Enjoy a homegrown harvest right from your own yard. Tomatoes are one of the easiest & tastiest foods to grow, and, best of all homegrown tomatoes are much tastier than store bought varieties. Simply choose a few of your favorite varieties. We offer more than 40 different types including slicing, cherry, grape and old fashioned heirlooms. Here's five of our favorites...

  1. Sun Gold - With explosively sweet flavor, this is one of the garden’s sweetest. Sun Gold ripens in long clusters of 10 to 15 fruits. The sweet flavor is ready about a week before full coloring. Wait to pick fruits at their deepest hue and you’ll experience a richly sweet, fruity flavor.
  2. Sweet 'n' Neat Cherry Red - A McDonald favorite, this super sweet, cherry-sized tomato continuously produces all through summer. It's compact size makes it ideal in containers, on decks or in small spaces.
  3. Super Sweet 100 - You'll love these cherry tomatoes bursting with sugary flavor. The scarlet, cherry-sized fruits are produced in long pendulous clusters right up to frost.
  4. Better Boy - With 8 to16 oz round fruit, it has a classic tomato taste and is a great for slicing. The fruit has just the right balance of acid and sugar. This one is a climber and requires a cage for best results.
  5. TomTato - The newest and coolest 'mato on the block dubbed Ketchup ‘n’ Fries™. This tomato plant is grafted onto a potato plant yielding up to 100 cherry tomatoes and 2-5 pounds of potatoes in a year. Yes, tomatoes AND potatoes in one plant! Grow it in a veggie garden or patio container. (available in stores, May 15)

After you select the tomatoes that are best for you, you'll want to purchase a tomato cage to keep them upright. For best results and to ensure a bountiful harvest, a cage will support and ensure maximum growth. The cage will give your tomatoes something to grow through and keep the fruit off the ground and help support the stalks and keep them from bending and breaking. We especially love using colorful cages in red, yellow, orange, green and even purple.

Finally, to make your tomato plants’ roots strong and your fruit plumper, we recommend using Espoma Tomato Tone Fertilizer. This organic fertilizer feeds your plants naturally and will not force rapid growth at the expense of blooms and tomato yield. We suggest applying Tomato Tone after plants are well established (10 - 14 days) and then twice a month during the growing season (May through August).

TOMATO TIP: When planting tomatoes, we suggest adding lime to the soil to fortify the calcium in the soil thus helping to eliminate a common tomato problem, Blossom End Rot.


Plant of the Week:

BETTER BOY TOMATOES, Best Color & Flavor

Did you know that a Better Boy tomato plant once yielded more than 340 pounds of fruit, earning it a Guinness World Record? Although your plant might not yield that much fruit, it will produce plenty of bright red delectables that you can enjoy fresh from your garden all summer long.

Better Boy tomatoes are one of the most popular tomatoes grown. With 8-16 oz round fruit, it has a classic tomato taste and is a great for slicing. The fruit has just the right balance of acid and sugar. It is a climber and requires a tomato cage and staking for best results. They continue to grow until frost and need full sun for best results. Water well to prevent drying out in warm weather and fertilize with liquid or slow release plant food.

Ideal for salads, soups, hot dishes, pickling and superb on sandwiches.


The Pollinator Garden

Help Mother Nature open up pollinator hotel in your yard.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

My backyard perennial garden is my pollinator hotel.

In April, the garden comes alive with the sights and sounds of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths and flies. I love walking through the large, oddly-shaped garden – about 50 feet long and 30 feet wide -- even when bees buzz about the bee balm, mountain mint and salvia (black and bue salvia pictured above). I have no fear of the bees because I move slowly, watching them with amusement while they collect pollen and basically ignore me. To me, their collective humming is some of the best garden music I can enjoy, and I would never do anything to make them feel threatened.

The garden is always filled with milkweed for the yellow, black and white caterpillars that turn into magnificent monarchs. Fortunately, the caterpillars and adult monarchs are poisonous to birds that may like to feed on them, thanks to toxins found in milkweed plants, which belong to the Asclepias family.

I also plant fennel (pictured above), dill, parsley and Queen Anne’s lace as food for the larval/host plants for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly.

My garden also supports the needs of pollinator flies and moths, all important contributors to the cycle of life.

To attract pollinators, I plant an assortment of blooming plant material, types that start in early spring and go through late fall. Even in winter, pollinators come out on warm days when it’s about 60 degrees, looking for food sources among cold-weather flowering plants like pansies, hellebores and camellias.

My pollinator garden is designed to be densely planted with flowers growing in clumps that continuously drift into each other. There’s an assortment of flower colors, although I confess purples, yellows and oranges are my favorites. Along the edge of the bed, I plant a huge wave of purple petunias that butterflies love to frequent.

Whenever possible, I use native plants, but I weave in many nonnatives, including Brazilian verbena, Verbena bonarensis – it never stops flowering and attracts bees and butterflies to its delicate flower heads and finches to its seed heads.

In my book, there is no bad perennial if a pollinator has a passion for it.


Pink Your Garden

Pink your garden with some of our favorite spring & summertime blooms. From bubble gum pinks to blush tones that feel more refined, adding a splash of pink to your landscape can instantly add a touch of beauty. For a colorful alternative to neutrals, opt for more muted blush tones like beigy-pinks or powder pinks. The key is to find the perfect pink that best suits your design style. Try pairing pink with yellows, oranges, purples, or even reds. You just can't go wrong with pink.

Join us and Sentara Cancer Network this Saturday, April 25 for our annual PINK DAY and help the fight against breast cancer. Visit any location and purchase from a variety of pink geraniums, petunias, azaleas and knockout roses and 15% of the proceeds will support breast cancer prevention.

Our favorite way to pink your garden:

Azaleas - This signature southern shrub is the perfect addition to any Hampton Roads garden. Whether you choose bright fuchsia or a pastel pink, this shrub is standout. Try repeat bloomers such as Bloom-a-thon, Rebloom, and Encore Azaleas. These varieties not only bloom in the spring, but summer and fall too.

Knockout Roses - The easiest roses to grow! Single and double pink blooms in either magenta or bubblegum give these low-maintenance shrubs a perfect place in the garden. They are very easy to grow and do not require special care or dead-heading.

Geraniums - This classic annual is available in a wide spectrum of pinks. Choose a soft pink or hot pink to liven up your spring and summer. We love pairing geraniums with cascading bacopa and sweet potato vine for beautiful containers!

Petunias - Bold petunia blooms in all shades of pink make a perfect addition to any full sun container. Also, plant them in the ground for a vivid color display in the landscape.

Check out our Pinterest "PINK" page to get inspired!



Nurture Nature the Natural Way

What is Composting? In simple terms, it's a controlled breakdown of biodegradable garden or kitchen waste. All organic matter will, in time, break down through the interaction of soil microorganisms and become and excellent soil conditioner and nutrient supply for better growth of your plants, shrubs and lawn.

As communities across America become more environmentally conscious, we will want to make composting a part of our everyday life. Why wait to be forced to do something that could be so beneficial to our flowers and vegetable gardening? Composting not only makes use of our unwanted wastes, it provides us with rich organic matter that can change even the most unproductive soil into a medium that allows us to successfully grow anything we wish.

When plants, animals, and insects die, their waste is returned to the soil. Soil microorganisms decompose them so that their nutrients can again be used by plants. Technically, composting is taking place all around us all the time. By organizing and utilizing these waste materials, we can speed up the composting process and thus become better stewards of our environment.


STEP 1: Choosing the Location. Choose a site on open ground - no pavement - that is well-drained, shaded and conveniently located near a garden hose and to the garden area to avoid hauling waste long distances.

STEP 2: Building the Bin. The compost bin should be 4-6 feet square and allow you to pile garden wastes about 4 feet high. The bin needs to have openings in its sides so that air can penetrate the pile so that the fungi and bacteria that are doing the composting can get enough oxygen.

STEP 3: Combining the Ingredients. Begin your compost pile with a 4-6inch layer of organic matter. This layer can include straw, sawdust, leaves, garbage, twigs and branches, weeds, shredded black and white newspaper - in short, you can use any organic material except human fecal matter, diseased animals, and toxic materials. Avoid bones, meat, dairy products and grease because these may attract animals to dig in your compost bin. If you shred the material first, it will compost more quickly. A lawn mower will shred most material easily.

Cover this layer with 1-2 inches of good soil or well-rotted compost. Sprinkle a small layer of composting organic matter (such as Natural Guard Compost Maker) according to label instructions. This will speed up the process by introducing the microorganisms needed for decomposition. The surface of the pile should slope toward the center, forming a basin to collect water. Water well and repeat the layering process. Every 3-4 weeks, stir the contents, making sure you bring the outer edges to the center.

The interior of the compost heap will heat up to about 140 degrees F. as the microorganisms do their job. Also, the pile will gradually shrink in size. Fully mature compost resembles suppression, a light, rich loam that has a sweet, earthy smell. Congratulations! You have now turned trash into treasure!


Plant of the Week:


Get your taste buds ready for our newest berry on the block... Strawberry Éclair! This new gourmet strawberry boasts a unique taste with a hint of citrus and raspberry flavor to it. Strawberry Éclair is a Junebearing variety, so expect the majority of harvest in the early summer. This berry is developed from Junebearing and Everbearing relatives, so it often produces fruits longer into the season that traditional Junebearing strawberries. Allow berries to mature before picking to enjoy maximum flavor and sweetness. Enjoy these sweet treats in pies, tarts, jams and preserves... or freshly picked!



10 Ways to Go Green in the Garden

Earth Day is a time to both celebrate Mother Nature and find ways to improve it. We're all looking for ways to make a difference in the world around us. Take a look at some simple ways to go green in your garden.

  1. Keep it clean. When it comes to weedkillers and fertilizers, choose organic options such as Natural Guard Weed Control and Jonathan Green Organic Weed Control. We recommend Espoma Organic Fertilizer to add organic nutrients for your plants. Stick to good old fashion, all-natural compost, like McDonald’s Compost! This naturally rich compost blend is ideal to use in outdoor gardens, plant beds, raised veggie gardens and lawns.
  2. Become a composting champ. Sure it’s easy to go out and buy a great bag of organic compost for your garden, but you can save a little green by making your own ‘gardener’s gold’ compost. Compost is just organic matter that decomposes over time, leaving a fertile, rich soil. You can speed up the natural decomposition with a Natural Guard Compost Maker. You now are keeping trash out of landfills forever, while creating high quality compost.
  3. Reduce, reuse, recycle your plastic pots. Stock up on fresh plants this spring and return your plastic pots to any year-round McDonald location. Just empty your pots’ contents and bring the pots to the Trees & Shrubs nursery yard and drop them in our Pot Recycle Bin. We gladly accept #2, #5, and #6 pots (number is found no the underside of the pot inside a small triangle). learn more >>
  4. Grow your own food. There’s never been a better time to be a backyard farmer. With all the hoopla out there about pesticides, organics, and GMOs, just skip the risks and know exactly where your food comes from. Don’t have space? Forget mowing your lawn, just make your lawn your farm!
  5. Harvest rainwater. Saving water is cheap and effortless if you add a rain barrel to your outdoor space. This will capture mineral and chlorine-free water for putting back into your lawn or garden. An added benefit of harvesting rainwater is you will help reduce storm water runoff, which helps prevent erosion and flooding. Worried about bugs getting in your water? just pop a screen on top of your barrel.
  6. Go native. Grow plants that are already adapted to your local conditions. Native plants are easy to grow and maintain, and they benefit the local ecosystems. learn more >>
  7. Help beautiful butterflies and bees bloom. Create a pesticide-free sanctuary for out pollinator pals like bees and butterflies. We're in the middle of a major bee-loss epidemic in the US and a little local hospitality can really help out. Grow a variety of native flowers that they are attracted to such as butterfly bushes, petunias, phlox, and verbena. Pick up a backyard Mason Beehouse at any year-round McDonald. Find local plants for butterflies >>
  8. Plant a tree.Trees help purify the air, give wildlife a home, and could save you big on energy costs. Large deciduous trees planted on the east and west sides of your home create shade from the hot sun and reduce summer air conditioning costs by up to 35%.
  9. Repel bugs the natural way. Help beat the bugs with a do-it-yourself mosquito repelling container. Try a recipe of marigolds, mint, rosemary, citronella geranium, and lemon grass in a large container. It’ll smell and look great, and keep the bugs away. You can also use lady bugs and praying mantis to eliminate harmful bugs in your garden. learn more >>
  10. Water wisely. Water your garden early in the morning when it’s cooler so the water won’t evaporate. Watering in the afternoon and early evening is also key so the plants have time to dry before nightfall. Install a trickle-drip irrigation system close to the roots of your plants so the water is dripped slowly, without spraying. learn more >>
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