THE BLOG: let's talk gardening



Developed for the Locals, by the Locals

Our expert staff knows that laying a good foundation is the first step to successful gardening. From topsoil, potting soils, compost, grass seed and soil amendments, we have everything you need to help you keep your lawn and garden in tip top shape!

All McDonald mixes are specifically formulated for Hampton Roads to ensure your gardening success.

Natural & Organic Potting Soil: Formulated with natural & organic materials to ensure high performance and reliability for Hampton Roads’ gardeners. Ideal to use in indoor and outdoor containers, hanging baskets and container grown edibles.

All-Purpose Potting Soil: Formulated with high quality ingredients to ensure high performance and reliability for Hampton Roads’ gardeners. Ideal to use in indoor and outdoor containers, hanging baskets, pots and planters.

Natural & Organic Garden Compost: Naturally rich, all organic compost blend. Ideal to use in outdoor gardens, plant beds, raised veggie gardens and lawns.

Premium Topsoil: Contains peat moss to enhance the condition of your soil. Ideal to use in planting, seeding, filling and leveling and building plant beds.

Premium Soil Builder:This soil amendment with Mycrorhizea encourages growth from the soil up. Ideal to use when planting trees and shrubs, woody perennials and to amend soil.



Bedazzling Bulbs ~ New for 2012

Bulbs are an easy way to add color, texture and bloom variety to your garden. They are easy to grow, quick to deliver, are relatively inexpensive and their versatility is unbeatable! They can be grown in most any garden situation, in pots, borders, rock gardens, grass and even indoors. Now’s the time to start planning for those spring flowering bulbs, but there's no need to confine your planting efforts to the garden. Don’t overlook those indoor bloomers like Amaryllis and Paperwhites for dramatic blooms to brighten your home this fall and winter. With over 100 varieties of bulbs, we are excited to add these new beauties to our bulb collection:

Hyacinth Double Hollyhock - exquisite, double crimson red flowers. This extremely fragrant spring bloomer is ideal in containers or borders, and is perfect for indoor-forcing. Flowers in mid spring. Prefers well-drained soil and full sun. Deer, squirrel and rabbit resistant. When planting, wear gloves to prevent skin irritation.

Narcissus Sweet Pomponette - large, long-lasting double Daffodil featuring varying shades of yellow. This delightfully fragrant Daffodil blooms mid spring and is the perfect companion alongside other Daffodils, or as a cut flower in bouquets. Plant in a sunny, well-drained location. Deer resistant.

Tulip Limelight - superb, chartreuse-yellow blooms that flowers in mid to late spring. Growth is vigorous in average garden soil and prefers full sun to partial shade. Perfect in borders, containers or as a cut flower in mixed bouquets.

Narcissus Sun Disc - dwarf Daffodil producing buttercup yellow flowers. Blooms mid to late spring. Ideal for naturalizing along a wooded area, in pots and in beds. Plant in well drained soil in shade to full sun. Vole and deer resistant.

Narcissus Erlicheer (Paperwhite) - double, creamy-white blossoms that are intensely fragrant. Blooms early to mid spring or can be forced indoors during the fall and winter months. Plant in full sun to partial shade.

Amaryllis La Paz - upper petals are dark coral while the lower petals are greenish-white rimmed with dark coral. The slender, spidery flowers bloom early spring or plant them indoors in the fall or winter. Prefers full sun.

Amaryllis Red Pearl - massive, saucer-shaped flowers in deep crimson red with darker throats. Plant indoors in the winter or outdoors in summer. Plant in full sun.



Peppers Too Beautiful to Eat

Ornamental peppers are absolutely stunning with their flashy kaleidoscope of color. Many gardeners are unaware of the beauty peppers provide to both beds and containers due to their delightfully colored fruit. Much like hot peppers you would grow in your veggie garden, ornamental peppers produce colorful little fruits that are round or pointed. But these varieties are so beautiful in their own right that they can be grown just for show -- not to eat. Ornamental peppers are indeed edible, but usually their flavor is lacking compared to the peppers grown for the table such as bell & sweet peppers.

Depending on the variety, ornamental peppers appear in shades of purple, red, orange, and yellow -- often with multiple colors on the same plant. They usually have finely shaped leaves and small chili pepper-shaped or ball-shaped fruits. Incorporate these plants into your late summer and fall beds. Ornamental peppers also make a perfect addition to container combos.

Try these varieties to really spice up your garden:

Black Pearl ~ This fun and funky plant is sought after for its deep-purple-black leaves and round, shiny black fruit that ages to glistening red spheres.

Basket of Fire ~ Want some red-hot color? The Basket of Fire is for you! The unique, bushy growing habit makes it perfect for hanging baskets and in containers. This colorful variety becomes smothered with small, hot chillies which mature from deep purple through yellow and orange to a bright shade of scarlet red, creating a fabulous display.

Medusa ~ This multi-colored dwarf pepper grows well indoors as a potted plant and as a bedding plant from spring through Christmas. Medusa boasts a narrow, twisted, cone shaped fruit – held prominently upright over the dark green foliage. Fruit starts out ivory, turns to yellow, then orange, and finally bright red. A single plant can produce 40 to 50 fruits, displaying the entire range of colours at one time.



Meet Our Landscape Designers

The home improvement process can be a daunting task. When it comes to your yard, a landscape designer can prove to be one of your greatest property investments! A landscape designer works with you to develop a vision that blends your aesthetic taste with your available space and budget. Designers know how to create a yard that performs well in your local climate with minimal upkeep and maintenance costs. We asked our landscape designers to give us some insight into their landscape philosophies, and here’s what they had to say.

Click here to see some of their recent projects.

Diane Smith
Resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia
11 Years of Landscaping Experience

What is your idea of a “bad landscape design?”
The most common mistake is the wrong plant, wrong place and plant collections. The “right plant in the right place” is one that will thrive where it is planted with minimal care and maintenance. Always consider the mature size of the plant and the type of sun requirements. Also, know if the plant is evergreen or if it will drop its leaves at first frost. Plant collections can appear chaotic and confusing. Use plants in masses by grouping like items, and create unity through repetition. Punctuate an entrance, frame a view and create a focal point to add drama, direction and movement.

What is your definition of a low-maintenance, or manageable? How can you create one?
Healthcare for your garden! Perform basic maintenance, weed and water as needed. Clean up old leaf debris and apply a fresh layer of mulch every spring.

How do you design to benefit the environment?
Be kind to our planet. Use fertilizers and pesticides in accordance with their instructions and consider chemicals as a last resort. Always remember pesticides harm the good bugs too.

What are your five (5) best design tips?

  • Be patient, it takes a few years for a garden to evolve. Trees, in particular, can take up to three years to become established. Nurture them occasionally and appreciate each year’s beauty.
  • Be prepared to compromise ~ a plant that wants full sun will not thrive in full shade. Sometimes, the plants you want will not work in the place you desire.
  • Use odd numbers except when a framing a view.
  • Determine a style and or theme and stick with it.
  • Think of the plants texture, foliage color and growth habit, and consider blooms a bonus.

What are your favorite plants?
Picking a favorite plant is like asking a parent which of their children they like best, but here goes:

  • Agapanthus - unique spherical summer blooms, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Lenten Rose - great perennial for dry shade, blooms in the winter when not much else is blooming
  • Autumn Sage - requires full sun, well drained soil and little maintenance. It blooms May-November, and it’s a magnet for hummingbirds
  • Fatsia - big, bold leaf texture, blooms in the fall, flowers fade to berries and feed the birds
  • Tupelo Tree ‘Wildfire’ - medium native tree, with a tap root system, therefore it will not comprise concrete, foundations and paver work. Beautiful fall foliage
  • Japanese Snowbell - under used in Hampton Roads despite its hardiness. Fragrant blooms in mid to late spring, comes in white and pink. Blooms fade to a pretty green berry that resembles a small olive, great wild live tree
  • Boxwoods - classic and timeless. A few properly placed boxwoods can help organize disorganization
  • Ferns- Autumn Ferns, Holly Fern and Japanese Painted Fern just to name a few. They provide a serene and naturalized texture to most any style of landscaping.
  • Drift Roses - a dwarf variety that is fairly carefree, they bloom their heads off May- November, and is available in a wide range of bloom colors.
  • Camellias - there are some many shapes, sizes and bloom times. Camellias can be blooming in a garden at almost any given time of the year.

What plants do you avoid and why?
“There's a place for everything and everything in its place" - Benjamin Franklin
English Ivy, Vinca Major, Mint and Bamboo. Although these are great plants for containers, I do not plant them directly into the ground, because they are extremely invasive and can be costly to remove. Also, Mimosa & Pear Trees are very invasive and are choking out our native plants everywhere. In addition, the Pear trees are quickly damage in storms, the Bradford Pears in particular.

If you could be a plant, which one would you be and why?
I have to stick with the Tupelo Tree; it’s a long lived, modest tree with a tap root system making it strong, stable and hardscape friendly. It can thrive in wet soil along a waterway, as well as a dry traffic median. It’s not picky about soil and will provide shade, shelter and food, plus stunning red fall foliage.

Tami Eilers
Resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia
20+ years of Residential Design, Certified Landscape Specialist from The George Washington University, Master Gardener, Virginia Certified Horticulturist

What is your idea of a “bad landscape design?”
Bad design is one where the views of the house or from the house are not considered. Also, when the design is not harmonious with the clients desires and the house facade.

What is your definition of a low-maintenance, or manageable, landscape?
Low maintenance or manageable design is to keep the woods around your home... leave it the way nature made it. Put the home in the woods. Or, use shrubs that need pruning only once a year.

How do you design to benefit the environment?
Reduce turf and use ground covers and plant trees.

What can you as a designer do to help a homeowner accomplish what they may not be able to do for themselves
A designer can help a homeowner use the right plant in the right place and help them visualize the whole picture. (i.e.: views both good and bad, focal points, colors to enhance the house, mature heights of plants and trees & wet/dry requirements).

What are some of the problems you see most often in yards?
Out of scale sculptures, wrong color mulch, leaves or flowers in the front of homes, and overgrown shrubs that can age a home quickly.

What are your best design tips?

  • Put the house in a complimentary setting.
  • Define focal points first.
  • Walkways are best curving and wide.
  • Use evergreens in the front yard (at least 80%).
  • Keep the grass green and the mulch brown with well defined bedlines.

What are your favorite plants?

  • Gardenias: evergreen and fragrant
  • Camellias: evergreen and flower in cold months
  • Boxwoods: great for adding structure to the garden
  • Cherry Trees: ornamental...great beacon of spring!
  • Limelight Hydrangeas: great late season show stopper (late summer) & take sun to part shade
  • Steeds Hollies: great for accenting the front porch (frame it with one on each side)
  • Knock Out Roses: easy, long blooming, great color variety
  • Feedback Iris: blooms twice and is very rich in color
  • Gold Dust Aucuba: great for emphasizing speckled shade for dark shade areas

What plants do you avoid and why?
I avoid yellow leaved plants as they tend to look sickly in the landscape.

If you could be a plant, which one would you be and why?
I would be a Hydrangea because they get to be in shady places and are feminine!

Mary Ann Newton
Resides in Yorktown, Virginia
Bachelor of Science from Christopher Newport University in Horticulture, Landscape Designer for McDonald Garden Center for 10 years, Virginia Certified Horticulturist, Member HRNLA

What is your idea of a “bad landscape design?”
A bad landscape design is one that does not meet the needs of the client.

What is your definition of a low-maintenance, or manageable, landscape?
Low maintenance, to me, means a garden with plants that are suited to the area, that are disease resistant, and that require minimal watering and pruning. Providing good information to the client about how to keep weeds out of beds also helps.

How do you design to benefit the environment?
I like to reduce the turf area (less fertilizing) and make it easy to mow with no weed eating required. I plant trees and shrubs for shade and for wildlife and oxygen.

What can you as a designer do to help a homeowner accomplish what they may not be able to do for themselves
Each client is different. Some can do everything; some are not interested in doing the work involved in an installation; and many retired clients can no longer do the things they could when young. The design is important; the rest is geared toward the needs of the client.

What are some of the problems you see most often in yards?
Wrong plant in the wrong place is the most frequent problem I see. Designs should accommodate mature plants. Next would be failure to update aging gardens. Most gardens should be reworked every ten or fifteen years.

What are your five (5) best design tips?

  • Keep bedlines smooth with long curves.
  • Soften corners of house with evergreen planting.
  • Shape garden so that eye leads to the front door.
  • Use a plant pallet that allows for color year round.
  • Make sure plan fits the lifestyle and needs of the client.

What are your favorite plants?

  • Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ for movement, fall blooms and transition from water to land
  • Knock Out Rose for disease resistance, lots of color and dependability
  • Chindo Viburnum for privacy hedges, beautiful leaves, fast grower and doesn’t blow over
  • Encore Azalea for two seasons of blooms, performance in shade and great color selection
  • Winter Gem Boxwood for leaf color, disease resistance and a fast grower

What plants do you avoid and why?

  • Weeping Willow because of their aggressive roots
  • Rhododendron because it is so hard to get started
  • Conus florida because it’s difficult too get established
  • Gardenia radicans because success rate is low
  • Some pennisetums because of their tendency to self seed

If you could be a plant, which one would you be and why?
I would be a Live Oak, because it grows slowly and surely and beautifully for hundreds of years.



Paving the Way

Roasting marshmallows in your fire pit, enjoying a glass of wine on your patio, or simply relaxing with friends & family in your garden are all ways that you can enjoy your yard. Nowadays, the back yard has become an extension of the home and the popularity of using concrete pavers in landscapes continues to be on the rise. From patios, to walkways and even fire pits, it’s no wonder concrete pavers have become one of the top choices for all external paving needs. Today’s pavers offer the homeowner numerous benefits. Here are some of the reasons concrete pavers are so popular today:

In addition to walls, patios and walkways, pavers can be used for edging, entryways, driveways, poolside, in borders, tree rings, planters and more. Whatever your project requires and whatever your taste, pavers provide versatility in material, function, and design.

Limitless Design Possibilities

When it comes to design, the sky’s the limit. There is no end to the architectural style, shape, and pattern possibilities of concrete pavers. Their various shapes, textures, sizes and colors allow for variety of patterns. Pavers can replicate the look of stone, brick, tile or cobblestone. They are also available in vast assortment of colors, including chocolate brown, terracotta, sandy gold, rust, dusty grey, white pewter, and more. They can be used horizontally or vertically, straight or curved or combine multiple patterns to create a one-of-a-kind look.

Concrete pavers are relatively easy to install and most projects can be completed with a few tools. Tightly fitted, uniform pavers are placed over a sand bed and a compacted aggregate base. Because most are loose-laid (installed without mortar), installation is quick and most projects are ready for use as soon as the project is complete.

Durability & Strength
Three times stronger than poured concrete, pavers can withstand harsh weather conditions. Pavers move together with the earth below, so damage and cracking is far less frequent as compared to poured concrete. Additionally, stained or broken pavers can be easily replaced.

Low Maintenance
Pavers are easy to care for. With regular sweeping, occasional rinsing, and intermittent coating or sealing depending on the material, pavers will endure and remain strong for years to come. And, they're less likely to shift and crack in colder climates than a solid slab.

Non-slip pavers can be installed poolside, in walkways, patios or any other location in the landscape.

Storm water will filter through rather than running off. This is a real benefit to homeowners living on or near waterways.

Hardscape features will not only add interest to your existing landscape but will increase the value of your home and can minimize softscape and turf areas that need to be maintained.

Learn more about our hardscape designs? HARDSCAPE DESIGNS >>

Join us at our year-round Virginia Beach location, 1144 Independence Blvd this Saturday August 11th at 10am, for a complimentary hardscape workshop and design seminar. Workshop features the NEW Essex stone along with tips on how you can bring a whole new look of elegance to your outdoor space. Whether it's a new patio, walkway or garden path, the irregular shape and slate-like texture of Essex stone lends the feel of a natural stone inlay. Free admission.


Grass with Sass


Looking to add a little sass to your garden? Then 'Miscanthus Adagio' is for you! This perennial ornamental grass will bring that structure, style & texture you've been searching for.

Adagio is a fast-growing, dwarf variety that will reach approximately 5 feet x 3 feet, preferring partial to full sun. It's an upright, warm season, clump-forming ornamental grass which features extremely narrow, silver-gray blades which turn yellow in fall. Tiny pink-tinged flowers appear in tassel-like plumes above the foliage in August, which gradually turn to a creamy white by fall as the seeds mature. Foliage and flower plumes persist well into winter providing good winter interest as well.

Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. For a neat appearance, remove old foliage before new leaves emerge. Divide clumps every 2 to 3 years in early spring and prune each spring.

Try planting this grass as an accent ~ or, go bold and really make a statement by planting a grouping!



Let's Talk Texture

We asked one of our talented Landscape Designers, Mary Ann Newton, about what is often overlooked when designing landscapes. Her answer? Texture. The texture that plant's offer is often overlooked in the landscape, but it is an integral part of any good design.

Here's what she had to say:

"Texture is an integral part of landscape design. Generally speaking, similar textures work together. A fine texture sort of gets lost next to a big, bold leaf. Dramatic, tropical looks tend to have over-sized foliage, and the bones of formal gardens tend to have smaller textured leaves. Keeping formal gardens neat and trimmed is easier this way, because electric or gas pruners can be effectively used. If you prune a bold texture with a machine, you end up with torn and shredded foliage. Prune these by hand, hiding cuts.

Not so generally speaking, contrasting foliage can give emphasis and drama to a garden design. You often see a clipped, formal garden punctuated by a Miscanthus or a Hydrangea, or even a Banana Tree. The texture of ornamental grasses can add drama to many garden styles. While the green, cascades or sprays and their plumes provide drama, the beige, dried foliage of winter sways in the breeze and whispers as it rustles. Conversely, a loose, flowing group of shrubs may need the contrast of a tight, small textured form to anchor it and provide some order.

While we all love color, most of our plants are primarily green. The art of combining textures in pleasing and interesting ways makes our gardening experience more rewarding and our gardens more beautiful."

--Mary Ann Newton, McDonald Landscape Designer



Low Maintenance Landscapes

Two words every homeowner loves to hear: "low" and "maintenance". We would be lying if we told you there was such thing as a maintenance-free landscape. However, with a little research and planning you can create a gorgeous landscape that is functional, meets all your needs, and requires minimal time and yes, LOW maintenance. So, if you’re goal is to spend more time relaxing and less time working in the garden, follow these four tips on how to keep your landscape low maintenance:

Low maintenance plants include those that don't grow too big, or at least grow slowly requiring minimal pruning. Drift Roses, Eleanor Tabor Indian Hawthorne, Nandina Firepower and Liriope are good choices for shrubs. Incorporate perennials that don’t need a lot of water like Autumn Joy Sedum, Hens & Chicks, native Coneflowers, Lambs’ Ears, Daylilies and Coreopsis. Complement these with a drought-resistant grass such Blue Fescue, Fountain Grass or Yellow Pampas Grass. Trees are also typically lower maintenance. Consider Crepe myrtles, Japanese Maples, Dogwoods, Yuccas and Redbuds.

The more open grass areas in your landscape, the more weeding and maintenance work you’ll have to do. There are many things you can do to reduce turf areas in your yard.

Mulch may not seem very important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s actually key for the health of any landscape and helps to minimize lawn maintenance. Use mulch to seal in moisture for less watering and to discouraging weed growth. Mulch can also create a unified look and comes in a variety of colors and materials. McDonald Landscapes recommends maintaining mulch to a depth of 3 inches to reap all the benefits that mulch provides.

Hardscapes such as patios and walkways can also minimize the space that needs be maintained. These structures also make it easier for visitors and family to enjoy your garden.

Irrigation cuts landscaping maintenance time by ensuring that every plant gets the water it needs, and there are a variety of irrigation options available.

Soaker hoses are convenient and a very cost-effective way to water. When water is turned on and pressure builds inside the hose, water is forced out of small pores in a steady drip that can easily be absorbed by plants. Incorporate soaker hoses throughout your garden. Wind them around trees and shrubs, or line your vegetable garden for an instant irrigation system. Covering them with mulch helps them disappear and less likely to lose water to evaporation.

Drip irrigation systems are another option. Drip irrigation sends water directly to a plant’s roots in a slow drip where it can be easily absorbed. To make irrigation systems even more convenient, may types offer timer based controllers so you can “set it and forget it”.

Did you know that fall is actually the best time to plant most trees & shrubs? Fall planting allows plants to root prior to summer drought and helps reduce watering in the first year.

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