THE BLOG: let's talk gardening


What’s Brewing for Halloween?

Halloween is lurking right around the corner, so you might want to take a closer look at that garden of yours, because the plant kingdom has its share of colorful and creepy creepy characters too. Don’t’ be alarmed, but there could be spooky plant living right under your green thumb! So, in honor of Halloween we’ve chosen a few of our favorites:

Picasso's Paintbrush Croton – has slim, narrow leaves in a variety of festive Halloween colors ranging from green, orange, yellow, crimson, red, and purplish red. The leaves have multicolored stripes in the center and a free-form growing habit. Picasso’s Paintbrush can be used as a seasonal container such as a cauldron, orange basket or even planted in a pumpkin to greet your trick-or-treaters!

Snake Plant – also know as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, (now that’s scary) these plants are sure to raise your spirits! A Snake plant contains heavy, sword-like leaves which shoot up from the base of the plant. Try putting this easy to grow plant into a seasonal container to create a terrifying table!

Ornamental Peppers - these fun and festive members of the pepper family can spark up a room, container or garden. Available in the all the colors of Halloween, they are ideal for your Halloween decorating. Ornamental peppers are frost-tender, so bring them indoors for a splash of color all season long.

Mums – (or chrysanthemums) are perfect for getting into the Halloween spirit and are available in all the shades of autumn. Pair them with pumpkins and gourds or a bale of hay for the perfect Halloween display. Or, use then in borders, mass plantings or in your ‘spooky’ containers.

Black Mondo Grass – also known as “Black Dragon” this grass is the perfect filler for festive Halloween container. Put a charge in your Halloween displays with this uniquely colored grass, ste urely to make a bewitching display this Halloween. Try planting in a white pumpkin for a nightmarish contrast.


Pumpkins on Parade

Tips for Picking & Carving the Perfect Pumpkin

In the world of pumpkins, there are the varieties that are great for carving - and those that are made for eating. Selecting the perfect pumpkin for carving can be a real adventure considering all the different shapes, sizes, and colors available. And like people, every pumpkin has its unique characteristics, giving it a personality all its own. Pumpkin carving is a tradition your whole family can enjoy, so here’s a few helpful tips on picking and carving your pumpkin.

Choose a design before shopping for a pumpkin - think about which shape would best suit your design - tall and narrow or fat and round. If you're using a stencil, look for a pumpkin with a shape similar to the pattern you're going to carve.

Look for a pumpkin that...
• is firm, free from cuts, soft spots and bruises
• sits well on the ground and is stable
• includes a bit of stem

When carving...

  • Before carving, wipe your pumpkin off with a little bleach and water (approx. 1 tsp. bleach to 1 cup water) this will cut down on fungus.
  • Don't cut into your pumpkin around stem. Cutting out a stem cap weakens the pumpkin. Instead, access the pumpkin from backside – this will help preserve freshness. Hiding the opening in the back also gives the pumpkin more visual punch.
  • Before carving, scrape and clean the inside of the pumpkin as much as possible. The cleaner you get it, the longer it will last. (Gut it out twice as much as you think you need to).
  • Once carved, place your masterpiece in a dry, shady area - it will last longer!

Expert Tips:

  • Tall, thin shapes are perfect for funny and whimsical faces. Round shapes are ideal for happy and scary ones.
  • Oddly shaped pumpkins are perfect for creating unique characters.
  • Consider a white pumpkin, when unlit, white pumpkins appear to glow as the daylight fades.

Be sure to visit us this weekend for Pumpkin Carving & Painting, Saturday and Sunday, October 27-28, at all three McDonald Garden Center locations, Hampton, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Bring a pumpkin or purchase one from us and get your creativity flowing. We'll provide everything you'll need to decorate a festive fall pumpkin.


We're Batty for This Plant


Bat Plant, also known as Tacca, is a tropical perennial with a very interesting bat-like flower. This black, bat-shaped flower also shows long “whiskers” that droop downward. They thrive in shady spaces with good air circulation. They can be a bit tricky to care for, but here's a few tips from our houseplant experts to make it easy.

  • Taccas like lots of water ~ so be sure to water everyday and to water well enough to saturate the entire root ball. If one watering is not keeping up with your plants requirements, be sure to replant in a larger container. After your plant roots into the new container, you will be able to reduce the waterings. We recommend you place a saucer under the container that holds a small amount of water allowing it to get water as needed.
  • If Tacca plants dry out they will wilt, but can recover after a thorough watering. However, drying out the bat plant will make the flower die sooner. After drying out, you will notice some lower leaves yellowing. Do not worry, the plant is not dying, it's simply trying to survive by shedding older leaves.
  • Tacca as a normal growth habit will shed lower leaves every 3-4 weeks in the warmer months similar to palm trees. Simply remove the yellowing leaves.
  • They like heavily shaded areas of the garden or patio, preferably shaded from the wind. Wind will cause the flower to dry up faster. They will also perform well inside the house where they receive diffused light for several hours a day.
  • Tacca will benefit from a light dose of soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20 once a month. Do not allow Tacca to dry out after fertilizing as you will end up with burnt leaves.

Enjoy this batty bloom for just $14.88 now through Halloween!



Colorful, Tasty, and Easy to Grow


What is Swiss Chard? Nope, it is not cheese. Swiss Chard is actually vegetable that is often overlooked, but serves a multitude of purposes. It can both be eaten and provide a colorful thriller in any container combination! Edible AND ornamental ~ so you get the best of both worlds. And, best of all if when you cut the outer leaves off of the plant, it will grow new leaves through the season.

Colorful and tasty, Swiss Chard is full of nutritional goodness. We bet you didn’t know Swiss Chard is related to the beet, and comes in a variety of colors. The leafy portion is always a nice green, while the stalk can be white, bright yellow, Christmas red, or even pink. Let's just say, Swiss Chard gives you a rainbow of color!

The edible portion is the leaf and stalk. The stalk needs to cook longer than the leaf, so it can be treated as two separate vegetables. The younger, sweeter leaves can be put raw in salads, providing color, nutrition, and a spinach-like taste. Larger leaves can be chopped and cooked. The leafy portions cook quickly like spinach; the stalks should be chopped into bite-size pieces and can be sautéed or steamed for a longer period of time than the leaves. It is also very healthy containing lots of vitamins including K, A, B, C and E, minerals including iron, magnesium and potassium and antioxidants.

Try planting Swiss Chard in your containers this fall. We like pairing it with Pansies, Ivy or Heucherella.



The Little Flower that Could

What flower has a face, is edible, blooms in both spring and fall and comes in the widest range of colors? If you guest pansies, you are right! Pansies are one of the best ways to add color to those 6 months of cooler Hampton Roads weather that we experience from October thru March. These tough, vibrant flowers come in all the colors of the rainbow ~ including red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. Pansies are easy to grow, are hardy and provide a burst of cool weather color. Pansies can be used in a variety of ways. Here's a few of our favorite ways to show these beauties off:

  • Both the leaves and flowers are edible and have a mild, minty taste. They are even a rich source of vitamin A and C! Use leaves and flowers as garnishes in cakes, fruit salads, green salads, desserts and soups.
  • Float pansies in a shallow bowl for an interesting mosaic-like effect.
  • Freeze petals in ice cube trays and use in drinks.
  • They make excellent cut flowers. Use to add a burst of seasonal color in flower arrangements.
  • Plant pansies as an edging to form a colorful border in flower beds.
  • Fill window boxes & hanging baskets with pansies to brighten up the exterior of your house.
  • Cut pansies make for a colorful tabletop centerpiece... we especially love them arranged in a hollowed out pumpkin.
  • Fill small containers like strawberry jars & bud vases with pansies for pops of color around your house.
  • Plant white pansies in containers surrounding a dwarf Alberta spruce. Top it off with white lights for a festive holiday display.
  • Press pansies between two pieces of glass and frame for a unique work of wall art.
  • Pansies make excellent companions for spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, iris, and daffodils.
  • Plant under shrubs; acting as living mulch, plus they inhibit the growth of weeds.

Whipcord Arborvitae

This one make look a bit like Cousin It... but nope, it's actually Whipcord Arborvitae! A unique evergreen shrub that is a must-have with a most unusual shape and texture. We love its long, thick glossy tendrils and a distinctive cord-like texture. Gracefully arching downward, the cascading branches provide an interesting shape for the landscape. In the winter it will have a warm bronze hue. It is slow growing in a multi-branch globe shaped mound. Plant in full sun for top performance.

Try planting alone as a specimen plant, add to your landscape planted near perennials or annuals, or even plant in a container for your porch or patio. This beauty is also deer resistant.



Groundcover Camellia


This week's plant of the week is brand new to the plant world. Everyone is buzzing about this one because it's the world's first groundcover camellia ~ her name is 'Marge Miller' and she's a real beauty with soft pink autumn blooms!

Although presented in the form of a patio tree or staked to three feet tall, this Australian introduction is the first groundcover camellia in the world. It makes a superb groundcover, spilling over walls or even from a hanging basket. When trained on a stake or wall, it will cascade down for a lovely, weeping shape.

Similar to the fall blooming Yuletide Camellia, the Marge Miller is a prolific bloomer, bringing an abundance of breathtaking soft pink flowers against deep-green, glossy foliage in both fall and winter. This plant is a fantastic performer looking spectacular when grown in mass. This versatile, long-lived and hardy groundcover is an ideal choice for ornamental pots, creating an excellent show wherever you need a little drama. It also makes a fantastic garden addition that looks sensational cascading over a garden wall or planted beneath specimen trees. This lush, elegant camellia is certain to enhance your garden year after year bringing you pure delight. Marge is a MUST folks!

Learn a little more about this and more camellias from our friends at monrovia.


Make A Scarecrow. Make a Difference.

Scarecrows are usually designed to frighten away birds or as decorations, but at the annual McDonald Garden Center “Make-A-Scarecrow” event, they are being made to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.

Families are invited to build their own life-size scarecrow creations from 9am to 4pm on Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14 at any McDonald Garden Center location. Scarecrows are just $25 which includes everything you'll need to make a scarecrow masterpiece! You can also bring any accessories or clothes from home to add to you creation. All proceeds will benefit the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD). The annual Scarecrow event has proven to be a very successful fundraiser for the hospital. Last year, there were more than 900 scarecrows made ~ providing $25,000 for CHKD!

The registration fee includes all supplies for making scarecrows. CHKD members and volunteers will be on hand to assist with all the handy work. Participants are welcome to take their creations home after the event. The event is a really creative and family-fun event that brings out a lot of people that help make a difference for a great cause. And there are always terrific scarecrows to see. So be sure to come and out and participate or just to take a look at all these creative characters!

McDonald Garden Centers are located at:
1139 W. Pembroke Avenue in Hampton, 722-7463
1144 Independence Boulevard in Virginia Beach, 464-5564
3925 Portsmouth Boulevard in Chesapeake, 465-1110


Now in the Limelight


Looking for a plant that will take your breath away? Look no further than Salvia Limelight!

You'll love this evergreen, herbaceous perennial with an unusual color combination. This beauty produces an outstanding show of bright chartreuse green and violet-blue flowers from late summer all through fall. Light gray-green foliage provides a full appearance. It will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This large, upright growing salvia is perfect for mid to back of the border for a nice colorful surprise or plant in a container for vibrant fall color. It is available in a 3 gallon pot and is on sale through October 16 for $12.99 regularly $19.99.



Feed Your Lawn... the Local Way!

Looking for a fabulous lawn - look no further than McDonald Premium Grass Seed. This seed mixture is the perfect blend for Hampton Roads’ lawns and well suited to this area.

The improved grass seed varieties used our seed mixture are more drought tolerant, disease and insect resistant and naturally darker green in color than any other turf grasses, which have previously been available. This seed has been tested and is a recommend seed blend by Virginia Tech.

The McDonald Premium Grass Seed Mixture is composed of elite turf-type tall fescue grasses including Kentucky bluegrasses and perennial ryegrasses. Some of these varieties possess an invisible waxy cuticle coating, much like the wax on an apple, which causes it to shine when you polish it on your sleeve. This waxy cuticle preserves the moisture in the leaf by lowering the evapo-transpiration rate of these grasses, making them more drought tolerant than any other grass seed varieties on the market today. Most of these grass seed mixtures also contain beneficial endophytes.

These are naturally-occurring organisms that live off the grass plant host. They produce defensive chemicals called alkaloids, which are toxic to many insects, such as, chinch bugs, sod webworms, cutworms, aphids, chafers and Japanese beetles. Endophytes are all natural and do not diminish over time. Endophytes reduce the need for pesticide treatments on your lawn.

The fall grass kit contains one 25-pound bag of grass seed. The rule of thumb is 6-7 pounds per 1000 square feet for a new lawn or bare ground and 3-4 pounds per 1000 square feet for an established lawn. It also contains two 25-pound bags of Fall Fertilizer.

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