THE BLOG: let's talk gardening


Pallet Gardening

Vertical gardens are all the rage and we are seeing them everywhere made from recycled pallets. From Pinterest to HGTV to all the decorating magazines including Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living, pallet gardens are everywhere! They are an easy way to garden vertically and there's so many reasons to do it: 1) space limitations, pallet gardens do not take up a lot space; 2) pallet gardens add an architectural element to outdoor decor; 3) fruits & veggie plants lend themselves to growing vertically, like cucumbers or strawberries; 4) increase your growing space. No matter the reason, gardening vertically can be fun and rewarding.... and simply put, pallet gardens look fantastic!

Many veggies and flowers are perfect for growing vertically, just be sure that what you choose has similar water requirements.


  • EDIBLES: strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, okra, peppers-hot, peppers-sweet, squash, tomatoes, watermelon
  • FLOWERING PLANTS: begonias, marigolds, petunias, celosia, verbena, coral bells, impatiens
  • SUCCULENTS: portulaca, Ice plant, purslane, hens and chicks, sedums


We’ve assembled some quick and easy instructions to get you started. We sell two sizes of pre-constructed pallets for easy growing. The pallet is made of untreated pine lined with Typar landscape fabric to keep the soil in place.

  1. Place the pallet on end and fill with potting soil. Be sure not to pack too full so that the landscape fabric is bulging, but tap the soil down so it levels out.
  2. Pick out your plants to use for planting.
  3. Cut or use your fingers to create a small hole or planting pocket (about the size of the roots of the plant) and sprinkle in McDonald Greenleaf fertllizer.
  4. Place plant in the hole and use your fingers to cover the roots with soil.
  5. Space plants out on each row of the pallet. We suggest about 3 inches apart.
  6. Finish planting by adding edibles or flowering plants to the top of the pallet.
  7. Water. When you water, turn it vertical with the open side up and slowly water every 2-3 days during spring, and then almost everyday during summer. Sometimes, water may need to be added directly to young seedlings when pallet is laying flat. But, be sure to allow enough time for the water to seep down through the soil to get to the bottom plants.


Turn up the Grill with BBQ Rosemary!

It's official, grilling season has begun. Get prepared for your outdoor cooking and entertaining by adding Barbeque Rosemary to your landscape. This plant boasts long, upright stems which are perfect for skewering and roasting vegetables and meats, and it's foliage is especially good flavor for grilling. It will quickly form an upright hedge of aromatic needles with profuse, blue-purple flowers. Barbeque Rosemary can grow to be four to six feet tall. Best of all it is heat tolerant, drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Rosemary is a fabulous herb for arid gardens. It is a beautiful foundation shrub that will provide year round coverage. This plant will thrive in full sun, but should have good drainage. Add it to a Mediterranean garden as a hedge or simply use in a pot as for the kitchen or on the grill.

We love making skewers for kabobs with these rosemary sticks. Cut off the branches that you need and strip off the leaves to use as a skewer for meats, veggies, and even fruits such as strawberries or pineapple. The savory essence of rosemary comes through beautifully without overpowering the food. After one try you won’t want to go back to ordinary skewers again!



Backyard Berries ~ So Berry Delicious!

Homegrown berries can be yours for the tasting, and growing them is easier than you think. When it comes to growing berries, strawberries are most likely the first fruit that comes to mind. While these scrumptious fruits are a popular addition to any edible landscape, there are other berry-producing plants that not only yield an abundance of fruit, but are visually pleasing in the landscape and work well in containers.

Berry selections available today offer gardeners a multitude of colors and flavors. Most need full sun and, with the exception of blueberries, need neutral soil. Nearly all small fruit plants and vines will grow successfully with moderate care - an application of fertilizer or compost, mulch for weed control, and regular pruning to aid in disease prevention and encourage large fruit.

With proper care, these sweet treasures will reward you for years to come. Shoot for a mix of different types and varieties that ripen at different times to extend the harvest season. Be sure to visit us during Berry Daze, May 24 – 26, at all McDonald Garden Center locations and enjoy juicy savings on all backyard berries!

Raspberries - plant late fall or early spring. Raspberries like full sun, however, they will tolerate some shade. Plant in acidic, composted soil and keep soil moist especially during the fruiting season. Raspberries spread through shallow runners so be sure to provide them with plenty of room to grow. Growth can be controlled by planting in raised beds, containers or by routinely digging them out. Prune plants after fruiting, cutting canes that produced fruit to the ground. Fertilize using a high quality fruit fertilizer.

Strawberries - plant in early in spring. Plant roots shallowly in soil rich in organic matter. Water deeply but allow plants to dry slightly between watering. Mulch lightly during spring, summer and fall to help keep soil cool and to help control weeds. Mulch heavily during the cooler months to avoid damage to crowns. Fertilize with a high quality fruit fertilizer, but avoid fertilizing late in the season as this can encourage new growth that can be damaged by early frosts.

Blueberries - plant in late winter or spring. Blueberries like an acidic, richly composted soil and prefer a full sun to part shade location. Blueberries have shallow root systems so fluctuations in water should be avoided. A 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch will help keep soil moist. Water regularly to maintain plant health and avoid leaf and flower drop. Prune lightly during the first 2-3 years to maintain shape. Mature blueberries should have older canes removed to encourage new growth. Fertilize using a high quality fruit fertilizer.



Holy Hydrangeas!!!

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. In colors ranging from white to pink to blue, these softball-sized flowers brighten up any landscape. These shade-loving shrubs infuse color in the garden at a time when most 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.

Here are a few of our favorite varieties:

Endless Summer Original - This is a real Hampton Roads 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. And, who doesn’t want an Endless Summer?

Blushing Bride - This Hydrangea will add life to your garden virtually all season long, producing pure white, semi-double blooms that gradually mature to a delicate, soft blush of pink. Blushing Bride is easy to grow and quite vigorous. To encourage re-blooming, remove spent flowers.

Limelight - This beauty will bring amazing new colors to your garden. In the summer, large lime-green blooms measuring 6 to 8 inches across cover the bush completely. As the weather cools in the fall, the blooms make a surprising color change to deep pink! The autumn display of green and pink blooms on the same plant is spectacular!

Big Easy - This one has exceptionally large, intensely colored mop-head flowers ~ the largest of possibly any mop-head Hydrangeas! The large flowers change hues from pinkish-green to pink and then back to green. Dark green foliage adds to this shrub's beauty. It blooms all through summer and into early fall.

Vanilla Strawberry - New on the scene in 2010, this variety offers triple the color show! Over-sized, cone-shaped blooms start out a creamy vanilla-white, changing to a soft pink and finally to a ripe strawberry-red. New flower heads continue opening into late summer, and as a result, plants display all three colors at one time! Blooms summer and into early fall.

PLANTING TIP: When planting Hydrangeas, dig the hole twice as wide and the same depth as the shrub's rootball. Set the base of the Hydrangea at ground level. Fill with soil, water thoroughly and mulch to help the plant conserve moisture.



Selecting the Perfect Grass for Your Lawn

Warm season lawns thrive in Hampton Roads’ hot, sultry summers. The warm season grasses tend to grow hardiest and look their best when temperatures exceed 80 degrees; making them ideal for summer. During the winter months, these varieties usually turn brown and go dormant. One of the best features of warm season lawns is their drought tolerance. They have the ability to survive on little water during these peak growing times.

Before deciding on the ideal warm season lawn, you should familiarize yourself with the characteristics of the different varieties. Depending on your situation, they each have traits that will determine your best choice. You might have more shade or no shade or want low maintenance or love to work in the yard, you might even want a lighter green or darker green. No matter your preference, there is a warm season grass to fit your fancy!

This is a good-low maintenance grass for homeowners who want a general purpose lawn they can forget about. It has very low growth, therefore requiring less mowing than most other grasses. Once established, it will act as a natural weed barrier as it crowds out weeds. It is the lightest green with a medium texture.

This is good warm season grass that likes heat and is extremely drought resistant. It has fine leaves and grows with little maintenance and is a good lawn grass with normal care. It is a medium green, vigorous, dense turf.

This is a fast growing grass with a green to blue color. It flourishes in sunny and humid conditions, but can also perform in the shade. It is used extensively in areas of high salt content (beaches). It spreads quickly and forms a dense turf, and once established will act as a natural weed barrier.

Offers good drought and heat tolerances, along with insect and disease resistance. It wears very well in high traffic areas. The fine, wiry leaf blades will act as natural weed barrier once established. It doesn't grow quickly ~ so that means a lot less time mowing the grass.

{ Happy Gardening! Posted by McDonald Garden Center, May 17, 2013 }



Mandevilla... Up, Up & Away!

What travels up walls, drapes over trellises, climbs fences, can take the heat and offers non-stop blooms all summer long? Well it’s not Superman but it is super Mandevilla! Mandevilla, also known as Dipladenia, is a flowering, woody vine that is most popular with gardeners in warmer climates. Here in Hampton Roads, Mandevilla blooms late spring all summer long with an abundance of large, trumpet-shaped flowers against a backdrop of beautiful glossy green foliage. Blooming in variety of colors including white, pink and red, this summer climber can be trained up a wall, pergola, fence, trellis, porch post or even a mailbox.

Caring for your Mandevilla is easy as it has few requirements. They enjoy bright indirect or filtered sunlight, but can get burned in direct, full sunlight. Mandevillea requires a sufficient amount of moisture and well drained soil, but can survive short periods of drought. Applying a fertilizer periodically during the summer will also encourage blooming, so be sure to feed your plant a high phosphorus, water soluble fertilizer to encourage flowering. Pinching back every so often will also help to create a bushier and fuller plant. To pinch your Mandevilla vine, simply use your fingers to pinch off 1/4 – 1/2 inch off the end of each stem.



You say tomato, I say basil.

Tomatoes and Basil. A perfect pair for every garden and every palette! There's no two edibles that go together better than these two garden favorites. Many people will grow a tomato or two, but miss out on the delicious rewards of growing basil. Basil is very easy to grow and can be squeezed in near your tomato plants. Some say that, planting basil within 18-inches of a tomato plant can actually improve the flavor of the fruit and repel many insect pests.

Basil is an annual herb and requires a warm, sunny spot to grow. It can easily be started from seed, but if you are impatient you can purchase them as a small plant. Basil is available after the threat of frost has past, typically around April 15. Look for it now at your local McDonald. Basil requires regular watering and you'll want to keep the soil moist, but not saturated. Basil roots will rot and kill the plant if they sit in water too long. Once your Basil plant is about 6 to 12 inches tall, you should begin harvesting the leaves. We suggest using the larger leaves first. Keep your plant from producing flowers by pinching off the flower spikes when they appear. By pinching off flowers, you'll help your plant produce more delicious edible leaves, and not waste energy on flower production. Try these customer favorites in your garden!

SWEET BASIL - A must-have herb for every garden. Best used fresh. Very aromatic with spicy flavor. Sweet Basil pairs great with tomatoes and tomato-flavored dishes.

LEMON BASIL - Known for its fresh, tangy citrus flavor and fragrance. Perfect for use in salads, dressings, vinegars, and fish dishes.

THAI BASIL - Characterized by its slightly sweet, strong licorice fragrance and flavor, it's also referred to as anise or licorice basil. Used as a condiment in Thai and Vietnamese dishes and great for stir-fried dishes.

PESTO PERPETUO BASIL - The beauty and flavor of this variety will earn a prominent spot in your garden. Stunning light green and cream variegated leaves make it an eye-catching gem. Strong enough to carry your best pesto recipe all by itself or to top fresh slices of tomato and mozzarella.

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