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Bust the Winter Blahs

SUCCULENTS: Easier than you may think!

The cold keeps coming up with ways to keep us out of the garden. We keep coming up with new ways to keep us digging in the dirt! It's a great time of year to invite a wide and varied bunch of plants into your home with succulents. These unique plants are low-maintenance, get by on minimal water, and come in interesting shapes, varied patterns, unusual colors and many even boast beautiful flowers! These plants are all the rage in the home and garden, appearing everywhere from table-top terrariums, dish gardens and even in glass orbs suspended in air. Try your hand at creating a succulent garden and see how exceedingly easy these gems are to grow.

Here are the general rules for growing top-quality succulents:

Light - Succulents prefer bright light, the brighter the better. Place your succulent in a window where it can get direct sunlight. Succulents don’t do well in the shade, but will thrive when the sun is shining brightly on them.

Temperature - Keep your ambient room temperature anywhere from 55° to 75° Fahrenheit. Too hot or too cold can be detrimental to the health of the plant, however, normal home conditions are suitable for succulents.

Water - Water whenever the soil gets dry and pulls away from the edges of the pot. Water just enough to soak the soil evenly. Overwatering a succulent is as bad as not watering it at all, as these are drought-resistant plants designed to withstand extremely dry conditions.

Try picking out some of the more unusual-looking specimens for your succulent collection, as they can be quite the conversation piece. Here's a few of our favorites:

Kalanchoe comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and are prized for their colorful leaves and their crayon-color flowers. We really like Kalanchoe Orgyalis. This new Kalanchoe is an upright plant with fuzzy, thick, silvery-grey leaves that take on a golden bronze tint in sunlight and blooms sunny yellow flowers.

Echeveria is a unique succulent that forms tight rosettes and comes in a variety of shapes and colors. Many of the varieties have a waxy sheen on their leaves and are great in containers. Echeveria are among the showiest of all the succulents.

Jade boosts smooth, round fleshy leaves that grow in opposing pairs along its branches. The leaves are a rich jade green and its classic beauty and low maintence requirements make it a must-have succulent.

Aloe, a classic favorite, offers dramatic flower spikes with gel-filled, tapered and serrated leaves. It is most notably known for its medicinal properties.


Plant of the Week:


Meet our newest winter bloomer... the Clerodendrum White Light Bulb. This new weeping houseplant puts on a winter show with pure white flowers cascading from vining stems. It's bulb-like flowers hang down about one foot and usually begin blooming in deep winter. You'll love these flowering vines as they move and sway against deep green foliage.

To prune Clerodendrum, simply shear it during the summer - but not later than early September so the blooming cycle is not disrupted. During the summer, this plant will grow vigorously. You can even give this plant some time outdoors in the warm summer months. Then as cold weather sets in and nothing else seems to be blooming, Clerodendrum will give you another blooming show. Let plants cascade naturally, or train on a small trellis to grow upright. It prefers a wet/dry watering cycle, but don't let this one get too dry. Keep it in a sunny spot during winter and move to partial shade during the summer.

Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>



Create a Mini Garden

Make a BIG impact with small gardens. Mini gardening possibilities are endless. Options include terrariums, tillandsia orbs, fairy gardens, dish gardens, succulent gardens and string gardens. Also, try re-purposing items from your home such as jars, drawers, and old dishes. Get creative and get miniature!

Step 1: Choose a Location
Choose a spot for your garden, indoors or out. If you choose an outdoor location, look for a nook or cranny to offer a protected spot in the landscape. You may choose to create an indoor fairy garden in a flower pot, terracotta saucer, bowl or vase. The possibilities are endless, any container can be transformed into an enchanted garden.

Step 2: Construct the Garden
Let your imagination run free when creating your mini fairytale garden. Try incorporating ponds, walkways, and even a garden border. You may find it useful to segment an area for your fairytale gardens with garden borders, miniature fencing or river rock. During construction, you can add rolling hills to your garden with moss and other plant material.

Step 3: Add Miniature Plants
Any type of miniature plant, tree and flower can easily be incorporated into your gardens. Once you have decided where your garden will be located, indoor or outdoor, you can start identifying plants for your creation. Be sure to select plants with similar growing conditions (i.e., shade or sun).

For outdoor gardens, use hardy plants. We recommend small conifers like Mugo Pine, Deadora Cedar, or Dwarf Hinoki Cypress. Other choices include tiny Boxwoods, Elm trees and Japanese Maples. To create a groundcover, we recommend Creeping Thyme, Corsican Mint, or small-leaved sedums like Makinoi Ogon.

For indoor gardens, there are many possibilities. You can choose from a wide selection of our itty bittie greenery plants like ferns and ivy. Also, try a small cactus or some tiny succulents. To add colorful blooms, use mini flowering plants like Roses, Kalanchoe, Euphorbia, African Violets, Bromeliads or Orchids.

Step 4: Accessorize
Embellish your mini Fairytale Garden with houses, benches, miniature wheelbarrows, furniture or any other accessories to make your gnome or fairy right at home. Visit any McDonald Garden Center to find everything you need from containers to tiny plants and accessories, and let your imagination go wild.

Check out our Pinterest board and flip through MINI GARDENS WE ♡ >>



The Tweet on Birds

Winter is for the birds... literally! Now's the best time to sit back and enjoy the birds. Here's some fun bird facts and answers to all your burning bird questions:

How much do birds eat?
Birds have a high metabolic rate and an average body temperate of 100 degrees (F). They need to eat constantly to store up energy for the winter months and to burn off excess heat during the summer. Birds will eat their own body weight daily.

Do I need trees, shrubs and flowers to attract birds?
Birds prefer to live and eat in areas where cover in trees and shrubs is readily available.

Why do birds come to my feeder, take a seed or two and then fly away?
Some birds, like jays and nuthatches, take a seed or two and then fly to a perch to crack open the hull. They will then hide these seeds in trees and other places for use at a later time.

Why is all the seed on the ground?
Many birds do not like certain seeds and grains used in mixes. They will discard this unwanted seed while searching for more desirable seeds and grains. The higher the content of millet, milo, corn, wheat, oats, etc., the more uneaten seed you will see on the ground.

What do I do about the squirrels?
No matter what you do, squirrels will find their way to your feeders. Make sure to supply squirrels with foods they prefer such as corn on the cob or peanuts or a specialty squirrel food somewhere away from your bird feeders. Try to use bird feeders made with metal bindings or a squirrel-proof guarantee.

Why aren’t any birds coming to my feeder?
Make sure you are using the right seed mix for the birds in your area and that the seed is fresh. You should also ensure that you are using the right feeder to attract the birds and that there are not any cats or birds of prey nearby.

Where should I put my feeder?
Make sure your feeder is close to natural cover like trees and shrubs. Tie a small piece of tin foil on your feeder so it glints in the sun. The birds will have an easier time spotting the feeder.


Plant of the Week:


If you love winter berries and birds, they you'll love Nandina Domestica! Berries brighten the landscape and provide a splash of color during an otherwise dreary time of the year. Berry-producing trees and shrubs pull double duty -- not only by adding interest to the landscape but also by providing a nutritious snack for birds and other wildlife through cold winter months. Feeding birds comes naturally when you grow trees and shrubs that provide wholesome berries.

There are a variety of berry-producing shrubs to choose from. One of our favorites is Heavenly Bamboo (also known as Nandina Domestica). Domestica is known for its attractive, lacy foliage resembling bamboo leaves. Tiny whitish flowers with yellow anthers appear in late spring and are followed by sprays of round, red berries which continue from fall to spring.

This evergreen shrub is one of the toughest and most adaptable shrubs to a variety of conditions. Nandinas grow anywhere from 5 to 8 feet tall, but can be kept at a compact size by pruning. Domestica can be grown in partial shade, although its foliage colors will be more intense if it’s grown in full sun. Ideal as a screen or hedge planting and can also be grown in containers. From its unique foliage and tiny flowers to fall color and brilliant red berries, Heavenly Bamboo is a perfect choice for most any Hampton Roads landscape -- oh, and your fine feathered friends will thank you too!

Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>



A Little Birdy Told Me


Beauty in the garden comes from more than just plants, it also comes from the creatures that make the garden their home. Winter is our favorite time to sit back in the warmth of our homes and watch the birds flutter about. Did you know that certain types of seed will attract specific birds to your yard?

The choices in bird food are enormous, but look for a simple mixture of seed -- black oil sunflower is the favorite of seed-consuming birds and should be the largest ingredient in the bag you purchase. Check the label contents, seeds will be listed according to the most volume. Black stripe sunflower, white proso millet, sunflower chips or hearts, and nuts such as peanuts, almonds or filberts are the basis of all feeders. White proso millet doesn't belong in a seed mix because the birds that like millet prefer to eat it on the ground. The feeder birds will throw it on the ground as planned, but this will empty your feeder a lot faster than you want. There are so many fun ways to invite the birds to your yard, here's some simple things you can do:

  • Sparrows, Juncos, Towhees and Doves prefer millet and eating close to the ground.
  • Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Woodpeckers prefer peanuts and it is better to place them in a feeder alone. Avoid peanut hearts in your mix as they attract Starlings, considered a pest at all feeders!
  • Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, House Finches, and especially Cardinals love safflower seed when presented alone.
  • Nyjer, commonly called thistle, attracts Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Redpolls and Purple Finch. Keep this feeder away from the other feeders as Goldfinches prefer privacy.
  • Other treats birds enjoy are fruit. Orioles love oranges. Slice the fruit and spear it on a fence post for a cheap fruit feeder. There are commercial fruit feeders available, and some have a little cup to add grape jelly, another Oriole favorite. Apples and bananas are attractive to many species of birds especially Robins. Mockingbirds and Gray Catbirds love raisins. Their favorite way to be served is soaking them in warm water overnight then drain them well before putting them out.
  • Titmice love almonds, and Woodpeckers love shelled walnuts and pecans. Most of the larger nuts will not pass through the seed dispenser of all style of birdfeeders, so use a platform feeder.
  • Suet is great year-around for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Titmice, Gray Catbirds and even Pine Warbler. Suet is not processed, so it will not become rancid.
  • Bread and human food is not recommended for bird food. Bread has little nutritional value to birds. They have a different metabolism than humans and may not be able to digest the chemicals used in some human food.

Plants of the Week:


We love lemon so much, we couldn't select just one "plant of the week" this week... so you get TWO amazing plants! Tuck lemon plants around your house in containers this winter and enjoy their evergreen beauty, sweet fragrance and mouthwatering fruit! Once warm weather sets in, move your lemon plants outside and enjoy them all summer long. Most citrus is hardy to 38°F, but we recommend keeping them indoors until late sprint. Here's a couple of our faves for Hampton Roads:

Meyer Lemon
A cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, the Meyer lemon has a smooth golden, edible skin, and a high volume of juice but none of the bitterness of a regular lemon. This fruit adds a burst of lemon flavor without the sour bite. With a smooth, golden skin and lush, glossy leaves, this plant pulls double duty by yielding fruit and looking great. It produces small, fragrant flowers year round.

Ponderosa Lemon
A real conversation piece, the Ponderosa is a cross between lemon and citron. Sometimes called the Five Pound Lemon, the Ponderosa produces a gigantic, bumpy skinned lemon usually weighing 2-4 pounds! The flowers are intensely fragrant producing loads of huge lemons. Tasting sour like a typical lemon, the juice from one Ponderosa is enough for several pies.


Plant of the Week:

DAPHNE REBECCA: Fragrance to WOW the senses!

The Daphne plant is a divine little addition to your garden that produces the most delightful aroma. With its fragrance being described as sweet and even exotic, one should not be surprised that it is occasionally referred to as the “romance plant.” This sweet-smelling evergreen shrub is also called the Winter Daphne due to its pink blooms that typically appear in the middle of winter or as late as the beginning of spring. Anyone seeking a beautiful evergreen shrub will love adding the Daphne plant to his or her landscape.

Daphne Rebecca offers fragrant blooms in soft shell pink tones from January through March. It has a striking broad variegated foliage. Be sure to plant in an area with light shade. We love planting them in a container, as a specimen plant or in a mass landscape planting. Try planting it by your front door or walkway, so that all your guests will be greeted with its sweet aroma!



Sunny Citrus


Try your hand at growing citrus in containers. We're sure you'll find it fun and rewarding... and of course, you'll definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor when those tasty fruits are ready to be eaten! The fragrance of the citrus flowers can fill a room and the bright colors of the fruit and the glossy foliage make handsome additions to your home. We've put together a few tips on maintaining citrus containers:

Citrus grown in pots are temperature sensitive and will not live through the hard freezes typical of Hampton Roads. Plastic and foam pots are best since plants should be taken outside during the warmer months. Potted citrus are grafted and are perfectly happy to live out their lives in pots. Most citrus trees are hardy to 38°F. Lemons, oranges and kumquats can tolerate temperatures down to 32°F for brief periods (hours) without damage.

Tips for Maintaining Citrus Containers:

  • Rotate the pots weekly so light strikes all the leaves.
  • Cut back on watering. Plants in weak light, out of the wind, use less water.
  • Return citrus outdoors as soon as temperatures warm to 40°F.
  • Keep in mind that some winter leaf drop is normal.

All-day direct sun is the most important factor in successful citrus culture. Your citrus trees should be outside, in full sun, except when the temperature drops below 40°F. When cold-temperature warnings occur, bring your potted trees into the house and place in a south-facing window.

Citrus in full sun and out in the wind will use considerable water. After your first thorough watering, check the weight of your new citrus tree. Lift it a few inches, feel how heavy it is. If it is too large to lift easily, push against the pot to get a sense of the resistance it gives your push. Check the weight of your pots several times the first week. If it feels dry, water again on all sides of the pot until water drains out of the bottom.

All plants in pots must be fertilized to grow to their full potential. Since fruit trees are constantly leafing, blooming, and ripening fruit, they need regular fertilization. We recommend using: McDonald’s Greenleaf, 12-4-8, slow-release, every six weeks, plus; Espoma Citrus Tone, 2-3 times per year

Most citrus trees bloom heavily once a year, usually in late winter or early spring. Exceptions are Meyer Improved Lemon and Calamondin Orange, which bloom sporadically throughout the year with good care, in addition to giving you a heavy bloom in winter. You can expect a crop of ripe fruit to ripen as follows:

  • Lemons and Lime: 9 months to turn yellow, let hang another 3 weeks for tree-rippened goodness
  • Calamondin Orange: 4-6 months
  • Kumquat: 5-7 months
  • Orange/Tangerine/Tangelo: 9-10 months

Fruit is ready to harvest when it gives to pressure from your thumb. Fruit is ready to harvest when it is no longer hard and gives to pressure from your thumb. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Prune right after you have collected your main crop of fruit, and before the next blossoming period (usually mid-winter). Shorten branches to no more than half of the current length, cutting just above a healthy leaf. If branches are rubbing another healthy branch, remove branches by cutting back to a main stem.



New Year. New Trends.


Hold on to your gardening trowels. Fresh gardening trends inspired by local living and overall well-being are sure to make a positive impact on both our homes and our communities in 2015. From environmentally friendly plants and products to garden-tainment to portable gardening, this year’s trends will shape the garden and outdoor living for the coming year and beyond.

Wellbeing from the Outside In. For more and more people, health is a top priority. People aren’t just gardening for beauty, they are gardeing to nourish their communities, the environment and their own wellbeing. Trees, flowers, plants, birds and bees all increase overall health and wellness for self, society and the planet.

Garden-tainment. The party is moving outside! With the U.S. demand for outdoor plants expected to grow in 2015, garden-tainment is quickly becoming a way to personalize your outdoor space. Plants will play a key role whether it is potting up containers and terrariums, cooking fresh food from your garden or redecorating your patio.

Bite-Sized Decadence. Whether in a small space garden or on an apartment balcony, compact plants will pack a punch in 2015, with rich colors and textures as major focal points. Look for show stopping plants this spring like millionbells, impatiens, begonias and more!

Cacti and Succulents. No-fuss cacti and succulents are ideal for people that seek attractive, low-maintenance plants. Tiny and easy to grow succulents in bold containers bring style both inside and outside the home.

Bed Head. Purposefully unstyled outdoor spaces are the result of intentionally working within the natural landscape. This casual landscape style expresses an effortless personality with an anything goes attitude. Create bed head meadows and natural habitats using native plants to increase diversity, balance and ecosystems.

source: 2015 Garden Trends Report, Susan McCoy

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