THE BLOG: let's talk gardening

MARCH
30
2015

Is it Warm Enough Yet?

Do you find yourself asking, "is it warm enough yet to put my favorite spring plants outside"? We hear this question a lot this time of year and we know that means you are eager to get that garden going! Here’s a few tips to make sure you get the most from your garden this spring.

Annuals provide color from the time of planting into early fall. Inexpensive, easy-to-grow and gorgeous - annuals are great for changing the look of your garden from year-to-year and filling in around bulbs, perennials and trees & shrubs. A few early-blooming annuals that are safe to plant now include petunias, dusty miller, snapdragons, geraniums, million bells, dianthus and verbena.

However, some annuals can't handle frosts that occasionally occur in early spring. We suggest waiting to plant them outside until after the average last frost date. These include favorites like tropical hibiscus, mandevilla, coleus, gomphrena, portulaca, vinca and most veggies like peppers, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant. These plants thrive in the long, warm days of later spring.

AVERAGE LAST FROST DATES FOR HAMPTON ROADS:

• Virginia Beach & Norfolk: April 1
• Hampton & Chesapeake: April 10
• Newport News, lower York County and Poquoson: April 15
• Upper York Co. and Williamsburg: April 25

TIP: Hardening Off Helps
If your annuals are straight out of the greenhouse and tender, you may need to acclimate them to the outdoors in the sun and wind conditions, before you plant them in the garden. This process is called "hardening off". If you don't take the time to do this, your plants may be stressed when you transplant them into the ground.

MARCH
27
2015

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Got Moles & Voles? We’ve Got Solutions!

Moles have become a major nuisance in this area and can cause damage as well as frustration to any gardener. Here’s some helpful information to help you rid your yard of these pests with organic solutions that are safe for you and the environment.

MOLES: (meat eaters that feed on grubs & insects)

The best way to rid your lawn of moles is to control the insects in the soil that they feed on. Their main diet consists of grubs. Your lawn can be treated in several ways to remove the moles’ food source. Less food, less moles!

The best long-term control is Milky Spore. Safe for the environment, this natural spore is harmless to fish, birds, bees, animals, plants and people. It kills grubs in the soil and remains active in the soil for up to 15 years. This is a great long-term solution for moles.

Once you eliminate their food source, the moles may stay. They are stubborn and like your yard for reasons beyond food. Lush lawns, mulched beds, and good soil makes for easy digging and more insects and earthworms that they also feed on. So, the next step is to repell them. We recommend using REPELLEX MOLE & VOLE REPELLANT. The main ingredients is castor oil, which burns their face as they dig, therefor forcing them out of your yard. Repellex uses a recycled newspaper granule which allows the castor oil to slowly release into the soil as it biodegrades. This allows the castor oil to stay in the soil for up to 6 months - twice as long as any other product. It also has double the amount of castor oil than any other product. You’ll need 1lb. per 1000 sq. ft., so it goes a long way.

VOLES: (vegetarians that feed on plant material)

Voles do not like to dig as much as moles, so they follow the mole tunnels into your yard. Rarely do you see voles, and no moles. Voles tend to cause the most expensive and major damage as they eat almost all plant roots, as well as most bulbs -- though they don’t eat daffodils or fritillaria. They also will nibble away at trees and shrubs.

Repellants work very well for getting rid of voles. All repellants are organic and safe to use around plants. As with moles, REPELLEX MOLE & VOLE REPELLANT is the best for its longevity. It also contains cinnamon, garlic and white pepper -- which voles particularly dislike. Also, the castor oil burns their face just like the moles making them leave the area.

Repellex also makes a systemic repellant, that gets absorbed by the plant and the roots, therefore protecting the roots from vole damage (designed for rabbits and deer, but works great for voles as well). Permatill is a kiln-fired slate product that is very coarse and voles can not dig through it. It is a great soil amendment by itself, but is also designed to be a vole barrier. Try using it to create a barrier along a bed line and sprinkle it in your soil when planting to protect the roots and amend soil.

For more information, visit any of our three year-round locations this Sunday, March 29 for a complimetary class on solutions for moles & voles. learn more >>

MARCH
25
2015

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Plant of the Week:

BUSH DAISIES

Nothing says spring like a burst of sunny yellow flowers in the garden and Bush Daisies are just the ticket. Not only will these flowers give you early spring flowers, but they will reward you again with flowers this fall. Bush Daisies are very tolerant of cold and can go down to about 28 degrees, so on these cold nights that we are having now, these tough little blooms can handle it.

They are ideal for mass plantings, mixed flower borders and we love using them in containers. Planted in the ground, they will not come back reliably outside over winter, but often if you set them in a protected spot during winter (garage is fine) they will re-flower in spring. You will get great bang for your buck with Bush Daisies as they can grow up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide! They are not too picky about soil and they will thrive in full sun. They will be okay in a moderate drought, but it’s best to water the plant deeply and then allow the soil to dry before watering again. And, best of all, they don’t require much pruning. So, if you're looking for a sunny burst of spring color, say it with us... BUSH DAISIES!

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

MARCH
23
2015

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Landscaping Tips & To-Do's

by Diane Smith, McDonald Garden Center Landscape Designer

With warmer weather and longer days finally upon us, many of us are thinking of ways to get our yards in tip-top shape. While it may seem overwhelming at times, don't worry. We're here to help! Here's a few simple tips from one of our Landcape Designers to help you get your yard in full spring.

Select the right plants for the right place. Choosing the right landscape planting is much like choosing a piece of art work. It is a reflection of your personality, so it’s important to be happy with the end result. In addition to matching your taste, the plants must fit the space (at maturity), compliment your homes architecture and thrive in the particular exposure and soil conditions. Due to all the site factors, plant selection can be a compromise, but with a little understanding and patience, you will have a rewarding landscape. Don't know what to plant? Stop by and see any of our horticultural experts and we'll work together to decide what is best for your yard.

Select a few specimen plants. These are unique plants that give you that "wow" and act as a focal point in your landscape. You should love the plant you choose. Be selective with your specimen plants, less is more. Too many specimen plants will no longer make them the focal point. Each will no longer stand out and make your landscape seem to jump around and appear cluttered. The goal is to draw one's eye in and allow it to follow the flow around the garden.

Keep it tidy. You don’t need an award-winning garden for your landscaping to look nice. Simply keeping it tidy will go a long way. If necessary, shape an unruly shrub, invest in a nice hose caddy, and put garden tools away after use. Also dispose of empty nursery containers, damaged pots or garden art, and find a secret place to stash leftover bags of mulch or soils. Periodically check for weeds and pull as needed before they go to seed or spread by roots.

Now is the time for some basic housekeeping. Remove the last of the fallen leaves and other plant debris. When possible, clean out the insides and atop the root crowns of shrubs and perennials. Excessive leaf debris harbors disease and insects and can also prevent good water saturation to the root zone. Deep accumulation of mulch, particularly at the base of trees, is often a problem; to ensure the health of your gardens biggest investment, remove excess mulch to expose the trees root flare. Now is a good time to cut back your grasses, liriope and roses if you did not do so in the fall. This is also a good time to remove any dead, damaged or crossing branches from various trees and shrubs and deadhead your perennials. Once you have a clean canvas, think about any landscape improvements and plan for new plantings. Remove any winter weeds and apply an inch of mulch to established beds, before the spring weeds begin to sprout.

Photos from Diane Smith's own garden.

Learn more about how our landscape team can help you. learn more >>

MARCH
20
2015

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Mulching Matters 101

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

When husband Ken and I mulch, we really mulch. We don’t mess around.

Each spring, we tidy up and assess our beds, which are large and planted with a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees, as well as perennials. We use small-tine metal rakes to fluff up the old mulch, and then decide how much new mulch we need to add.

It’s not healthy to keep adding new mulch without taking away old mulch, or your plants sink and suffocate from too much of a good thing. We remove heavy old mulch and place it in spots that are thin or throw it in our small wooded area where the camellias and hydrangeas love the added humus it creates over time as it decomposes. Mulch eventually decays and turns into some of the best compost you can get, rich with major and minor nutrients that plants need and a haven for beneficial earthworms to live in.

Once we decide how much hardwood mulch we need, we buy it bulk or in bags. Recently, we’ve favored bags because it’s easier for us to handle as we age and still do our own yard work. We order pallets that are dropped off in the driveway.

Ken places all the bags – about 300 per year – and I go behind him, opening the bags with scissors and dumping the mulch into small piles. Ken then goes behind me, using our favorite small-tine metal rake to spread the mulch.

We’ve done the bag mulching for years, and like its flexibility. Extra bags added to the order are stored behind our gardening building, and come in handy when I need to add mulch after planting new perennials – something I’m always doing because who can resist the lure of another pretty perennial.

PHOTO: Mulch enhances the look of statuary and plants in Kathy Van Mullekom’s gardens.

MARCH
18
2015

Plant of the Week:

MEDITERRANEAN PINK HEATHER

We're happy to share our plant of the week -- Mediterranean Pink Heather. This mounding, evergreen shrub establishes quickly for a fine, dense ground cover or border. It offers terrific winter color with lavender-pink flowers that last through early spring. Mediterranean Pink brings you tough little flowers in the winter when not much else is blooming. Once it stops flowering, this plant still offers a beautiful evergreen foliage that can be enjoyed in all seasons. To plant this in the ground, select a sunny to partially sunny spot. Dig a hole 3x the width of the container and set the top of the root ball slightly above ground level. Then combine the planting mix and soil and fill it in around the plants’ roots. This plant needs a lot of water, especially when newly planted. Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system and then, sit back and enjoy this year-round beauty!

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

MARCH
16
2015

March into Spring

EARLY SPRING BLOOMERS

We're all on pins and needles awaiting the big day... this Friday - the first day of SPRING! Yes, the season we've all been waiting for is almost upon us. While temperatures are getting warmer, days can sometimes slip into cooler temperatures. Early in the season, we recommend flowers that tolerate the cooler early days of spring. So, break out the gardening gloves and get things in full spring! These flowers will work great in the early unpredictable days of spring and last all the way until the heat sets in, in May.

Bush Daisy
Add a burst of sunny yellow flowers in spring with this bright bloomer. Not only will this plant give you flowers now, but it will reward you again with flowers this fall. It is very tolerant of cold and can go down to about 28 degrees, so on these cold nights that we are having now, they will handle these nights near freezing. They will not come back reliably outside over winter but they are great as container plants, on their own or in a combo. Just set them in a protected spot in winter (garage is fine) for more flowers in spring!

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower
This charming perennial is easy to grow and produces loads of large blossoms. Almost frilly in their look, the blooms sit atop a long graceful stem. These are long and profuse bloomers that begin flowering in early spring and go long into summer. For repeat flowering you do need to dead head. With its compact, tidy habit, it is ideal grouped together as a border and the more you plant together the more impact they make! We love these as cut flowers and left it in the garden to attract butterflies. Scabiosa prefers full sun and well drained soil. Mariposa Violet is a double violet color but Butterfly Blue (one of the most popular) is a single bloom in a chambray color.

Pansies
Pansies are one of the best ways to add color to those 6 months of cooler Hampton Roads weather that we experience from October to April. 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.... a great way to kick off spring with color!

Candytuft
A small evergreen shrub with clusters of small flowers, Candytuft thrives in full sun areas with well-drained soil. Candytuft is great for a rock garden where they can tumble about and over rocks. They are also excellent as edging in a border and are well-suited to growing in pots.

Dianthus
This perennial offers a long blooming season. They will begin in early spring and continue all the way until frost, if deadheaded regularly. Blooms stand up above the grassy blue-green foliage with sturdy stems. These bold blossoms sparkle in borders, beds, window boxes and containers. Prefers full sun and well drained soil. Available in a range of colors from coral to red to pink to even white, some Dianthus also carry a scent.

Snapdragon
This vertical annual, offers great hues in a variety of colors. The abundant spikes of lovely flowers come red, yellow, orange, pink, white and crimson. They are excellent in beds, edging and in containers and they are popular as cut flowers too. Plant in full sun, well drained soil.

Primrose - Flowers come in shades of amethyst, citrine, garnet, sapphire, and pink tourmaline. These early-bloomers shine in the garden or in containers from March until May- they also look great indoors as a houseplant. This shade loving perennial is easy to grow, low-maintenance and is a vigorous grower. Plant them in masses for real impact in borders in a garden bed. Pinch off spent blooms to extend blooming time.

MARCH
13
2015

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Selecting the Perfect Grass

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 F; making them ideal for the summer. During the winter months, warm season grasses will 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 peak growing times.

Before deciding on the ideal warm season lawn, you should familiarize yourself with the characteristics of the different grasses. 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's a warm season grass to fit your fancy.

St. Augustine is a fast growing grass with a green to blue-ish color. It flourishes in sunny and humid conditions but can 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.

Zoysia offers good drought and heat tolerances, along with insect and disease resistance. It wears really 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.

Bermuda 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, a vigorous grower, and provides a dense turf.

Centipede is a good low maintenance lawn 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 of the warm season grasses with a medium texture.

MARCH
11
2015

Plant of the Week:

PRIMROSE

Primrose - one of the first signs that spring is on its way! The name primrose is derived from the Latin prima rosa meaning 'first rose' of the year. Flowers come in shades of amethyst, citrine, garnet, sapphire, and pink tourmaline. These early-bloomers shine in the garden or in containers from March until May. Normally thought of as outdoor plant, primrose also makes an excellent indoor plant. Once the plant has finished blooming inside, move it outside to a protected spot of your summer garden and enjoy a season of additional blooms. This shade loving perennial is easy to grow, low-maintenance and is a vigorous grower. Plant them in masses for real impact in borders in a garden bed. Pinch off spent blooms to extend blooming time.

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

MARCH
9
2015

Winter Recovery

This winter has been harsh and we've been getting lots of questions on what plants will have damage and what to do if they are. We've compiled all the best tips from our experts to help you identify your next step. Remember, you can always visit a McDonald Garden Center location and speak with an expert regarding your individual situation.

GENERAL TIPS FOR WINTER PLANT DAMAGE

  1. If you see damage, scratch the bark and look for green. Green means the plant is still alive.
  2. When trimming back, be sure to cut off any brown stems as the green is what's alive and that is where the new growth will come from.
  3. Broad-leaf evergreens tend to show the most damage. With low temperatures combined with wind drying the leaves out, these plants may show the most evidence of damage.
  4. Many plants that are normally evergreen or semi-evergreen either have leaf damage or dropped more leaves that normal. Examples include: Hellebore leaves might be brown but the plants are still alive and healthy and blooming. Abelia seems to have dropped more leaves than they normal would.

Gardeners should also remember, Hampton Roads experienced near record cold temperatures this winter. The good news is that we did have a cool down period as compared to an extreme temperature drop - this did give plants some time to acclimate to cooler temperatures.

COMMON PLANTS SUFFERING FROM COLD EXPOSURE

Oleander
Probably looks the worse for the wear. Most of the Oleanders on the Peninsula are brown, but there is a good chance they will come back from the root. You should cut them back hard to the ground to remove all of the damaged stems and leaves.

Fatsia
Fatsia is another plant that may need to be cut back to the ground, but should recover.

Gardenias
These are a mixed bag as there are now so many new types out there, so this one plant will depend on the variety and where it is sited as to what needs to be done. Some will need pruning and some will need replacing. There are some Gardenias such as 'Kleims Hardy', which is reportedly hardy to zone 6, which may have fared better but the flower is more like a daisy than a traditional gardenia, so we tend not to inventory that variety as often.

Tinus Viburnum
This year is the perfect year to show why this plant is not a good choice for our area. It tends to show leaf burn almost every year. We must just be sited in the wrong area for it. We warm up a little too soon and end up burning off the flowers and bronzing the leaves. We recommend using Indian Hawthornes as a replacement for this shrub.

Loropetalum
The damage seen here seems to be a matter of location - those with some protection did better than those in exposed sites and those that are established seem to be okay. In most cases, I think these will be fine with a light shearing to shape them. Most of what we've seen is green bark and this cousin to Witch Hazel looks like recovery should be good, again, not in all cases, ones planted last fall in very exposed sites may have more damage.

Indian Hawthorne
This will vary greatly from no damage to completely brown. In this case, we think its more varietal than location. We grow 'Eleanor Tabor', 'Snowcap' and 'Georgia Petite', they are all in beds within 100 feet of each other, 'Snowcap" has essentially no damage and looks the best, 'Eleanor Tabor' has some cold damage, and 'Georgia Petite' has cold damage on greater than 50% of the plant. We believe it may recover from the cold damage, but it may be a good time to remove them and try something new in their place. We have seen the same examples in several places, some that are totally brown, others that are fine, mostly they will need shearing to clean up. Our 'Georgia Petite' was notorious for leaf spot in late February/early March, so much so that almost all of the leaves would drop off and be replaced with new ones.

Encore Azaleas
These plants seem to have some cold damage, leaves defoliating and bronzing. We recommend a light trim and they will be fine, the bark looks good.

Palms
Palms are another area where we have seen some damage. Windmills seems to be fine, they are perfectly hardy, but others are showing up with damage, like large Sabal palms and European Fan palms. They are showing damage on the fronds though it's too early to tell. In many cases, we need to wait for warmer temperatures to know for sure how much damage there is and whether they will recover.

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