Garden Solutions



10 Ways to Go Green in the Garden

Earth Day is a time to both celebrate Mother Nature and find ways to improve it. We're all looking for ways to make a difference in the world around us. Take a look at some simple ways to go green in your garden.

  1. Keep it clean. When it comes to weedkillers and fertilizers, choose organic options such as Natural Guard Weed Control and Jonathan Green Organic Weed Control. We recommend Espoma Organic Fertilizer to add organic nutrients for your plants. Stick to good old fashion, all-natural compost, like McDonald’s Compost! This naturally rich compost blend is ideal to use in outdoor gardens, plant beds, raised veggie gardens and lawns.
  2. Become a composting champ. Sure it’s easy to go out and buy a great bag of organic compost for your garden, but you can save a little green by making your own ‘gardener’s gold’ compost. Compost is just organic matter that decomposes over time, leaving a fertile, rich soil. You can speed up the natural decomposition with a Natural Guard Compost Maker. You now are keeping trash out of landfills forever, while creating high quality compost.
  3. Reduce, reuse, recycle your plastic pots. Stock up on fresh plants this spring and return your plastic pots to any year-round McDonald location. Just empty your pots’ contents and bring the pots to the Trees & Shrubs nursery yard and drop them in our Pot Recycle Bin. We gladly accept #2, #5, and #6 pots (number is found no the underside of the pot inside a small triangle). learn more >>
  4. Grow your own food. There’s never been a better time to be a backyard farmer. With all the hoopla out there about pesticides, organics, and GMOs, just skip the risks and know exactly where your food comes from. Don’t have space? Forget mowing your lawn, just make your lawn your farm!
  5. Harvest rainwater. Saving water is cheap and effortless if you add a rain barrel to your outdoor space. This will capture mineral and chlorine-free water for putting back into your lawn or garden. An added benefit of harvesting rainwater is you will help reduce storm water runoff, which helps prevent erosion and flooding. Worried about bugs getting in your water? just pop a screen on top of your barrel.
  6. Go native. Grow plants that are already adapted to your local conditions. Native plants are easy to grow and maintain, and they benefit the local ecosystems. learn more >>
  7. Help beautiful butterflies and bees bloom. Create a pesticide-free sanctuary for out pollinator pals like bees and butterflies. We're in the middle of a major bee-loss epidemic in the US and a little local hospitality can really help out. Grow a variety of native flowers that they are attracted to such as butterfly bushes, petunias, phlox, and verbena. Pick up a backyard Mason Beehouse at any year-round McDonald. Find local plants for butterflies >>
  8. Plant a tree.Trees help purify the air, give wildlife a home, and could save you big on energy costs. Large deciduous trees planted on the east and west sides of your home create shade from the hot sun and reduce summer air conditioning costs by up to 35%.
  9. Repel bugs the natural way. Help beat the bugs with a do-it-yourself mosquito repelling container. Try a recipe of marigolds, mint, rosemary, citronella geranium, and lemon grass in a large container. It’ll smell and look great, and keep the bugs away. You can also use lady bugs and praying mantis to eliminate harmful bugs in your garden. learn more >>
  10. Water wisely. Water your garden early in the morning when it’s cooler so the water won’t evaporate. Watering in the afternoon and early evening is also key so the plants have time to dry before nightfall. Install a trickle-drip irrigation system close to the roots of your plants so the water is dripped slowly, without spraying. learn more >>


The Scratch Test

Do the fingernail scratch test before declaring a plant dead.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Winter’s harsh hand slapped my garden. Thankfully, the damage is seen only on a few plants.

My acre on a small creek in York County endures lots of wind, so much that I sometimes think I live in a NASA wind tunnel. Those cold winter winds can do more damage than frozen soil or heavy snow.

How cold wind damage happens can be puzzling. For example, I have four camellias near each other: two have nice green leaves everywhere while two camellias have leaves severely wind burned and browned across half of the plant (pictured above). I will take a wait-and-see approach before pruning the bad parts.

My wax myrtle hedge also looks sad – few green leaves anywhere.

Gardening friends tell me they see much of the same – browned, wind-desiccated leaves on gardenia, loropetealum and other cold-sensitive plants.

Before you declare any of those victims too damaged to recover, do a fingernail-scratch test. Using your fingernail, or a small knife or anything sharp, scratch some bark tissue along a dead-looking part of the plant. If you see green (pictured above), the plant is alive and will hopefully flush out new growth when warmer weather stabilizes and plants are motivated to get growing.

Once damaged plants have fully leafed out in late spring, prune them to remove any remaining dead parts. Apply a light fertilizer made for the plant variety – for example, acid-loving food for camellia, azalea and gardenia – and keep the plant watered during any hot, dry spells during summer. Plants are usually tougher than we think, and grow back healthy as ever.

PHOTOS: Plants in Kathy Van Mullekom’s garden.


Water Wisely

Keep your garden properly watered for the biggest harvests and most beautiful blooms while conserving this precious resource. Your watering practices can make a difference between a thriving garden or a wilting one. Below are some watering tips from our experts:

General Watering Tips:

  • It’s best to water your garden early in the morning when the temperature is cooler and the water will not evaporate.
  • Late afternoon/early evening watering is also okay if the plants have ample time to dry before nightfall.
  • Many people like to apply a list mist several times a day. This causes the water to evaporate quickly and encourages shallow root systems.
  • Plants growing in full sun require more water than those in the shade.

Watering Newly-Planted Trees, Shrubs & Perennials:

  • Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials with roots close to the soil surface, will need watering on a daily basis.
  • Regular watering is essential until new plants become established.
  • The best way to water in the hot, dry weather is a slow, deep soak. The slow drip hydrates your plants at the soil line and thus gets to the roots and nourishes the plant.
  • Mulching around the base of the plant will help the water soak in, rather run off.

Watering Established Trees, Shrubs & Perennials:

  • Because older plants have established root systems, they should not need to be watered daily. However, even older established plants require regular watering during this time of year.
  • The best way to water in the hot, dry weather is a slow, deep soak. The slow drip hydrates your plants at the soil line and thus gets to the roots and nourishes the plant.
  • Mulching around the base of the plant will help the water soak in, rather than run off.

Lawn Watering:

  • Aerate lawns by punching holes 6-inches apart. This allows water to reach the roots rather than run off the surface.
  • Keep weeds out of your lawn and garden to reduce.

Signs You Are Under-Watering:

  • Soil is dry
  • Leaves are wilted
  • Leaves curl
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown and start dropping off

Signs You Are Over-Watering:

  • Soil is constantly damp
  • Leaves turn a lighter shade of green or turn yellow
  • Young shoots are wilted
  • Leaves are green yet brittle
  • Algae and mushrooms are growing

Tips for Saving Water:

  • Don’t run the sprinkler longer than necessary. In an hour, 600 gallons can be wasted.
  • Know how to turn off the automatic sprinklers in case of rain.
  • Install a trickle-drip irrigation system close to the roots of your plants. By dripping water slowly, the system doesn’t spray water.


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 >>



Goodbye August. Hello Fall.

Goodbye August. Hello Fall. While we love the summer landscape, we are excited to welcome all the beautiful plants that fall brings us. The weather is cooling off and that means welcoming football, tailgates, fairs and fall festivities. With fall comes the blooming of cooler weather annuals and show-stopping cool weather perennials. The garden enters a new season with a rush of rustic colors!

Here are a few things to do around the garden this month:

In the Garden:

  • Plant cool weather annuals like Dianthus, Ornamental Peppers, Mums and Asters.
  • Set out perennial ornamental grasses.
  • Divide perennials such as peonies and irises.
  • Plant trees or shrubs so they will be established for next year’s hot summer.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs like Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinth, or Crocuses.

For the Edibles:

  • Plan your winter garden.
  • Prepare the soil for root and cool season cole crops.
  • Plant Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels, Sprouts, Cabbage and Lettuces.
  • Put in a crop of fresh herbs like Parsley, Dill, Cilantro and Rosemary.

For the Lawn:

  • Apply Fall Weed Prevention Kit.
  • Apply McDonald’s Premium Grass Seed and Fertilize.
  • Stop by any McDonald location for a complimentary Fall Grass Classes beginning September 13 through October 18. Every Saturday at 11am!

Home Decorating:

  • Groom, dust, mist and feed indoor plants.
  • Think about how you will decorate for fall.
  • Pull out Halloween decorations and look at creative ways to use them or add to them.


What’s a Gardner to Do?


August lawns are right in the middle of the dog days of summer – the hot and humid month. This month, gardeners will start to see the grass growing slower and the weeds growing faster. You may think your lawn care work is over for the season, but the truth is late summer and early fall is one of the most important times for lawn care. It's this time of year when warm days are followed by chilly, dewy evenings that encourage weed growth. The best time to get ahead of winter lawn weeds is now. So, if you take the time to care for your lawn properly during the early fall, it will have a better chance to be healthier when it begins to grow again the following spring. And remember, fescue season is upon us, so be sure to stop in and have one of our lawn experts give you tips on how to maintain and establish a lush fescue lawn using our special fescue mix that is designed specifically for Hampton Roads lawns. Here are our recommendations on some of the best products to beat weeds:

Weed Control for Warm Season Lawns

Weed-Out Lawn Weed Killer - controls over 200 broadleaf weeds including Dandelion, Chickweed, Clover, Spurge, Wild Onion, Dollar Weed, Ground Ivy and many others listed.

Atrazine Weed Killer (32 oz) - controls Henbit, Dollarweed, Chickweed, Clover, Sandspur and others listed on label. Controls both emerged weeds and weeds from seed in St. Augustine and Centipede grass.

Application Rates:
5 teaspoons per quart covers 100 sq. ft.
4.3 ozs per gallon covers 500 sq. ft.

Weed Control for Cool Season Lawns

Weed-out with Q (New Formulation. Proven Performance) - controls over 200 weeds - both grassy and broadleaf in one easy step including Crabgrass, Barnyardgrass, Foxtail, Black-Eyed Susan, Buttercup, Catnip, Chickweed, Dandelion, Dollarweed, Ground Ivy, Jimsonweed. Morning Glory, Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Ragweed, Sunflower, Thistle, and other broadleaf weeds.


McDonald Lawn Tips:
To help your grass beat the heat and reduce lawn maintenance, keep your lawn mower blade on the highest setting and mow no more then once a week.

The taller the grass the cooler the roots will stay and the less weeds you will have.

Always use spreader sticker when putting down weed control products, it makes your spray twice as strong.

Spray for weeds in between mows, never spray immediately before or after a mow.

Spray on calm and sunny days, with no rain in the forecast for 4-5 hours.



Tools of the Trade


Now is the perfect time to stock up on fall tools like rakes and pruners. The right tools make creating and maintaining your yard easier and faster and you really only need a handful of tools to handle the most common lawn and garden maintenance. Be sure to check out our complete line of economical Terra VerdeTools in stores now. Here are a few must-have garden tools to help you be successful and efficient in maintaining your garden:

Felco Pruners - You can't go wrong with these top-of-the-line pruners that provide awesome cutting power and precision -- making gardening chores a whole lot easier. Pruners are ideal for removing small dead and unwanted branches from trees and shrubs. All Felco pruners have two blades: one very sharp and is known as the cutting blade. The other is not sharp and is called the anvil blade or hook. These pruners will last a life time and feature a lifetime warranty.

Bypass Loppers - a must-have for anyone with a landscape full of trees and shrubs. The long handle give you an extended reach to prune higher branches and provides you leverage, so you can prune branches up to 2" in diameter, depending on the lopper. The long blades make it easier to do those larger cuts and are perfect for cutting branches, vines and for pruning and shaping.

Hand Trowel - one of the most important tools in the gardener shed whether you’re digging up weeds or planting new plants. Ideal for planting small plants like herbs and vegetables, making container gardens and digging out weeds. Also good for mixing soil with compost, fertilizer and other additives.

Spring Back Rake - features a long handle with a flexible metal rake head. The rake head is made of flexible metal tines arranged into a fan shape. Tine ends angle slight downward to grab leaves easily. Great for cleaning up leaves, small branches, lawn clippings, spreading mulch.



Food for Thought

McDONALD GREEN LEAF: All-purpose plant food specifically formulated for Hampton Roads

This time of year gardens all over Hampton Roads are drooping, deflated and yes, a little bedraggled. Some may need repair but ALL need some nurturing. Like humans, plants need nutrients to ensure they stay healthy and have a long life.

Simply put, fertilizers are like vitamins for plants. When used properly, an all-purpose fertilizer can treat and help prevent plant “malnutrition” while promoting rapid growth and blooming. In a garden, most plants will use up the nutrients in the soil faster than they can be replaced by nature, so it’s vital your plants continue to get the nutrients they need.

McDonald Green Leaf 12-4-8 is an all-purpose, slow release fertilizer formulated with quality ingredients to ensure high performance and reliability for Hampton Roads’ gardeners. Our own professional growers rely on Green Leaf to assist in plant growth and to maintain excellent performance. When used as directed, this product will promote excellent growth, color and blooms for flowering plants, fruits, vegetables, houseplants and trees & shrubs. McDonald Green Leaf is available in a variety of sizes to accommodate small and large plantings.



August Garden To-Dos

Tired of that Hampton Roads summer heat and humidity yet? Wondering what to do in the garden in August besides melt? No one would blame you if gardening was the last thing on your mind and for many gardeners the month of August begins the downhill turn of the summer garden. Not to worry, fall is just around the corner and August is the perfect time to get your garden ready for the cooler months ahead.

Here's a few tips on to how get a head start on your autumn garden, as well as how to keep your summer flower and veggie gardens going longer:

  • Continue to harvest fruits & veggies to stretch the season.
  • Pick herbs for fresh use and for drying ~ and like all edibles, harvesting will keep them going longer.
  • Plan and purchase spring bulbs for planting.
  • Spread a mid-season layer of compost or manure.
  • Freshen up mulch or pine straw.
  • Continue to deadhead blooming plants to prolong their bloom time ~ this really works!
  • Begin saving seeds and taking cuttings.
  • Prune summer-blooming shrubs (Hydrangea, Clethra, Caryopteris) as their blooms begin to fade.
  • Trim and fertilize hanging baskets to prolong their beauty into the fall.
  • Begin dividing perennials.
  • Take pictures of container combinations you would like to repeat next summer.
  • Begin planning your fall veggie garden (leafy greens and root vegetables). You'll be surprised how much you can grow in cooler months!
  • Plant fall-blooming bulbs Crocus and Lycoris, so they'll bloom on time. These are gorgeous fall blooms you'll definitely love.
  • Begin to plan perennial beds for fall and winter color with ornamental grasses and fall-blooming bulbs. This is also a good time to plan for the addition of trees and shrubs, since fall is the best time to plant.
  • Water, Water, Water! Remember the basics ~ water early in the morning; water soil not leaves; water deeply and occasionally rather than shallow & often; and of course water containers extra often.


The Bug You Want in the Garden


Of all the insects in the garden, the ladybug is probably the most familiar and there are many reasons we love them. A ladybug’s bright coloring will not only bring cheer into the garden, but they are also great for getting rid of “bad bugs” without the use of harmful insecticides making them a gardener’s best friend. They are most active in warm weather from spring until fall and feed on aphids, spider mites, scale, thrips, whiteflies, mealy bugs and other slow-moving, soft-bodied insects, larva and eggs. Known for their ferocious appetites, a single ladybug can eat up to 50 aphids a day – that’s 5,000 aphids during its lifetime! They’ll stay in your garden as long as there’s something to eat.

Today, you can buy ladybugs at most garden centers to help diminish those unwanted pests. Once you and your ladybugs arrive home, keep the container they come in sealed and place it in your refrigerator or a cool place. Being cool calms the ladybugs down. Keep them refrigerated (35-40 degrees) until you’re ready to release them. It’s best to free them in the evening hours, so they'll have time to find a place to sleep and settle in for the night. In the early morning, they’ll wake up, find some something to eat, and hopefully will make themselves at home. They may also be thirsty, so spray some water on your garden plants before you release them. You’ll only have to do this once, since they'll get the moisture they need from the insects they feed on.

Once they’ve become a garden resident, you want to make sure they stick around. There's a few ways to encourage them to hang around your place and not go flying off to the neighbor's garden. You can keep and attract ladybugs to your garden by planting marigolds, angelica, butterfly weed, yarrow, roses, and goldenrod. In a vegetable garden, lure them with cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes. You can also keep ladybugs at home by offering a hibernation site. Pile dead leaves, hay, straw, or other organic mulch at the base of a fence or around plants to serve as winter housing.

It’s no wonder gardeners welcome these lovely bugs with open arms - and remember, kids love ladybugs too so be sure to involve them. Children will have fun releasing ladybugs into the garden and what a great way to teach them about their environment.