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The Blog: Let's Talk Gardening

Aloe Vera: The Easy to Grow Plant That Can Soothe Your Skin

Aloe Vera has been used for centuries to heal wounds and soothe minor skin irritations such as burns, minor cuts, and bug bites. Aloe is a good plant to have around if you ever forget your sunscreen. Cut a leaf from your plant and put it in the fridge for a few minutes. When you scrape the gel from inside the leaf and apply it to your skin, it is a cool, refreshing way to soothe a sunburn. Aloe vera is not only useful but easy to grow. Here are some tips for growing Aloe Vera at home:

Light - aloe vera grows best in very bright light but will tolerate less light. If the light is too low, they will not grow much.

Water - aloe is able to survive weeks without being watered. Too little water is always better than too much water, because it will rot quickly in wet conditions. Limp, lower leaves are usually the first indication that your aloe is getting too much water. Water your aloe in the morning every two weeks or when the soil mixture has dried completely. Remember to water less during the winter months. If you choose to grow your aloe outside in the summer, you may need to increase your watering.

Potting - choose a pot with drainage holes. Clay pots are an ideal choice, because they are porous and allow the soil to dry thoroughly between watering. It is best to use a cactus mix that is coarse and drains well.

Aloe plants do not mind being a little snug in their pots, so there is no need to repot frequently. Being a top-heavy plant, they may begin to tip over if the pot is too small. This is a good time to repot.

Aloe vera can be grown indoors year-round or placed outside for the summer. They can be grown in shaded areas or slowly acclimated to a sunny porch. In our area, you can put your aloe outside the first week of May and leave it out through October. Aloe plants do not like cold, but will tolerate it for short periods. It is best to bring your aloe in before temperatures drop into the 40s.

Another bonus to aloe plants is their ability to multiply. Often times, you can harvest many baby plants from the base of your aloe. Aloe is a great plant to share with family and friends!

Hot Color to Light Up the Landscape, Heuchera Fire Alarm

Set your landscape ablaze with this spectacular flaming-red heuchera variety, Fire Alarm. A real show stopper in any season, this heuchera features big, glossy foliage that is bright red in spring, taking on brown tones for summer and then turns back to bright red come fall. White spikes of pink, bell-shaped flowers rise above the foliage in summer. Heuchera Fire Alarm offers bold texture and color contrast in mixed containers, mass plantings, borders and groundcovers and is evergreen in mild winter climates. It is often used as a 'filler' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination.

Fire Alarm will grow to approximately 10-inches tall at maturity with a spread of 16-inches. Its foliage tends to remain low and dense right to the ground. This plant performs well in both full sun and full shade and is loved by butterflies, pollinators, hummingbirds and is deer resistant. Heuchera Fire Alarm is a delightful selection to complement just about any color scheme.

Trend Alert: Pilea Peperomioides aka “Chinese Money Plant”

At McDonald Garden Center, we’ve been carrying the rare pilea peperomioides for a while. Their adorable, pancake-shaped leaves and easy-to-grow nature already made them a superstar in our eyes. But when we started to receive numerous phone calls inquiring if we carried them, we took notice.

The story of the pilea peperomioides’ success is as endearing as it is enlivening. According to legend, in the 1940s Norwegian missionary Agnar Espegren brought cuttings home after his travels to the southwestern Yunnan province of China. Because it’s easy to propagate, he shared cuttings with friends and family. With all these Scandinavian homes adorning their décor with the pilea, it was only a matter of time before international demand took over. Friends and family began sharing cuttings since it was in such low supply, allowing this “friendship plant’ to become more than just ornamental, but a reminder of how connected we are.

If you’re lucky enough to snag one, here’s some tips on keeping your pilea peperomioides happy and thriving.

• Bright light, but not direct sunlight
• Is hardy up to freezing.
• Rotate weekly to maintain shape
• Use a good draining potting soil as the pilea needs to dry out after watering
• Make sure your pot has drainage holes
• Wipe down leaves as the wide foliage tends to collect dust
• Treat monthly with McDonald Garden Center Greenleaf fertilizer

Pieris, Katsura
Pieris, Katsura Foliage
Pieris, Tiki

Pieris, More Than Just Flowers

Who doesn't love an evergreen shrub that offers layers of gorgeous, cascading flowers, striking foliage and provides year-round interest. Pieris, also known as Lily of the Valley, is a charming and versatile shrub that flowers from late winter to early spring. Bloom color ranges from shades of white, pink and rosy-red. But the show's not over when the flowers fade. New foliage emerges in colors ranging from bronzy-pink to fiery-red. Leaf colors last for 2-3 weeks and then turn green as they mature.

This slow yet steady grower is available in many different varieties, so you're sure to find one that suits the size of your landscape. Pieris is easy to care for and prefers partial shade and moist, acidic soil. Older plants can be limbed up to look like small trees. Pieris is frequently grouped together in a mixed planting under trees or against a wall. As cut flowers, pieris is trendy in wedding bouquets. Here are a few of our favorite pieris varieties:

Pieris 'Tiki'
This unique, rarely seen variety has exquisite wedding, cake-like layers of white flowers on graceful, arching stems. Flashy buds stand out against glossy foliage through winter, opening to white, bell-shaped blooms. Tiki has a compact, rounded form that makes an excellent accent, massed planting or clipped hedge.

Pieris 'Katsura'
This evergreen shrub features long trusses of sweetly scented, pink flowers that spill over shiny foliage in spring. Beautiful, wine-red new foliage appears throughout the season turning dark green with age. This vigorous, moderately fast growing selection makes an excellent container accent, foundation planting or hedge.

Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel

Let Witch Hazel Cast a Spell on You

Looking to add a brilliant splash of color to your winter landscape? Look no further than witch hazel. This shrub features spellbinding winter color in shades of gold, orange, and red. Better yet, it blooms when other plants are done. Its spicy fragrance and spidery flowers in yellow, orange and reds make it a must for the winter landscape. In spring it erupts with a new robe of greenery, while in summer its thick, scalloped-shaped leaves form a dense screen of dark green. Witch Hazel is a rugged, early spring bloomer that provides much needed food for the pollinators. This hardy shrub can reach 30 feet high and 15 feet wide at maturity making them excellent as a screen, border or mixed hedge. It does best in sun or part shade and tolerates a wide range of growing conditions.

Witch hazel is probably best known for its medicinal and topical uses. In fact, it is one of the few plants approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a non-prescription ingredient. Witch hazel can be found in everything from facial toner, to acne lotion, to deodorant and bug spray. For centuries, Native Americans introduced it to early settlers for relief of swelling and irritation.

Witch hazel may not be magical, but it can bring life to your garden for many seasons to come.

McDonald Garden Center Gift Card
Simple Souther T-Shirts & More
Bouquet Series Foaming Soaps

Our Valentine's Top Five Picks

Valentine's Day sneaks up on us every year, but no worries - we have a whole host of possibilities for that someone special on your list. And need we remind you that roses aren't the only choice. So, if those diamond studs are not in your budget this year, consider giving one of these cupid approved gift this Valentine's Day!

This HEART-shaped flower symbolizes hospitality and their unique heart shape makes a perfect Valentine's present. Anthuriums are long-lasting and irresistibly beautiful and bloom in vibrant shades of pink, red, lavender, or even white. They also make a long-lasting cut flower, if you can bear to cut them.

Representing rare and delicate beauty, orchids are elegant and long-lasting, making them the perfect gift. Color range includes whites, pinks, lavenders and yellows in both solid colors or stripes and spots. And, we don't mean to brag, but McDonald Garden Center has one of the largest collections of orchids in Hampton Roads.

McDonald Gift Cards
Not sure what to give this Valentine's Day - give them the gift of choice. A gift card can be purchased in any amount from $10 to $300 at any McDonald location or online. Gift cards can be redeemed at any McDonald location or can be used for landscape services. Best of all, you don't have to worry about a size or color.

Give cozy and stylish comfort from the heart with our assortment of scarves, hats, gloves and World's Softest socks. And for the southern belle on your list, choose from our fun collection of Simply Southern t-shirts.

Bouquet Series Foaming Soaps
Shea butter, aloe vera, and pure fragrances create these luxury foaming soaps featuring delightful scents Michel Design Works is famous for. Beautifully packaged with Michel Design Works signature medallion in an easy to use and elegant square container.

Rose Brick House
Rose Sweet Madmoiselle

Stop and Smell the Roses - New Roses for 2018

"Of all the flowers, me thinks a rose is best." - William Shakespeare

No garden, from cottage to contemporary, is really complete without at least a few of these whimsical flowering shrubs. Their intoxicating fragrance, beautiful form, and ease of care makes roses hard to resist. As the symbol of love, they have inspired musicians, poets, and authors. Shakespeare alone mentioned roses more than 50 times in his poems and plays. If you're a fellow rose-lover or just looking to add a punch of color to your landscape, here are two new rose introductions for 2018 that you'll want to add to your garden this year:

Rose 'Brick House'
A revelation in red, Brick House™ features small, semi-double, dark-red blooms fringed in dark green foliage. This rose reblooms throughout the season offering a lot of flower power with a strong disease-resistant package to keep them looking good, without a lot of effort. Brick House makes a perfect addition to any landscape, adding color, height and fragrance.

Rose 'Sweet Mademoiselle'
A paradise of pink, this rose changes colors with the changing temperatures. In hot weather, the flowers are light apricot; when it's cooler, they turn peachy-pink to deep pink. The blooms of Sweet Mademoiselle™ are complemented by deep green, disease-resistant foliage. The full, double blooms are sweetly scented on 5-foot shrubs. This hybrid tea blooms from summer into fall and thrives in full sun with rich, well-drained, soil.

Evergreen Clematis Armandii

Growing Up, Down & All Around, Evergreen Vine Clematis Armandii

Vines add a dynamic finishing touch to any landscape by providing color, texture and vertical interest. Climbing vines are an especially valuable element in small spaces or where tall, blank walls cry out for décor. In addition to creating a delightful floral panel, vines can also be extremely functional, serving as privacy screens, hiding eyesores, or shelter from hot afternoon sun.

Flowering vines are an easy way to make a big statement in the garden and few vines offer the versatility of Clematis Armandii. Armandii has foliage that is not only evergreen, but is also eye-catching and is worth growing just for that. Now, throw in contrasting fragrant, vanilla scented, white flowers, and you'll soon see why this clematis is so sought after.

Armandii flowers in late February to early March offering color and interest even in the darker, colder months. This climber grows in all directions and eventually reaches 20 to 25 feet in height with a spread of up to 10 feet. Provide them with good soil, reasonable moisture, and shade at their roots and this year-round showstopper will 'grow up' in your garden for years to come.

Daphne Green
Daphne Variegated

Stop and Smell the Daphne

Whoever coined the phrase, “Stop and smell the roses,” clearly has never stopped to smell the daphne. Revered for the angelically intoxicating fragrance of a citrusy-honeyed, almost baby powderesque perfume, daphne is usually the first thing that comes to mind when our customers visit our stores and ask, “There was this plant I remember from my youth that had the most amazing smell!”

In fact, we tie so many of our memories to smell (some even say it’s our strongest sensory trigger) that it makes sense so many of us are yearning for that sweet aroma in the serene space we’ve created in our gardens.

But though winter daphne is renowned for the fragrance, the foliage is equally as lovely. From delicate rosy-pink blooms and yellow-margined foliage in the variegated varieties to the lush green leaves and vibrant blooms of the Japanese Zuiko Nishiki, this evergreen holds her own in a refined landscape.

Partial shade or sun and regular watering requirements encourage the daphne to be situated in a trafficked shade garden or near a patio or deck. The key to this plants’ prowess is excellent drainage- enough so that the water doesn’t stand and the roots get waterlogged, but not so arid that it’s constantly dry.

Wherever you frequent most is where you’re going to want this beautiful addition. It get’s an A+ for winter hardiness. With all the snow we’ve been having and may have in the future, this may be the cornerstone of this season’s planting plan. And when early spring comes, you’ll be sure to enjoy the sweet smell of success.

How do Drastic Changes in Temperature Affect Landscape Plants?

Written by McDonald Garden Center CEO, Eddie Anderson

Weather affects plants in many obvious ways, but also in ways we may not realize, and this winter’s fluctuating temperatures are certainly a cause for concern. Here’s an overview of the weather patterns that have occurred over the last few months and how they may affect your plants:

Prolonged Mild Fall Season Temperatures
First, a prolonged, mild, fall season did not prepare hardy plants for the winter. Plants develop their cold hardiness in stages. Each new temperature low increases the plant's ability to survive even colder temps. Maximum hardiness is usually reached in late January and early February and is best achieved by a gradual chilling. This year, the cold was delayed then hit with a vengeance. Cold temperatures can split the bark and conducting tissue of plants. The result is death of the stem beginning at the point of the split. The late warmth allowed the plant cell tissue to retain more moisture thus reducing the concentration of salts and chemicals in the cell that act as antifreeze in high concentrations. As a result, the cells freeze and burst and plant death occurs.

Drought Prior to the Cold Snap
We also experienced a period of drought prior to the cold snap. This tends to cause plants to have a more difficult time during the winter. Most likely, this has to do with root loss and limiting ability of the plant to convert sugars to starch for long-term storage in plant tissue.

Then came the snow. This is a real benefit to the plants. Snow replenishes the soil moisture and acts as a wonderful, protective blanket to help retain the warmth in the soil. What we don’t know is the depth of penetration of the cold, how deep did the frost go and what was the low temperature in the root zone. All roots die at temperatures below 15 degrees. Did the earth get cold enough to cause root damage? How much frost heave has occurred? Heaving may tear up roots and expose them to colder temperatures. Perennials and small shrubs with shallow roots are the most susceptible. As soon as the ground thaws, we recommend that you inspect plants and press them back into their original place so, the root makes good soil contact.

High Winds
During the cold, we also experienced high winds. Unless the plants were small and covered by snow, the wind pulled the moisture out of the leaf tissue. This causes severe wind burn, since the leaves are frozen and cannot replace the moisture. Next comes warm temperatures. Here is where the problems arise. The sun and warm temperatures thaw out the leaves and stems. They begin to function and have a need for water. The roots are still frozen and cannot function resulting in further dehydration. Plants that are in sunny locations are the most susceptible. Plants that are in the shade, often on the north and west side of your home, have less fluctuation of temperature.

No matter how well you plan, Mother Nature is in charge. Just be sure to stay attune to weather conditions and try to protect plants as best you can. And remember, spring is just around the corner!