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The Blog: Let's Talk Gardening
#10 - Geraniums
#9 - Petunias and Million Bells
#9 - Millions Bells
#8 - Coleus
#7 - Euphorbia (Diamond Frost and Diamond Snow)
#6 - Hibiscus
#5 - Impatiens (New Guinea and SunPatiens)
#5 - Impatiens, New Guinea
#5 - Impatiens, SunPatiens
#4 - Portulaca and Purslane
#3 - Scaveloa
#2 - Begonias (Green and Bronze Leaf)
#1 - Lantana

The Garden Guru's Top Ten Annuals for Hampton Roads

Whether you’re looking to fill a window box, add a little curb appeal to your front walk, or just fill in a few gaps in the landscape, annuals are just what your garden needs to get it from now to WOW! McDonald Garden Center’s Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, shares his top ten annuals for Hampton Roads.

WHAT ARE ANNUALS?

Annual plants live for one growing season and then die, while perennials regrow every spring.

#10 - GERANIUMS

With a distinctive bloom and ruffly, textured leaves, geraniums give big color all spring and summer long. There’s lots of choices when it comes to color and variety.

  • Loves the sun but can take some shade.
  • Heat tolerant.
  • Available in lots of colors - reds, pinks, whites, and corals.
  • Great in containers, hanging baskets, or in the landscape.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Deadhead geraniums regularly to prevent seed production and extend the length of the flowering season by forcing more energy into flower production.

#9 - PETUNIAS AND MILLION BELLS

PETUNIAS

Petunias are easy to grow and come in an almost unlimited assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes. From compact to mounding habits, there’s a petunia to fit any garden situation.

  • Sun loving/full sun.
  • Prolific bloomer.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Ideal in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Don’t require a lot of deadheading in the landscape but will need to be pruned/deadheaded when planted in containers.

TIP: Petunias have a tendency to get leggy and bloom less heavily in late summer. Shear the plants back by one third to encourage new growth and then fertilize them to give them a second wind.

MILLION BELLS

Million bells are an easy to grow annual that produces one-inch blossom that resemble tiny petunias. A classic spiller plant, it has a trailing habit, and looks great in hanging baskets, bowls, or mixed containers.

  • Sun loving/full sun.
  • Prolific bloomer.
  • Comes in a rainbow of colors - solids and two-tones, stripes, patterns, and double blooms.
  • Compact oval-shaped leaves.
  • Ideal in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Like petunias, these don’t require a lot of deadheading in the landscape, but you can pinch back regularly to encourage a more compact growth habit in containers.

#8 - COLEUS

Coleus plants give color all-season long in full sun, shade, and everything in between.Their bold and beautiful foliage makes them the center of attention
no matter where they’re planted.

  • Sun or shade – depending on the variety.
  • Available in lots of beautiful foliage colors and color combinations (greens, reds, oranges, purples, etc.).
  • Great as a standalone in containers or paired with sweet potato vine, etc..
  • Feed regularly (about every two to three weeks for container-grown and every four to six week for in-ground plants).
  • Water regularly, keeping soil moist.
  • Keep plants looking tidy and maintain their size and shape by pinching or trimming stem tips.
  • To promote denser and more compact growth, pinch out flower spikes before they elongate.

#7 - EUPHORBIA (DIAMOND FROST AND DIAMOND SNOW)

Diamond frost

Diamond Frost produces delicate, gray-green foliage with petite, white blossoms. This plant is tough and is both heat and drought tolerant. Diamond Frost has unstoppable flower power, and blooms all summer long.

  • Full sun to part shade.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Perfect in hanging baskets or as a filler in containers.

Diamond Snow

Diamond Snow has the same habit and easy-to-grow features as the original favorite, Diamond Frost, but it features double white flowers and a mounding habit.

  • Full to partial sun.
  • Great in hanging baskets, as a standalone in containers or as a filler in mixed containers, or as a border in the landscape.

#6 - HIBISCUS

Annual hibiscus is an easy to grow variety that features big, bold blooms that creates an instant tropical feel. Plant in the garden or pot up several plants to create vibrant focal points around a deck, patio, or pool.

  • Tropical and loves full sun.
  • Blooms all summer long.
  • Comes in white, pink, red, orange, yellow, and bi-color.
  • Use in garden beds and containers.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Remove spent blooms.
  • Pruning helps maintain a nice shape and size and encourages a fuller plant.
  • Bring hibiscus in during the winter to keep them year-round.
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

#5 - IMPATIENS (NEW GUINEA AND SUNPATIENS)

Impatiens flowers have much to offer, including shade-tolerance, long-lasting blooms, and brightly colored blossoms that come in a variety of colors.

New Guinea

New Guinea impatiens provide long-blooming flower power for a part sun to shade areas in the garden.

  • Part sun to shade.
  • Low maintenance and high performing.
  • Blooms in pastels and vibrant colors including white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets and in the landscape.
  • No deadheading required.

SunPatiens

SunPatiens flourish in full sun, high heat, and high humidity, making them perfect for Hampton Roads’ summers.

  • Grow in sun or shade (more tolerant of sun).
  • Low maintenance and high performing.
  • Blooms in pastels and vibrant colors including white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • No deadheading required.

Garden Impatiens

Typical garden variety impatien.

  • Shade-tolerance
  • Long-lasting blooms.
  • Available in a variety of colors.>
  • Use as a bedding plant, in containers, hanging baskets, and window boxes.

#4 - Portulaca & Purslane

Portulaca

Portula is a popular, drought-tolerant annual that loves the hot, dry days of summer. These plants are low-growing spreaders with thick succulent leaves and vibrant, cup-shaped flowers.

  • Sun loving.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Dome-shaped habit with thick, succulent-like leaves.
  • Come in a variety of colors - pink, coral, red, yellow, and white.
  • Fertilize and shape to keep them looking their best.
  • Attracts pollinators.

Purslane

Purslane is a tough, vigorous, low-growing
annual flower that thrives in hot, dry conditions and adds tons of color with a minimum of care.

  • Loves full sun.
  • Flatter leaf than its cousin portulaca.
  • Thrives in hot, dry conditions (drought tolerant).
  • Blooms in lots of bright colors - yellow, orange, rose, red, and white.
  • Use in beds, borders, containers, and hanging baskets.
  • Fertilize and shape to keep them looking their best.

#3 - SCAVEOLA

Scaveloa is a easy care, heat loving plant with spoon-shaped leaves and fan-shaped flowers. Its thick stems ensure drought tolerance in full sun locations.

  • Loves full sun.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Trailing habit.
  • Produces blue, pink, or white flowers.
  • Good in containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets.
  • Feed in containers every three to four weeks.
  • No deadheading required.
  • Attracts butterflies.

#2 - BEGONIAS (GREEN AND BRONZE LEAF)

Begonias are an easy to grow annual that does well in a variety of conditions and needs little to thrive. Begonias plants are grown for both their leaf forms and their blooms and are available in many different leaf colors, shapes, sizes, and colors.

Green Leaf Begonia

  • Designed for shade
  • Easy to grow.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Gumdrop/round habit.
  • Use in the landscape, hanging baskets, or containers.
  • Available in pinks, whites, and reds.
  • No deadheading required.

Bronze Leaf

  • Full sun.
  • Easy grow and versatile.
  • Comes in white, pink, or red.
  • Use in the landscape, hanging baskets, or containers.
  • Feed in containers every three to four weeks.

OTHER BEGONIA VARIETIES:

Big Leaf (available in bronze and green leaf) • Dragon Wing • Angel Wing • Solenia

#1 - LANTANA

Lantana are a durable, easy-to-grow plant that thrives in drought and harsh sunlight conditions. Lantana boasts tons of brightly colored flowers all summer and into fall.

  • Needs full sun.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Tolerant of both drought and humid conditions.
  • Comes in purple, red, orange, white, pink, yellow, and bi-color.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Some varieties have spreading habit while others have open habit or compact habit.
  • Deadheading is not required (prune longer branches if desired).
  • Can cut the plant back by one-third if lantana gets long and leggy in midsummer, or just shear the tips.
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

To learn how to care for summer annuals click here.

Chinese Evergreen (aglaonema)
Snake Plant (Mother-in-law's tongue)
Anthurium
Fiddle Leaf Fig
Succulent
Monstera (Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron)

Bring Life to Your Virtual Space, Zoom-worthy Plants

These days, video chat is the new normal and a vital tool for staying connected with family, friends, and coworkers. And whether you’re looking to up your game for working from home meetings or impress your friends at a virtual happy hour the only thing more important than your face is your zoom-room background.

Looking for ways to take you video calls to the next level? Why not add a little greenery to your virtual interior. Plants can boost your mood, increase productivity and efficiency, and add texture and color to any space. From a large, sculptural plant filling in a drab corner to charming succulents for a desktop- there's a place for plants in every home. Share your green thumb and beautify your cybernetic background and your home with some of these low maintenance, zoom-worthy plants:

PLANTS FOR LOW LIGHT

Snake Plants (Mother-in-law’s tongue) add style and modern charm to any room with their upright, sword-like foliage that can grow to four-feet in height. Snake plants are easy to care for and will even tolerate some neglect. They like bright light but will grow in everything from direct sun to shade. Allow the soil to dry before watering. Use larger snake plant varieties to fill a vacant corner or place smaller varieties on a table or desktop.

Chinese Evergreens (aglaonema) are another versatile, low light houseplant option. Adored for their big, beautiful, colorful leaves, their low-maintenance requirements and their ability to adapt to a variety of conditions makes them great for houseplant beginners. Aglaonema will tolerate a wide range of lighting scenarios from very low light to bright but not direct sunlight. A moderate drying between waterings is okay, but the soil shouldn’t dry out completely. Perfect on tabletops and desktops.

PLANTS FOR MEDIUM LIGHT

Monstera (Swiss cheese plant or split-leaf philodendron) is a tropical favorite. The foliage is deep green and lush with an intricate cut-leaf shape. As a tropical plant, it’s no surprise that monstera likes warm indoor temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees. A little humidity makes them feel right at home. Monstera prefers bright or filtered, indirect light. Water when soil becomes dry. Use larger plants on the floor by a table or sofa or to fill an empty corner.

Anthuriums are a low maintenance, flowering plant that boasts heart-shaped blooms and comes in several colors including pink, purple, red, and white. Anthuriums do best in bright, filtered light. Water enough to keep the soil lightly moist but never wet. The bright, showy flowers make a great color accent on a table, desk, bookshelf, or countertop.

PLANTS FOR HIGH LIGHT

Fiddle Leaf Figs are a wildly popular houseplant with large, heavily veined, violin-shaped leaves that grow upright on a tall plant. Fiddle leaf figs are native to the tropics, where they thrive in very warm, high light conditions. Give them a vacation outside during warmer months and bring them indoors when cold weather sets in. Fiddle leaf figs perform best in bright light. Perfect in any sunny room location.

Succulents are one of the most versatile plants on the globe. Because they have shallow roots, they can survive without a great deal of care and thrive in drought-like conditions. Succulents also come in a variety of shapes and colors. Succulents prefer bright light, the brighter the better. 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. Succulents can be used in all sorts of ways; as table arrangements, on a desk, in a bookshelf, on a kitchen island, or in a bathroom– the skies the limit.

To read our blog on "The 5 Easiest Houseplants"click here.

To learn more about caring for houseplants click here.

A Get-Away-From-It-All, Secret Garden

Do you dream of a little spot tucked away in the back corner of the yard? A place where you can retreat and have some time to yourself. Maybe have a glass of wine and enjoy the colors and fragrances of the garden. If you’re feeling tense and irritable in quarantine with a crew, you are not alone — it’s likely a sign you may need some alone time. Even just ten minutes alone can do wonders for your psychological well-being. Well, you may want to consider a secret garden. There is no need for high brick walls or giant iron gates. The only requirement for a secret garden is that it be hidden. It doesn't need to be a large space, it simply needs to be secret, and you can do that with plants. Here are our recommendations for creating a secret spot:

CREATE THE FEELING OF ENCLOSURE
This can be accomplished with Ligustrum, Rose of Sharon, or any quick growing shrub. Screening even one corner with a hedge or placing a trellis with climbing vines can create a feeling of enclosure.

CREATE AN ENTRY FOR THE GARDEN
A flagstone path leading to the secret garden will complete the feeling that you are actually entering a separate place but to really make you feel as if you have your own special space, use a gate or a trellis at the entrance. For the trellis - or for the sides of the gate - any climbing flower will work such as Madison jasmine, honeysuckle, or mandevilla. Or, just create a little space between shrubs that allows you to slip through.

CREATE A FOCAL POINT
Consider a fountain, a peaceful resting bench, a statue, a birdbath, or even a unique planting such as a weeping cherry, or ornamental plum. Create your pathway through the entry leading right to your focal point. Plant ground covers or bright annuals around the focal point. Consider planting fragrant blooms like iris, gardenias, daphne, and daffodils that will bloom at different times during the season.

Add a couple of chairs or a wrought-iron bench, and your secret garden is ready for visitors - but only if you invite them!

Read our blog about "Living Fences" click here.

To learn more about adding structures to your garden click here.

Peppers, From Hot to Not

Whether you prefer the cool crunch of a sweet bell pepper or the feisty fire of a chili pepper, nothing beats the flavor of a freshly picked pepper. Their rich green leaves, compact form, and brightly colored fruit make them a contender for most any garden space. Nowadays, there are – literally – hundreds of varieties to choose from and deciding what to grow is half the fun!

Peppers comes in a variety of flavors, from sweet to mild to blistering hot. And when it comes to peppers, there’s one thing most pepper enthusiasts can agree on – the Scoville Scale for peppers.

What is the Scoville Scale?
Invented by American Pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912, the Scoville Scale measures the capsaicin concentration in units (the chemical compound that causes spicy heat). Simply put, it is a way to tell how hot a pepper is going to be. The higher the number, the hotter the pepper. The original Scoville test involved feeding peppers to volunteers, but thanks to modern-day science, we no longer need people to volunteer to taste hot peppers. Today, in order to obtain more accurate results, scientists use a technique called High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to determine the exact concentration of capsaicin in a pepper. The Scoville Scale remains the most widely used and respected when it comes to measuring the heat of a pepper.

Here are a few of our favorite from hot to not pepper selections (Scoville units are indicated in parenthesis for each of the peppers below):

SWEET TO MILD VARIETIES

Bell (0 unites) - Green pepper that ripens to yellow or red with a grassy flavor and super-crunchy texture. Can be eaten either raw or cooked. Often dried and powdered (paprika) and is popular for stuffing with ground meat or quinoa and veggies.

Banana (100-500 units) - Long, curved-shape yellow pepper that is mild and tangy in flavor. Perfect for pickling and tasty in salads and on sandwiches.

Poblano (1,000–1,500 units) – Ripen from dark green to rust red. Used to make chile rellenos and is often dried and ground into chile powder. Nice in salsas or when you want some heat but not too much.

HOT VARIETIES

Jalapeno (2,500-8,000 units) – Medium-sized chile pepper with a mild to moderate amount of heat. Used to flavor everything from salsas to chili to salad dressings.

Serrano (10,000-23,000 units) - Hot, pungent, candle-shaped fruits that mature from green to bright red. Good for pickling or in salsas. The pepper of choice for making Pico de Gallo.

Cayenne (50,000-100,000 units) – 6 to 7-inch long fruit, slightly hotter than jalapenos. Excellent steeped in oil or vinegar for flavorful condiments. Enjoy fresh, canned, or pickled.

Thai Chilies (50,000-100,000) - are an essential ingredient to many tasty Thai and Asian dishes. Used to complement curries, stir-fries, sauces, soups, and salads.

Habaneros (100,000-350,000) - Small orange peppers that may also come in red, yellow, brown, and green variants. Used in salsas, sauces, and any dish requiring some heat.

EXTREMELY HOT VARIETIES

Caribbean Hot Red (300,000-445,000 units) - Produces 1 ¾-inch long by 2-inch wide wrinkled, hot peppers that ripen from lime green to a brilliant red. Same distinctive taste as habanero but hotter. Excellent for use in salsas, marinades, and hot sauces.

Ghost Pepper (855,000-1,041,427 units) - Ripe peppers measure 2.5 to 3.3-inches long with a red, yellow, orange, white, purple, or chocolate color. Intense sweet chili flavor (heat does not kick in for 30 – 45 seconds). Used in hot sauces or dehydrated and ground into powders or chili flakes.

Trinidad Scorpion (1,200,000–2,000,000 units) - Wrinkled, lantern-shaped fruit ripens to a searing red orange. Take caution even when touching the leaves. Wear gloves while handling and chopping.

Carolina Reaper (1,400,000–2,200,000 units) - Has been called the hottest pepper in the world to date. 2 to 3-inch bright red pepper with a unique stinger tail that is unlike any other pepper. Insanely hot with an underlying sweet flavor with a hint of cinnamon and chocolate undertones.

Can you take the heat? There are many benefits to eating hot peppers. Capsaicin seems to have a positive effect on blood cholesterol and is an ingredient used to treat conditions from arthritis to psoriasis. Some scientists speculate that the brain releases endorphins in response to the discomfort produced by the chile pepper’s burn- often referred to as a “hot pepper high”.

To view our video "Tips for Growing Peppers" click here.

Small patio, weathered pergola, and ample seating.
Hedges for privacy and structure.
A fountain as a water feature or as a focal point.
Add color, contrast and texture.

10 Essentials of Great Gardens

When you find yourself in a sensational garden it’s difficult to say just what it is that makes it so great. And garden spaces don't have to be large to be great. This small corner of lawn—with a small patio, weathered pergola, and ample seating —is perfect for relaxing at the end of a long day.

Additionally, we all respond in various ways to different things based on our memories of past experiences. If we had a particularly pleasant garden experience in childhood (haven’t we all?), those pleasant feelings will recur when we find ourselves in similar settings.

There are, however, key characteristics of great gardens that, when combined in a skillful, artistic way, work together to create beautiful, satisfying, and even great gardens. While we sometimes call smaller areas “gardens” (rose garden, vegetable, herb and cutting gardens etc.), these are all just part of our larger gardens. Here are our 10 essential elements of a great garden.

ENCLOSURE
The best gardens have a sense of enclosure. They may not be completely surrounded, but there must be a sense of refuge, a feeling of safety and privacy. Visual boundaries don’t necessarily need to be inside your property line (“borrowed” scenery is a classic garden element), but great gardens are all verdant “spaces apart.” Enclosure can also provide a literal or psychological sound barrier for unwanted noise.

DISTINCT PERSONALITY
The very best gardens are a reflection of their creators’ and owners’ personalities. Unless you’re slavishly copying something from a book, magazine or Instagram, you can’t help but create something unique if you choose plants and garden decor you love. Never be afraid to experiment. If you like it, it works.

PLACES TO SIT
Gardens are not meant to just walk through. They’re for relaxation, conversation and solitary daydreaming. Gardens are also the best way to reconnect with nature. Make sure you have a place to rest and enjoy nature’s creatures and their activities and the beauty of all kinds of plants.

SHADE
Where summers are hot, shade in the garden is essential. You’ll want to place your seating areas where there’s protection during the hottest hours of the day. In evenings, light plays an important role. String lights are a simple and inexpensive way to invite guests to visit various parts of a garden, or you can have a professionally designed lighting plan installed.

FOCAL POINT
Everything in a garden, just like room décor indoors, can’t be of equal importance. Our eyes need a place to rest. So create one, or just a few, primary focal points and, if your garden is large, some secondary points. The objects of these points can be sculpture, a water feature, a bench, or a striking plant. Add surrounding plants and other materials that support, but not compete with these focal points.

MYSTERY
Great gardens are places of exploration, surprise and even mystery. Break up large spaces into smaller rooms by using hedges. Use gates at transition points to provide an element of surprise when opened. Create a few deep flower or shrubs beds that invite deeper inspection. Unusual and intriguing plants are yet another way to create surprise and invite exploration.

COLOR. OR NOT.
Color is usually the first thing we think about when planning a garden. But remember, green is a color, too. It’s one of the most restful, and luxuriant ones as well. And there are a zillion tones of it. Nothing wrong with a sophisticated and subtle all-green garden where texture and shape provide the pleasure.

CONTRAST
When leaf and flower size and shape are too similar, a restless, busy garden is the result. You may not be able to put your finger on why you don’t care for certain plant combinations, but it’s usually because there’s no contrast in shape or size. Extreme contrast of either creates a lot of interest and drama.

RHYTHUM
Here’s a subtle element. Rhythm is not confined to music. If you don’t repeat key colors, shapes, what you end up with is an odd collection, not a garden. Once again, they eye can’t rest. Repeat key colors, plants or textures. It will create minor resting points and unity.

WATER
Water (moving or not) provides a cooling sensation. But it can also change the character of a garden space—the sound of a fountain provides a bit of energy, whereas a still body of water is calming. The use of water in a garden can be visually and aurally subtle or grand and spectacular. Make sure your water feature fits the character you want.

To learn more about garden structures click here.

Container Gardening Basics

If you’re not convinced about growing in containers, we're here to persuade you otherwise. No matter what your gardening challenge, it's very possible that container gardening is the answer. Bad soil? Limited space? Small yard? No yard? No worries! You can grow just about anything in a container – veggies, herbs, annuals, dwarf evergreens, perennials, succulents, and more. Not only will containers add color, they can also provide a focal point in the garden, or tie in the architecture of the house to the landscape. A pair of matching containers on either side of the front walk serves as a warm welcome to guests, while containers on a deck or patio can add ambience and a punch of color to outdoor gathering areas. Whether you want to grow tomatoes, enhance a porch or patio, or attract hummingbirds to your deck, all can be easily accomplished with a little container gardening know-how. Follow these simple steps to make your very own container:

PICK YOUR POT
Pots and containers come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and colors. Choose one that fits your style and space. Select from terra cotta, ceramic, stone, wood, cement, metal, or plastic. Be aware, however, that porous material such as terra cotta will dry out a little faster. Also, check to see that your container has a good drainage hole, since insufficient drainage can cause plant roots to drown. If your container doesn’t have a drain hole, drill your own or line the bottom of the container with several inches of small rocks.

TIP: Window boxes are ideal for those living in an apartment or those who have a balcony. These can provide the space necessary to grow plants, flowers, or herbs even in the smallest of spaces.

PICK YOUR SOIL
Invest in your soil from the start to encourage a healthy environment for your container plants. A quality potting soil helps plants retain moisture, provides enough air for growing roots to breathe, and supports your plants by providing anchorage for the roots. It’s important to use a potting soil in containers. Other soils are heavier and thicker and can clog the drain holes causing plant roots to drown. Some potting mixes also contain granules of dry, slow-release fertilizer, which is an added bonus. McDonald organic or traditional all-purpose potting soils are formulated specifically for Hampton Roads and are ideal for use in containers.

PICK YOUR PLANTS
Choose plants that go together not only by color but also those that need the same growing conditions. Annual packs are one of the easiest ways to add color and are available in both sun and shade-loving varieties.

  • Sun to part sun plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Choose from dianthus, verbena, petunias, marigolds, begonias, salvia, celosia, portulaca, and zinnias.
  • Shade to part shade plants require less than four hours of direct sun. They should also be placed in an area that is protected from the hot, afternoon sun. Choose from coleus, impatiens, dusty miller, and polka dot plants.

Get more annual ideas from The Summer Annual Cheat Sheet by Kate Karem of Monrovia.

TIP: Use hanging baskets for a quick and easy way to fill a container for instant enjoyment.

PLANT YOUR CONTAINER

  1. To get started, fill your container with enough soil so the base of the plant (where the stem sprouts from the soil’s surface) is about one inch from the top of the pot- this will make it easier for you to water later. If your potting soil doesn't contain fertilizer, sprinkle a handful over the soil and mix in.
  2. Next, carefully remove plants from the container by gently squeezing around the sides to loosen the root ball enough to slide out.
  3. Loosen plant roots slightly and gently place in the fertilized soil mix.
  4. Once all your plants have been arranged, fill in around plants with potting soil. Lightly pack the soil around the plants to help prevent air pockets and to help establish a good root to soil connection.
  5. Once you’ve planted your container, water it thoroughly. This will hydrate your plants and firm the soil around the roots.

FERTILIZE REGULARLY
Rapidly growing plants need plenty of nutrients, and container plantings need more frequent fertilizing, since nutrients run through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot when watered. Fertilize containers every two to three weeks with a granular or liquid fertilizer. McDonald Greenleaf fertilizers are developed specifically for plants in Hampton Roads and are a great, general all-purpose fertilizer. Greenleaf releases nutrients slowly, keeping container plants healthy and strong. In fact, it’s what we use to fertilize our plants.

WATER WISELY
Follow these watering guidelines to ensure your plants stay hydrated and healthy all season long:

  • Water in the morning.
  • Water roots not the leaves.
  • Water deep and less often.
  • Water less in cooler temps.
  • If your plants and flowers look wilted during the hottest time of the day, it doesn't always mean they need watering. As long as the top of the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to water. Wilting is a self-protective mechanism to prevent too much moisture loss from the root area. Wait and see if the plants perk up after the sun goes down.

TIP: Does my container need watering? Do the finger test - Insert your finger down into the soil. If the soil is dry from the tip of your finger to your first knuckle, it’s time to water.

Find more on watering here.

KEEP THEM LOOKING THEIR BEST
Keep your container plants looking their best throughout the growing season by pruning leggy stems back and removing damaged foliage. Deadheading flowers will help your plants stay disease free and will also encourage new flowers to form. Cut back plants if they get too wild in order to keep the desired shape and form.

CONTAINER IDEAS TO GET STARTED
You will be amazed by just how much you can grow in containers! With a little creativity and imagination, you can create a container garden for your specific interest or simply to add color. Here are a few ideas for container gardens.

Pizza Garden Container – A pizza garden consists of herbs and vegetables used to make pizza. It’s a great way to show kids where food comes from and how it can be used to make delicious meals. Use tomatoes, peppers, onions, spinach, garlic, oregano. parsley, basil, and cilantro.

Mosquito Repellant Container – Why not make a container that not only looks great, but deters mosquitos naturally? Use marigolds, lemongrass, mint, and citronella geranium.

Tea Garden Container – Served hot or cold, herbal teas are a delicious way to experience the refreshing flavor of herbs that can be grown in your very own garden. Use lavender, mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, ginger, thyme, and chamomile. For more on Tea Gardens click here.

Cocktail Garden Container – Create and plant your own cocktail garden to ensure a fresh supply of ingredients for all your favorite cocktail creations. Use mint, basil, lavender, sage, and rosemary.

To view our video on Gardening for Small Spaces click here.

Nurture Nature - Composting at Home

What is Composting? In simple terms, it's a controlled breakdown of biodegradable garden or kitchen waste. All organic matter will, in time, break down through the interaction of soil microorganisms and become and excellent soil conditioner and nutrient supply for better growth of your plants, shrubs and lawn.

As communities across America become more environmentally conscious, we will want to make composting a part of our everyday life. Why wait to be forced to do something that could be so beneficial to our flowers and vegetable gardening? Composting not only makes use of our unwanted wastes, it provides us with rich organic matter that can change even the most unproductive soil into a medium that allows us to successfully grow anything we wish. And, composting keeps waste materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

When plants, animals, and insects die, their waste is returned to the soil. Soil microorganisms decompose them so that their nutrients can again be used by plants. Technically, composting is taking place all around us all the time. By organizing and utilizing these waste materials, we can speed up the composting process and thus become better stewards of our environment.

3 EASY STEPS TO COMPOSTING:

STEP 1: Choosing the Location. Choose a site on open ground - no pavement - that is well-drained, shaded and conveniently located near a garden hose and to the garden area to avoid hauling waste long distances.

STEP 2: Building the Bin. The compost bin should be 4-6 feet square and allow you to pile garden wastes about 4 feet high. The bin needs to have openings in its sides so that air can penetrate the pile so that the fungi and bacteria that are doing the composting can get enough oxygen.

STEP 3: Combining the Ingredients. Begin your compost pile with a 4-6inch layer of organic matter. This layer can include straw, sawdust, leaves, garbage, twigs and branches, weeds, shredded black and white newspaper - in short, you can use any organic material except human fecal matter, diseased animals, and toxic materials. Avoid bones, meat, dairy products and grease because these may attract animals to dig in your compost bin. If you shred the material first, it will compost more quickly. A lawn mower will shred most material easily.

Cover this layer with 1-2 inches of good soil or well-rotted compost. Sprinkle a small layer of composting organic matter (such as Natural Guard Compost Maker) according to label instructions. This will speed up the process by introducing the microorganisms needed for decomposition. The surface of the pile should slope toward the center, forming a basin to collect water. Water well and repeat the layering process. Every 3-4 weeks, stir the contents, making sure you bring the outer edges to the center.

The interior of the compost heap will heat up to about 140 degrees F. as the microorganisms do their job. Also, the pile will gradually shrink in size. Fully mature compost resembles suppression, a light, rich loam that has a sweet, earthy smell. Congratulations! You have now turned trash into treasure!

TYPES OF COMPOSTERS:

Yard Pile - among the most popular outdoor composter options is the yard pile; which consists of compost materials, including leaves, twigs, weeds, grass clippings, and kitchen waste.

Tumbler Composter - is another popular type of composters because of its ease of use. Instead of needing to manually turn the compost pile, the tumbler design makes it easy to regularly mix the contents of your composter for faster decomposition.

Worm Composter - uses worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body. We recommend using the red wiggler, also known as trout or manure worms.

To learn more about composting and other ways to go green in the garden click here.

Heuchera, Spice Holy-Moly
Heuchera, Wildberry

Made for Shade - Heucheras NEW for 2020

Heucheras, also known as coral bells or alum root, are shade perennials known mostly for their striking, robust foliage. Heucheras begin to bloom in late spring and produce clusters of small blooms on spindly stems, typically in a magenta pink (hence the name coral bells). New cultivars and hybrids are being introduced regularly, giving gardeners stunning new colors choices that range from silver and gold to lime, burgundy, chocolate brown, purple, green and more. Its foliage may be evergreen or semi-evergreen, depending on the climate. This easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plant blends seamlessly with most other perennials in the landscape and does well in rock gardens, beds and borders, and under trees, shrubs or perennials. They grow moderately well in containers and provide great fall and winter interest. Heucheras can take full to part sun, but prefer a cooler and drier site in well-draining, humus-rich soil. Check out these two NEW, gorgeous heuchera varieties for 2020:

Heucherella Pumpkin Spice-Holy Moly - offers a sweet taste of fall in spring. Bronze-red leaves emerge in late spring with color into early summer. Four-inch lobed leaves have deep mahogany centers. Dark red stems with cream flowers appear in early summer with evergreen foliage in winter in most climates. For best foliage color and performance, plant in an area with filtered sun or afternoon shade. ‘Pumpkin Spice’ is naturally more heat and humidity tolerant and also has greater vigor than some other heucherellas.

Heuchera Wildberry - features large, scalloped, vivid purple leaves that keep their purple pigment for much of the season. Charcoal veins accent the leaf color making the leaves pop. Dark stems hold rosy pink calyxes and white flowers. Because of their low, mounding habit, they are often used as edging along paths or in containers.

What's the differences between Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella:

Heuchera provide lots of color and a maple-shaped leaf that can be ruffled with veining, etc. Flowers are bell-shaped and bloom on tall or short stems.

Tiarella have lobed or heart-shaped foliage, which is typically green with maroon barring in the center. Its flowers are star-shaped and are usually clustered together at the top of the stems.

Heucherella are a result of crossing the two genus together (heuche + rella) and gets qualities from each of the two genus. The color usually comes from the heuchera and leaf shapes and markings from the Tiarella.

Images provided by Walters Gardens, Inc.

Garden for Health and Wellness

Gardening during COVID-19 is one way to boost your all-around well-being and help to minimize the negative impact that stress and anxiety have on your health. From a mental aspect, gardening can be a great way for adults and children to cope with boredom and help families gain a sense of security. Bottom line- gardening is good for you and your family.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate intensity activities such as gardening for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and premature death. Here are just some of the benefits you can reap from gardening:

It Clears Your Head - the benefits of gardening go well beyond physical health. Working and being in green spaces provides cognitive rest that can help reduce feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. In other words, if you’re looking for ways to relieve stress, look no further than your own backyard. Many people who garden do it because they enjoy it and say that gardening helps them to relax and escape from daily stresses. The psychological benefits of being outdoors and working in the sunshine and fresh air are also clear. Studies have shown the beneficial effects of simply being in nature for decreasing stress. In much the same way as a beautiful painting elevates the mood, looking at a summer garden, soaking up the colors, smells and sounds can help overall wellbeing.

It's Heart-Healthy - any activity that is brisk enough to leave you slightly out of breath and raise the heartbeat counts as moderate intensity exercise, which, according to the experts, can help protect against heart disease. Like any other form of exercise, you need to be active for at least 30 minutes for there to be a benefit. So, if the sun is shining what better incentive do you need for getting out into the garden and digging in the dirt?

It Burns Calories - losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume, and the amount of weight you’ll lose gardening depends on several factors including your size and the work you are performing. When it comes to burning calories, digging and shoveling are at the top of the list followed by mowing and weeding. Spend a half an hour doing any of the activities below and expect to burn between 100 to 250 calories (examples provided by Iowa State University):

  • Digging and shoveling: 250 calories
  • Lawn mowing: 195 calories
  • Weeding: 105 calories
  • Raking: 100 calories

It Tones You Up - not only does gardening burn calories – it strengthens and tones muscles as well. Gardening is a whole-body workout utilizing legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. For example, hedge trimming helps shape your biceps while raking and mowing will all help to strengthen the arms and shoulders as well as tone the abdominal muscles. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing a wheelbarrow and shoveling also provide resistance training, which leads to healthier bones and joints. To get the most out of your gardening workout alternate gardening tasks to make use of different muscle groups.

It Provides Good Nutrition - gardening is a simple way to get more nutrients in your diet. When you grow your own vegetables, herbs and berries you have more control. Don’t have a green thumb, no worries. Plant things that have a high sensory appeal like herbs. You can appreciate the smell, watch then respond to your nurturing and use them in cooking.

It Promotes Learning - don't forget to make kids part of the planting and growing process. Gardening helps kids engage their curiosity, learn to be resourceful and gain self-confidence. Exposure to fruits and vegetables may also encourage them to eat more of these beneficial foods.

It Brings Families Together - family gardening is a great way to plan and create something together and gets the whole family outside for some well-needed fresh air and physical activity.

The great thing about gardening is that it can be both energetic and relaxing at the same time. And there is nothing better than being able to stand back and admire the fruits of your labor while improving your health and wellbeing at the same time.

Warm-Up the Kettle, Make Your Own Tea Garden

With its appealing aroma and burst of flavor, it’s no wonder why people go crazy for a cup of tea, and we don't blame them. Served hot or cold, herbal teas are a delicious way to experience the refreshing flavor of herbs that can be grown in your very own garden. Tea is traditionally known for its calming effects and many of us turn to herbal teas to help unwind after a long day. Furthermore, herbal tea has been used for centuries as an at-home remedy for common ailments, such as headaches, stress, bloating, and nausea.

Herbs not only make wonderful teas, they also provide texture, shape, and color in the garden. Tea herbs can be incorporated into mixed borders and beds or planted together in a themed bed of their own. Don’t have a lot of space- no worries! If your growing space is limited, herbs can easily be grown in pots on the patio or deck. A sunny or partial sunny location are typically best for most herbs, however, be sure to follow the herb seed pack or herb label for planting instructions for growing success. Choose herbs that will grow best in accordance with your climate and available space. Above all, never spray herbs that will be used for culinary purposes with any type of pesticide.

Growing herbs in the garden is one of the easiest things to do. Whether you’re new to growing herbs or a seasoned expert, here are few herb growing and harvesting tips to help you to enjoy a delicious cup of tea:

  • Harvest herbs regularly to encourage them to generate more growth and to keep them from going to flower, since most fresh herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.
  • Harvest early in the day, after the dew has dried, but while the herbs are still lush and temperatures are typically cooler.
  • Use herbs fresh or air-dried and be careful not to tear or crush the herbs until you are ready to use them. You don't want to waste any of the essential oils.
  • Dried herbs are best stored in airtight plastic bins or glass herb-storage containers and kept away from direct sunlight.
  • A few of our favorite herbal teas flavors include lemon balm, spearmint, lemon verbena, sage and chocolate mint.

To learn more about growing herbs click here.