You are here

The Blog: Let's Talk Gardening
Hellebore, A Flower with Spunk

Hellebore - A Flower with Spunk

As the fall leaves drop and the cooler weather arrives, it’s hard to imagine a winter landscape that is alive with color and texture. But you don’t have to do without beautiful blooms throughout the long, cold days of winter. If you’re looking to add color to your frost-covered landscape, we have just the thing - hellebores. These winter wonders are packed with flower power and are essential for any cold-weather garden.

With lots of colors to choose from, you’ll have a difficult time selecting just one variety of these shade-loving perennials. Hellebores take center stage in the garden in late winter and into early spring. Thriving in shade, these evergreen plants manage to thwart off frost and wind damage, producing some of the most captivating flowers you'll ever see. Here’s a few our favorite varieties:

Hellebores Pink Frost - burgundy stems support leathery leaves with a silver frosting. The flowers are a combination of white, pink, and deep rose tones and are upward facing - unusual for a hellebore. 'Pink Frost' is evergreen, long blooming, and deer resistant too! Makes a superb ground-cover and choice perennial for shady borders.

Hellebore Jacob - characterized by its smooth, dark green foliage with striking, crisp 2-3 inch white flowers. This early bloomer flowers from mid-November to January, just in time for the holidays! The flowers mature to a pink and rose color in cool temperatures. In warmer temperatures, they mature to light green. Hellebores can be used in containers, in flower beds or simply tucked under a tree. Jacob is the perfect cure for long winters and cabin fever. Oh, and just one more thing…they’re deer resistant too.

Hellebore Jesko - features large, pure, white blooms maturing to pale yellow-green. Evergreen leaves are deep green with a leathery texture. Jesko has a compact habit and is easy to grow. Blooms in early winter and is ideal for patio pots, entryways and as a ground-cover in the landscape. Prefers moist, well-drained soil and is deer resistant. Once planted and established, Jesko will bring joy to the garden for many years to come.

Hellebore Merlin - this magical perennial boasts outward-facing, light pink to pink flowers brushed with cranberry on burgundy tinted stems. It’s foliage is a rich green with light veining all year long. Merlin blooms from late winter to early spring and prefers well drained soil in partial to full shade with protection from the winter winds. Perfect planted in beds, borders or in containers. Merlin is sure to cast a colorful spell in your winter garden.

Dress up your holiday table with a centerpiece using everyday houseplants.

Dress Up Your Holiday Table

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and you may be looking for ways to dress up the table. Sure, the turkey looks great…but what about your centerpiece? There are unlimited ways to impress the guests at your table for your Thanksgiving feast or holiday parties. Consider these ideas to spice up your table this season.

Lemon Cypress – vibrant color and a citrusy smell make these topiaries a cheery choice for your holiday get-together. Trimmed into a traditional Christmas tree shape, these trees can be decorated with lightweight decorations or enjoyed on their own.

Orchids – phalaenopsis orchids are popular this time of year. Use single stem, double stem or waterfall orchids to give your table an elegant look that will impress your guests. Orchids also look great surrounded by ivy or ferns.

Cyclamen – the patterned leaves and delicate blooms of cyclamen are a simple way to add some color to the table. These low growing plants won’t get in the way of you passing the stuffing either. In shades of red, white, and pink, they look perfect in shallow pots

Holiday Cactus - the perfect plant to start a family tradition: This long lived cactus blooms each year for the holidays. This makes it the perfect plant to pass down through the generations of your family for decades to come. Your family’s Christmas cactus will make a meaningful centerpiece as you gather for the holidays.

Poinsettia - for a traditional touch, use poinsettias in shades of red and white at your Christmas party. Decorate poinsettias with our battery operated InvisiLites for some added sparkle.

Amaryllis – another dramatic touch for the table is the amaryllis. Amaryllis flowers are stunning in shades of red, white, and pink. Try using several red amaryllis surrounded by green or variegated ivy for an elegant and simple centerpiece.

Succulents – the popularity of succulents seems to be never ending; just like the many ways to us them decoratively. Shallow pots and bowls are the best way to display them on the table. Use different kinds of succulents in shades of green and blue to create interest. Don’t forget to add some sparkle with lights or ribbon.

Incorporating ribbon, ornaments, pinecones, cut greens, branches, or lights is easy to do and all depends on the look and feel you want to achieve. Stop on by to see us and gather inspiration for your next celebration. We can help you create the perfect arrangement.

While the weather is getting colder outside, things are still lush and tropical in the McDonald Garden Center houseplant departments! Visit us at our Independence location and our new Great Neck location.

Autumn Rocket Cameilla
Yuletide Camelllia
Pink-a-Boo Camellia

Bedazzle Your Fall & Winter Garden with Sasanqua Camellias

When most of the garden is resting, camellias burst onto the scene with elegant, perfectly-formed blossoms. Sasanqua camellias are the first to bloom, and November and December are the best months to select and plant, since you’ll be able to see them in action.

The small scale of sasanquas make them ideal for today’s gardens. None gets too large. They have smaller leaves and flowers than Japanese camellias and a variety of shrub forms. Some are narrow and upright, some low and spreading and others form rounded shrubs. The variety of forms makes them useful for a variety of spaces. They’re best in partial shade but older shrubs can tolerate considerable sun. Give them well-amended, well-draining soil.

Just as lovely as their romantic blossoms is their ease of care. A well-established shrub is tough and durable. Pests and diseases rarely bother camellias and you need to prune only to shape. The glossy, dark green foliage is gorgeous year-round. Even the early forming flower buds create interest in late summer and fall.

While they’re not often used as such, camellias make wonderful cut flowers. A single bloom (or several) floating in a low bowl will provide close-up pleasure. But a bouquet of branches loaded with blossoms is sensational. The long-lasting foliage can be used to complement flowers of all kinds all year long.

Did you know?
Espalier is an ancient and artistic practice of training trees, shrubs and woody vines by pruning and tying their branches to a frame, fence, trellis or flat against a wall. Used in France for centuries, especially with pear and apples trees, this technique is ideal for small garden, where it makes it possible to fit a large camellia into a small space. Sasanqua camellias are the plant of choice for espaliers.

Fertilize Lawns and Plants in Fall and Winter
McDonald Organic Greenleaf
McDonald Traditional Greenleaf
Fertilome Winterizer Fertilizer

Fertilize for Winter Protection

Fall and winter are the perfect times to fertilize your lawns and plants for better health and disease resistance through the winter months. Stronger and healthier lawns and plants will endure the hardships of winter much better then weaker plants and lawns. Applying a fertilizer now through the end of December will ensure your plants success. Plants and lawns are expending energy now developing root systems and preparing for winter by storing food to be used during those colder months, so by feeding your pants you can aid in the survival during winter and stronger root development.

For general feeding of your trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, we recommend McDonald Greenleaf Fertilizer. This classic fertilizer was designed for the Hampton Roads area, with all the major ingredients needed by all plants; it also has smaller trace elements (micro nutrients) that are essential to plant health. This great fertilizer just got better with the introduction of our McDonald Organic Greenleaf, ideal for all your organic gardening needs. This is our number one option for all your houseplants needs as well, light enough to not harm your indoor plants, but also strong enough to give you visible results within weeks.

Lawns also need winter protection, whether you have an evergreen fescue lawn or a summer lawn like St. Augustine that is going dormant. Summer lawns especially need help as they haven’t usually been fertilized since summer, but also because harsh winters can cause some lawns to struggle to survive the long, cold months ahead. St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede lawns can all benefit from Fertilome Winterizer Fertilizer, loaded with potassium that will protect your lawn all winter long. Fescue lawns also need a little help and this winterizer fertilizer will help it develop that strong root system you will need come next summer.

Need something more specific, come in and talk with our lawn and garden experts. We have a huge selection of specific fertilizers that can target specific plants and specific problems that you may have. From organic to traditional fertilizers, we have everything covered from root to leaf to help grow the best plants and lawns in Hampton Roads.

Simplux Candles
Lifelike Trees
Coastal Pillows
Coastal Handtowels
Coastal Wreaths and Wall Art
Coral Accents
Starfish Accessories

Top 5 Trends for Christmas. Holiday Open House Preview

The cider is simmering, lights are twinkling, and the greenhouse is shimmering.

That could only mean one thing- HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE at McDonald Garden Center!

Despite recent beach-going temperatures, the Christmas season is, in fact, right on our heels. With falling temps and football games comes our annual open house event that features all of the latest trends in the festive fantasyland that is the McDonald Garden Center Christmas Shoppe.

We’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what to expect this year, along with recommendations from our in-house experts on what’s trending. Here are our top picks.

5. Compact String Lights- Lumineo Compact Lights are one of the easiest ways to brighten up your holidays. These LED string lights have 500 or 1000 lights per strand, but that is just the beginning. They have 8 functions from steady on to an array of twinkle and fading functions. They can be used indoors or outdoors. Compact Lights won’t tangle, no more struggling to get your lights ready to use, with one inch spacing between each light, you get more bang for your buck. They are virtually unbreakable, and the best part is they burn for a minimum of 50,000 hours. That is almost 6 years of constant burn (or over 22 years of a 3 month burn). Our staff uses these lights, and they are definitely on the must-have list.

4. Candles- Get the season “glowing” strong with our unique selection of flameless candles. New this year, we are offering an innovative window candle with directional lighting. We also are bringing back Simplux candles, which were a huge hit with customers and staff alike last year. Simplux Flameless Candles are stunningly realistic and boast patented TRUE-FLAME Technology® that makes them virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The three-dimensional flame will never burn out, always remains cool to the touch, and is safe around the home, children and pets. Those qualities make the Simplux candle perfect for weddings, events and everyday use. Available in pillar and melted candle styles, from 5-inch to 9-inch

3. Invisilites- These fantastic lights are one of our favorite ways to brighten your holiday décor during the upcoming season. Invisilites are micro LED lights on a thin, flexible wire that are super easy to use. They come in a variety of styles, designs and colors that are sure to match any décor for the holiday season-or all year round.

We have the largest Invisilite selection in Hampton Roads. They come on either green, copper, or silver wire, and we carry them in both battery-operated and plugin. Each year we add more to our collection, like snowflakes and stars, as well as gold, silver and red ornament string lights.

2. Lifelike Trees- McDonald Garden Center takes great pride in offering the highest quality, lifelike, prelit Christmas trees. We have more than 60 different trees to choose from featuring both LED and Incandescent lights. They come in a variety of sizes, 4.5-foot, 6.5-foot, 7.5-foot and 9-foot, as well as many shapes from slim to medium to full.

If you haven't looked at artificial trees in a while, you won't believe how lifelike they really are. A majority of our trees have a molded lifelike tip that allows for more diversity in styles, needle shape and color in our trees. Molded tips hold up better then the traditional material most of us are used to.

All of our trees are very easy to setup. Branches are hinged to a central post and fold out with ease, and the lights are clearly labeled for easy hook up. Most trees come in three to four sections.

1. Coastal Inspired Decor- We’re trading our garden boots for flip-flops this year as coastal themed décor is the hot trend for this season. Our buying department has hand-selected the offerings this year, and we’re really excited about what they’ve brought to McDonald Garden Center. Here’s what to be on the lookout for.

  • Pillows- fun but elegant, a creative way to set the tone anytime of year.
  • Hand Towels- we love this idea for guest bathrooms or a holiday dinner place setting.
  • Beach Wall Décor- really personalize your space and create a backdrop for your holiday décor.
  • Starfish and Coral- accent your space with different varieties of starfish and coral. Not only do they add another texture into the room, the colors play off each other beautifully and create a statement you’re going to want to reinforce all year long.

This is just a small sampling of what the McDonald Garden Center Christmas Shoppe has to offer this year. Our Holiday Open House is November 3-5th. Make sure to come and get your favorites before they’re gone!

October Magic Bride Camellia
October Magic Inspiration Camellia

Beauty in Small Spaces with the October Magic Bride Camellia

Want elegant, full blooms but don’t have a lot of room left in your landscape? Squeeze in an October Magic Bride Camellia! Grown by Southern Living (who else would know how to perfect the quintessential southern shrub than the southern experts right?!) this beautiful bloomer produces a profuse amount of dainty, pure white flowers but feels very cozy in a small space.

New to the market, the October Magic Bride Camellia is a great mate to walk down the aisle with as its versatility lends itself to many applications such as accent planting, containers, hedges, mass plantings, and privacy plantings.

Your love will continue to bloom year-after-year for this bride if you expose it to full sun or part shade. This camellia prefers well-drained garden soil with rich organic matter. Say “I do” to proper maintenance by fertilizing yearly with McDonald Garden Center Greenleaf in spring.

So take the plunge and try the October Magic Bride Camellia, found at both Virginia Beach locations in Independence and Great Neck. And don’t forget, now is the time to plant to ensure a happily ever after.

Dendrobiums and Oncidiums Orchids
Air Plants

Decorating with Houseplants for Fall

Decorating with Houseplants for Fall

Outside, the leaves are starting to fall but in our houseplant departments, our tropicals are thriving. We have some beautiful new additions to help you celebrate fall. Use them as table centerpieces for parties or in combination containers. Displayed with pumpkins and gourds, these plants will be a simple and pretty way to welcome fall.

Florist Mums: boast large flowers and come in many different colors. These bright and happy mums make the perfect centerpiece or gift.

Anthuriums: go well with many other plants making them the perfect plant for a combination container. Shades of red, burgundy, orange, white, and purple are sure to make a unique fall arrangement

Air Plants: use our pumpkin and ghost air plant holders to celebrate fall and Halloween. These little jack-o-lanterns make great use of an already interesting plant.

Orchids: Dendrobiums and Oncidiums in shades of orange, red, and yellow can help you create a dramatic and beautiful fall display.


Our New Favorite Houseplant: Anthuriums

A houseplant that has the potential to bloom year-round is hard to come by. Luckily, we have the solution: anthuriums. This houseplant really makes a statement…and it is easy to care for. We carry anthuriums in several colors including pink, purple, red, and white. Grow anthurium alone or in combination containers with other houseplants.

This plant does best in bright, filtered light. Anthuriums can be potted in regular potting soil but a peat based mixture is preferable. It is very important to choose a pot that has a drain hole. Pot the plant so the root ball is an inch or two below the surface of the soil. Do not pack the soil too tightly around the roots. Water enough to keep the soil lightly moist but never wet. Fortunately, anthuriums tend to be forgiving, even when they dry out a little too much. Regular fertilizing will help your anthurium to grow and continue to bloom again and again. A balanced fertilizer on a monthly basis works well. The larger the plant grows, the larger the blooms will be!

Be sure to look out for two more Anthurium colors coming this fall: black and orange!


Fall Paints Stunning Garden Scenes

Autumn is my favorite time of the year, especially in the garden. For the most part, annoying bugs go away and plant diseases disappear. And, some plants like roses produce their most stunning blooms in the fall, because they are not stressed by heat and pest problems. For me, fall is the time to enjoy the sights of colorful shrubs and trees. Here are some I like:

One of my favorite trees is Virginia’s native dogwood, which features crimson red leaves and berries. A problem-free version of the common dogwood, Cornus florida, is Cornus kousa, or kousa dogwood. Native to China, it resists the fungal leaf diseases that plague native dogwoods on the East Coast. It displays eye-catching fall foliage, and tolerates more sun.

A black gum tree, or Nyssa sylvatica, will stop you in its tracks with its ball of scarlet red leaves in October. Thankfully, it’s not a tree that drops gumballs. It’s a tough tree that likes most soils and isn’t fussy about sun or shade conditions. Pests rarely bother it, and it grows slower than maples but faster than oaks, reaching 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide, which is a nice size for most yards. Best of all, it really needs no pruning and lives a long, long time, giving you years of pleasure for your money.

In the blink of an eye, bright yellow fall foliage cover blankets a ginkgo tree, or Ginkgo biloba. The well-behaved, medium-sized tree has been around since the beginning of time, so it’s no wonder it’s very disease and insect resistant. A word of caution: Buy the male species, because the female produces messy, smelly fruit.

When it comes to fall’s finest shrubs, my first pick is American beautyberry, or Callicarpa. This native species still grows at Monticello where Thomas Jefferson admired its beauty. In late spring, its cascading stem habit is laden with clusters of lavender-pink blooms, followed by tight clusters of bright purple berries that stop you in your tracks when you walk your garden. Once the foliage drops, the berries are still there but not for long if birds frequent your yard.

Virginia sweetspire, or Itea virginica, is a deciduous fall shrub with long-lasting leaves that turn into shades of maroon, yellow and orange. Native sweetspire comes in a Henry Garnet version, which is commonly sold. It’s easy to use because it grows only three to five feet tall, and features graceful, arching branches that bear hundreds of small white flowers in spring. The blooms attract all kinds of pollinating insects, too. In summer, its leaves make attractive backdrops for semi-shade perennials.

Lastly, red chokeberry, or Aronia brilliantissima, offers tremendous red fall color. Late spring clusters of white flowers are followed by large, bright red berries in October. Another forgiving plant, chokeberry likes sun to part shade and tolerates all soils, including clay.

If you don’t have these or any fall-type shrubs in your yard, now is the perfect time to plant them. Winter’s cool weather and frequent rains help new plants establish roots before summer arrives again.

To plant properly any time of the year, dig a hole a foot wider than the circumference of the root ball and the same depth as the root ball. If the plant is coming out of a pot, take your fingers and try to loosen some of the roots, so they will continue to grow outward instead of in a circle the shape of the pot. Set it out in the middle of the hole, and back fill with the soil you just dug out. Water slowly, and apply two to three inches of mulch, making sure that you do not push the mulch up around the stems.

Remember, fall can be the start of your gardening season – not the end of it.

Kathy Van Mullekom gardens in southeastern Virginia Beach; contact her at

Fall is Prime Time for Lawn Care

Fall is Prime Time for Lawn Care

by Kathy Van Mullekom

It’s that time of the year – your cool-season fescue lawn looks tired and worn. It’s been a scorching, hot summer, one that’s taken its toll on a grass that prefers cool temperatures and naturally goes dormant in summer. I’ve had fescue grass most of my life, and it’s a turf that needs TLC to stay green and healthy. Which is why I always give it the special care it needs now through December, so it rewards me with a lush-green carpet many months of the year.

Over the years, Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extensions cool-season lawn-care calendar has guided me through that process. The month-by-month listings tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, so there is no guessing game. You can find the calendar – and also one for warm-season lawns like Bermuda and zoysia -- online at

I look forward to the cooler days and nights of September, knowing I can get outdoors and work in my yard without wilting. I hate weeds, so I often hand weed the yard as much as I can but also use a weed killer to spot control minor invaders. Once that’s done, hubby and I broadcast a Virginia Tech-researched and approved turfgrass seed. The annual recommendations by the Virginia and Maryland National Turfgrass Evaluation Program are based on test plots grown in sites such as the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Diamond Springs Road in Virginia Beach. You can walk those labeled plots and see for yourself how good grass grows – or does not grow, depending on the variety.

Here’s how to renovate your fescue lawn each fall:

  • Before you sow seed, cut the lawn shorter than usual and use a steel rake to scratch the soil’s surface so any seed makes contact with the ground.
  • If you play hard on your yard -- and have pets or children who run a lot and pack down soil – you may want to aerate your soil before seeding. A core aerator pulls out small plugs of soil, allowing increased movement of water, nutrients and oxygen in the soil. Aerators can be rented or lawn-care companies provide the service.
  • Using a hand-held or push-type drop spreader, sow the seed over your existing lawn. I recall the days as a child when my father used to hand throw seed, doing it in a sweeping motion that covered the yard in a nice, even stand. I have tried but just can’t get it looking as good as he did.
  • Avoid using a whirly spreader, which is best for putting down fertilizer, because it will broadcast grass seed into your mulched beds, meaning you will have hundreds of grass seedlings to soon remove.
  • Once your seed is down, moisten it – avoid watering too much or you risk moving the seed and rotting it. Instead, water lightly and often, making sure the new seed stays moist until new grass emerges. This is also the time to overseed warm-season lawns like Bermuda and Zoysia with annual rye for wintertime green. Some turf experts, however, warn annual rye can delay warm-season turf’s emergence in spring.
  • Now, a word about thatch and the process called dethatching, or removing that tightly packed layer of organic matter between the grass blades and soil surface. Thatch is sort of an old wives’ tale, something people thought they had to do. Thatch really does not build up unless you go weeks between mowings and allow clumps of grass to lie on top of your yard – ick, ugly sight. Grass clippings are your friend because they decompose and return vital nutrients and moisture back into your soil. Just make sure you cut your grass often and use a mulching mower, and you will never have enough thatch to worry about.
  • Last, but not least, raise your mower blades and let your fescue lawn grow taller in the cool days of fall, winter and spring. Your lawn will reward you with the lushness of a thick carpet that tickles your toes and makes you feel good all over.

Kathy Van Mullekom gardens in southeastern Virginia Beach; contact her at