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Fancy Fronds

JAPANESE PAINTED FERN (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum')

When you think of ferns your mind wanders off in imagination to places of lush shady forests, babbling brooks and misty rain. Ferns can add a touch of softness to any shady garden and thanks to the Japanese Painted Fern they can also offer a splash of color in an area that can often be challenging to bring color to.

Japanese Painted Ferns are a perennial, deciduous fern that mature to a height of approximately 12 inches. Deeply cut fronds are a combination of lavender, purple and silver splashed over dark green toothy leaves. Slow growing, Japanese painted ferns can be divided once mature, around 3 years after first planting.

As with many ferns, this variety likes to be planted in a full shade to part shade position. In a dappled sun or part sun position the combination of silver and purple will intensify giving you a stunning display of color, although it can take two or three years for the true color of your fern to present itself. Be careful to avoid direct sunlight in the afternoon as even with regular deep watering the delicate fronds will sustain burn and can result in the loss of your fern.

The Japanese Painted Fern will thrive in a moist, well drained area. Each spring, as the first new fronds emerge dig your favorite brand of compost into the ground around the fern to help give it the gentle kick start it needs. Japanese Painted Ferns have few concerns when it comes to pests and diseases as long as air can circulate freely around the plant and drainage issues are addressed. Perhaps the most endearing feature of this fern is that it is a deer resistant plant in the Hampton Roads area.

Often referred to as a groundcover fern, the Japanese Painted Fern is a wonderful choice for borders and as a filler between larger plants. Complimentary plants include Lady Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida), Lenten Rose (Hellebore sp.), Foam Flower (Tiarella wherryi), Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ and Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra).

Written by Taryn Ruesch, McDonald Garden Center Perennial Expert (photos courtesy of Monrovia)

Much Ado About Mulching

Mulching is one of the easiest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden. We define mulch as a protective layer of material that is spread on top of the soil. It can either be organic -- such as grass clippings, pine straw, bark chips, and similar materials -- or inorganic -- such as stones, brick chips, and plastic. Organic mulches improve the condition of the soil. As these mulches slowly decompose, they provide organic matter which helps keep the soil loose. This improves root growth, increases the infiltration of water, and also improves the water-holding ability of the soil. Organic matter is also a source of plant nutrients and provides an ideal environment for beneficial soil organisms. Our horticulturists have identified some of the most important benefits for mulch.

Benefits of Mulching:

  • Control Weeds
  • Prevent Soil Erosion
  • Provid Insulation in Winter
  • Conserve Moisture
  • Add Texture, Color, & Contrast to the Landscape
  • Provide a Polished Look to your Garden
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A New Garden Must-Have


It’s crystal clear... you need to add this plant to your landscape. If you've been looking for that perfect plant for a shady spot, look no further than Crystal Falls® Mondo Grass. This evergreen grass is shade loving and cold hardy. With wide, dark green this slow spreading mound will produce leaves that grow 24 to 30 inches long. Panicles of star shaped, white blooms appear from July through September. Following the bloom period, very large berries are produced which turn bright blue by November.

Crystal Falls Mondo Grass performs best in a shaded landscape accompanying other perennials and shade loving plants. It withstands the cold and resists leaf spot that is commonly seen in Liriope. Crystal Falls Mondo Grass can be used as a specimen plant or grown as a groundcover in shade.

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Say Goodbye to Brown Patch

It’s hot and humid and with that comes the threat of Brown Patch in many local lawns. Brown Patch presents itself in a circular pattern appearing brown, yellow or tan anywhere from 6 inches to several feet in diameter and spreads rapidly. This fungus is more prominent in fescue grasses and is common when there are moist conditions and night temperatures are above 60 degrees. It is most severe when low and high temperatures are above 70 degrees and 90 degrees. When turf grass is wet for 10 or more hours, the fungus will infect grass quickly. Applying a nitrogen product this time of the year may also contribute to brown patch. Improper irrigation methods add to the growth to this fungus as well. We suggest all watering be completed before 10:00am. Once Brown Patch is detected, a fungicide should be applied to your lawn to prevent further spreading of the fungus. We recommend treating your lawn with F-Stop by Fertilome - a granular systemic lasting up to 4 weeks; or try Liquid Systemic Fungicide II by Fertilome. Visit your local McDonald Garden Center for information on treatment of brown patch and other grasses that may be more tolerant to Brown Patch in your area.

F Stop by Fertilome is $22.99 and covers 200 square feet
Liquid Systemic Fungicide II by Fertilome is $24.99 and covers approximately1500 square feet

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Celebrating a Local Tradition

Known for its beauty, long blooming period and hardiness, the “Tree of 100 days” is being celebrated at our 31st annual Crepe Myrtle Festival.

In its more than a quarter-century tribute to a tree that beautifies landscapes across Hampton Roads, the 2013 Crepe Myrtle Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21, at McDonald Garden Center year-round locations in Hampton, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Crepe Myrtles are America’s most versatile, long-blooming perennial.

The McDonald Crepe Myrtle Festival was created to be an informative, fun-oriented experience. The free-to-the-public event features an abundance of crepe myrtles, plants, flowers, exhibits, food and refreshments. A children’s Ice Cream Cone Planter Workshop will also be offered on Sunday, July 21, at 12:00 p.m. at each location.

Much of the Crepe Myrtle’s appeal is about color. The festival has been grown not only around the colorful tree, but on providing a colorful atmosphere of fun, information and activity during the dog days of summer. This year’s festival features a wide range of participating organizations, including master gardeners, horticultural societies, beekeepers, and of course, McDonald experts who will be on hand to discuss a range of garden and landscaping ideas, as well as solutions to common problems, such as moles, voles and plant diseases.

Many McDonald Garden Center customers have been anticipating the festival weekend, ready to cash in on their Myrtle Money. Myrtle Money collected during the spring can be redeemed dollar for dollar at the festival for up to 50 % off the regular price of any in-stock item.

The Crepe Myrtle is originally from China and has been in cultivation in the United States for more than a century. The tree is ubiquitous in Hampton Roads, lining many area city streets in its wide range of colors and sizes. July/August is the peak of the tree’s 100-day blooming period.

Exhibits at the Hampton location (1139 W. Pembroke Ave.)

· Colonial Beekeepers Association
· Hampton Master Gardeners
· ReWined Designs
· Oberweis Dairy
· Food on the Move
· Buttar Cups Face Painting (Noon on Sunday during Kids’ Ice Cream Cone Planter Workshop)
· Whistler Works Studio

Exhibits at the Virginia Beach location (1144 Independence Blvd.)

· Daylily Society
· C.E. Harris – Beekeeper
· Chic-fil-a

Exhibits at the Chesapeake location (3925 Portsmouth Blvd.)

· Butterfly Society
· Rose Society
· Beekeepers
· Master Gardeners
· Herb Lady (Cyndi Wyskiewicz)

Cool Color... for Hot Spots!

While some of you may be wishing for cooler temperatures to set in, there are plenty of plants that love the heat and humidity we are experiencing! The dog days of summer can turn your garden into a crispy mess if you're not careful. But we have the tough stuff to keep your summer landscape looking fresh and colorful. Here's a few of our favorite annuals that tolerate Hampton Roads heat and give you that beautiful color until frost sets in.

Heat & Sun-Loving Summer Annuals:

Angelonia - is also called summer snapdragon, due to it's salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high. Available in beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It's the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms.

Lantana - is a hardworking plant that not only thrives with little moisture and in full, unyielding sun, it does so with ease. Lantana boasts tons of brightly colored flowers all summer and into fall, and it's a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. It's easy to grow and works well in summer containers.

Mandevilla - is a true summer favorite. This blooming annual vine offers stunning trumpet-shape flowers in shades of pink, white, or red paired with dark green foliage. These vines are a perfect way of creating a lush, tropical look in a flash. Mandevilla is fast growing and blooms heaviest in summer and periodically throughout the rest of the year. Mandevilla does great in containers and is the ideal on trellises, arbors or gazebos. This plant can also be used as a houseplant if provided with bright light and care.

Zinnias - are a quick and inexpensive way to get quick summer color. These gorgeous flowers come in an amazing array of shapes and colors -- even a wonderful new lime green! Zinnias are so highly attractive to butterflies that you can count on having these fluttering guests dining in your garden every afternoon. These blooms add a wonderful structure and color to any summer landscape ~ a real must-have!

Vinca - flowers are very drought-tolerant, and require little maintenance. The leaves are green and glossy and the flowers are beautiful vivid colors. The vinca flower blooms in late spring and continues until the frost in the fall. Other names given to the vinca flower are, periwinkle and Madagascar periwinkle. These small flowers look very similar to Impatiens, but tolerate the sun better, although they will tolerate some shade. Vinca is one tough flower that will make a great addition to your summer beds or containers.

Purslane (or Portulaca) - is a small, fast growing annual plant with very bright, bold blooms. Purslane is a succulent plant, thus requires very little water and thrives in the sun. In fact, direct sunlight makes these flowers open in an stunning array of color! The flowers will open on bright, sunny days and close at night. Plant these sun-lovers in a container, window box or hanging basket and let it spill over with abundant blooms. We love the new Happy Hour series with bright colors like banana, fuchsia, orange and mixed.

Gomphrenia - This warm season beauty offers vibrant color, structure and height. Gomphrenia loves full sun and will survive drought. Use this easy-to-grow plant in borders, annual beds or even in containers. A showstopper in the garden, this interesting globe shaped bloom is a real conversation piece when cut for a mixed bouquet.

The History of the Crepe Myrtle...

The Crepe Myrtle offers beauty to the southern landscape in all seasons with summer flowers, fall color, winter bark and attractive foliage in spring.
Did you know Crepe Myrtles have been around for more than one thousand years? Now that's a tree that has certainly proven itself.

The Crepe Myrtle's roots actually begin in China, where it was named “Pai Jih Hung,” meaning hundred days red for its beautiful color and long bloom season. The Chinese also called it the “monkey tree” because monkeys could not climb the smooth, slippery trunks. This ornamental tree was especially favored by the Tang dynasty between 618 and 906.

With its English name derived from the myrtle-like leaves and crinkled tissue like petals, the Crepe Myrtle has been in cultivation in the United States for more than a century and a half. Some fine old specimens are found in many historic gardens throughout the South. A short list of likely ports suggests that Crepe Myrtles may have entered the country by way of Norfolk.

For twenty-five years or so, the late Dr. Donald Egolf of the National Arboretum worked to cross-breed Crepe Myrtle varieties, which resulted in a number of new hybrids that proved more disease-resistant, hardier, and more vigorous. All have mottled peeling bark, which can be very showy in winter. These hybrids are superior performers, offering better blooming success than the original Crepe Myrtles once did.

Now one of Hampton Roads most popular plants, the Crepe Myrtle is still called “the tree of one hundred days” due to its long flowering period. It’s a year round beauty planted in the landscape or in a container. And, best of all it loves the heat and humidity of a Tidewater summer.

It's no surprise that this heat-loving, humidity-thriving, drought tolerant, fast growing plant ranks as one the South's most popular ornamental tree! Be sure to check out the many Crepe Myrtle varieties during our 37th annual Crepe Myrtle Fest, July 19-21. Get the scoop here >>

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Had it with the weeds?

This is the time of year when weeds, especially the weed known as nutsedge, really start creeping into our landscapes. Nutsedge is one of those turfgrass weeds that can drive a homeowner nuts. Also known as nutgrass or swampgrass, these weeds are extremely aggressive and frequently infest local lawns, vegetable and flower gardens.

Most nutsedges are perennials (meaning they come back year after year) whose leaves die back in the fall when temperatures begin to drop. Nutsedge prefers moist soil, although it can thrive in almost any kind of soil – even dry soil. These pesky weeds spread by either small tubers, by creeping rhizomes or by seed. New tubers begin forming four to six weeks after a new shoot emerges. Individual nutsedge plants can form patches up to 10 feet or more in diameter.

Nutsedge can be very tricky to get rid of and controlling it is likely to be a lengthy process. Long term control includes both cultural and chemical management methods. Once controlled, sanitation is required to prevent new infestations. Any new outbreak should be managed immediately to prevent the spread of additional weeds. The most effective way to control nutsedge is by employing a combination of several different methods.

Here are some ways to control nutsedge in your landscape:

  • Follow all recommended practices for your grass type including mowing at the ideal height, applying fertilizer at the proper rate and time, and maintaining the ideal soil PH.
  • Proper watering is key, since nutsedge thrives in excessively moist soil, so be aware of the amount and timing of irrigation. Poor drainage can also create the perfect environment for nutsedge.
  • Monitor and treat insect and disease infestations to prevent bare spots that may become infested by nutsedge.
  • Thoroughly clean tools and equipment such as tillers that have been used in an infested area to avoid spreading tubers and rhizome.
  • Eliminate very small patches of nutsedge by digging. Ensure removal of the spreading tubers by digging at least 10 inches deep and eight to ten inches beyond the diameter of the above-ground plant. This is best done early in the spring before more tubers are produced.
  • Control chemically with post-emergence herbicides. Because different herbicides are effective against different species, it is important to correctly identify the nutsedge species in your lawn. Herbicides also vary regarding the plants they can be safely used around without causing damage. Always check the label to make sure the pesticide you choose is safe for surrounding plants. Our experts recommend Hi-Yield Nutsedge Control. This selective post emergent herbicide can be used in landscaped areas or lawns. May be used on both cool and warm season turfgrass including: Bahia, Bermuda, Centipede, Creeping Bentgrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, St. Augustine, Tall and Fine Fescue, Perennial Ryegrass and Zoysia.

Learn to recognize Nutsedge to avoid accidentally bringing it in topsoil or plants. Here's a few tips on identifying nutsedge:

Yellow nutsedge is most easily identified by the triangular shape of the stem. If you roll the stem of the plant in your fingers, you should be able to feel the triangular shape. The leaves are light green to yellowish and are slick or waxy to the touch. It grows most actively during the hot summer months. Typically, the leaves will grow 2 to 4 inches above the turf canopy. Yellow nutsedge is not as easy to see in early spring and in fall, when temperatures are cooler and growth is slower.

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Pruning a Crepe Myrtle

It's July and you know what that means... Crepe Myrtles! Now is the time of year that we get to sit back and enjoy their 100 days of summer blooms. With these local beauties in full bloom, we get lots of questions... especially on when and how to prune them. We recommend waiting until February or while they are dormant. Though pruning a crepe myrtle tree isn't necessary to the health of the plant, many people do like to prune them in order to neaten the look of the tree or to encourage new growth. Through proper pruning, you can help the development and enhance the beauty of your crepe myrtle.

Follow these tips for successful pruning:

  • Remove all dead or dying branches.
  • Remove any sucker growth around the base of the tree before pruning.
  • Remove all weak and dead branches.
  • Identify the main branches of the tree and prune interfering limbs so that main branches will show through.

Proper pruning your crepe myrtle will ensure that the tree stays healthy and beautiful for many years to come. Visit us at any McDonald Garden Center and speak with a trees and shrubs specialist for expert advice.

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A local fave!


This spectacular summer tree offers cascading clusters of pure white crinkled flowers. With an exceptionally long bloom period, this tree adds stunning summer color to the landscape and attractive fall foliage. And, with striking cinnamon colored peeling bark, you will have visual interest in the winter.

As a smaller crepe myrtle, Acoma thinks it's a shrub. It's small enough to fit easily into the tiniest city garden or courtyard. With its weeping white flower clusters and lustrous bark, it should be treated as a specimen and planted in raised beds or containers. It is an excellent candidate for huge ceramic pots, where it will grow happily for many years.

Acoma is among the Fauriei hybrids bred for increased resistance to mildew. These were created as hybrids of L. indica and lesser known L. fauriei. The latter is native to southern Japan and contributes its natural resistance to mildew. The first crepe myrtle from the South Pacific arrived in 1759, but widespread cultivation began about thirty years later at the hands of Andre Michaux in Charleston, South Carolina.