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Plant of the Week: Better Boy Tomatoes

Did you know that a Better Boy tomato plant once yielded more than 340 pounds of fruit, earning it a Guinness World Record? Although your plant might not yield that much fruit, it will produce plenty of bright red delectables that you can enjoy fresh from your garden all summer long.

Better Boy tomatoes are one of the most popular tomatoes grown. With 8-16 oz round fruit, it has a classic tomato taste and is a great for slicing. The fruit has just the right balance of acid and sugar. It is a climber and requires a tomato cage and staking for best results. They continue to grow until frost and need full sun for best results. Water well to prevent drying out in warm weather and fertilize with liquid or slow release plant food.

Ideal for salads, soups, hot dishes, pickling and superb on sandwiches.

Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>

The Pollinator Garden

Help Mother Nature open up pollinator hotel in your yard.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

My backyard perennial garden is my pollinator hotel.

In April, the garden comes alive with the sights and sounds of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths and flies. I love walking through the large, oddly-shaped garden – about 50 feet long and 30 feet wide -- even when bees buzz about the bee balm, mountain mint and salvia (black and bue salvia pictured above). I have no fear of the bees because I move slowly, watching them with amusement while they collect pollen and basically ignore me. To me, their collective humming is some of the best garden music I can enjoy, and I would never do anything to make them feel threatened.

The garden is always filled with milkweed for the yellow, black and white caterpillars that turn into magnificent monarchs. Fortunately, the caterpillars and adult monarchs are poisonous to birds that may like to feed on them, thanks to toxins found in milkweed plants, which belong to the Asclepias family.

I also plant fennel (pictured above), dill, parsley and Queen Anne’s lace as food for the larval/host plants for the eastern black swallowtail butterfly.

My garden also supports the needs of pollinator flies and moths, all important contributors to the cycle of life.

To attract pollinators, I plant an assortment of blooming plant material, types that start in early spring and go through late fall. Even in winter, pollinators come out on warm days when it’s about 60 degrees, looking for food sources among cold-weather flowering plants like pansies, hellebores and camellias.

My pollinator garden is designed to be densely planted with flowers growing in clumps that continuously drift into each other. There’s an assortment of flower colors, although I confess purples, yellows and oranges are my favorites. Along the edge of the bed, I plant a huge wave of purple petunias that butterflies love to frequent.

Whenever possible, I use native plants, but I weave in many nonnatives, including Brazilian verbena, Verbena bonarensis – it never stops flowering and attracts bees and butterflies to its delicate flower heads and finches to its seed heads.

In my book, there is no bad perennial if a pollinator has a passion for it.

Pink Your Garden

Pink your garden with some of our favorite spring & summertime blooms. From bubble gum pinks to blush tones that feel more refined, adding a splash of pink to your landscape can instantly add a touch of beauty. For a colorful alternative to neutrals, opt for more muted blush tones like beigy-pinks or powder pinks. The key is to find the perfect pink that best suits your design style. Try pairing pink with yellows, oranges, purples, or even reds. You just can't go wrong with pink.

Join us and Sentara Cancer Network this Saturday, April 25 for our annual PINK DAY and help the fight against breast cancer. Visit any location and purchase from a variety of pink geraniums, petunias, azaleas and knockout roses and 15% of the proceeds will support breast cancer prevention.

Our favorite way to pink your garden:

Azaleas - This signature southern shrub is the perfect addition to any Hampton Roads garden. Whether you choose bright fuchsia or a pastel pink, this shrub is standout. Try repeat bloomers such as Bloom-a-thon, Rebloom, and Encore Azaleas. These varieties not only bloom in the spring, but summer and fall too.

Knockout Roses - The easiest roses to grow! Single and double pink blooms in either magenta or bubblegum give these low-maintenance shrubs a perfect place in the garden. They are very easy to grow and do not require special care or dead-heading.

Geraniums - This classic annual is available in a wide spectrum of pinks. Choose a soft pink or hot pink to liven up your spring and summer. We love pairing geraniums with cascading bacopa and sweet potato vine for beautiful containers!

Petunias - Bold petunia blooms in all shades of pink make a perfect addition to any full sun container. Also, plant them in the ground for a vivid color display in the landscape.

Check out our Pinterest "PINK" page to get inspired!

Nurture Nature the Natural Way

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.

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!

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Plant of the Week: Strawberry Eclair

Get your taste buds ready for our newest berry on the block... Strawberry Éclair! This new gourmet strawberry boasts a unique taste with a hint of citrus and raspberry flavor to it. Strawberry Éclair is a Junebearing variety, so expect the majority of harvest in the early summer. This berry is developed from Junebearing and Everbearing relatives, so it often produces fruits longer into the season that traditional Junebearing strawberries. Allow berries to mature before picking to enjoy maximum flavor and sweetness. Enjoy these sweet treats in pies, tarts, jams and preserves... or freshly picked!

Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>

10 Ways to Go Green in the Garden

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

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

We’ve all been waiting for things to heat up in Hampton Roads and it looks like summer is finally on its way. Fill your garden with these tough plants that thrive in the Hampton Roads heat and humidity. These will last spring through summer and perform even better as the mercury rises! They’ll not only survive the heat, but they'll look great doing it. Some of our favorite plants that love the heat & sun:

  • DAYLILIES - this perennial flowers for one day and is replaced by another bloom the following day. Available in tons of varieties, shapes and colors this plant requires little care and will thrive in drought conditions.
  • PORTULACA - a sun-loving annual succulent that offers tons of vibrant flowers all summer long. Its low growing habit is perfect as a ground cover, in hanging baskets or in the landscape.
  • MANDEVILLA - a pretty and prolific climber perfect for adding bold color in the summer heat. Train these annual flowers to grow up a trellis, fence or mailbox post.
  • HIBISCUS - exotic and tropical, these bright showy blooms are available as annuals and perennials varieties and can open to be several inches across. Loving full sun, they are the perfect way to add color color to outdoor containers.
  • ANGELONIA - often called summer snapdragons, Angelonia will WOW you with upright flower spires in beautiful shades of pinks, purples and white.
  • ZINNIAS - gorgeous flowers come in an amazing array of shapes and colors. Zinnias are highly attractive to butterflies that you can always 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!
  • CELOSIA - super tough, drought-resistant annual is adored for its unusual style and texture. It comes in an array of luscious colors including red, yellow, cream, orange, rose, deep magenta and pink. Use as flowerbed borders and in containers, inside or out. Celosia is an excellent choice as a cut flower and loves it warm and sunny.

Paint Your Garden with a Pallet of Annual Packs

PACK A PUNCH OF COLOR WITH ANNUAL PACKS

It's time to plant those spring & summertime annuals we've all been waiting for! Annual packs are the easiest way to instant add color to containers and flowerbeds. And, with four plants in one pack, this is surely an economical way to add color to your landscape. There's so many options when choosing annuals. Check out our favorites for sunny and shady spots.

SUN TO PART SUN:
These plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Remember that with all the sunshine these plants will require water often. We recommend watering these every other day. Soak thoroughly until water runs from drainage holes.

  • Dianthus - grass-like foliage and star shaped blooms in pink, red and white.
  • Verbena - the perfect plant to spill over a container in a combination with large clusters of flowers.
  • Petunias - trumpet shaped flowers and branching foliage are easy to grow.
  • Marigolds - Ruffly orange yellow blooms all through the summer. Perfect companion plant for edibles to keep the pests away.
  • Begonias - The fancy leaf of the bronze leaf begonia if perfect for bright sun with blooms in red, pink and white.
  • Salvia - Spikes with loads of small densely packed flowers. Easy to care for with aromatic foliage.
  • Celosia - Eye catching blooms in a flame shape offer bold summer color. Celosia loves the sun and the heat.
  • Portulaca - Heat and drought tolerant make this is a winner in the garden. Beautiful double blooms sit atop the needle-shaped foliage.
  • Zinnias - Daisy like flowers on a single stem love the heat of summer. Perfect for a cutting garden.

SHADE TO PART SHADE:
These plants need less than 4 hours of direct sun. They should also be planted to avoid hot, afternoon sun. We recommend watering every other day. Soak thoroughly until water runs from drainage holes.

  • Coleus - Fancy and colorful foliage in shades of pink, green, yellow, red and maroon.
  • Impatiens - Excellent bedding plant that thrives in shade. Bright colored blooms in orange, pink, white and purple.
  • Dusty Miller - Silvery white foliage that pairs with just about everything. Easy to grow and easy to love.
  • Polka Dot Plants - This little plant packs a punch when paired with other plants. The standout polka dot pattern in either white or pink makes the leaves of this plant a showcase.
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Plant of the Week:

PIXIE GRAPES: The World's First Dwarf Grapes

With Pixie Grapes, expect the perfect patio plant with grapes the first year, miniature grape clusters and continual fruiting. Expect to be amazed! This irresistible grapevine has a natural genetic dwarfing mutation that keeps it small, yet allows it to produce sweet, mini grape clusters just like its full sized relatives. Not only do they taste great raw, but the pinot menuier grapes are used to make champagne and wine! Pixie grapes may flower just a few months from transplant and produce fruit all season long, unlike most grapes which can take several years to reach bearing age. In only 12 weeks you will have a crop of grapes in a 1 gallon pot. Growing only about 18 inches tall, it likes to live in a container and it tends not to sprawl out, which makes it a charming houseplant or patio plant. As it grows, it may require re-potting and a trellis for support. This easy-to-grow plant just needs a sunny spot, moist and a little pruning in the winter.

Try our new Pixie Grape varieties in stores now!

‘Pinot Meunier Purple’ - Nice, upright, full plant. Sets tendrils, purple, sweet grape with few seeds.

‘Pinot Meniuer White’ - Medium dwarf, medium to large, dark green leaves, predominantly shallow indentations, almost yellow, sweet grape.

Pretty Perennials

IT'S THE PERFECT TIME TO DIVIDE & PLANT PERENNIALS.

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

My perennial garden is all cleaned up and ready to grow -- and grow and grow and grow some more.

That’s the challenge of a perennial garden, especially when you plant Joe-pye weed, coneflowers, bee balm, daylilies and Shasta daisies. When they are happy, they happily spread until you have large lovely masses that need dividing.

April can be the best time to divide some of those happy-growing perennials and plant them in other places or share them with friends. Spring soil is soft and moist and easy to work with. Your perennials are starting to poke their heads through the ground and you can easily see where to dig and divide. Plus, early spring division means they have time to re-establish themselves in a new spot before hot, dry weather arrives again.

To divide perennials:

Use your hands or small rake to pull soil back from around the plant. Then, use a small shovel or some kind of digging tool to dig around and lift out the root ball, keeping it intact. Using your hands, gently rub the root ball to remove as much soil as you can (pictured above), exposing the roots so you can easily see how best to divide them.

Use a steak knife or sharp trowel and gently cut the root ball into halves, thirds or fourths, depending on its size. As you cut, you want to maintain bigger main and smaller feeder roots in each section.

Replant your sections into pre-dug holes that are moist from rain or your garden hose. If you have poor drainage in your perennial garden, plant perennials a little on the high side (half an inch) because winter’s wet weather can easily rot the crowns, the point where the top of the plant meets the root system. Adding mulch to the planting hole also aids in aeration so plant roots don’t suffocate when rain fills air pockets in the soil.

You can also give away some of those perennial divisions to neighbors and friends. Wrap the roots in wet newspaper and tie them in a plastic bag, along with the plant’s name and planting tips.

Now that your perennial garden has more space, think about adding newbies, including this year’s special perennial – 2015 is the Year of the Gaillardia, according to the National Garden Bureau at www.ngb.org. There are about 23 species of Gaillardia – nicknamed blanket flower -- across the Americas, and most are perennials native to North America.

Gaillardia (pictured above) with its small flat flowers attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators and it blooms all summer if you just give it a few trims to promote new flowers – basically fuss-free and fun to have around!

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