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A "Scent"sational Garden

Savor the sweet smells of fragrant plants in your garden.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York Co., Virginia

If you’ve ever ridden past a patch of white-flowering privet on the highway and caught a whiff of its fragrance, you know just how powerful a plant’s perfume can be.

At home, you can enjoy the sweet smells of fragrant plants in your yard with just a few strategically placed species.

Year-round fragrance in the garden can begin with winter, an important time to have flowering plants for bees that emerge on warm winter days. The sights and smells of winter blooms is also a great mood lifter for people stuck indoors on cold, gray days.

But, plan and plant now to achieve those sweet-smelling results. For instance, fall- and winter-flowering camellias, along with paper plant (Edgeworthia), chase away any winter blues. Some claim that winter daphne is better smelling than paper plant, but daphne needs almost perfect drainage while paper plant tolerates tough growing conditions. Even though a large pine branch fell on my paper plant, it continues to thrive in a wooded natural area with very dry soil, and it has looked good and flowered well each January-February for several years.

For spring scents, plant bulbs in October – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops, oriental lilies and lily-of-the-valley.

For late spring and early summer sweetness, choose perennial flowers that smell good, including pinks, lemon daylily, peony, phlox, sweet woodruff and butterfly weed. Fragrant foliage is found on yarrow, bee balm, Russian sage, wild geranium, santolina and lavender.

There are many shrubs fragrant, too, including glossy abelia, sweetshrub, slender deutzia, gardenias, bush honeysuckle, native azaleas (mine are overpowering in April), roses, snowball, chaste tree and lilac. In November, the tiny white flowers on osmanthus, or false holly, can be smelled a mile away; it’s often used as an evergreen hedge.

For trees with bee-eautiful, fragrant flowers, look for native white fringe tree, Carolina silverbell, American holly, crape myrtle, sweetbay magnolia and southern magnolia.

This is only a partial list of plants with fragrant flowers and foliage. Some like shade, some like sun – but all help you add fragrance to the mix of beauty in your little corner of the world.

Filed Under: 
Kids Gardening, McDonald Garden Center

Growing Little Gardeners

People of all ages can enjoy gardening, but children in particular have lots of fun developing new skills. A garden is much more than just plants and soil - it’s a hands-on, living classroom. Not only does gardening teach them patience, it helps improve life skills and forms a positive relationship between the child and the environment. Plus, gardening provides excellent physical activity and many more benefits:

Love of Nature – teaches children to love nature and to care for our Earth
Responsibility – from caring for plants
Understanding – they’ll learn cause and effect (example, plants die without water)
Self-Confidence – by setting and achieving their goals
Respect - teaches kids respect for other living things
Fine Motor Skills - enhances fine motor skills, especially in very young children
Cooperation – working together as a team
Creativity – finding new and exciting ways to grow food
Nutrition – learning about where fresh food comes from

Ways to get kids involved:

  1. Give children their own garden space (start with a large container or a few pots).
  2. Involve children in the planning and design of the garden.
  3. Start from seeds - sprouting seeds and nurturing the young seedling are a valuable part of the experience.
  4. Provide them with lightweight, easy-to-handle, child-sized gardening tools.
  5. Grow child-friendly plants such as sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and strawberries.
  6. Plant flowers that attract butterflies and ladybirds.
  7. Include a water feature, a birdbath or a sundial.
  8. Show off their work. Attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay involved with a project.
  9. Visit community gardens, farms or botanical gardens.
  10. Enroll them in child-friendly workshop at McDonald Garden Center!

So, if you looking for a way to inspire your children to eat healthy, exercise outdoors and become aware of the environment, get them involved in the garden. Who knows, you may be even able to get them to eat their vegetables!

Get your little ones started in the garden tomorrow -- Saturday, June 27 at 11am at our PETALS & POPSICLES WORKSHOP >>

Ebony Flame Crepe Myrtle, McDonald Garden Center, Plant of the Week

Plant of the Week: Ebony Flame Crepe Myrtle

You’ll love this super unique Crepe Myrtle that has exploded onto the scene and has everyone talking about it’s vibrant, dark red blooms offset by intense black, yes black foliage! Enjoy this drought-tolerant, flowering tree all during summer and fall months. You can expect this tree to grow about 10-12 feet tall and 8 feet wide at a moderate pace. Crepe Myrtles perform exceptionally well in Hampton Roads, tolerating the area’s heat and humidity. If you love Crepe Myrtles, you’re sure to fall for this new one with it’s rare black foliage. And, if you’ve never planted Crepe Myrtles in your landscape... this is the one to kick off your love of Crepe Myrtles.

Planting Tips: For new plantings, dig a hole one and a half times wider than the plant’s container; place plant in hole, keeping the top of the root ball ground level; and back fill with dirt. Water thoroughly and then mulch around the base to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. New plantings require more frequent watering than established plants. Wind, temperature and soil are factors to consider in watering. Feed plants in early spring and again in early fall with an all-purpose fertilizer, following label instructions.

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

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Summer in the 757! Gardening To-Dos

Well, summer is officially upon us Hampton Roads! With the days getting longer and temperatures on the rise, your garden needs a little TLC, and summertime is all about garden maintenance! Whether growing fruits and veggies, or maintaining your ornamentals, there’s plenty to do this month. Here's a few simple tips to help you get the most out of your summer landscape:

Water. It’s best to water your garden early in the morning when the temperature is cooler so water will not evaporate. Late afternoon/early evening watering is also okay if the plants have ample time to dry before nightfall. Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials with roots close to the soil surface need watering on a daily basi,s since regular watering is essential until new plants become established. Because older plants have established root systems, they should not need to be watered daily. However, even older established plants require regular watering during this time of year. The best way to water in the hot, dry weather is a slow, deep soak. This allows the water to penetrate deeply with very little runoff and encourages deep root systems, which allow plants to better survive periods of drought. Mulching around the base of the plant will also help the water soak in rather run off.

Weed. There is no such thing as a garden without weeds, so take a deep breath and start pulling! Just 10 minutes a day will prevent the roots of weeds from having time to grow big. Pulling weeds is easier when the soil is moist, since you are more likely to get the whole root system and your yanking won't disturb surrounding plants as much either.

Mulch. Mulching helps to reduce the number of weeds that pop up in your garden by depriving them of sunlight. Mulch also reduces water loss from the soil, helps maintain a constant soil temperature, and gives your garden a neat and finished look. A layer about 2 inches thick is ideal in most cases.

Deadhead & Prune. Deadheading flowers encourages plants to produce more buds and also helps to stimulate foliage growth. Deadhead by using your thumb and forefinger to pinch off spent blooms. Be sure to prune any dead or damaged branches on trees and shrubs in the landscape too.

Check for Pests & Disease. Summertime pests such as Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, whiteflies and other intruders view your garden as a tasty buffet, so be sure to stop them in their tracks, or they may get more of your tasty veggies than you do! If you find that you do have a pest or disease problem, it is important to correctly identify the cause so you can choose the right course of action. There are many environmentally friendly pesticides for plant diseases and insect control.

Fertilize. In the middle of summer, your annuals and roses may need to be fertilized. This will help boost their performance and give them the best chance of surviving during the colder months. Potassium will help promote flower growth, but it is wise not to use nitrogen as this will encourage foliage growth which is not required during summer.

Add Color with Annuals. Now that summer is here, many spring-blooming annuals like pansies and violas are beginning to fade. Add some fresh pops of color by replacing these with heat-loving varieties. Angelonia, lantana, ageratum, coleus, pentas, portulaca, salvia, sweet potato vine, and zinnia will grow quickly in warm temperatures and will provide a beautiful burst of color during the dog days of summer.

Top Picks for Pop

Go ahead, make his day with our favorite gift ideas for dear old Dad! Looking for some unique gift ideas for the big guy in your life this Father's Day? Celebrate dad this Father’s Day with something he’s sure to love. Instead of the usual ties and socks, give him something he can enjoy for years to come. Our experts put together this idea list for dad, so go ahead and make dad’s Day!

Statuary. Complete his landscape with an accent stone from the heart. With this gift, Dad will be reminded of you every time he's in the garden. You can't go wrong with this thoughtful gift.

Garden Tools. Our collection of tools offer exceptional quality, craftsmanship and value - all while making dad's yard work a lot easier! He'll love how easy gardening can be with our pruners, loopers, digging & cutting tools, plus many more. This traditional line includes tools each with its own distinct features and benefits making each one “the right tool for the right job.” And let’s face it, can Dad ever have too many tools!

Fire Bowls & Chimineas. Help keep the party going and the fire stoked with a fire bowl or chimineas this Father’s Day. Available in a variety of shapes and styles, these are sure to light up Dad’s day and warm up his nights for years to come.

Combination Planters. A one-of-a-kind gift sure to make his day. Choose from a variety of containers available in a array of shapes, colors and finishes. You'll find plants that are low-maintenance like succulents, blooming annuals and even edibles.

Japanese Maples. This amazingly hearty and versatile tree is one that every Dad should have in his landscape. There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese Maples from the cascading dwarf or semi dwarf shrubs to the 30-foot version of this stately tree. With an endless assortment of leaf and color options, there’s truly a Japanese Maple for every taste and space.

Landscape & Hardscape Services. Give Dad the day off by hiring a McDonald expert to redesign or refresh his favorite outdoor spot. Services include: landscape design and installation, seasonal plantings and clean ups, tree plantings and pruning, and hardscape services including patios, firepits, outdoor kitchens and more.


Plant of the Week: Miss Huff Lantana

If you're looking for showy summer color, Miss Huff Lantana is the way to go! This remarkably hardy perennial is an unparalleled source of quick foliage and flowers in Hampton Roads.

This easy-to-grow perennial boasts vibrant yellow, pink & orange blooms and loves the summer heat! You simply can't beat lantana for summer-long blooms and heat tolerance. It's colorful blooms attract more than just the eye... they will surely bring loads of butterflies to your yard. We recommend putting this in the ground and reserving 8-10 inches for it to grow. This is a fast grower, reaching up to 5 feet at peak season. If you need a very fast grower to fill in a young landscape, or as a make-over plant. Miss Huff has proven to be very resilient in extreme heat, particularly reflected heat off driveways or street paving. It's also a natural for filling sunny banks and slopes. Plant in flower and shrub beds, raised planters, along fence lines and foundations, and in parkways. Put them in pots for powerful color on a deck or patio with brightly blooming annual flowers. With its orange and pink flowers, this Lantana is stunning in tropically inspired gardens! Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Feed with a general purpose fertilizer before new growth begins next spring. For a tidy, neat appearance, shear annually in the spring to shape.

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

Give Your Houseplants a Summer Vacation

After being inside all winter, there's nothing like sitting outside on a warm day, and just like us, houseplants enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and change of scenery! Letting them stay outside all summer long will give them much-needed nutrients for the winter once they're back in your heated house. However, you'll need to take a few steps to ensure a smooth transition. If you take the time to make the move outdoors a gradual one and shield them from extreme elements, they will thank you with healthy, vigorous growth and gorgeous blooms throughout the year.

Avoid Direct Sun. Place plants in light conditions similar to what they enjoyed inside your home. Never put them in full sun. Just like you, they’ll get sunburned – and there’s no SPF sunscreen for houseplants! Gradually expose the plants to sunlight by placing them in a partially shady spot.

Avoid Windy Spots. Wind can be a huge stressor for houseplants, since they are not exposed to windy conditions inside your home. Wind can dry plants out and knock them over. Be sure to place houseplants in a well-protected area, such as near a wall.

Avoid Exposure to Excessive Rain. A light drizzle can provide a welcome drink, but downpours can be destructive to houseplants, washing soil out of their containers and pounding their delicate leaves. Check to make sure your pots have drain holes, since heavy rain can also cause containers to overfill, which can lead to root rot and even drowning plant roots.

Consider the Outside Temperature. Most houseplants originate in tropical-like regions, so they will need to be brought in on cool nights or whenever the thermometer threatens to dip below 55 degrees. A good rule of thumb is to move them out when you would start planting your garden. If the weather has been unseasonably cold, wait until you've had at least a week of warm night temperatures before moving houseplants outdoors.

Consider Repotting & Pruning. Summer is an ideal time to repot and prune houseplants and cleanup is always easier outside! The rule of thumb is not to increase pot size by more than 2 inches (ex: use a 6-inch pot for a 4-inch plant). Pruning back excess growth and legginess can also help plants to grow fuller and more vibrant.

Fertilize & Inspect for Pests. Houseplants will need more nutrients outside during the warmer months; however, be careful not to over do it. Too much food can be just as bad for houseplants as too little. When in doubt, fertilize according to label directions. Secondly, be sure to inspect for pests. Inside, there are fewer opportunities for insects to bother your plants, so be sure treat against common outdoor insects once you move them outdoors.

If you have any questions about bringing your houseplants outdoors for a summer vacation, or you need a plant diagnosis, one of our McDonald houseplant experts will be happy to assist you!

Photos from McDonald Garden Center Owner, Eddie Anderson's backyard

Go Au-Naturel

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

My yard is all about “au naturel,” going without chemicals as much as we can.

For years, we used a turf-care company that sprayed far too many chemicals on the grass. Now, we follow Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extension lawn-care recommendations, which provide guidelines on soil testing for proper nutrient application. We also grow Bermuda turf which naturally suppresses weeds with its thick growth and requires no supplemental watering during summer.

Most importantly, my gardens and other parts of the creek-front property are eco-friendly – uncultivated and sort of purposefully wild looking.

In my perennial garden filled with pollinator-beneficial plants, I confess I don’t always know what’s emerging through the soil. In recent years, what I think is a weed sprouted, yielding gorgeous purple flowers along tall stems.

Because the bees and butterflies flock to it, I leave that “weed” alone and just manage its spread by pulling up seedlings. As I remove the seedlings, I remember the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

My au naturel garden is also where I planted native milkweed seedlings two years ago. This year, I have milkweed sprouting everywhere because each fall I allow the pods to naturally open and scatter their seeds for next year’s germination. No need to collect and keep the seeds over winter – just let Mother Nature do her magic.

My yard is also home to a small natural area with no grass beneath the tall pines, cedar and holly that grow there. Pine needles carpet a thick layer of humus that nourishes camellias, native azaleas, hydrangeas, beautyberry, nandina and Virginia sweetspire. A red Japanese maple, wax myrtle and sweetbay magnolia are also worked into the mix. It’s among my favorite garden spots because there is minimum care for maximum show. It’s a natural area that can be created if you don’t have one and want to reduce your lawn space.

Now that I’m into an “au naturel” landscape, I worry less about the perfection of gardening and instead enjoy the beautiful sights of bees, butterflies, birds, turtles and frogs living among my “weeds.” In fact, I think I saw one of them giving me a “thumbs up” the other day.

Cover Me! Summer Climbers

Dress up fences, arbors, trellises and any structure you want to add a burst of climbing blooms! Flowering vines are an easy way to make a big statement in the garden - giving you colorful flowers and vertical interest. Vines are ideal for hiding eyesores, providing privacy, softening the monotony of plain fencing and transforming a plain arbor or pergola into a focal point of your garden. Most require low maintenance and often draw the attention of colorful butterflies and delightful little hummingbirds. Consider these show-stopping climbers:

Clematis, an easy-to-grow, flowering climber is a favorite of both seasoned and beginner gardeners due to its versatile beauty. This summer-bloomer is available in a colorful variety. Try 'Malaya Garnet' (rose), 'Jackmanii' (purple), 'Henri' (white), 'Ernest Markham' (fuschia), 'Multi Blue' (purple-blue). These beloved vines look beautiful cascading over walls and fences or winding their way up trellises, pillars and mailboxes. Clematis is sure to dazzle year after year. Grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.

Madison Jasmine, an easy-to-grow, evergreen climber produces beautiful clusters of starry flowers you can smell from feet away. The butter cream blooms are what makes this evergreen vine stand out in a crowd. 'Madison' is a cold hardy variety with glossy, dark green leaves that change to a rich bronze-red in winter. Madison offers year-round beauty... especially in summer when it's flowering! It's the perfect addition to any trellis or arbor, or planted along a fence. Prefers full to partial sun and rich soil well-drainage soil.

Mandevilla - 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. Prefers full to partial sun and rich, well-drained soil.

Carolina Jasmine is an evergreen shrub with fragrant one-inch golden yellow trumpet-shaped flowers in early spring. Although this vine has already had it's peak blooming season this spring, you may get lucky and enjoy a sparser second bloom in mild autumn weather. Each plant can grow 10 to 20 feet tall, dependent on the height of its vertical support. The lustrous green leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and will develop a slight yellow-green or purple-green cast in winter.

Cuphea Vermillionare, McDonald Garden Center, Plant of the Week, Annuals

Plant of the Week: Cuphea Vermillionaire

Looking for a heat-loving annual that will perform great in Hampton Roads gardens - and attract those beloved hummingbirds? Look no further than Cuphea Vermillionaire, also called a firecracker plant. Enjoy a real show with its abundant yellow orange trumpet-like flowers all summer long. Plant this drought-tolerant bloomer in full sun for best flowering and too avoid it stretching in the shade. You'll need to keep it moist throughout the growing season with regular fertilizing to keep it full and constantly flowering. Once established Vermillionaire does not require a lot of water, but water regularly until it has grown a bit. Also, for you hummingbird fanatics... this one is a must-have! Tuck this plant around anywhere you want to watch the hummingbirds flutter about. The possibilities are endless for this plant - use it as border plants or in mass plantings in the landscape, and it makes a great thriller plant in container combinations. We especially love pairing it with other sun-loving annuals like petunias and million bells. Plants grow approximately 18-28 inches high and 12 - 24 inches wide.

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