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Plants for Waterfront Living

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

Having lived on some kind of waterway for 25 years, I’ve learned much about the good and bad of waterfront gardening.

The good is that plants are often tougher than you think they are. Our yards have been though numerous saltwater tidal floods and most of the plants thrive just fine. Happily for me and the plants, refreshing rains typically follow flooding and wash away much of any salinity in the soil.

The bad is that shallow-rooted plants like azaleas and dogwoods are not the best for waterfront gardening, especially along the water’s edge.

Our current property is designed to tolerate flooding at its worst. I find that roses, hydrangeas (blue Nikko my favorite), wax myrtles, nandinas and camellias survive occasional tidal flooding. Perennials and bulbs, too.

Our Tifway Bermuda lawn, with some St. Augustine at the point, never blinks, just keeps on growing.

So far, our three crape myrtles (dark purple my favorite color) have been through a couple of minor floods without any damage. If there is no rain after the floods, I saturate their root zone with fresh water from the outdoor faucets. Other salt-tolerant trees include most maples, ginkgo, American holly (we have a 40-year-old one that’s been flooded numerous times), sweetgum, sweet bay magnolia (got that one, too, right on the shoreline), black gum (beautiful fall color), London plane tree, oaks, bald cypress (got two that love wetness of any kind) and lacebark elm.

Coastal waterfront living also means trees must contend with winds and possible damage. Proper pruning to remove sharp v-crotches helps reduce limb breakage. Winds blowing against trees with dense foliage can push the plants over, so some light pruning to open the canopy will allow the wind to pass through without harming anything.

When and if a storm uproots one of your prized trees, especially smaller ones, you can right the tree and stake it on three sides. Odds are the tree will reset its roots and continue to be healthy. The key is to get it done quickly and keep the root system well watered, especially if it’s still hot and somewhat dry. Here’s hoping none of us have to do that anytime soon.

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Plant of the Week: Orange Marmalade Crossandra

Sometimes called firecracker flower, this tropical variety puts on quite a show, featuring large clusters of dazzling, frilly orange flowers that pop against glossy dark green foliage. This flowering perennial is easy to grow, loves heat and humidity, and does well in full sun to partial shade. Enjoy blooms late spring through early fall and typically reaching a height and spread of 1-3 feet. Orange Marmalade is perfect for brightening borders, annual and perennial beds and looks fantastic in outdoor containers. For a real tropical look, combine with ferns, hostas, impatiens and philodendrons. The dwarf species are slower growing, making wonderful flowering houseplants, which will bloom on and off all year long provided it gets ample light. As an indoor plant, be sure to mist the leaves regularly. Whether indoors or out, Crossandra will make a beautiful addition to your landscape and home.

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

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Summer Lawn Care Tips

The dog days of summer have officially begun. And in these hot and humid summer months, it can be a challenge to keep your lawn looking green and healthy. So, we've had our lawn experts put together a few simple tips to help you keep that lawn looking lush all summer long.

For Warm Season Lawns: If you have Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede or Zoysia, follow these steps this summer...

  • Warm season lawns, with the exception of Bermuda, should be fertilized with St. Augustine Weed and Feed. It will give your lawn the right amount of fertilizer while killing weeds.
  • To fertilize Bermuda grass, we recommend Fertilome Classic Lawn Food.
  • To control weeds, we recommend Weed Out or Atrazine. This product will take care of weeds without damaging your lawn. For disease control, use F-stop to prevent Zoysia Patch, Brown Patch, Take-All Patch and others.
  • Don’t forget that you should also think about insect control during the summer months, too. White Grubs, the offspring of the dreaded Japanese Beetle, can damage lawns during the later part of the summer months. To control them and insects use Bug Blaster or Hi Yield Turf Ranger.

For Fescue Lawns (or cool season lawns): If you have a fescue lawn (or cool season lawn), follow these steps to ensure that your lawns stays happy and healthy this summer...

  • The most important factors in keeping you fescue lawn healthy through the summer are mowing and watering. Raise your mower height to 3-4 inches for the summer months. Taller grass helps keep the root system cooler and helps to choke out weeds. Water once or twice a week, slow and deep during the warm months to promote deep and vigorous root growth. Lawns require 1 inch of water per week.
  • Second, no matter how much you think you should fertilize your lawn this summer…DON’T.
  • Third, to control weeds in your lawn, use Weed Out with Q and Dimension as a pre-emergent. This product will kill hundreds of weeds, including over 200 varieties of broadleaf weeds and grassy weeds.

As the summer continues on, lawn fungus can become a problem in our area. If this is the case in your yard, use F-stop. This is a systemic preventative and curative fungicide. Use F-stop to control Brown Patch, Dollar Spot, Leaf Spot and more.

Nutgrass can also be a bothersome weed in the summer, and the only way to rid your yard of this invasive weed, is to use Hi-Yield Nutsedge Control. But remember to use Spreader Sticker with this and any liquid weed killer to make it stronger and faster acting.

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Living Fences - The Best Screening Evergreen Shrubs

Living Fences

The Best Screening Evergreen Shrubs

Gardens are a sanctuary from our everyday, busy lives; a place to sway in a hammock and enjoy the peace and quiet, or share a cool beverage and conversation with a family member or friend. Fences are typically the first options homeowners think about when it comes to creating privacy in their yards. And, even though fences are an attractive option, they require on-going maintenance that can be expensive in the long term. One of the most cost-effective ways to give your garden greater privacy is by growing green walls. Evergreen shrubs are not just useful, they are also beautiful and require little or no maintenance and are ideal for gardens of all types and sizes. Not only do shrubs provide privacy, but they also offer additional benefits such as, shade, fragrance, cooler summertime temperatures, and an environment for attracting birds and other wildlife to your yard. With so many options available, you can choose the perfect shrub to fit with your garden and create the degree of screening you require. Here are a few of our recommendations for the best screening, evergreen shrubs.

Chindo Viburnum - is a beautiful evergreen shrub with glossy, dark green leaves. Beautiful white flowers appear in spring followed by red berries in fall providing year-round interest in the landscape. Chindo is a fast grower, so it should be placed somewhere that has enough room to accommodate its full growth. Shrub reaches a mature height of 10-15 feet. Pruning should be done after flowering is completed in the spring. Prefers full sun to partial shade. Attracts bees, butterflies and birds.

Waxleaf Ligustrum - this evergreen shrub boast dark green, lustrous foliage with a dense, upright growing habit. Fragrant creamy-white blooms appear in both spring and summer. . Growing quickly during the summer months, Waxleaf Ligustrum will fill in any spot quickly. This tough, drought tolerant shrub works equally well sculpted into topiaries, trained as a small tree or grouped as a flowering hedge. Grows to 8 feet in both height and width, although modest pruning will allow you to shape this plant into any shape you desire. Prefers partial sun to full sun.

Bayberry (Southern Waxmyrtle) – is a large shrub or small tree, often multi-trunked, with gray-green aromatic foliage reminiscent of bayberry candles. Clusters of waxy, bluish gray berries prevail through winter. Wax myrtle makes an effective and attractive tall screen or specimen tree. This heat and drought tolerant evergreen is a fast grower, reaching 15-20 feet at maturity. Prefers full sun or partial shade. Deer resistant.

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The Cook's Garden

McDonald Owner, Eddie Anderson, grows garden-fresh herbs steps away from his kitchen and grill to bring flavors to summertime cuisine.

Why have all those store-bought herbs in the kitchen when you can have it fresh at your finger tips all summer? It only takes a small bed or a few large pots. Whether used by the pinch or by the bunch, garden-fresh herbs pull a recipe together by infusing most any dish with unmatched aromas and flavors.

Growing your own gives you certain advantages over buying them from the market. No more need to rush out before the store closes - you’ll have fresh herbs right at your fingertips just when you want them. Cutting sprigs moments before use ensures maximum flavor and nutrients. Not only are fresh herbs convenient and healthy, but growing and using fresh herbs makes preparing those summer meals a lot more fun!

Harvesting your own herbs is easier than you think. An herb garden only takes a small bed and/or some large pots. Lemons thyme, sage, parsley, basil, tarragon, oregano, rosemary, mint and more can all be in easy reach. Select large pots, 10” for smaller herbs and 12” for the larger ones. Bigger pots mean less watering problems and easer care. For optimum success, you’ll need 6-8 hours of sun and a little fertilizer from time to time.

What are you waiting for? Get that herb garden you've always wanted. You'll love the taste, nutrients, and of course the convenience. Herbs at hand make it to the pan!

Tips: To ensure freshness, snip leaves using scissors instead of pulling them off with your fingers. Begin by removing older leaves from the outside of the plant to promote growth. Next, work your way inward toward the younger stems. To maximize the flavor of fresh herbs, the American Dietetic Association recommends chopping them finely and adding them toward the end of your cooking.

-- Photos from Eddie Anderson's garden in Hampton, Virginia

Talk of the Town: NEW Crepe Myrtles

Hampton Road’s love affair with crepe myrtles is undeniable. Few plants can match their combination of stunning summer flowers, vibrant autumn foliage, and unique and beautiful exfoliating bark. With so many cultivars to choose from, we’ve selected a few of the newer introductions that you're sure to fall in love with!

  1. Ebony & Ivory - features clusters of pure white blooms with yellow eyes that pop against the intense, dark purple, almost black foliage. This upright grower reaches 10 to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Ebony & Ivory is disease resistant and drought tolerant and is perfect as an accent tree.
  2. Ebony Flames - features vibrant, dark red blooms offset by intense black foliage that blooms summer through fall! This semi-dwarf grows to approximately 10-12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Ebony Flame is drought-tolerant is ideal as an accent plant in the landscape.
  3. Princess Lyla - this dwarf variety boast rose pink blooms with deep green foliage in summer that turns to copper red in fall. Lyla reaches a height and spread of 18 to 24 inches. This myrtle variety is also disease resistant, heat and cold tolerant and right at home in beds, containers and mass plantings.
  4. Princess Holly Ann - with vibrant cherry red blooms, this mounding dwarf crepe myrtle blossoms from summer to fall. Features deep green foliage in summer with purplish-red growth in fall. Reaches 4-5 feet tall with a 2 1/2 to 3 feet spread. This disease resistant, heat and cold tolerant shrub is just the thing for garden beds, containers and mass plantings.

Don't miss our 33rd annual Crepe Myrtle Fest, July 18-19 where you'll see the best selection of Crepe Myrtles in town! LEARN MORE >>

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Plant of the Week: Ebony & Ivory Crepe Myrtle

The crepe myrtle is originally from China and has been in cultivation in the United States for more than a century. This beloved tree can be seen all over Hampton Roads, lining streets in its wide range of colors and sizes. July and August mark the peak of the tree’s 100-day blooming period -- putting on a show of beautiful crepe paper-like flowers.

Ebony & Ivory is one of our NEWEST crepe myrtles on the block. If you're looking for a truly unique crepe... this one is a must-have! You'll adore it's clusters of pure white blooms with yellow eyes that pop against its intense, dark purple -almost ebony foliage. This upright grower blooms summer into fall and reaches a mature size of 10 to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Ebony & Ivory makes and excellent accent plant in the landscape and rest assured - Ebony & Ivory is disease resistant and drought tolerant. If you looking for summer-blooming perennials to pair with this crepe -- we recommend gallardia, agastache, lantana, coreopsis, coneflowers and daylilies.

Come find out why the Crepe Myrtle is the locals favorite tree THIS weekend at our 33rd annual Crepe Myrtle Fest -- with the best selection of crepes in town! LEARN MORE >>

A Drought-Tolerant Yard

Enjoy the beauty of a drought-tolerant yard and gardens.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

When husband Ken and I lived in the Kiln Creek area of Newport News, we had a fescue lawn that an underground irrigation system kept lush and green.

Ken loved that watering system. Many evenings, he and neighborhood men stood in the street, admiring each other’s lawn and comparing notes on who had the greenest lawn. I used to chuckle at their manly competition.

I, however, was not a fan of the irrigation system. We had a small lot, which meant shrubs and perennials got too much moisture while the lawn thrived.

All that watering also made our water bill grow.

When we moved back to the Seaford area of York County, I was determined to have a pretty yard and gardens without an irrigation system. Our first Seaford yard was mostly native pine woods planted with bulbs, Japanese maples, ferns and camellias. I planted each fall so any new plants could develop good root growth over winter. I dragged hoses to give them supplemental water their first summer, but after that they were on their own and they did fine. Our small lawn was fescue, which we annually reseeded and fertilized in fall; planting fescue in the spring is not the best idea because root growth is minimal before hot, dry weather sets in.

Our current lawn is Tifway Bermuda sod installed when we built the house nine years ago. During summer, it looks and feels like thick carpet with few, if any, weeds. It loves summer’s hot, dry days; it may brown here and there during prolonged periods of no rainfall but a summer shower perks it up again.

Our beds are big, bold and beautiful, planted with species that seldom need extra water -- ornamental grasses (Morning Light miscanthus is my favorite), nandinas, rose-of-sharon, milkweed, bee balm, cup plant, mountain mint, joe-pye weed, wax myrtle, eastern red cedar, vitex, bald cypress, crape myrtles, Virginia sweepspire, beauty berry and sweet bay magnolia.

A small wooded area contains camellias and hydrangeas. I heap compost around the base of hydrangeas to help keep them hydrated and upright (not droopy from heat) during 90-degree days.

Now that California is experiencing a historical drought, I’m glad I’ve learned to garden with minimum watering because conservation is smart living anywhere and everywhere.

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Extend Your Harvest

Plant more warm-season veggies now for cool-season harvests.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

I grew up with a vegetable garden. Dad raised potatoes, string beans, corn, cucumbers, onions, squash and tomatoes – lots of tasty tomatoes. Mom canned beans and tomatoes and pickled cucumbers. It’s how our family of six ate healthy and fresh on the conservative income my father made at the local shipyard.

As an adult, Dad spoiled us with fresh tomatoes from a smaller garden, and Mom still put up string beans. To this day, I can’t eat canned string beans from the store, only fresh ones, because nothing else compares to what I have known.

Now, that my father’s veggie patch is gone because he’s in a retirement home and mom has passed on to her heavenly garden, I try my best to raise a few fresh veggies for the meals I fix me and hubby.

Around this time of year, by mid-July, I plant a second crop of vegetables, particularly tomatoes, so I have a fall crop. The process is called succession planting, a method that works really good for many crops, including lettuces and onions. It’s the best way to keep a continuous harvest. Succession planting is also the process of planting something where you removed plants – such as summer corn after spring peas. Before putting in any new plants, always add some aged compost to the soil to replenish it for good plant growth.

When you plant new tomatoes, plant them deep for strong root growth. Stake as needed, and you’re your fingers to remove small, lower leaves, or suckers. You can root suckers in jars of water, and plant them after roots develop.

My favorite tomatoes include sandwich-slicing styles, as well as cherry tomatoes I eat on salads and as snacks. There’s always a plate of bite-sized tomatoes on the laundry counter so I can grab a few as I go out the door. During summer, a tomato snack refreshes me as much as a cool glass of lemonade.

Trash to Treasure

One man’s trash is another’s treasure! Recycle old tins for a small, quick project that will add some green to your space while going green in the process.

What you’ll need:

  • Tin can
  • Hammer and nails (for making holes in the bottom of the can)
  • Plant to be repotted (or seeds)
  • Potting Soil
  1. Find some old cans or tins from the recycling bin and carefully cut the top out of the can using a can opener. If the edges are sharp you can use some electrical tape to smooth it out.
  2. Next you can drill some holes in the bottom for drainage. To make it even easier, just put some small pebbles and stones at the bottom which can serve as your drainage.
  3. Add your potting soil, and you’re ready to add your seeds or small plants!
  4. If you are repotting a plant, carefully turn the plant over with your hand under it to catch it. Lightly squeeze the plastic pot to help guide the roots out. Make a nice hole in the soil for your new plant and place your plant in it’s new container and don’t forget to water!