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Plants of the Week: Floor Plant Favorites

From large, sculptural plants to charming succulents, there's a place for houseplants in every home. Green plants add textural interest, fill in drab corners and soften architectural features, and they can enhance mood and freshen air too. Large floor plants are especially ideal when used as an accent plant or as a focal point indoors. And, when it comes to indoor plants, some folks don’t have a reputation for having a green thumb. But, not all plants require equal amounts of TLC, and there are a lot that can put up with a little unintentional neglect. With the help of our indoor plant specialists, we've picked a few easy maintenance floor plants. So, if you are looking for ways to spruce-up and freshen your home or office, here are a few of our favorites...

Fiddle Leaf Fig - a wildly popular new houseplant featuring large, heavily veined, violin-shaped leaves that grow upright on a tall plant. Fiddle is native to the tropics, where they thrive in very warm, high light conditions. They are relatively tough plants that can withstand less-than-perfect conditions for a fairly long time. Give them a vacation outside during warmer months, and bring them indoors when cold weather sets in. Fiddle Leaf Figs perform best in bright sunshine.

Ficus Benjimina – shows off glossy, evergreen foliage and a graceful growth habit. All this plants needs is a sunny spot and it will thrive. Looks great when potted up and placed near doors, entryways or even outside during warmer months. Once it gets cold, bring it inside near a warm window. And don’t be afraid to trim the foliage back to maintain the graceful appearance. When potted, this ficus can grow 6 feet tall.

Corn Plant - this striking houseplant is nicknamed the Corn Plant for its long, dark green, sword-like leaves that resemble the foliage of actual corn. The variegated leaves usually have a yellow or crème center with dark green edging. This plant enjoys low light, making it perfect for corners and hallways. The Corn Plant has very a shallow root system, therefore when watering, be sure to place the water near the base of each cane so that the roots are able to absorb the water. If the leaves begin to drop or yellow, try watering the plant less frequently. This exceptionally easy to grow plant is one of the best houseplants for beginners, and the foliage is one of the most efficient at purifying the air.

Dracaena Marginata - this beautiful plant features green, thin leaves with red and yellow strips along the edges that grow from a thin cane. Marginata is an easy-care, durable houseplant well suited for offices and homes. This exotic, slow-growing houseplant can reach 6 feet tall, but you can control its height by simply cutting off the top. And did we mention that NASA lists Dracaena Marginata as excellent plant for removing harmful chemicals from the air?

Bamboo Palm - a tall, narrow palm tree with slender stems resembling bamboo. It has delicate pale green leaves called fronds that grow in clusters at the end of the stems. Bamboo palm performs well in low to medium light and grow 5 to 7 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide, so place it where it will have plenty of room to grow. Be sure to prune back dead leaves to keep it looking its best. With little effort, this tropical-looking plant will brighten dim corners of your home.

Tip - when watering, tap water will do, but rain and distilled water are best. Even indoors plants benefit from fertilizer in spring and summer when they are growing. We recommend giving your plants some time outside during the summer. In the shade for 6-8 weeks helps the plant get new energy to get through the dark winter months and still retain its natural beauty. Consult with our associates on pruning and grooming of each variety.

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

Top 5 Easiest Houseplants

Bring the outside in with some of our favorite easy-to-care for houseplants -- no green thumb required. Most of us who think that we have bad luck with houseplants simply have not selected the right plant for our space. Before purchasing a houseplant, consider these three simple questions: where is the plant going to live?; what kind of light does the area receive?; and what are the plants watering requirements?

Top 5 Easiest Houseplants:

Succulents are one of the most versatile plants on the globe. Because they have shallow roots, they can survive without a great deal of water or care and thrive in drought-like conditions. Succulents also have a variety of pleasing shapes and colors, looking good whether they have blooms or not! These stylish plants have moved to center stage and are being used in a multitude of ways both inside and out. Succulents used in all sorts of ways; as table arrangements, living sculptures, as cut flowers – the skies the limit when it comes to using succulents. Take advantage of these unique garden characters and challenge yourself to come up with new ways to display your succulents around the house.

Air Plants, or Tillandsias, survive mostly on air and an occasional watering. These unique plants, from the Bromeliad family, absorb nutrients, especially calcium and water, from the air which provides an abundant supply of nutrients to the plant rather than through their roots. Place them in glass terrariums, hang them from string on their own, set them in a shell or on a stack of books. They can even be glued, wired, pinned or tied to driftwood, seashells or baskets. The possibilities for the tough little plants is endless. Air Plants need plenty of fresh air and humidity. To water the plant, submerge it every two weeks.

Pothos, are tough, versatile plants among the most popular of houseplants. This plant gets its name from its leaves, which are heart-shaped and glossy green. Pothos grow trailing, leafy vines that can reach 40 feet in tropical jungles, but usually confines itself to about 6-10 feet in containers, when allowed to trail freely. This hardy plant is able to withstand neglect and less than optimal lighting conditions. Pothos prefer natural, bright, indirect light. If they're exposed to too much light, they may slowly lose the lush color and slowly turn a pale green. As a general rule, check the soil and water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Keep the soil evenly moist but allow it to dry out between waterings.

Snake Plants, are tough plants with heavy, sword-like leaves which shoot up from the base of the dirt and can grow to 4-feet in height. The snake plant prefers moderate to bright light. This houseplant prefers to be watered once every 7 - 10 days thoroughly, allowing the soil to dry in between waterings. Drooping foliage can indicate over watering. On the other hand if the foliages begins to wrinkle or bend over you are not providing enough water.

Chinese Evergreens are another versatile low light, low growing, durable houseplant. The distinctive foliage and compact size make it an ideal accent plant. Chinese evergreens are available in assorted varieties, but no matter which one you choose, rest assured they are all easy to care for. This plant tolerates low light but does best if located in bright indirect sunlight. Keep it constantly moist but not wet, since sitting in water can cause rot. A moderate drying between the waterings is okay, but the soil shouldn’t dry put completely.

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Plant of the Week: Marigolds -- Beautiful & Beneficial

These little golden beauties are grown for their season-long blooms, their beautiful scent, and because they are easy to grow. Marigolds bloom early in the summer and continue non-stop up to the first hard frost in the fall. And, did you know that marigold plants produce unique compounds that give off strong odors that deter many insects and pests? By planting marigolds alongside your vegetables, not only are you providing lovely flowers, but you're also helping keep your veggies safe from pests - naturally! Marigolds also help tomatoes and roses grow better and are beneficial for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. These bloomers are perfect in beds, pots and window boxes. Plant them in an area with good drainage, ample moisture and a full to half-day sun. Young plants should have their first flowers pinched off to encourage more blooms and a bushier form. Be sure to deadhead mature plants to ensure continuous flowering. Marigolds, no annual garden should be without these cheerful, bountiful blooms.

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

Vertical Vines

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

When you can’t garden horizontally because you’ve run out of room, look upward and imagine how you can garden vertically – with vines. The smallness of an urban garden forced me to turn to vines for more gardening interest. After one summer, I was hooked, caught up in the twists and turns of tendrils. My husband jokingly tells people to rescue us if they see vines crawling across our front door and down the chimney. Seriously, vines give vertical vistas to gardens, especially when you’ve gardened every square inch of any ground space.

When choosing vines for your garden, plant any aggressive type, like passionflower, in a pot or be prepared to put up with their rambunctious personality. I remember the time I planted a Lady Banks climbing rose next to the house, all the while envisioning the romantic look of it climbing up the side of the house. Within a year, the rose had grown under the edges of roof shingles, so we quickly moved it to a trellis where it could do no structural harm. In addition to fences, trellises and arbors, small trees can act as temporary supports for vines, especially summer annuals like my favorite purple hyacinth vine. Avoid letting any vine cover too much of the tree’s canopy or it will interfere with the tree’s ability to make food. One of Virginia’s best native plants is Virginia creeper, a climbing vine with dark blue berries and showy red foliage in fall; its palmate leaves are often mistaken for poison ivy. You see it growing wild in many parts of Hampton Roads, including gardens because birds drop seeds from the berries. My favorite vine for showy fall flowers is another Virginia native -- sweet autumn clematis. It grows wild along roadways and is also sold at garden centers. Vines that smell wonderful include early spring - flowering Carolina jessamine, as well as summer flowering climbing hydrangea, coral honeysuckle and American wisteria.

After several years of planting more vines than I can count, I learned a good lesson: Vines really do sleep, creep and leap.

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Summer Butterflies

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

Each summer, I chuckle when neighbors and friends ask why caterpillars are eating their parsley, dill and fennel. They want to know how to kill whatever rascal is doing the damage. With a straight face and slight sternness in my voice, I quietly explain that those horrible caterpillars will soon morph into beautiful butterflies. But, first they need to eat. Oh, they quickly reply, smiling at the thought.

August is primetime butterfly season in my pollinator garden, especially since I planted three dozen milkweed seedlings three years ago. Native milkweed, I find, is very prolific at reproducing from the hundreds of seeds that pop out of plump pods each fall, lying dormant in the mulch until the next spring. I never collect and store the seeds – why when Mother Nature is much better at doing the job? Monarch butterflies lay their speck-like eggs on the milkweed, and soon afterward those eggs hatch caterpillars (larva) that feed and feed and feed. Each full-grown caterpillar becomes a pupa (chrysalis) that then transforms into an orange-and-black beauty. The egg takes 5-10 days; the larva/caterpillar and pupa/chrysalis each take about 10-14 days, according to biologists. Habitat for the Monarch is disappearing so anything you can do to help it survive is needed, according to the nonprofit Monarch Watch at http://monarchwatch.org.

My garden is also home to many eastern black swallowtail and tiger swallowtails, which is Virginia’s state insect. The black beauty likes to lay eggs on my parsley and fennel, which easily reseeds if you don’t disturb the soil; it also deposits eggs on Queen Anne’s lace. Tiger swallowtails prefer to lay eggs on trees such as wild black cherry, tulip tree and magnolias, including Virginia’s native sweet bay magnolia, a lovely, medium-sized tree with no messy dropping leaves. My perennial garden also attracts moths, as well as bees and pollinating flies. Birds such as yellow finch and hummingbirds feed there, too. Perennials like butterfly bush, coneflowers and Shasta daisies provide nectar for butterflies of all kinds. It’s the life blood of my entire yard, the place where peace and purpose come together for a summer of exceptional beauty. I like to call it “my happy place.”

photos from Ruth Meredith, McDonald Garden Center

Plant of the Week: The Venus Fly Trap

BUGS BEWARE!

Like other plants, Venus Fly Traps gather nutrients from gases in the air and nutrients in the soil. However, they live in poor soil and are healthier if they get nutrients from insects. Carnivorous plants live all over the world but the Venus Fly Trap is native to select boggy areas in North and South Carolina. Because of people's fascination with these plants, they collected many of them and they became endangered. Today, Fly Traps are grown in greenhouses.

The leaves of these mysterious plants open wide and on them are short, stiff hairs called trigger hairs. When anything touches these hairs enough to bend them, the two lobes of the leaves snap shut trapping whatever is inside - in less than a second. If the object isn't food, e.g., a stone, or a nut, the trap will reopen in about twelve hours and 'spit' it out. The trap constricts tightly around the insect and secretes digestive juices, much like those in your stomach. It dissolves the soft, inner parts of the insect, but not the tough, outer part called the exoskeleton. At the end of the digestive process, which takes from five to twelve days, the trap reabsorbs the digestive fluid and then reopens. The leftover parts of the insect, the exoskeleton, blow away in the wind or are washed away by rain. The time it takes for the trap to reopen depends on the size of the insect, temperature, the age of the trap, and the number of times it has gone through this process. People still do not understand fully how the trap closes. The Venus' Flytrap does not have a nervous system or any muscles or tendons. Scientists theorize that it moves from some type of fluid pressure activated by an actual electrical current that runs through each lobe.

The Venus Flytrap is one of the easiest carnivorous plants to grow -- with only a few requirements such as, wet roots, high humidity, full sunlight, and poor, acidic soil.A recommended soil mixture is one that contains sphagnum moss and sand. Do not add fertilizer or lime. Your plants will do better if you transplant them into new soil every few years. To provide high humidity, plant it in a terrarium or in a glass container with a small opening. An old aquarium or fish bowl make good containers for this purpose. You need to watch your terrarium in the summer because the temperature inside the glass may get too hot. Two hours in the sun may be sufficient. If your plants wilt, then they need to come out of the sun sooner. Just the opposite is true for winter. If it gets very cold in your area you may need to move your plants away from the window or cover them at night in order to keep them warm and moist. However, it will experience a dormant period in the winter, from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day so it needs fewer hours of daylight and cooler temperatures. If you grow your plant outside, it will get enough insects to eat. If it rains the container may fill up with water but this will not hurt the plants, they can live underwater for months. If you grow your plant inside you will need to feed it insects. A couple of houseflies or small slugs per month is enough during the growing season. source: botany.org

Bring your kids to learn more about these carnivorous plants at our Venus Fly Trap Workshop for Kids on Saturday, August 15 at 11am. learn more >>

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

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BEE-Friendly Blooms

National Honey Bee Day is coming up Saturday, August 15th. Let’s herald these hard-working pollinators and support local beekeepers!

You’ve probably heard "the buzz" about the massive decline of bees in the US in recent years. President Obama has even taken a stand to help the bee maintain its buzz. This past month, he announced the first ‘National strategy to promote the health of bees and other pollinators,’ which basically means save the bees. Worldwide there is disturbing evidence that pollinating animals have suffered from a loss of habitat, chemical misuse, and a real decline in numbers. Bees, butterflies, beetles, birds and bats are some of our pollinators. Over the past year, about 40% of bee colonies have collapsed. These pollinators affect everyone! In fact, one-third of the foods we find in the grocery store result from pollinators like bees and other insects. When it comes to agriculture, bees are major pollinators. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, chocolate or a tomato then you owe a big thank you to a small pollinator. Some estimates put the economic value of their activities at roughly $15 billion a year! Anyone can increase the number of pollinators around - you don’t have to be a big time farmer. Just by making choices to grow plants that provide habitat for bees, butterflies, and humming birds, you are creating a safe space for pollinators and helping to stop the decline! Here’s our top picks for plants that attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies:

  • Butterfly Weed
  • Begonias
  • Bellflowers
  • Hostas
  • Rosemary
  • Verbena
  • Salvia
  • Yarrow
  • Coneflowers
  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Bee Balm
  • Hollyhock
  • Asters
  • Parsley

Join us this Sunday, August 9th, to learn more about the important role of honey bees in our backyards and our communities from 2-4pm at our Hampton location. Get the buzz here! >>

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Plant of the Week: Sedum Angelina

Do you have a garden spot that is sunny, hot and dry with poor or rocky soil? Well we’ve got just plant for you - sedums! Sedums are a gardener's dream. These flowering perennials thrive in alkaline soil and full sun and require minimal maintenance, and best of all they do not require a great deal of watering. Sedums are characteristically low, spreading plants often used as ground covers, in rock gardens, or in containers mixed with other succulents or plants. Colors range from bright green to vibrant pink to silver and blue. Many varieties are evergreen, but some will lose their leaves during winter and sprout again in summer. So, if you’re looking for a beautiful plant that thrives with near neglect, a sedum just might fit what you’re looking for! Here is one of the best performers:

Sedum 'Angelina' – is covered in stunning yellow, star-shaped flowers from early to mid summer. In fall, needle-like foliage tips take on a reddish-orange hue. This vigorous perennial is easy to grow and reaches 3 to 6 inches in height. Perfect as a groundcover, in borders, or spilling over rock walls and the edges of containers. It also makes an excellent accent for plants with dark foliage. Angelina is heat and drought-tolerant and does best in full sun, although it will tolerate some light shade.

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