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Camellias: A Fall Show of Flowers

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

It’s almost time for the biggest and best show of the fall gardening show – the appearance of camellia flowers.

I’ve had considerable experience with camellias over several decades of gardening and none have really disappointed me.

In a garden flooded with salt water and debris during Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, camellias weathered the storm, never showing a blemished leaf or flower. Their established root systems also fared fine during bone-dry times.

Where I live now on a saltwater creek in York County is much the same, except I have less shade to protect the camellias from brutally hot summer days. Even so, my camellias thrive under the minimal shade of two towering pine trees in one area and a smaller bald cypress in another spot.

My favorite, never-fail camellias include Snow Flurry and Yuletide.

Fall-flowering Snow Flurry is aptly named because the graceful, arching shrub is covered in hundreds of small, dainty white flowers, making it look like it had been showered with a dusting of snow.

Yuletide, another fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua, flowers in November-December, producing holiday-red blossoms just in time for the holidays.

Camellias, like most trees and shrubs, are best planted in autumn so cool, wet weather can help root systems get established before hot, dry weather arrives again.

When you shop for a camellia, select one in a size that suits your growing space. Plant a succession of camellias, including fall-, winter- and spring-blooming types, and you can have six months of instant garden color.

Camellias are best pruned as soon as they finish flowering.

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Plant Bulbs Now for Sensational Spring Flowers

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

Bulbs are too often afterthoughts in the garden. It’s wrong thinking, something I’ve been guilty of, too. For years, I ignored bulbs. Then, I became the energized owner of a woodsy garden where I envisioned a river of daffodils blooming in early spring. Over the course of several falls, hubby Ken and I dug holes and planted thousands of spring-flowering daffodils.

Digging planting holes around huge tree roots is a challenge, but Ken did it with good humor. I had him create holes large enough to hold about 25 bulbs each and made him promise not to ever tell anyone how I planted bulbs. Why? I literally threw them in, leaving them upside down, sideways and right side up. He laughed and kept digging. Miraculously, each spring, the daffodils emerged, leafed out and bloomed beautifully – because bulbs are smart and instinctively know to right themselves.

October is a perfect planting timeframe for spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus. Daffodils and crocus like open spaces of full sun but also fare fine under tall deciduous trees where the bulbs soak up the sun they need before trees leaf out. Tulips are best in pots and gardens with all-day sun.

Bulbs need rich, organic soil that drains well. They need consistent moderate moisture but dislike soggy soil. Once your bulbs finishing flowering, allow the foliage to yellow and die back, because the photosynthesis process nourishes the bulbs for next year’s flowers. Once your spring-flowering bulbs are in the ground, plan for more year-round color with summer and fall-flowering bulbs. Like me, you’ll soon realize bulbs play starring roles in a garden’s beauty.

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Pansies, the Little Flower that Could

What flower has a face, is edible, blooms in both spring and fall and comes in the widest range of colors? If you guest pansies, you are right! Pansies are one of the best ways to add color to those 6 months of cooler Hampton Roads weather that we experience from October thru March. These tough, vibrant flowers come in all the colors of the rainbow ~ including red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. Pansies are easy to grow, are hardy and provide a burst of cool weather color. Pansies can be used in a variety of ways. Here's a few of our favorite ways to show these beauties off:

  • Both the leaves and flowers are edible and have a mild, minty taste. They are even a rich source of vitamin A and C! Use leaves and flowers as garnishes in cakes, fruit salads, green salads, desserts and soups.
  • Float pansies in a shallow bowl for an interesting mosaic-like effect.
  • Freeze petals in ice cube trays and use in drinks.
  • They make excellent cut flowers. Use to add a burst of seasonal color in flower arrangements.
  • Plant pansies as an edging to form a colorful border in flower beds.
  • Fill window boxes & hanging baskets with pansies to brighten up the exterior of your house.
  • Cut pansies make for a colorful tabletop centerpiece... we especially love them arranged in a hollowed out pumpkin.
  • Fill small containers like strawberry jars & bud vases with pansies for pops of color around your house.
  • Plant white pansies in containers surrounding a dwarf Alberta spruce. Top it off with white lights for a festive holiday display.
  • Press pansies between two pieces of glass and frame for a unique work of wall art.
  • Pansies make excellent companions for spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, iris, and daffodils.
  • Plant under shrubs; acting as living mulch, plus they inhibit the growth of weeds.

DIY Pumpkin Planters

Perk up your fall porch or table with a pumpkin packed with blooms. Instead of putting a candle in a jack-o-lantern, hollow out a pumpkin and use cool weather plants for a festive look that is sure to impress every guest. We recommend soaking your cut pumpkin in a quick bath of bleach before placing plants in. This will prolong the pumpkin once it's been cut. Poke a few holes in a tin can or small container and place inside your cut pumpkin. Add your plants, some soil and a little sprinkle of fertilizer. Try pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale, mums, or hardy succulents. Top off your finished planter with floral picks, sprigs of berries and even strands of lights. After Halloween, enjoy your planter into Thanksgiving. When the pumpkin declines, simply pop your plants into a new pumpkin or into a garden bed or container. So go for it -- think outside the pot, grab a pumpkin and get started!

TIP: In addition to pumpkins, try mixing butternut squash and gourds as well for container options.

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Mini Gardens. BIG Impact.

Make a BIG impact with small gardens. Mini gardening possibilities are endless and it's so fun adding accessories to jazz them up for the holidays. There are so many ways to garden small including terrariums, glass orbs, fairy gardens, dish gardens, succulent gardens and even hanging string gardens. Also, try re-purposing items from your home such as jars, drawers, and old dishes. Get creative and get miniature!

Step 1: Choose a Location
Choose a spot for your garden, indoors or out. If you choose an outdoor location, look for a nook or cranny to offer a protected spot in the landscape. You may choose to create an indoor garden in a flower pot, terracotta saucer, bowl or vase. The possibilities are endless, any container can be transformed into an enchanted garden.

Step 2: Construct the Garden
Let your imagination run free when creating your mini garden. Try incorporating ponds, walkways, and even a garden border. You may find it useful to segment an area for your mini gardens with garden borders, miniature fencing or river rock. During construction, you can add rolling hills to your garden with moss and other plant material.

Step 3: Add Plants
Any type of small plant can easily be incorporated into your gardens. Once you have decided where your garden will be located, indoor or outdoor, you can start identifying plants for your creation. Be sure to pair plants with similar growing conditions (i.e., shade or sun, waterwise, etc). For outdoor gardens, use hardy plants. We recommend small conifers like mugo pine, deadora cedar, or dwarf Hinoki cypress. Other choices include tiny boxwoods, elm trees and Japanese maples. To create a groundcover, we recommend creeping thyme, corsican mint, or small-leaved sedums like Makinoi Ogon. For indoor gardens, there are many possibilities. You can choose from a wide selection of mini foliage plants like ferns and ivy. Also, try a small cactus and tiny succulents. To add colorful blooms, use mini flowering plants like roses, kalanchoe, euphorbia, African violets, bromeliads or orchids.

Step 4: Accessorize
Embellish your mini garden with houses, benches, tiny wheelbarrows, furniture or any other accessories. Visit any McDonald Garden Center to find everything you need from containers to tiny plants and accessories, and let your imagination go wild!

Check out our Pinterest board and flip through MINI GARDENS WE ♡ >>

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Trees for Beautiful Fall Color

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

I’ve always wanted an October Glory maple tree for its red fall color. Finally, several years ago, I got one and I couldn’t be happier. About this time of year, its vivid red foliage warms me on cool October days.

Maples, among my favorite trees, are just a few of the shade trees that put on an eye-catching display of color when temperatures begin to cool and prepare us for winter. In fact, sugar maple entertains you with a color wheel throughout the year – pale green leaves that mature to dark green and then to yellow, orange and red.

Our bald cypress features finely textured green leaves that turn nice shades of bronze and brown before dropping to the ground where they are so easy to rake up and place in beds as naturally decomposing compost.

Crape myrtles, the 100 days of flowers in summer, provide several weeks of fall color, their leaves in shades of red, orange and yellow, depending on the variety.

Our Japanese maples – Coral Bark and Crimson Queen -- change from lime green and dark green into yellow and red, respectively. In winter, Coral Bark lives up to its name, its bark a showy red-pink that stands out against the starkness of the winter landscape.

Last, but not least, “my girl,” as I like to call our female eastern red cedar, takes on stronger bluish-green hues with bluish-green fruits decorating her boughs as the holidays arrive. She’s among my favorite trees in the yard because she provides songbirds with shelter, nesting spots and food.

Other trees that provide spectacular fall color include black tupelo that can contain many shades of yellow, orange, red, purple and scarlet on the same branch; sweet gum with star-shaped leaves that look yellow, purple and red; and our native dogwood with its fiery red leaves and ornamental fruits.

If your yard lacks trees with autumn color, now is the perfect time to add one, two or three. Fall planting is best for trees, shrubs and perennials because the root systems establish before hot, dry weather arrives again. Then, you can add a few pumpkins, as well as pots of mums, pansies and ornamental kale, for a picture-perfect fall décor.

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Ingredients for Growing Success

Healthy soil equals healthy plants, and what happens below the soil line really does make a difference! When you build and maintain fertile soil, you are laying the groundwork for thriving plants that can develop quickly, resist pests and diseases, and give way to thriving, beautiful plants. Here are five ingredients our experts recommend to help ensure your planting success:

McDonald Soil Builder

  • A complete planting mix that is designed to be used with all plants that are planted in the ground
  • Helps sandy soil hold more moisture and helps break up heavy clay soils
  • Mycorrhizae are a beneficial fungus that attaches to the roots of plants and helps pull more nutrients and moisture to the roots, and grow with the plant in a symbiotic relationship and will continue to support living plants
  • Ingredients: processed pine bark, composted pine bark, peat moss, dolomitic lime and mycorrhizae

McDonald Garden Compost

  • A superb all purpose compost for vegetable gardening, raised bed amendment and soil amendment during dry times
  • Adds organic matter to the soil, which increases nutrient and moisture retention in the soil
  • Ingredients: composted bark, composted peanut hulls and peat moss

McDonald Greenleaf Fertilizer

  • A professional fertilizer designed specifically for Hampton Roads to provide nutrients that the soil lacks
  • Ideal for all plants from houseplants to trees and shrubs
  • Aides in beautiful green-up and flowering of all plants
  • 12-4-8 slow release formula that gives an excellent initial feed you will see within days and continues to feed for 1-3 months depending on plant needs
  • All fertilizers have macro nutrients, Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium, but Greenleaf has micro nutrients, including boron, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and molybdenum to help increase the nutrients that Hampton Road’s soil naturally lacks
  • Fertilize at least 2-3 times a year. Plants that bloom or grow more aggressively should be fertilized more often

Root Stimulator - a liquid plant fertilizer developed to encourage quick root development and reduce transplant shock

Perlite - a horticultural product that aides in breaking up of heavy soils and allowing water and nutrients access to the roots of your new plant.

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Plant of the Week: ShiShi Gashira Camellia

There's a good reason camellias have been a part of the southern landscape for more than 200 years - simply put, they're just amazing.

Native to the Orient, these graceful beauties were introduced into the U.S. near Charleston, South Carolina in 1786. Camellias come in so many varieties, flowering October through March depending on the type you choose. Flowers range in color from pure white to dark red, while some cultivars offer multi-colored or variegated blooms. Flowers can be saucer-shaped single or double blooms and even ruffled like the Peony camellia. For the remainder of the year, their evergreen foliage is an attractive glossy green providing year-round beauty. Most camellias are shrub-sized and compact and can serve several functions in the landscape. Whether they are planted as a hedge line, mixed with other shrubs, planted in a container, or situated as a standalone bush, camellias don't ask for much and yet give so much beauty in return.

Try one of our very favorite camellias, ShiShi Gashira - a versatile performer displaying profuse, hot pink, semi-double blooms with golden yellow stamens in the center and glossy, dark green foliage. Their flowers are perfect for cutting. We love snipping the blooms and simply floating them in a bowl of water around the home. These evergreen shrubs are an ideal choice for a colorful low hedge, espalier or high profile groundcover. ShiShi starts flowering in October and continues through December, yet you'll enjoy it's evergreen foliage all year long. Let's hear it for ShiShi Gashira!

overview: Prefers filtered sun; water regularly when top 3 inches of soil is dry; moderate growing 4-5 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide; blooms fall through winter

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

photos from Monrovia


It's all about Pansies!

Lucky for us gardeners, planting isn't just a spring activity. Your gardening season doesn't have to be over in the fall. Pansies are a great way to extend your blooms into cold weather.

When selecting pansies, think about the surrounding area that they’ll be planted in. Annuals are used to not only provide beautiful color but to also give contrast in the existing landscape. With so many beautiful vibrant colors to chose from, the last thing you want to do is pick a color that will blend in with the existing landscape. Choose colors to POP! One of the best things about pansies is how low maintenance and care free they are. They are a tough annual that survive even the harshest environments. With just a little TLC, you can keep a tight form and keep them blooming all season long. Pansies tend to get a bit leggy at times. If this occurs, simply pinch them back. Depending on how large they have gotten you may even take them back to half of their existing size. This will stimulate new growth resulting in a tighter plant. You may lose a few blooms right off the bat but in the long run it will make for a much more attractive plant.

Another tip to encourage flowering and growth is proper fertilizer. When you fertilize, pay attention to the nitrogen (the first number listed on a fertilizer), and the phosphorus (the middle number listed). Those are the components of a fertilizer that promote leaf growth and flowering. We recommend McDonald Greenleaf fertilizer specifically formulated for Hampton Roads… it’s what we use on our own plants and it has been a customer favorite for years.

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Plant of the Week: Matrix Pansies

What flower has a face, is edible, blooms in both spring & fall and comes in the widest range of colors of any garden annual? If you guest pansies, you are right. Yes, October = pansies here in Hampton Roads! These beloved blooms are one of the best ways to add color to your landscape during those six months of cool weather, from October through March. These vibrant, colorful flowers come in all the shades of the rainbow and then some including red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. Pansies are easy to grow, are hardy, provide a burst of color and can be used in a variety of ways - in beds, borders, rock gardens and containers. Here are a few of the newer selections from our popular Matrix Series that offer superb flower power with a compact, well-branched, and uniform habit:

Pansy Matrix Coastal Sunrise - new on the seen in 2014, this selection features an abundance of large flowers that will put on an unmatched color display for all to see. Coastal Sunrise is a mixture of deep rose, pink and purple blooms, with a no-stretch habit that keeps them looking good all summer and throughout the cool season. Add in the landscape or in pots for a pop of color for months to come. Coastal Sunrise grows 6-8 inches tall with an equal spread and prefers partial to full sun.

Pansy Matrix Ocean Breeze – another knock-out from the Matrix Series, Ocean Breeze boasts all the colors of the sea – ocean blues, whites, violets and deep dark purples. Blooms appear in fall and continue on into winter making them ideal planted up in containers, window boxes or in the landscape. Ocean Breeze grows 6-8 inches tall with an equal spread and prefers sun or partial sun for best flowering.

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

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