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Keep 'Em Blooming!

TIPS FOR MAKING HOLIDAY PLANTS LAST

Although the holidays are over you can keep your Christmas flowers blooming through the New Year. Here’s a few tips from our experts...

Poinsettias
Poinsettias are easy to keep beautiful and blooming throughout the holidays and beyond as long as you follow a few simple steps:

  • Avoid exposing the poinsettia to freezing conditions. Do not leave it in the car while you finish shopping. Take it home and place it inside the house as soon as possible after purchasing it. Poinsettias like it warm just like you do.
  • Place your poinsettia in a spot with bright natural light, but do not expose it to direct sunlight.
  • Do not place your poinsettia in an area where it will be exposed to drafts, heat from appliances, radiators, or ventilation ducts.
  • The color of your poinsettia will last longer with temperatures around 65 degrees during the day and 60-65 degrees at night.
  • The soil should be kept moderately moist; check every few days and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Before watering, remove the pot covers or foil wrapping; water to saturate the soil, and then allow the pot to drain. Do not let the plant sit in standing water.

Holiday Cactus
Holiday cactus is a great way to add a burst of color indoors throughout the winter months ahead.

  • These plants prefer bright, indirect light, so be sure to keep them in a well-lit location away from drafts, heat vents and other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open.
  • Unlike most other cactus, this one requires light to moderate watering.

Cyclamen
This cool weather bloomer boosts unusually shaped, colorful blossoms sure to brighten winter days.

  • To prolong the life of your plant, water the soil as soon as it feels dry to the touch. Avoid overwatering, and be careful not to spill water onto the crown (center) of the plant. If it becomes too dry, the leaves will wilt and may fall off, and flower buds may fall off too.
  • You can also keep humidity high around plants by placing plants on a tray of moist pebbles; just don't let them sit in standing water.

Watering Tip- Soak the pot from the base in a saucer for a few minutes, then drain the water. We recommend removing the flower stalks once they have finished blooming as this can promote renewed flowering. To do this, cut the dead leaves and spent flowers off with scissors. Be sure to remove completely, as stalks left on may rot and get gray mold disease.

The Treat Tree

Repurpose your Christmas tree for feathered friends.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree … how beautiful you glow … but now you need to go. Hold that thought. Yes, days after December 25th, your once glowing Christmas tree looks a little sad – and probably dry. Before you toss the no-longer-needed tree in the trash, give some thought to how it can be used outdoors.

It’s fun for all ages to transform an indoor Christmas tree into an outdoor “treat tree” for songbirds. For eye-catching treats, collect 12 to 18 pinecones. Use a popsicle stick or old butter knife to smear peanut butter over each pinecone. Fill an old dish or sturdy paper plate with bird seed of any kind and roll the peanut butter-smeared pinecones in the seed mix. Use twine or leftover gift ribbons to loop a hanger around the top portion of the pinecone. Hang the pinecones on your “treat tree.”

The tree can also support homemade suet feeders, using half of hollowed-out orange and grapefruit skins. Suet can be made from any seed, grain, nuts, fruits and raisins by mixing them with warmed bacon fat, lard or peanut butter. Peanut butter can be mixed with cornmeal or oatmeal to form a suet mixture, too. Place the suet in a tuna or cat food can or similar to container to chill until firm. Cookie cutters can be used for fancier shapes that can be hung.

To embellish your wildlife tree further, string together overripe fruits – blueberries, cranberries, grapes, even slices of oranges and apples. Weave the garland loosely around the tree. Popcorn works, too. Cheerios are easy for youngster’s small hands to string. With winter’s cold temps, your “treat tree” will offer several weeks of much-needed healthy eating for the beautiful birds that will thank you with songs and sensational sights.

photos from Kathy Van Mullekom

Plant of the Week: Rosemary Topiaries & Cones

Add festive cheer and fragrance to your Christmas this year with rosemary topiaries and cones. Rosemary, perennial herb with fragrant, needle-like leaves in silvery gray green, is a holiday must-have.

These hardy evergreens are easy to grow, beautiful to look at and just so happens to be super useful too. Among rosemary's many uses, it's prized in the culinary world for its flavorful leaves. It is also beloved for its lovely fragrance and pretty, petite blue flowers that appear each spring. But did you know that rosemary is right up there with mistletoe and frankincense when it comes to holiday decorating? Rosemary makes an ideal holiday accent throughout your home. For entertaining, arrange trees around the buffet or as table centerpieces. With their festive wraps, these tabletop trees add splashes of color and shimmering accents throughout the season. In entryways, their fresh, crisp fragrance welcomes guests and beckons them inside. And add a little nature to holiday packages by tucking in a few springs into ribbon. Rosemary cones and topiaries are also a perfect choice for outdoor use in containers by the front door. So be creative and add this festive evergreen to your holiday décor this season. Oh, and did we mention – rosemary cones and topiaries make a great gift!

Rosemary Care Tips: During the winter months, rosemary likes a nice sunny spot. Place in a bright window, and turn the plant so that it gets sun on both sides. The soil in the pot needs to be well drained. Water it from the top every other day. Water may remain in the saucer to provide humidity for the plant. Adjust the watering schedule if necessary to be sure the soil never dries out.

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

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Your Berry Best Yard

Make your yard its berry best for holiday cheer.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Nothing says “happy holiday” like clusters of bright red berries on a bush.

For me, nandina berries are cherished parts of my December décor because they carry fond memories of days with my grandmother in Lynchburg, Va. A gravel driveway wrapping its way around her red brick home was lined with dozens of nandinas that produced beaucoup berries when cold weather arrived.

At my grandmother's house, the nandinas were the standard Nandina domestica, nicknamed heavenly bamboo, because they produce suckers that quickly turn into tons of baby plants you can divide and use elsewhere or give away as thoughtful gifts.

As I moved into adulthood, I took the offspring from some of grandma’s nandinas my parents rescued when a highway project claimed her property. Each time I moved, those nandinas went with me, and I recently gave some to my son for his new home in Virginia Beach.

Today, there are many types of berry-making nandinas, including:

  • Stunning Sienna Sunrise nandina with fiery red new foliage that cools to lush green in summer and reddens in fall and winter.
  • Harbor Belle nandina with burgundy foliage in fall and winter.
  • Plum Passion nandina with purplish-red leaves in spring and summer, followed by deeper reds in winter.

Nandinas are no-nonsense plants because they thrive in all growing conditions – sun or shade, wet or dry soil. They know no real pest or disease problems. They can be used as stand-alone specimen plants, as hedges with eye-catching seasonal interest or as shoreline and bank erosion controllers. Standard nandinas are best pruned in late winter or early spring to keep them vigorous; otherwise, they get too tall and leggy and bare at the bottom stems.

All in all, nandina is a fool-proof multi-season evergreen for any yard.

NOTE: McDonald plant selection varies by season and location.

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A Fresh-Cut Christmas

WREATHS, ROPING, TREES AND ACCENTS

Still sprucing up? There's still plenty of time to get your home holiday-ready with fresh and fragrant greens. Roping, wreaths and accent greens will add instant holiday cheer to your banisters, mantels, fences and doorways. It's easy to dress up patio urns, window boxes and planters with bunches of our greens adorned with beautiful ribbons or hand-tied bows. Take a look at what you'll find just around the corner at your local garden center...

Cut Christmas Tree Our fresh cut Christmas trees bring magic to your home. We hand-pick every tree to ensure a uniform shape, thick branches, rich color and superior fragrance. Choose from any of our locally grown North Carolina Fraser Firs.

Greeter Door Charms with Bow - This handmade combination of Noble Fir, Berried Juniper and cones is perfect for table décor, a door charm or even in a window. Eighteen inches long this holiday must-have is pre-dipped to extend shelf life.

Wreaths - Our fresh wreaths are a mix of Noble Fir, Berried Juniper, Western Red Cedar and Ponderosa Pine Cones, and are available in 18-inch, 20-inch, 24-inch, 28-inch and 32-inch. Using a live wreath as your canvas, you can add embellishments for easy decor inside and out. Pre-dipped for extended shelf life and hand tied. This makes the perfect statement on your front door.but we also even like replacing a picture on the wall with a wreath or hang on a mirror.

Roping - Adorn porches, entryways, mantles and more with traditional white pine or cedar roping.

Ideas for Decorating:

  • To create a natural wreath. Simply tie a natural burlap ribbon to the wreath and use other natural trimmings such as nandina berries, holly sprigs or even pine cones. These items can be wired to the wreath with floral wire.
  • To create a more decorative wreath. Choose ribbon that matches your holiday decor. You can then use picks and even ornaments to create pizzazz. These can be wired to the wreath so that they stay in place.
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Gifts from the Greenhouse

Christmas is just days away and it’s no secret that plants and flowers are a big part of the season. There are so many plants that spark thoughts of the holidays like the poinsettia, cyclamen, rosemary and many more. Think outside the box this year and give a living gift to make their Christmas merry and bright! Here's a few of our favorite holiday plants guaranteed to please...

Hydrangeas - Hydrangeas aren't just for outdoors in the spring and summer. Use them indoors during the cool winter months and then plant outside to enjoy year after year. Choose from traditional hydrangeas and our Shooting Star variety.

Poinsettias - Nowadays, this holiday classic is popping up in all sorts of nontraditional colors – in shades of pink, peach, yellow, and even chartreuse. Or, try one of McDonald’s painted poinsettias that are hand-painted and glittered in a rainbow of colors. Many even have large, double, or uniquely shaped blooms and come in all shapes and sizes.

Cyclamen - This cool weather bloomer comes in shades of pink, lavender, deep purple, white, or red. Cyclamen add fantastic color throughout the holidays and into the winter.

Norfolk Island Pine - This little beauty with soft needles, distinctive flat branches and a naturally symmetrical shape is a popular choice for indoors. The small and medium size varieties of the Norfolk Island pine are often used as accent trees during the holidays and make a great tabletop tree for offices, apartments or anywhere space is limited.

Citrus - Give an “a-peeling” gift this season! The fragrance of the flowers, the bright colors of the fruit and the glossy foliage make this a great plant to give. Keep indoors during winter, and once it warms up, these beauties love to vacation outdoors.

Hellebores - Hellebores offer beautiful blooms in the garden through winter and early spring. This intriguing perennial is surely the star of a winter landscape. Sometimes called the Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, these interesting flowers will bloom through the dreary days of winter.

Rosemary Cones & Topiaries - This perennial evergreen features fragrant, needle-like leaves in silvery gray green. Rosemary is hardy and easy to grow and is also very useful. Among its many uses, it's prized in the culinary world for its flavorful leaves. It also has a lovely fragrance and pretty, petite blue flowers in spring. Potted rosemary trimmed into a topiary looks elegant in the kitchen or any other room during the winter and provides herbs for cooking.

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Everlasting Evergreens

Evergreens carry my yard through all the seasons.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Evergreens are the bones of my garden – the structure that carries the garden through seasons of spring flowers, summer butterflies, autumn leaves and winter cold.

I love our evergreen trees and shrubs because they are chosen for purpose and beauty. Some are native, others are not.

My all-time favorite privacy hedge of wax myrtle is a large native shrub that screens our yard from the neighbor’s driveway. It also muffles the sounds of kids playing basketball. The fragrant evergreen bears grayish berries that songbirds like to eat, and provides them with safe cover from hawks flying overhead and gives them places to build nests for their young. It’s a problem-free shrub, some say small tree that needs occasional trimming, depending on your needs.

Also bordering our property is a row of eight Emerald Green Thuja, members of the arborvitae family that 3-4 feet wide and 8-12 feet tall. It adjoins the wax myrtle hedge, creating a “living fence” that’s better for the environment than a static wooden privacy fence. The arborvitae grow in an attractive tidy shape that never needs shearing or pruning – just make sure you give them generous space to grow because crowding plants too close together is never recommended.

I’m also quite fond of my eastern red cedar, a “she” version for all the beautiful blue-green berries she bears, again providing a natural food source for the songbirds that frequent our yard. Past storms whipped the tree but she continues to stand strong and sturdy.

Other evergreens in my yard include camellias , small boxwoods, nandinas and hollies. I can’t imagine our yard without them.

Gifts We Dig

It's the most wonderful time of year... the time to give! We've put together our top 10 favorite gifts for everyone on your list. That hard-to-shop-for friend? Easy. We're here to help with this season's best gifts to give and to get.

  1. Garden Gloves & Tools - A perfect gift for the gardener in your life. Gloves and tools never go out of style and make great stocking stuffers. Pair them with a plant and really make an impact.
  2. Glass Orbs - Give them a garden in glass with assorted orbs and miniature plants. Add a string of battery-operated invisilites for a truly twinkling gift.
  3. Rosemary Cones & Topiaries - Don't show up empty handed to this year's holiday gatherings. Arrive with a festive rosemary cone or topiary. Surrounded by a holiday wrap and adorned with a seasonal plant stake, give a gift that grows on even after the party.
  4. World's Softest Socks - Give cozy and stylish comfort with the world's softest socks. Now available at McDonald in all styles and colors!
  5. Gift Cards - Share the world of gardening! Pair a gift card with an ornament, hand tools or garden gloves. Wrap it all together with ribbon and a few sprigs of greens for a garden gift they'll love.
  6. Local James & Jellies - Give deliciously! Crafted locally from Virginia-grown produce, our line of jams, jellies and dressings make tasty gifts.
  7. Hansa Stuffed Animals - They'll love our hand-crafted collection of realistic plush animals perfect for holiday decorating and gifting. Assorted animals available from small to life-size!
  8. Living Arrangements - Give custom arrangements made with a mix of everyday plants paired with beautiful holiday favorites.
  9. Heirloom Ornaments - Give local with our exclusive collection of hand painted ornaments featuring sites and attractions unique to Hampton Roads and surrounding areas. This year's new collection includes the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Hampton's Harbor, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse plus many more.
  10. Scents of the Season - Fragrant candles, oils and potpourri make a great gift this time of year. They'll love our selection of seasonal Aromatique scents such as Cinnamon Cider, The Smell of Christmas, and The Smell of the Tree.
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The Nature-Friendly Garden

Birds feed, nest and relax in our nature-friendly garden.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

Our yard is designed and planted for birds – lots of them.

In addition to trees and shrubs that benefit songbirds, the yard features feeders and nesting boxes that invite them to live with us.

For food, there’s a meal worm feeder for bluebirds, nut feeder for woodpeckers, thistle feeder for finches, safflower feeder for cardinals and black oil sunflower seed and suet feeders for anyone and everyone.

Overripe blueberries, apple bits and orange and banana slices are available in a fly-through feeder. All feeders are caged or baffled to keep out intruders like squirrels and raccoons.

This time of year, the birds really begin to depend on the feeders because most natural seeds, berries and insects are gone, which means my feeders need filling daily.

Here’s what our birds like best:

  • Mealworms -- bluebirds.
  • Sunflower meats -- bluebirds, warblers, robins and woodpeckers.
  • Sunflower -- chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, blackbirds and jays.
  • White millet -- ground-feeding birds like towhees, juncos, song sparrows, doves and Indigo bunting.
  • Safflower -- cardinal, chickadees and titmice.
  • Nyger, or thistle -- finches.
  • Corn -- jays.
  • Suet -- most birds; woodpeckers especially like peanut-filled suet.

If you would like to learn more about local birds, there are two good birding clubs – the Williamsburg Bird Club at www.williamsburgbirdclub.org and Hampton Roads Bird Club at www.hamptonroadsbirdclub.org. Each offers interesting monthly programs as well as regular birding walks.

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We're Pining For Christmas

Plant of the Week: Norfolk Island Pine

This little beauty with soft needles, distinctive flat branches and a naturally symmetrical shape is a popular choice for indoor holiday decorating. The small and medium size varieties of the Norfolk Island pine are often used as accent trees during the holidays and make a great tabletop tree for offices, apartments or anywhere space is limited. When decorating the Norfolk Island for Christmas, be sure to use small, light-weight ornaments and mini lights to prevent damage to the branches and needles. And once the holidays are over, this little tree will continue to add a touch of green to your space. Easy to maintain, the Norfolk Island pine can grow inside for many years. Indoors they prefer a sunny location and like to be near a window but away from direct heat. Be sure to transplant your tree to a larger planter once it out grows its current container.