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The Garden Guru's Guide to Planting a Pollinator Garden

Butterflies and other pollinators are a beautiful and important addition to any garden. With the right plants and understanding of their needs, you’ll not only have these winged beauties in your backyard, but you’ll learn how to get them to stay longer! Before creating a butterfly garden, it’s important to consider which perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and pollinator-safe solutions are best to support and attract butterflies to your garden all season long.


Soil is a key component in any type of garden. Determine the type of soil you have - clay-base or sandy - and incorporate the soil amendments that will enhance your soil type.

TIP: Amendments for clay and sandy-based soils. For Clay-based soil - use 1/3 your soil + 1/3 compost +1/3 perlite. For Sandy-based soil use 1/3 soil + 1/3 compost + 1/3 peat moss.


Sun vs. Shade

  • Most butterfly plants require full sun, so you’ll need to find a good, full sun location that gets at least four to six hours of sunlight.
  • Determine the size of the area you’d like to plant. Do you want a large, in-ground garden or a small container garden?
  • Butterflies are cold-blooded insects that require the sun’s warmth to help their bodies work. However, you can grow both host and nectar flowering plants in shaded gardens adjacent to sun-drenched areas like driveways or patios.

Host Plants vs Nectar Plants


  • Butterflies are drawn to nectar-producing plants like marigolds, rhododendrons, blackberries, etc.
  • They are also drawn to color, especially red, orange, yellow, and purple.
  • Plant in groups of three to make them easier for pollinators to see.


Trees & Shrubs – butterfly bush, azaleas, rose of sharon, weigela, lilac, sweetspire, crepe myrtles, and redbuds, and pawpaw (zebra swallowtail).
Annuals – pentas, petunias, zinnias, lantana, verbena, and dahlias.
Perennials – coneflowers, bee balm, black eyed susan, joe pye weed, salvia, agastache, coreopsis, lantana, hollyhock, asters, goldenrod, yarrow, and veronica.


These plants are ideal for butterflies to lay their eggs on, with milkweed being the most popular. We recommend using a few different types of host plants to maximize your butterfly garden’s potential. Host plants also attract certain types of butterflies.

Types of Milkweed include swamp, common, tropical (annual), and butterfly weed.

  • Monarchs – butterfly or milkweed (tropical is annual), swamp milkweed, and common milkweed.
  • Swallowtail – fennel, dill, and parsley
  • Zebra Swallowtail – pawpaw
  • Tiger Swallowtail – tulip poplar trees, and wild black cherries


  • Grouping plants together makes it easier for butterflies to locate them.
  • Select based on bloom time.
  • Do you want blooms through the fall or just for the summer?
  • Consider plant size (height and width).


  • Flat rocks for sunning to keep them warm.
  • Cool shady spots for them to cool off.
  • Water Source – low clay saucer with some rocks, a butterfly bath, or birdbath.
  • Grasses for windbreak and overwintering eggs as well as a place for butterflies to hide.
  • If using a container, be sure to add different plants and elements such as rocks and small dishes for water.


  • Perennials - most will need to be deadheaded.
  • Water Plants - water deep and often.
  • Mulch - to control weeds and produce better plants.
  • Feed Your Plants - McDonald Greenleaf (traditional or organic).
  • Insect Control - avoid using insecticides that may harm pollinators. Instead, use ladybugs or McDonald organic solutions.

To learn more about pollinators plants click here.
To learn more about attracting pollinators click here.

Tropical Hibiscus

Lost in Paradise, How to Achieve a Tropical Look Inside and Out

Tropical style is easy to achieve when using the right plants. No matter the climate, there are plenty of plants suitable for creating a tropical vibe in just about any space whether it be indoors, on a porch or patio, or in the landscape. Plants used do not necessarily have to be tropical in nature; they just need to contribute to the overall tropical feel.

Using bold colored annuals, perennials, houseplants, trees and shrubs in reds, yellows, oranges, maroons, pinks, greens, and purples can help achieve a tropical feel. Incorporate plants that have interesting patterns, shapes, textures, and movement. In larger spaces, add a few outdoor accessories such as a fountain or bench, brightly colored pots, and decorative wall art to complete the look.


Houseplants are an easy way to add color and create a tropical vibe indoors. In addition to their lush leaves, many of these tropical species produce gorgeous blooms indoors. Some are even fragrant! Use these houseplants to bring the tropics indoors:

croton • bird of paradise • banana plant • elephant ear • philodendron • conjo rojo • bromeliad • palms •anthurium • cordyline • peace lily • orchid

TIP: All indoor plants go through an acclimation period to adjust to a new indoor environment (from greenhouse to home). Don’t be alarmed if they drop some leaves initially. Refrain from repotting for approximately six months to give them plenty of time to acclimate to their new environment. Another tip, when bringing indoor houseplants outside, be sure to acclimate before exposing them to bright light.


Don’t let limited outdoor space prevent you from trying out your tropical green thumb. Incorporating flowering plants, small trees and shrubs, hanging baskets, and combination planters are key to growing in small spaces. Mix in vibrant colored accessories like pillows, an outdoor rug, colorful pots, and decorative wall art.


When creating any container, there are several factors to consider that will affect the overall impact. Color, of course, is a high priority when trying to achieve a tropical look. Understanding “thriller, fillers and spillers” will help you to create an eye-catching combination. Once you’ve selected your container, start selecting the plants.

THRILLER - Choose a thriller plant to go center stage. It should be taller than the rest and stand out due to it’s color and strong stature. Shade Thrillers: fern • majesty palm • red sister.

Sun Thrillers:
tropical hibiscus • geraniums • ornamental grasses

FILLER - Select flowers that fill in the area directly around your thriller. These will add depth to your planter.

Shade Fillers:
impatiens • green leaf begonias • ferns • stromanthe • anthurium

Sun Fillers:
diamond frost euphorbia • marigolds • petunias • lantana • vinca • bronze leaf begonia

SPILLER - Finally, add blooms or foliage that gently cascade over the edge of your container. Spillers add dimension and a little added drama.

Shade Spillers:
lysimachia • Ivy • fern

Sun Spillers:
bacopa • sweet potato vine • verbena • trailing Petunias • million bells

TIP: Hanging baskets are a quick and easy way to create a tropical container. Remove plant from the hanging basket container and drop into a pot.


In the landscape, use saturated colored plants mixed with big, bold foliage like elephant ear or a banana tree for added layers and texture. Mix in some brightly colored garden accessories like an umbrella, seat cushions and pillows, an outdoor carpet, and decorative wall art to tie it all togehter. Add a water
feature or fire pit to invoke a sense of peace and tranquility.

TIP: It’s important to keep in mind that while tropical landscape design styles are more free-form than modern or traditional gardens, you still need to be aware of the sunlight requirements of the plant you choose. Choose from these sun and shade-loving options for a tropical look indoors or outdoor:


Annuals for Sun:
mandevilla • scaveola • lantana• tropical hibiscus • marigold • million bells • crossondra • vinca • bronze leaf begonia • pentas • dahlias • geraniums

Perennials for Sun:
elephant ear • Mexican petunia• pineapple lily • perennial hibiscus • purple heart • coreopsis • Miss Huff lantana • black-eyed susan• daylilies • cannas • coneflowers • sedums & succulents • ornamental grasses • rudbeckia • coreopsis • salvia

Shrubs for Sun:
Gold mop cypress • abelia kaleidoscope • golden euonymus • pittosporum • oleander • yucca • boxwood • knock out rose

Trees for Sun:
windmill palm • crepe myrtles • basjoo banana


Annuals for Shade:
shrimp plant • caladium • New Guinea impatiens • coleus • sweet potato vine • begonia (dragon wing & green leaf) • diamond frost euphorbia>/i>

Perennials for Shade:
perennial ferns • heuchera • hosta • peonies • hellebores • columbine

Shrubs for Shade:
fatsia • plum yew • hydrangea • camellia • golden euonymus

Trees for Shade:
Japanese maple

To learn more about options for tropical-like plants click here.

Perennial Fern
Shasta Daisy
Hens and Chick & Sedum
Mrs. Huff Lantana

The Garden Guru's Top Ten Perennials

From their spring appearance, seasonal flowering, and gentle decline, perennials play a vital role in the garden. McDonald Garden Center’s Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, shares his top ten perennials for Hampton Roads.


Perennials grow back each year from roots that go dormant in the soil in the winter.


Daylilies are often referred to as the perfect perennial for lots of reasons. Not only do they come in a variety of colors and sizes, but they also survive in a wide range of climates, often with very little care.

  • Full sun.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Come in an assortment of colors, yellows, reds, corals, etc.
  • Repeat bloomers.
  • Little deadheading require but will help them to continue to bloom.
  • Available in both compact and larger varieties.
  • Can be divided in early spring or fall (after they finish blooming).
  • Deer resistant.

Daylily Varieties:
Happy Returns • Stella d ora • Rosy Returns

#9 - FERNS

Ferns provide excellent texture in the shade garden and can be planted as companions to bright blooms or as stand-alone in the landscape.

  • Shade-loving (prefers afternoon shade).
  • Low maintenance.
  • Great for containers and growing in the landscape.
  • Add texture and movement in the landscape.
  • Available in a variety of colors (light, dark and bluish-green), and ornamental patterns (deep cut, serrated, or lacy details).
  • Can be divided.
  • Most are evergreen in our area.
  • Great as a filler in cut arrangements.
  • Deer resistant.

Fern Varieties:
Autumn Brilliance • Japanese Painted Fern • Tassel Fern • Hollyhock Fern • Ostrich Fern


Shasta daisies are an all-time favorite for the home garden and mix beautifully with other perennials. The large, pure white flowers and smooth, long stems make them perfect for cutting.

  • Full sun.
  • Hardy, tough plant.
  • Ideal in the landscape.
  • Lots of bloom power.
  • Produce classic daisy-shaped blooms.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Minimal deadheading required.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Available in different colors (white is the most prevalent).
  • Come in different sizes.
  • Use in cut flower arrangements.
  • Can divide.
  • Deer and rabbit resistant.

Shasta Daisy Varieties:
Becky Shasta Daisy • Goldfinch Daisy • Crazy Daises


Rudbeckia are brightly colored perennials in shades of yellow, orange, and gold. They bloom for weeks in the summer garden with minimal care. They’re also a
favorite of pollinators.

  • Full sun.
  • Summer blooming.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Spreading habitat.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Attracts pollinators.
  • Great as a cut flower.
  • Deer and rabbit resistant.

Rudbeckia Varieties:
Goldstrum Rudbeckia • Mini Beckia Flame


Hens & chicks are mat-forming succulents that produce clusters of rosettes. The parent rosettes are the “hens,” and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the “chicks”. This low-growing perennial spreads quickly.

  • Full sun (some varieties will grow in light shade).
  • Low maintenance.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Great as a groundcover.
  • Foliage can be red, green or a mixture thereof (some produce flowers).
  • Offers lots of texture in pots or in the landscape.
  • Available in purple, tricolored, greens, rosy-reds/pinks, etc.
  • Most are evergreen in our area.
  • Ideal in containers or in the landscape.

Hens and Chicks/Succulent Varieties
Little Miss Sunshine (stone crop) • Jaden Rose • Commander Hay • Odon • Autumn Fire


Perennial grasses are treasured for their hardiness, ease of care, dramatic appearance, and the wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes available. Large or small, grass brings rich texture, contrast and movement to most any space throughout all seasons.

  • Most grasses prefer full sun but some varieties can take shade to part shade.
  • Durable.
  • Versatile and easy to grow.
  • Beautiful plumes and some flowers.
  • Use in containers or in the landscape.
  • Great planted in masses.
  • Most bloom late summer fall.
  • Cut back in March/April (six to eight inches from the ground).

Grass Varieties:
Pampas • Sea Oat • Hamelin Pennisetum • Little Bunny • Pink Muhly • Blue Dune Fescue • Juncus Blue Arrow • Carex Everillo Sedge Grass • Liriope • Mexican Feather Grass • Horsetail Reed • Mondo • Black Mondo


Heucheras, also known as coral bells or alum root, are shade perennials known mostly for their striking, robust foliage. Heucheras begin to bloom in late spring and produce clusters of small blooms on spindly stems, typically in a magenta pink (hence the name coral bells).

  • shade-loving.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Gorgeous colors and leaf patterns.
  • Features wands of delicate cream to red bell shaped flowers.
  • Adds texture.
  • Great as a filler in containers or mixed in with other blooms in the landscape.
  • Blooms all season long.
  • Deer resistant.

Heuchera Varieties:
Carnival Black Olive • Redstone • Pumpkin Spice • Midnight Rose


Hostas can turn a dull, shady part of the yard into an beautiful, low-maintenance landscape. Unlike most perennials, hostas are grown for their colorful foliage rather than for their flowers. There are many varieties
to choose from, each with its own unique leaf shape, size, and color.

  • Shade-loving
  • Easy to grow.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Available in lots of varieties, sizes, and colors
  • (Variegated and non-variegated leaf patterns).
  • Easy to grow in containers and in the landscape.
  • Attracts butterflies.

Hosta Varieties:
Patriot • Mighty Mouse • Curly Fries • Great Expectations • White Margin • Empress Blue


Salvias, also called sages, are easy to grow, bloom abundantly, and are a beautiful addition to the landscape. The blooms offer long-lasting color and attract butterflies and pollinators. Available in different varieties and colors including blues, purples, pinks, reds as well as some whites and yellows.

  • Full sun.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Heat tolerant.
  • Comes in whites, pinks, reds, purples, yellows, and whites.
  • Attracts pollinators.
  • Deer resistant.

Salvia Varieties:
Blue Marvel • Snow Hill • Hot Lips • Mexican Bush Sage • Black and Blue


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.

  • Full sun.
  • Easy to grow and durable.
  • Bush-like habitat (can grow large).
  • Available in oranges, reds, and pinks.
  • Great in containers, hanging baskets and in the landscape.
  • Heat and drought tolerant.
  • No deadheading required.
  • Can be pruned to desired shape.
  • Attract pollinators.
#10 - Geraniums
#9 - Petunias and Million Bells
#9 - Millions Bells
#8 - Coleus
#7 - Euphorbia (Diamond Frost and Diamond Snow)
#6 - Hibiscus
#5 - Impatiens (New Guinea and SunPatiens)
#5 - Impatiens, New Guinea
#5 - Impatiens, SunPatiens
#4 - Portulaca and Purslane
#3 - Scaveloa
#2 - Begonias (Green and Bronze Leaf)
#1 - Lantana

The Garden Guru's Top Ten Annuals for Hampton Roads

Whether you’re looking to fill a window box, add a little curb appeal to your front walk, or just fill in a few gaps in the landscape, annuals are just what your garden needs to get it from now to WOW! McDonald Garden Center’s Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, shares his top ten annuals for Hampton Roads.


Annual plants live for one growing season and then die, while perennials regrow every spring.


With a distinctive bloom and ruffly, textured leaves, geraniums give big color all spring and summer long. There’s lots of choices when it comes to color and variety.

  • Loves the sun but can take some shade.
  • Heat tolerant.
  • Available in lots of colors - reds, pinks, whites, and corals.
  • Great in containers, hanging baskets, or in the landscape.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Deadhead geraniums regularly to prevent seed production and extend the length of the flowering season by forcing more energy into flower production.



Petunias are easy to grow and come in an almost unlimited assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes. From compact to mounding habits, there’s a petunia to fit any garden situation.

  • Sun loving/full sun.
  • Prolific bloomer.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Ideal in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Don’t require a lot of deadheading in the landscape but will need to be pruned/deadheaded when planted in containers.

TIP: Petunias have a tendency to get leggy and bloom less heavily in late summer. Shear the plants back by one third to encourage new growth and then fertilize them to give them a second wind.


Million bells are an easy to grow annual that produces one-inch blossom that resemble tiny petunias. A classic spiller plant, it has a trailing habit, and looks great in hanging baskets, bowls, or mixed containers.

  • Sun loving/full sun.
  • Prolific bloomer.
  • Comes in a rainbow of colors - solids and two-tones, stripes, patterns, and double blooms.
  • Compact oval-shaped leaves.
  • Ideal in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Like petunias, these don’t require a lot of deadheading in the landscape, but you can pinch back regularly to encourage a more compact growth habit in containers.


Coleus plants give color all-season long in full sun, shade, and everything in between.Their bold and beautiful foliage makes them the center of attention
no matter where they’re planted.

  • Sun or shade – depending on the variety.
  • Available in lots of beautiful foliage colors and color combinations (greens, reds, oranges, purples, etc.).
  • Great as a standalone in containers or paired with sweet potato vine, etc..
  • Feed regularly (about every two to three weeks for container-grown and every four to six week for in-ground plants).
  • Water regularly, keeping soil moist.
  • Keep plants looking tidy and maintain their size and shape by pinching or trimming stem tips.
  • To promote denser and more compact growth, pinch out flower spikes before they elongate.


Diamond frost

Diamond Frost produces delicate, gray-green foliage with petite, white blossoms. This plant is tough and is both heat and drought tolerant. Diamond Frost has unstoppable flower power, and blooms all summer long.

  • Full sun to part shade.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Perfect in hanging baskets or as a filler in containers.

Diamond Snow

Diamond Snow has the same habit and easy-to-grow features as the original favorite, Diamond Frost, but it features double white flowers and a mounding habit.

  • Full to partial sun.
  • Great in hanging baskets, as a standalone in containers or as a filler in mixed containers, or as a border in the landscape.


Annual hibiscus is an easy to grow variety that features big, bold blooms that creates an instant tropical feel. Plant in the garden or pot up several plants to create vibrant focal points around a deck, patio, or pool.

  • Tropical and loves full sun.
  • Blooms all summer long.
  • Comes in white, pink, red, orange, yellow, and bi-color.
  • Use in garden beds and containers.
  • Heavy feeders, so continue to feed to support bloom production throughout the growing season (fertilize every three to four weeks in containers and four to five weeks in-ground).
  • Remove spent blooms.
  • Pruning helps maintain a nice shape and size and encourages a fuller plant.
  • Bring hibiscus in during the winter to keep them year-round.
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.


Impatiens flowers have much to offer, including shade-tolerance, long-lasting blooms, and brightly colored blossoms that come in a variety of colors.

New Guinea

New Guinea impatiens provide long-blooming flower power for a part sun to shade areas in the garden.

  • Part sun to shade.
  • Low maintenance and high performing.
  • Blooms in pastels and vibrant colors including white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets and in the landscape.
  • No deadheading required.


SunPatiens flourish in full sun, high heat, and high humidity, making them perfect for Hampton Roads’ summers.

  • Grow in sun or shade (more tolerant of sun).
  • Low maintenance and high performing.
  • Blooms in pastels and vibrant colors including white, red, pink, violet, coral, purple, and yellow.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • No deadheading required.

Garden Impatiens

Typical garden variety impatien.

  • Shade-tolerance
  • Long-lasting blooms.
  • Available in a variety of colors.>
  • Use as a bedding plant, in containers, hanging baskets, and window boxes.

#4 - Portulaca & Purslane


Portula is a popular, drought-tolerant annual that loves the hot, dry days of summer. These plants are low-growing spreaders with thick succulent leaves and vibrant, cup-shaped flowers.

  • Sun loving.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Dome-shaped habit with thick, succulent-like leaves.
  • Come in a variety of colors - pink, coral, red, yellow, and white.
  • Fertilize and shape to keep them looking their best.
  • Attracts pollinators.


Purslane is a tough, vigorous, low-growing
annual flower that thrives in hot, dry conditions and adds tons of color with a minimum of care.

  • Loves full sun.
  • Flatter leaf than its cousin portulaca.
  • Thrives in hot, dry conditions (drought tolerant).
  • Blooms in lots of bright colors - yellow, orange, rose, red, and white.
  • Use in beds, borders, containers, and hanging baskets.
  • Fertilize and shape to keep them looking their best.


Scaveloa is a easy care, heat loving plant with spoon-shaped leaves and fan-shaped flowers. Its thick stems ensure drought tolerance in full sun locations.

  • Loves full sun.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Trailing habit.
  • Produces blue, pink, or white flowers.
  • Good in containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets.
  • Feed in containers every three to four weeks.
  • No deadheading required.
  • Attracts butterflies.


Begonias are an easy to grow annual that does well in a variety of conditions and needs little to thrive. Begonias plants are grown for both their leaf forms and their blooms and are available in many different leaf colors, shapes, sizes, and colors.

Green Leaf Begonia

  • Designed for shade
  • Easy to grow.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Gumdrop/round habit.
  • Use in the landscape, hanging baskets, or containers.
  • Available in pinks, whites, and reds.
  • No deadheading required.

Bronze Leaf

  • Full sun.
  • Easy grow and versatile.
  • Comes in white, pink, or red.
  • Use in the landscape, hanging baskets, or containers.
  • Feed in containers every three to four weeks.


Big Leaf (available in bronze and green leaf) • Dragon Wing • Angel Wing • Solenia


Lantana are a durable, easy-to-grow plant that thrives in drought and harsh sunlight conditions. Lantana boasts tons of brightly colored flowers all summer and into fall.

  • Needs full sun.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Tolerant of both drought and humid conditions.
  • Comes in purple, red, orange, white, pink, yellow, and bi-color.
  • Use in containers, hanging baskets, and in the landscape.
  • Some varieties have spreading habit while others have open habit or compact habit.
  • Deadheading is not required (prune longer branches if desired).
  • Can cut the plant back by one-third if lantana gets long and leggy in midsummer, or just shear the tips.
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

To learn how to care for summer annuals click here.