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How to Care for Your Plants During Dry Conditions

Written by McDonald Garden Center Founder, Eddie Anderson

McDonald Garden Center founder Eddie Anderson has always had a passion for plants, especially houseplants and tropical plants. Eddie is still involved in houseplant buying as well as offering strategies on merchandising and selling to the McDonald Garden Center stores and Garden Markets.

With a degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech, he remains highly active in the gardening community and continues with industry affiliations and new product development. He continues to inspire our young gardeners as a Club Volunteer Leader for the 4-H Club, “Guardians of the Planet, in Virginia Beach.

Here's what Eddie had to say about the recent lack of quality rainfall in Hampton Roads:

The recent high temperatures and the lack of meaningful rainfall have created very dry conditions in my garden. I am having to water this year’s plantings every two to three days to keep from suffering significant loss of plant quality. While more established plant material can often weather varied precipitation, new plantings require more specialized attention. The majority of the problems associated with new plant material can be attributed to improper watering. The most critical time for a newly installed landscape is the first two to eighteen months.

Here’s what to look for and how to properly water during dry conditions:

Plant Stress Indicators.

  1. Wilted foliage. Caution, not all plant wilt before they die. Look for other symptoms as well.
  2. Change in foliage color. Often the leaves take on a gray cast when very dry.
  3. Unusual amount of yellow leaves.
  4. Fruit drops before mature.
  5. Margins of the leaves turning brown and crisp.
  6. Stems shrinking.

Evaluate the Soil

  1. Use a moisture meter to probe the soil. The reading will indicate the amount of moisture in the soil and the need for water. This handy device is useful for container gardens and houseplants as well as in the garden. It is like having a garden coach at your side all of the time.
  2. Soil that is dry to the touch to a depth of 1-inch. Not as accurate as the moisture meter, but once you learn to combine with other factors, it can help you decide to water.
  3. Cracks developing in the soil tell a tale. When the soil dries out, it shrinks, causing it to pull away from the edge of containers or pull apart in the ground. When this happens, it is really very dry.

Proper Watering is a Key to Getting Through This Period.

  1. Place a hose at the base of the plant and let it run on a slow trickle for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Use a Dramm water breaker on the hose for watering smaller plants. The breaker allows a full flow of water without washing the plant out of the ground.
  3. When the soil is very dry, it is hard to re-wet. Water the soil to the point of runoff. Then move on to another area. Return in 5 minutes and wet to runoff again. Repeat this a third time. Want to be sure you did the job correctly? Using a trowel, dig down to insure the soil is wet to a depth of 6-inch.
  4. For large areas, a soaker hose is the best. Sprinklers that spray in the air lose a lot of water to evaporation.
  5. For large beds, a lawn sprinkler may be the best answer. There are many types for various shapes and size areas. Use a rain gage to measure the amount of water applied to ensure you have applied an inch of water over the area. Time the process so you know how long to run the sprinkler in the future.

To view our video on "Watering, Tips, Tricks and Tools" click here.

Crepe Myrtle, Double Dynamite

Crepe Myrtle, Double Dynamite

Today’s Crepe Myrtles are available in an extraordinary range of colors and have long flowering seasons from mid-summer well into the fall. Plus, they are available in a wide variety of sizes and forms and can be used in many parts of the garden, from large screens to lawn specimens, shrub-beds to container plantings. If you’re looking for a tree that offers vivid color, good size and good disease resistance, then check out crepe myrtle Double Dynamite.

Double Dynamite® features a double burst of bright cherry-red flowers and dark purple foliage when young, maturing to a deep green. No seeds are formed, and flowering is continuous for 100 days or more on the same panicle, providing season-long flowers – nonstop! As with all crepe myrtles, pruning isn’t necessary but can be done to “tidy-up” the look of the tree, to encourage new growth and to maximize the number of blooms produced each season. This crepe myrtle variety has shown high resistance to powdery mildew & leaf spot. Overall plant growth habit and size is nice and compact reaching eight to ten feet tall and wide with a dense branching habit. Its upright form makes it the perfect choice in the landscape or container. Double Dynamite is the complete package - good size, color, disease resistance, hardiness, sun-loving, and heat and drought tolerant.

TIP: Plant Double Dynamite with these companion plants. Rose of Sharon, Indian Hawthorn, Daylilies, Cuphea and Butterfly Bush

To learn more about Crepe Myrtles, view our video Crepe Myrtles 101.

Made in the Shade, How to Create a Shade Garden

Struggling to find plants for those shady spots? No worries! Shade offers the opportunity to grow some wonderful, unique plants that not only tolerate lack of sun but actually prefer it. Large trees and shady areas in your yard can present a challenge to even the most creative gardener, but growing in the shade doesn’t have to be frustrating. Liven up your shady spaces with these shade-loving annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs that can be enjoyed year-round.


Partial shade - three to four hours of sun exposure each day, preferably during the cooler hours of the morning and early afternoon.

Filtered or dappled sunlight - similar to partial shade. Sun that makes its way through the branches of a tree (or trees). Sunlight passes through the tree canopy and the leaves create a pattern of light and shadow, or dappled sunlight.

Full or deep shade - less than two to three hours of direct sunlight each day with filtered sunlight the rest of the day, such as at the base of a north-facing wall or below dense evergreen trees.

TIP: The east side of homes typically receive morning sun with shade in the afternoon. The northern side generally receive very little light.


When planning your shade garden, we recommend that you create an overhead drawing that includes your garden’s specific dimensions. It’s also helpful to mark both north and south on your drawing to help access lighting conditions, which will help to determine what types of plants will work best. Bring your plan in to any of our year-round locations and let one of our experts get you started on creating a beautiful and successful shade garden.

Before buying plants, assess your garden for light and know the amount of sun your garden receives. How dense is the shade? What time of day do you get sun? Is it milder morning sun or stronger afternoon sun? Also take into account the type of soil you have- wet or dry, clay or sand, etc. Consider these other design elements and features when planning your shade garden:

  • Color - brighten-up shady spaces by incorporating an assortment of colorful flowering plants or use a single color to define a chosen color theme.
  • Focus on foliage texture and color. Blend different foliage shapes, textures and colors. Interesting foliage will add drama and dimension and provide a beautiful backdrop for flowers.
  • Layering - will help move your eye through the landscape. Place taller plants in the back with smaller, shorter plants in front.
  • Plant is mass - group several of the same plant or several plants that have similar color, texture, and density together. Use groups in odd numbers (3, 5, etc.).
  • Curved/sweeping lines - sweeping curves and meandering bed lines introduce a sense of movement and help guide the eye through the design.
  • Water - add a fountain or bird bath to reflect light, create movement and add sound.
  • Walkway - provides a safe and easy walkway in and out of the garden and helps to visually connect your garden and home. Use materials like mulch, pavers or rock to create pathways.
  • Statuary - incorporating a piece of statuary is a great way to add a focal point to your outdoor space.
  • Lighting - lighting can help draw attention and illuminate shady areas in the late afternoon and into the evening.

TIP: Use white or light-colored flowers and variegated foliage plants. Whites, pale, creamy yellows, and light colors pop out in the shade. If you want to use darker colors, back them with variegated foliage or lighter colored flowers.


Large trees - those that grow to 30 to 50 feet high.

willow oaks • maples (October Glory) • river birch • zelcobas

Understory trees - those that are small enough and are shade tolerant to thrive under the canopies of other taller trees.

crepe myrtles • cherries • ornamental trees (pear)

dogwoods • redbuds • Japanese maples

hydrangeas • azaleas • camellias • boxwood • fatsia • mahonia • gardenias • daphne • false yew • rhododendron

ferns • hostas • heuchera • hellebores • carex • acorus • peonies • leopard plant • acanthus • astilbe • cast iron

liriope • vinca • mondo grass • sedum ogon

climbing hydrangeas • clematis • jasmine

Most all tropical plants will do well in shade.

ferns • anthurium • cordyline • palms • croton • snake plants • philodendron

begonias • shrimp plant • coleus • impatiens


Incorporating garden accessories into your design will add personality, beauty, and in some cases, functionality. Change the look and feel of your garden space easily by rotating or swapping out accessories seasonally.

Larger garden elements such as gazebos, arbors, patio furniture or ornamental stones can provide a focal point in your garden. Plan these elements carefully, since they are harder to relocate than smaller elements like potted plants, birdbaths and houses.

To learn more about shade plants click here.
To view the video on "How to Create a Shade Garden" click here.

Dramm Watering Wand
Terre Verde Expandable Rake
Bypass Pruners

The Garden Guru’s Top Three Gardening Tools

Any gardener will tell you that a good set of tools makes your gardening tasks that much easier. The right tools can turn a difficult job into a “piece of cake" and can save you time. But what gardening tools do you really need? A trip to the local garden center can present you with a dizzying array of choices, but don’t panic- you don’t need every tool on the market. Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, shares his top three essential gardening tools to help make your gardening tasks easier and whip your landscape and garden into shape.

Dramm Watering Wand

Caring for your garden takes a lot of work and effort, and one of the most important gardening tasks is watering plants. A quality watering wand is a great way to establishing a good watering routine with minimal effort. The Dramm Watering Wand efficiently saves water while watering from one plant to the next and is excellent for quickly and gently delivering water to beds, containers and landscape plants. Other features include:

  • Easy to use.
  • Provides a gentle, full flow for quick watering.
  • Allows for complete and total water flow control.
  • Eliminates the strain from squeezing trigger.
  • Made with aluminum for a lightweight and durable feel.
  • Shower head attached to a 30-inch long aluminum tube that will reach hanging baskets up high or containers down low.
  • Gets water right down to the root of the plant.
  • Can lay it down and leave on plant roots for a gentle, deep watering.

Expandable Rake by Terra Verde

No gardening toolbox would be complete without a trusty garden rake good for leveling, raking debris from soil, lifting grass, spreading mulch and raking leaves. Terra Verde’s Expandable rack is lightweight and extendable and designed to easily get between shrubs, planter boxes, air conditioner units, deck boards, and more. Other features include:

  • Made of durable steel.
  • Rack can be extended from 7 to 25 inches, and securely locks in any position.
  • Compact for small space storage.
  • Great for collecting leaves, tilling of soil, raking between shrubs, and clean-up after pruning.

Bypass Pruners

Pruners are a garden essential and are the perfect tool for performing light pruning tasks like removing small dead wood, limbing up small trees, deadheading, etc. A good pair of pruners can make your gardening work much easier and keep your plants happier. Choosing garden pruners that fit your hand, have, nice sharp blades and are manufactured of high-quality materials should be high on your checklist of selection criteria. Buying the cheapest pair on the shelf (or the most expensive for that matter) is usually not the best option. Other features include:

  • The most common and popular type of hand pruners.
  • Stainless steel, curved blades that uses a scissor-like action to pass next to, not on top of, the lower surface.
  • Perfect for making smooth, clean cuts.
  • Prevents crushing of soft plant tissue.
  • Perfect for trimming small limbs and branches, limbing-up small trees, deadheading, and other light pruning tasks.

Bypass Pruners by Brand

The Terra Verde Bypass Pruner

  • Features a heat-treated blade that will stay sharp through multiple uses and non-stick coating for clean, smooth cuts.
  • Durable.
  • Clean scissor-like action and a molded grip.
  • Adjustable tension safety lock.

Burgon & Ball Pruners

  • A little more expensive than Terra Verde pruners.
  • Made of high carbon steel, so blades stay sharper longer.
  • Comes with a replacement blade and spring, and a tool for adjusting spring tension.

Felco Pruners

  • Top-of-the-line pruners with cutting power and precision.
  • Features two blades - one very sharp (cutting blade). The other is not sharp (anvil blade or hook).
  • Lifetime warranty.

To learn more about garden tool essentials click here.

Summer Watering Tips

Did you know that 90 percent of every plant is composed of water? This should give you some idea of how important watering your plants really is. Follow these watering guidelines to ensure your plants stay hydrated and healthy all season long:


  • Water between 5:00am-10:00am in order to prevent evaporation which occurs during the hottest part of the day. Morning is better than evening, since dampness encourages growth of fungus.
  • Water long enough to soak the roots. A light sprinkling evaporates quickly and results in shallow root systems.
  • Allow an inch of water per week on your lawn.
  • Adjust your hose to create a gentle rain. Sprinklers that produce a fine mist waste water due to evaporation.

Vegetable and Flower Gardens

  • Keep soil loose so water can easily penetrate.
  • Remove weeds to reduce competition for water.
  • Place the water where you want it and avoid evaporation by using soil-soakers or slow-running hoses, not sprinklers.
  • Too much water can be just as bad for plants as not enough. Plants that are submerged in water for too long may rot or drown from lack of oxygen.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Water deeply using a soil-soaker.
  • Water only when needed. Check the depth of soil dryness. While the surface may be dry, moisture is retained beneath the surface to sustain trees and shrubs.
  • Mulch to reduce evaporation. Add a 2" to 3" layer of wood chips, pine needles or grass clippings to keep soil cool in summer.
  • Mulch not only reduces weeds but also adds landscape interest.
  • Water plants growing in full sun more often than those in shade.
  • Do not fertilize during the summer. Fertilizing increases a plant's need for water.

Look for these plant clues for signs of over-watering or under-watering:

Signs of Over-Watering

  • Soil is constantly damp.
  • Leaves turn yellow or a lighter shade of green.
  • Young shoots are wilted.
  • Leaves are brittle but still green.
  • Algae and mushrooms are growing.

Signs of Under-Watering

  • Soil is dry.
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown, and drop off.
  • Leaves are wilted or curl.
  • If your plants and flowers look wilted during the hottest time of the day, it doesn’t always mean they need watering. As long as the top of the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to water. Wilting is a self-protective mechanism to prevent too much moisture loss from the root area. Wait and see if the plants perk up after the sun goes down.

TIP: Does my container need watering? Do the finger test - Insert your finger down into the soil. If the soil is dry from the tip of your finger to your first knuckle, it’s time to water.

Be sure to join the Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, at 11AM, for a Facebook LIVE seminar on WATERING TIPS, TRICKS AND TOOLS. To go directly to our Facebook page click here.