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Rain Gardens

A rain garden is a shallow planted depression in the landscape that is designed to retain water runoff from roofs, driveways, roads, parking lots (asphalt) and other impervious surfaces. Just like natural wetlands, these retention areas hold water from storms and give it time to soak into the ground or evaporate back into the atmosphere rather than enter directly into lakes, rivers, wetlands, and storm sewer systems. Even if the retention area overflows, a great deal of the contaminating materials have time to settle out before the water escapes into the bay or other bodies of water.


Today, governments and organizations encourage homeowners to build rain gardens to help protect the bay and other natural water sources. When planted with native grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective, low maintenance and attractive way to reduce and filter runoff from your property. Other benefits of rain gardens include:

  • Minimizes the need for mowing, pesticides, pruning, irrigation and fertilization.
  • Removes pollutants from water before it enters surface waters.
  • Prevents erosion by holding soil in place.
  • Provides food and habitat to wildlife.
  • Allows for garden creativity.


Rain garden designs can be simple or elaborate, depending on your gardening interest and experience. Follow these steps when planning and installing a rain garden:

  1. Pick a low point in the property. Find a low spot that is fairly flat with soil. Locations that allow standing water to drain within a day or two after a storm are best suited.
  2. Determine the size and shape. Rain gardens vary in size and can fit into many shapes and spaces.
  3. Remove the soil to 18-24 inches. For best infiltration, the bottom of the rain garden should be level.
  4. Back fill with a sand and organic mix. Replace heavy soil with one-half sand, one-quarter compost, and one-quarter topsoil. The sand mix retains the water just like natural bog areas.
  5. Add plants from the list of rain garden approved plants provided below.
  6. Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch. This will help keep the soil moist and in place and prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
  7. Direct downspouts and other runoff to the rain garden. If water does not naturally flow to your rain garden, dig a shallow (3 to 4-inch deep) trench from your downspout to the garden, line it with landscape fabric, and cover with stones to create a streambed effect.


Rain gardens require little maintenance once established. Maintenance tasks include:

  • Watering plants regularly if there has been a lack of significant rainfall.
  • Regularly weed, prune, and mulch the garden.
  • Routinely clean the downspout connection to prevent from clogging.
  • Removing trash or other debris from the rain garden.


Rain gardens are best when planted with native plants that are indigenous to our area. These plants require less maintenance once established, have deep roots that soak up lots of water, provide food and habitat to wildlife, and are beautiful. Remember, plants must be able to live with their roots in standing water for periods of time and also survive periods of drought. Rain garden plants include:

Winterberry Holly
Joe Pye Weed
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia)
River Birch
Perennial Hibiscus
Swamp Milkweed
Sea Oats
Service berry
Virginia Sweetspire
Yaupon Holly
Wax Myrtle aka Bayberry

For additional resources on rain gardens, visit the Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center website here or the City of Norfolk website here.

Get Ahead of the Carve, DIY Succulent Pumpkin

Fall is clearly the season for pumpkins- pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin candles, pumpkin butter, and of course, pumpkin decor. And when it comes to fall decorating, these colorful orbs are the universal symbol of autumn. Who hasn't carved a silly or spooky face into the orange-colored squash to light the way for trick-or-treaters on Halloween? But pumpkins aren't just for Halloween. In fact, they can be used and displayed in a variety of different ways.

Our Houseplant Buyers, Sarah, takes pumpkin decorating to a whole new level. Follow her step-by-step guide and carve out some fun with this whimsical, real pumpkin trimmed with living succulents- the perfect way to bring houseplants and fall together, both indoors and out. Keep your succulent creation through Thanksgiving for a colorful centerpiece. So, eat your pumpkin pie, drink your pumpkin latte, and get ready to create your very own gourd-geous succulent pumpkin planter.

Pumpkin, succulents, garden clippers, moss, Tacky, Elmer’s, or craft glue (as long as the glue is not water soluble, you are good to go), and, of course, a little creativity.

Try to choose a pumpkin that has a flat top, allowing for lots of space for succulents. Remove the stalk from your pumpkin if you would prefer, however, this step in not necessary.

You can use any type of moss as a bed. Sheet moss is wonderful for its look and feel. As your succulents sit on the moss, they'll begin to take root. Once Thanksgiving is over and the top of your pumpkin begins to decompose, simply lift the entire succulent garden off the pumpkin and replant elsewhere. Maybe a festive Christmas container?

Try choosing succulents with different colors, sizes, shapes and textures. This will help make your pumpkin planter look fuller, while adding dimension and texture.

Remove the succulents from their pots along with any excess soil. If you need to cut some of the stalk back, that’s fine, just be sure to leave a few roots. If you lose a couple of leaves, that’s ok too.

Begin with your largest succulent selections first. Plant them in the middle, like a triangle (this is your focal point). Use a little glue on the stalk of your succulent and gently place on top of the moss bed. Nestle the second succulent in with it and follow-up with the third.

For your next 'layer' choose a variety of succulents that are different from your first grouping. Use several of the same type succulent as you work around in a circle- this helps keep the look balanced. However, you can group in any way you like. Tuck the smaller succulents in the nooks beneath where two plants meet, so that your plants remain stabilized. Continue to add layers until you feel you have developed the look you are going for.

After you are finished with your arrangement, you can always add other items to embellish your look. Try sticks, pinecones, eucalyptus sprays, fresh herbs, Invislites, etc.

Leave your pumpkin to sit while the glue dries. Succulents prefer bright light and low water. Try to give your succulents a couple hours of sun each day. Water about once a week with a spray bottle or turkey baster. Apply water in between the succulents, so that the water reaches the roots (do not water from the top- always water at the roots).

TIP: Be sure you are familiar with the types of succulent you are using for your pumpkin. Some succulents are cold hardy meaning you can leave your pumpkin outdoors under 50 degrees. Some are tropical and cannot take temperatures below 50 degrees. Keep your pumpkin planter indoors if growing these varieties.

To learn more about pumpkins click here.
To learn more about decorating with pumpkins click here.

Landscaping with Pansies

We all want dramatic curb appeal in our landscapes and colorful pansies are the perfect choice. Pansies are one of the garden’s most versatile and easiest-to-grow flowers, bringing charm and cheer to the fall and spring garden. These hardy annuals can actually make it through frosts — and even single-digit temperatures — and some varieties rebound in the spring. The hardest part about growing pansies is choosing the color! Nowadays, you can select from hundreds of varieties in a rainbow of colors and growing habits. From dainty, 1-inch flowers to fluffy, 4-inch blossoms, pansies can grow petite and compact or trail in petunia-like waves. Colors range from solids in white, yellow and blue to two-tones, tricolors, and purples so rich, they appear black. Whatever your preference, there's a pansy to suit. When it comes to planting pansies in the landscape, the possibilities are endless. Here are few ways to incorporate these cool-weather annuals into your landscape.


If you’re looking for unique ways for livening up you landscape, why not get a little creative with container gardening? Containers come in and endless supply of colors, shapes, and sizes and add an extra dose of visual interest to the landscape with the freedom to rearrange your layout. Place them exactly where you want- near entryways, walkways, outdoor sitting areas, then move them around when you want to change things up. And, containers don’t have to be on the ground. You can also use hanging baskets in the landscape. Hang baskets from a tree or use a Shepherd's hook to add a little splash of color up high or wherever you like.


Color blocking is simply using plants of one color or complementary shades to create an eye-catching effect in the landscape. Pick key areas around your home to plant in blocks of color, and remember, for greater impact, the more the merrier. Plant blocks of pansies outside a kitchen window or add 10 to 12 in front of an entryway to welcome family and friends.

TIP: When doing blocks of color in the landscape, choose one color. Too many bright plants can quickly turn from eye-catching to eyesore. One big block of color is soothing to the eye whereas mixing colors can appear chaotic.


Focal points are used in garden design to draw and direct the eye. Plant clusters of pansies around a focal point like a garden bench or anything that you want to feature like a fountain, statue, or birdbath. You can also plant opposing drifts (or swales) in a single color on either side of a focal point. Select complimentary colors like purple and yellow or red and yellow when creating drifts of color in the landscape.


Everything looks better when it's framed, whether it's a picture or a garden path. Pansy borders are a great way to infuse color and create boundaries between the garden and the lawn or walkway.


Pansies are perfect for filling in the gaps in beds, borders, or flower gardens. Alternate pansies with other plants in the landscape, for example, alternate liriope or hosta with a single pansy. When single spacing, we also recommend using a single color to create and organized and finished look.

TIP: Always remember O before P (OCTOBER before PANSIES) and resist the temptation to purchase these pretty, little pansy faces before it’s time. Premature planting when temperatures are too warm may result in yellowing leaves and makes them vulnerable to frost damage or pest and disease issues.

To learn about growing pansies in containers click here

NEW Cracker Peppercorn Dressing
NEW Apple Butter (no sugar added)
COMING SOON, NEW Fig Preserves
Traffic Jam, Customer Favorite

A Taste of Local - NEW Jams and Dressing

Grab a knife and spread on the flavor with McDonald Garden Center's three NEW additions to our line of jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters and sauces. Crafted locally from Virginia grown produce, these products offer the utmost quality at an affordable price. Our branded foods are made using the finest ingredients with methods established in the 1920’s. Whether it's a jam, jelly, salsa or dressing—you'll find the freshest, most flavorful ingredients in every bite. Our products are great household staples, as well as fantastic gifts for any occasion - just add a bright ribbon around the top with a gift tag! Check out our complete line of jams, sauces, dressings, and salsas available at our year-round locations.

NEW Apple Butter (no sugar added) – our customers requested a “no sugar added” alternative alongside our original Apple Butter and here it is! Light on the sugar and made with fresh apples with a touch of cinnamon, this rich and creamy apple butter is bursting with flavor. Perfect for topping ice cream, cinnamon rolls, muffins, pancakes, and any other sweet treat.

NEW Cracked Peppercorn Dressing - peppercorns give this dressing a zing that is sure to tantalize your tastebuds. Equally as sweet as it is robust in flavor, this dressing is sure to be the crowning jewel on salads and more. Use as a dip with vegetables or as sauce for chicken, beef, or pork.

Fig Preserves (COMING SOON) - made with ripened, tender figs, this new addition blends sweet, tangy, and savory flavors. Spread on toast, combined with soft cheeses, cured meats, top desserts, or add it to grilled cheese sandwiches.

Hampton Roads Traffic Jam (MOST POPULAR) - voted most popular by our customers, this thick, sweet spread is a melody of peaches, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and cranberries. Use on breads, as a glaze for pork or chicken, dollop on top of cheesecake, stir it into cottage cheese or yogurt, or serve overtop of cream cheese with crackers.