You are here

The Blog: Let's Talk Gardening

The History of the Crepe Myrtle

The Crepe Myrtle offers beauty to the southern landscape in all seasons with summer flowers, fall color, winter bark and attractive foliage in spring.
Did you know Crepe Myrtles have been around for more than one thousand years? Now that's a tree that has certainly proven itself.

The Crepe Myrtle's roots actually begin in China, where it was named “Pai Jih Hung,” meaning hundred days red for its beautiful color and long bloom season. The Chinese also called it the “monkey tree” because monkeys could not climb the smooth, slippery trunks. This ornamental tree was especially favored by the Tang dynasty between 618 and 906.

With its English name derived from the myrtle-like leaves and crinkled tissue like petals, the Crepe Myrtle has been in cultivation in the United States for more than a century and a half. Some fine old specimens are found in many historic gardens throughout the South. A short list of likely ports suggests that Crepe Myrtles may have entered the country by way of Norfolk.

For twenty-five years or so, the late Dr. Donald Egolf of the National Arboretum worked to cross-breed Crepe Myrtle varieties, which resulted in a number of new hybrids that proved more disease-resistant, hardier, and more vigorous. All have mottled peeling bark, which can be very showy in winter. These hybrids are superior performers, offering better blooming success than the original Crepe Myrtles once did.

Now one of Hampton Roads most popular plants, the Crepe Myrtle is still called “the tree of one hundred days” due to its long flowering period. It’s a year round beauty planted in the landscape or in a container. And, best of all it loves the heat and humidity of a Tidewater summer.

It's no surprise that this heat-loving, humidity-thriving, drought tolerant, fast growing plant ranks as one the South's most popular ornamental tree! Be sure to check out the many Crepe Myrtle varieties during our 37th annual Crepe Myrtle Fest, July 19-21. To learn more about the Crepe Myrtle, check out our blog

How Well Do You Know Your Crepe Myrtle .

Snake Plant
Aloe Vera
Spider Plant
Golden Pothos
Peace Lily

Nature's Air Purifier, Plants for Clean Air

Indoor air pollution is an increasing problem today and according to the EPA, our homes can have three to five times more pollutants than the outdoors. Substances like xylene (in paint and lacquers), benzene (furniture wax, insect sprays) trichloroethylene (cleaners, adhesives), and formaldehyde (upholstery, air fresheners) can cause symptoms like headaches, sore throats, or allergy-like breathing troubles.

In 1989, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in collaboration with Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) conducted a Clean Air Study and published results featuring a complete list of plants that are most effective at purifying the air inside.

The study, led by Dr. B. C. Wolverton, found that some plants were effective at filtering out benzene, ammonia, and formaldehyde from the air, helping to counteract the effects of Sick Building syndrome. The study found that certain commonly used houseplants are very efficient in removing formaldehyde, trichloroethane, benzene and other air pollutants and replacing them with breathable oxygen. Here are a few common houseplants that made the list:

Snake Plants - add style and modern charm to any room with their upright, sword-like foliage. These plants help remove a variety of chemicals from the air, including nitrogen oxide and formaldehyde. Snake plants are very easy to care for and will even tolerate some neglect. They like bright light, but will grow in everything from direct sun to shade. Allow the soil to dry before watering.

Aloe Vera - listed as one of NASA’s top air-improving plants, aloe vera works much like the snake plant by emitting oxygen at night. Increased oxygen supply is believed to help with insomnia and improve overall quality of sleep. Aloe is a superb indoor plant and is easy to care for. Keep it on a bedroom window, as it requires direct sunlight. Unlike other houseplants, the aloe keeps water in its leaves, not the soil until it needs it so, be sure not to over water.

Spider Plant – this is one of the first plants shown to help clean the air, working best on formaldehyde. This member of the lily family prefers to hang as it sends out its runners and little offset plants that look like pretty little green and white spiders.

Golden Pothos - help remove formaldehyde and carbon dioxide from the air and their abundance of leaves yield freshly cleaned oxygen every day. This tropical vine is one of the most tolerant plants for low light. Don’t be afraid to cut the vines if they get too long. Remember, cutting plants stimulates growth.

Peace Lily - are celebrated for their ability to remove chemicals like formaldehyde and carbon monoxide from the air. This easy to grow plant with its large leaves and interesting white flowers uses a lot of water and adds humidity to dry winter homes. It will tell you when it wants another drink by drooping its leaves.

To improve your indoor air quality, try using:

  • 1 - 8” or 10” sized houseplant per every 100 square feet
  • 1 - Small 4” or 6” sized houseplant in your personal breathing zone
    (6-8 cu. ft.), for example: placed on your desk or night stand.
  • 15 - 20 houseplants for 1500 sq. feet

Discover other plants that help purification the air (and even help you sleep better) on our blog, Go Green for a Better Night's Sleep . And, for a list of NASA approved air purifying plants check out NASA's Guide to Air Filtering Plants

Coneflower, Kismet Intense Orange
Kismet Intense Orange

Plant Premiere, Coneflower Kismet Intense Orange

A NEW coneflower introduction, Kismet Intense Orange is just the thing to bring color to an empty spot. Kismet features a long bloom time, blooming from summer until frost, and lots and lots of gorgeous, vivid, orange blooms. It has an upright, compact habit with a bloom-size of approximately 16 to 18-inches high that fits perfectly in most any outdoor space. This easy maintenance perennial is extremely drought tolerant, attracts pollinators & hummingbirds, and makes a beautiful cut flower.

Check out this video with Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, to learn more about this amazing, NEW coneflower.

How to Feed the Plants in the Landscape
McDonald Green Leaf, Traditional and Organic

How to Feed Plants in the Landscape

All plants require specific nutrients from the soil. Overtime, plants in the landscape will draw essential nutrients out of the soil that need to be replenished. Fertilization is key, as plants need a lot of nutrients in order to sustain large growth and blooms. By consistently feeding, you are ensuring that your plants maintain all the nutrition necessary to grow and bloom big.

Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, walks you through how to feed plants in the landscape including annuals, perennials and trees and shrubs.

In this video, Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, shows you how to feed plants in the landscape.

Pollinator Pazlooza

National Pollinator Week & Pollinator Palooza

Join us for an un-BEE-lievably fun and educational week as we celebrate National Pollinator Week featuring Pollinator Palooza, an event filled with activities Wednesday-Sunday, June 19-23, 2019.

Learn about the importance of plants and pollinators and take advantage of great deals on pollinator plants to bee-utify your home and garden. Check out and attend one of our family-friendly, pollinator-inspired seminars, workshops or exhibits taking place throughout the week. Come see what all the buzz is about and help spread the word about what you can do to help protect and support the pollinators. A complete list of events and activities are listed below. Also, check out the video below with Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, and discover plants that support and attract pollinators to your yard.


  • Monarch Butterfly Tent, Independence Boulevard, Wednesday – Sunday, June 19 - 22, 9am-6pm - featuring caterpillars, adult butterflies laying eggs on milkweed, pupating chrysalises, emerging chrysalises and live butterflies.
  • White Monarch Butterfly Exhibit, Independence Boulevard, Wednesday – Saturday, June 19 - 22, 9am-6pm - your once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these extremely rare, silvery, adult monarch butterflies.
  • Honey Bee Observation Hive – Independence Boulevard, Wednesday - Saturday, June 19-22, 9am-6pm.


  • Free Butterfly Tent Feedings – Independence Boulevard, Friday & Saturday, June 21-22, 10am-2pm.
  • Thumbprint Pots Kids’ Workshop, Independence Boulevard, Saturday, June 22, 11:00am • $15.
  • Free Kids’ Seminar: How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly, Independence Boulevard, Saturday, June 22, 11:30am.
  • Pollinator Container Workshop, Independence Boulevard, Saturday, June 22, 2:00pm • $40.
  • Free Seminar: How to Attract Pollinators Independence Boulevard, Saturday, June 22, 3:00pm.

Special Promotions/Giveaways

  • Ladybug Giveaway - Independence Boulevard, Friday, June 21, 2019 - First 100 customers will receive a FREE pack of ladybugs with purchase.
  • Milkweed Seed Pack Giveaway - Independence Boulevard, Saturday, June 22 - First 200 customers will receive a FREE pack of milkweed seeds with purchase.
  • Caterpillar Cabanas Available for Purchase (includes caterpilla, milkweed & habitat) - Independence, Great Neck, Cedar Road and Colony Square Markets, Wednesday - Saturday, June 19 – 22, 9am – 6pm, (while supplies last).
  • Monarch Chrysalises Available for Purchase - Independence Boulevard, Wednesday - Saturday, June 19 – 22, 9am – 6pm (while supplies last).
  • Great Deals on Pollinator Plants, Habitats & More – all McDonald locations, Monday - Sunday, June 17 -23, 9am-6pm, (selection varies by location, while supplies last).
  • Beekeepers with Local Honey for Purchase – Independence Boulevard, Friday & Saturday, June 21-22, 10am-2pm.

In this video, Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, educates you on plants that will attract pollinators to your yard.

The Mason Bee, the Hive-less Bee

Mason Bees are friendly, non-agrgessive bees that are crucial to the pollinator community. Unlike garden-variety honeybees, mason bees are non-social creatures that nest in holes rather than in a hive with a queen. Although they don’t t make honey, they do have exceptional pollination skills. They get their name from their habit of nest-building, which is to seal off the cells where they lay their eggs with a mortar-like application of mud.

Check out this video with Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, to learn ways to encourage them to your yard and help them thrive.

SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl
SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl
The Flower of 1,000 Blooms
Perfect in Pots or Borders

It's SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl

There’s no doubt that the sunflower has always been reminiscent to a perfect summer day. Whether you’re soaking in the sun on your patio or sitting in an office all day, just having a pot full of these bright and cheery blooms around will lift your spirits. Their dazzling, yellow petals, also known as “rays,” have a distinct sun-like appearance that has made them a crowd favorite. Sunflowers are heat-loving and extremely easy to grow and thrive during the dog days of summer.

New on the sunflower scene for 2019 - SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl, Helianthus, by Monrovia. There are so many features of this little beauty that it’s hard to pick out our favorite. While most sunflowers are grown from seed, this one doesn’t produce seeds, which is why it produces so many flowers. This award-winning, multi-branching, heat tolerant, non-invasive annual produces over 1,000 flowers in a single season, throughout summer, well into the fall up until November. Its compact size makes it an excellent choice in borders and containers. Prefers full sun locations.

FUN FLOWER FACT: Sunflowers not only pivot to face the sun as it moves across the sky during the day, but they also rotate 180 degrees during the night to greet the morning sun.

Watering Tips

Waterwise, A Guide to Summer Watering

Hampton Roads' summers are long, hot and humid, and we're approaching that time of year when water becomes the essential elixir in your garden. Plentiful spring rains are a thing of the past and the summer sun beats down relentlessly, scorching plants, lawns, and trees. You water, but is it enough? Is it at the right time of day? Why is it so difficult to keep everything from drying out? Here are some tips to ensure your plants and lawn make it through the extreme heat of summer:


  • 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.

For additional tips on watering check out our blog on The Five W’s of Watering

How to Revive a Struggling Plant

Plant SOS

Garden Guru, Mike Westphal, walks you through his best tips for saving a struggling plant.

For whatever reason, sometimes plants just have issues. There are many reasons why your plant may be struggling - not enough light, too much light and overwatering are just a few of the reasons why your plant may not be thriving. Luckily, there are some things you can do to nurse your plant back to health:

Remove Brown, Yellow or Spotted Leaves:
It’s important to remove any unhealthy leaves from your plant in order to conserve energy. Plants use a lot of energy when trying to keep unhealthy leaves alive. Once bad leaves are removed, the plant can focus on keeping healthy leaves growing and formation of new leaves.

Check the Condition of the Soil & Repot if Necessary:
Soil that is black and shows signs of mold needs to be replaced. A good potting soil helps the plant to retain moisture, provide enough air for growing roots to be able to breath and not rot, and supports your plant by providing anchorage for the roots. McDonald Potting Soil is an all-purpose soil specifically formulated for Hampton Roads and is available in both traditional and organic formulas.

To refresh soil, remove the plant from its container and loosen-up and remove soil around the plant. Place a thin layer of fresh potting soil in the bottom of the container and place the plant back into the pot. Next, fill in around the plant with potting soil.

TIP: lightly packing the soil around the plant will help to prevent air pockets and will also help to establish a good root to soil connection.

Fertilization is key, as plants need a lot of nutrients in order to sustain large growth and blooms. Every time you water, the nutrients that the plant has not already used are leeched out of the soil. By consistently feeding, you are ensuring that your plants maintain all the nutrition necessary to grow and bloom big. We use McDonald Greenleaf Fertilizer (available in organic or traditional formulas), which was developed specifically for plants in Hampton Roads and is a great general all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer. Simply sprinkle two tablespoons of Greenleaf around the basket or container.

Add a Vitamin Supplement:
Once the plant has been repotted and refreshed with new soil, add a vitamin supplement to help revive and reduce the amount of stress the plant may have been experiencing. We recommend Superthrive. Simply add a capful to a gallon of water.

Water your plant as usual and in two to three weeks, it should be healthy and thriving once again.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)

What to Sow and Grow in May

Starting plants from seed is one of the most exciting and rewarding gardening activities, and careful plant selection allows gardeners to continue growing throughout the year. Growing seed is not complicated, it just requires a little thought and care. For best results, it is important to use fresh seed and follow the instructions on each seed packet, which include specific planting tips, light requirements and watering specifications. Here are our recommendations for what seeds to plant in the month of May:

Where would summer be without zinnias? These easy-to-grow, annual flowers bloom in a variety of colors and sizes that provide striking garden views. Commonly grown in containers and window boxes, zinnias can also enhance the appearance of the landscape when planted in large masses. Prefers full sun locations.

Whether you are planting your first vegetable garden or have years of experience, growing snap beans should be at the top of your garden to-do list. They adapt quite well to a variety of soil types, provided the location is in an area with good drainage. When harvesting green beans, pick them once they have reached adequate size, but do not allow them to over ripen. Plant in full sun.

Sometimes called Chinese parsley, this annual herb has a distinctive aroma and flavor that is often used in Mexican and Asian cuisine. Cilantro looks like flat leaf Italian parsley, but the leaves are thinner. It grows in a rosette of stemmy leaves that are ready to harvest shortly after planting. Young leaves have the best flavor, so be sure to harvest often. Prefers full sun to part shade.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa)
An easy-to-grow perennial that produces clusters of bright orange, yellow or red blooms all summer long. Butterfly weed is appropriately named as the nectar and pollen-rich flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects throughout the blooming season. Butterfly weed also makes a nice cut flower. Plant in a warm, sunny spot.

With lots of varieties to choose from, this annual herb offers something for every palette. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes that are true to their name like: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil. Many gardeners mix various types of basil in their flower beds, where it is ready for a quick harvest anytime. Keep your plant from producing flowers by pinching off the flower spikes when they appear. By pinching off flowers, you'll help your plant produce more delicious, edible leaves and not waste energy on flower production. Prefers a warm and sunny spot.

Another easy-to-grow option featuring compact flowers ranging in color from pale yellow to deep orange and rust. Marigolds are a great addition to pots, baskets and borders or simply scattered throughout the garden. And, did you know that marigold plants produce unique compounds that give off strong odors that deter many insects and pests? By planting marigolds alongside your vegetables, not only are you providing lovely flowers, but you're also helping keep your veggies safe from pests - naturally! Marigolds are also beneficial for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Looks great in dried floral arrangements too. Prefers full sun locations.

To learn more about sowing seeds click here Sow, Now's the Time.