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Azalea 'Kaempo Pink', Shrub

Azalea Picks for Blooms, Foliage and Height

Spring is here, and that means the azaleas are in bloom! With so many varieties to choose from, selecting the correct variety for your garden can be a challenge. In this video, Merrifield Plant Specialist Joel Cooke highlights his picks for a number of desirable traits, such as flower and foliage color, bloom time, and height.

Featured Azaleas

  • Joseph Hill: A low growing, late blooming variety that can be used more as a groundcover
  • Coral Bells: The earliest blooming variety of azalea Christy Lynn: Distinctive variegated foliage
  • Stewartstonian – Large growing with a red flower and purplish red foliage in the winter
  • Girard’s Rose – Large leaves with good foliage retention and color through the winter
  • Encore Azalea and Bloomathon: Repeat bloomers that bloom in spring, sporadically through the summer and in fall
ISTOCK seed potatoes

How to Start a Vegetable Garden with Your Family

With spring officially here, now is a great time to start a cool season vegetable garden with herbs, potatoes, onions and leafy greens. This is a great activity to bring the whole family outdoors for weeks on end, as you plant your seeds, watch them grow, and finally harvest mature veggies later this season. There are many plants that can be harvested quickly to enjoy the rewards of your work while you are waiting on your slower growing vegetables to mature, and all you need to get started is a small area with plenty of sunlight, seeds and a few supplies.

Virginia may still have some nights with frost, so at this point you will want to choose frost hardy plants that can tolerate the cool nights of spring. Greens, root vegetables and a variety of herbs are good picks. 

Cool season herb seeds, parsley, fennel and dill

Supplies

  • Shovel, hoe or small trowel
  • Organic compost, such as Bumper Crop (2 cu. ft. bag covers 25-50 sq. ft.)
  • Organic fertilizer, such as Plant-tone or Garden-tone (3.5 lbs. per 50 sq. ft.)
  • Cool season seeds
    • Herbs: Cilantro, dill, fennel and parsley
    • Leafy Greens: Cabbage, kale, loose-leaf lettuces and spinach are a few good picks. Loose-leaf lettuce will harvest quickly so are great picks for planting with your kids.
    • Root vegetables: Garlic, potatoes and onions

Prepare Your Garden Bed

Regardless of the crops you will be planting, you can set your plants up for success by preparing the soil in advance. To give your veggies a boost, turn up the soil in the area you will be planting with a hoe, shovel or trowel. Next, spread your organic compost over the area in a 1/2 inch to 1 inch layer and add about 3.5 lbs. of fertilizer per 50 sq. ft. of soil. Mix both into your turned up soil.

How to Start Seeds in the Ground

The plants suggested in this post are all frost hardy, and can handle some of the cool weather we may still experience between now and our final frost date later this season. You can work with other plants, but keep in mind that the average last frost date of our area is still several weeks away. You may need to take steps to keep non-frost hardy plants safe from the cold weather. 

Planting Steps

For more detailed instructions on direct sowing seeds in the ground, you can see our post on starting fall seeds. The method of direct sowing in the spring is the same.

  1. Review each seed packet before planting to make sure that you are planting at the correct depth and spacing. 
  2. Make a groove in the soil to the depth indicated on your seed packet. Sow seeds along the groove spaced according to the directions on your seed packet. 
  3. Cover the seeds gently with soil, and water carefully with a gentle spray of the hose or a watering wand.

When to Harvest

Most cool season vegetables are at their best when temperatures are 55-65 degrees and should be harvested before the arrival of summer heat. When temperatures jump into the 80’s, they may begin to flower. This causes the plant to produce fewer, less flavorful leaves. Gardeners call this ‘bolting’. Some herbs, such as fennel and dill have flavorful seeds and you can allow them to continue growing into the summer to enjoy their flowers and seeds.

Planting Onions, Potatoes and Garlic

Onions, potatoes and garlic are a bit different from our other cool season veggies in that you do not start them from a typical seed. Rather, you actually use part of a seed potato or dried onion or garlic bulb. Avoid using traditional potatoes, onion and garlic purchased from the grocery store as they are treated with sprout inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting on the shelf or in your pantry. 

ISTOCK seed potatoes

Seed Potatoes

  1. Prepare your seed potatoes for planting a couple of days ahead of time by cutting the potatoes into large pieces, each with one or two “eyes” 
  2. Spread them out to dry indoors for a couple of days to prevent rot once they are in the soil. 
  3. Place seed potato cuttings about a foot apart in holes approximately 2-3 inches deep, with the cut side down. Cover with soil.
  4. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Onions

Onions can be planted from seed, but onion sets, which are just dried onions, will mature much faster. 

  1. Plant your onion sets, placing bulbs approximately 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  2. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

Dried Garlic

Garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one ‘head’ of garlic.

  1. Separate the head of garlic into individual cloves
  2. Plant each clove approximately 4 – 6 inches apart and bury them no more than 1 inch deep in the soil. 
  3. Water with a gentle spray of the hose or with a watering wand.

When to Harvest Garlic, Onions and Potatoes

Harvest your garlic and onion greens by pulling them out of the ground while they are still young, before they form bulbs. These are delicious in salads or as seasoning in other dishes. If you are growing them for the bulbs, leave them in the ground until summer, when the greens begin to yellow and fade. You should remove any flower buds so the plants will put more of their energy producing a larger bulb.

Harvest potatoes soon after the plants reach the flowering stage. At this time they are still small, thin skinned and called “new potatoes”. For larger, mature potatoes, wait until late summer or fall when the plants yellow and wither to the ground.

Feeding and Watering Your Plants

You can continue to fertilize your growing vegetables with an organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. Use 1/3 of a cup per plant, or 1 1/3 of a cup per 5 ft. row of plantings. 

When watering newly planted seeds, be careful about washing them away. It is best to use a gentle spray from a hose or a watering wand to keep them moist as they begin to sprout and develop roots. Try to check daily and see that the soil is moist and water when it begins to feel dry. After they have grown to be about three inches or more, it’s a good time to spread mulch around the plants. One to two inches of straw will help to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and prevent the soil from eroding or splashing on to your vegetables. Now that your vegetables and herbs are off to a strong start, you can begin to water more deeply and less often. Still, try to check in every 1-2 days to see what is new or may need attention. If you have any questions about caring for your vegetable garden, let us know! We are happy to provide tips and advice.

Bleeding Heart, Perennial

Blooming Gifts for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and beautiful spring blooms are the perfect gifts to show her you appreciate her hard work and care for the family! If you need some inspiration or fresh ideas for a gift, check out our list of vibrant, colorful flowers and arrangements that your mom will love.

Calibrachoa Spring Hanging Basket

Hanging Baskets

A display-ready addition to any patio, hanging baskets come in a multitude of colors and varieties that grow well in both sun and shade. Our plant specialists are happy to create a basket for you, or you can select one of our ready-made containers of vibrant seasonal blooms from our annuals department.

Dianthus

Dianthus

This cheerful perennial with its bright colors and delicate blooms is a favorite of many gardeners. This bright flower is wonderful in containers and attracts butterflies.

Bleeding Heart, Perennial

Bleeding Heart

This unique flower bears striking, heart-shaped blooms on long stems which grow beautifully in part to full shade. Moms will love this delicate flower, which has been a garden favorite for many years.

Container Gardens

These beautiful pieces can be custom designed to suit your mom’s taste and style. We are happy to put them together with a container from our store, or with one you already have at home! You can select one already made at our store, or work with us (or your family!) to create one mom will love.

Check out our step-by-step blog to create a container garden of your own.

Lavender

The soothing scent of lavender makes this an excellent choice to pamper mom with aromatherapy.  This is a wonderful gift for moms who enjoy cooking or for those who just enjoy the fragrance.

Peony

This popular plant compliments all styles of gardens. These stunning flowers feature dramatic blooms in a variety of colors ranging from white, to pink, to red. We consider this plant a “must have” for it’s stunning blooms and classic appeal.

Traditional Favorites

Still aren’t sure what to get mom? Some of our most popular and traditional gifts include azaleas and rhododendron, roses, and hydrangea. There are many beautiful plants to choose from – if you need advice, just let us know!

Cherry Tree

Our Favorite Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs

Spring is here and we are indulging our spring fever with a lineup of our favorite spring blooming trees! Between the tried-and-true traditional favorites and new arrivals, we all have a tree we want for ourselves this season!

Cherry

‘Autumnalis’: If you just can’t get enough of cherry blossoms, try ‘Autumnalis’ in your landscape. This cultivar is known for blooming prolifically in the spring, then again sporadically in the late fall.

Yoshino Cherry: If you are looking for the best-known cherry tree in the northern Virginia region, this is your variety. Each year it turns the Washington DC Tidal Basin into a cloud of white blooms in early spring. Placing one in your yard may not draw millions of visitors from around the world as the Cherry Blossom Festival does, but that may be for the best!

Weeping Higan: The arching branches of this weeping variety can drape all the way to the ground with blooms in early spring. This popular ornamental variety produces light pink flowers.

Magnolia

As one of our most popular and iconic trees of the southeastern United States, there are many varieties of magnolia to choose from in addition to the beloved southern magnolia. Here are some of our favorites:

Saucer Magnolia: Without a doubt the most dramatic member of the magnolia family, this tree blooms in early spring with vibrant pink flowers. ‘Jane’ ‘Betty’ and ‘Ann’ are some of our favorite cultivars.

Star Magnolia: This tree unveils its magnificent star-like white blooms in early spring. In comparison with the bold structure of other magnolia blooms, the flowers of star magnolias are prized for their delicate appearance.

Sweet Bay Magnolia: This popular native variety delivers a creamy, white flower with a light lemon fragrance in early June. It is able to tolerate the clay soil in the area and is also able to handle poorly draining soil, making it a good choice for difficult landscape areas.

Pieris Japonica

This dense evergreen shrub produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges bronze but matures to a glossy green.

Redbud

Redbud is best known for its small clusters of magenta-pink flowers that bloom in late March to early April. While this tree is widely considered a harbinger of spring, it boasts beauty during the fall as well, when its heart-shaped leaves turn a light yellow. This tree comes in both upright and weeping varieties.

Here are some of our favorite cultivars:

  • ‘Don Egolf’ is a dwarf Chinese cultivar named after Dr. Donald Egolf from the National Arboretum.
  • ‘Appalachian Red’ has brighter blossoms than other redbuds. Their neon pink are almost red. We like to say they are two shades brighter than other redbuds!
  • ‘Oklahoma’ has a darker purple blossom and a more compact, rounded form than other redbuds.
  • ‘Ruby Falls’ is a popular weeping cultivar with purple foliage.

Serviceberry

This North American native is a great year-round plant. It blooms in early spring with clusters of white flowers, then in early summer its fruit ripens to a blue color and attracts local birds. In the fall, the leaves change to a vibrant red or yellow.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Another native, Virginia fringe tree produces blooms in late spring that look the way they sound – like white fringe! The airy, fragrant blooms give the tree a unique look, unlike any other plant we name in this post.

Lawn, Grass, Turf

Spring Lawn Care Checklist

Now is the time to get your lawn in spring shape! The weather is warming up, trees are starting to bloom, and healthy, dark green grass can really contribute to the feeling that spring has arrived. By taking a few steps, anyone can refresh their lawn for a beautiful spring landscape. Before starting your lawn refresh, remember that each one is different and your lawn’s care needs will be unique to the conditions it is under as well as its current state. If you need any assistance deciding which of the steps apply to your lawn, please call one of our experts at the plant clinic or stop by and see us.

Control Winter Weeds

March is the perfect time to control and eliminate any winter weeds that crept into your lawn over the season. Chickweed, bittercress, henbit, deadnettle, clover, dandelion and wild violet are all weeds that may be seen at this time.

Check out our blog post on eliminating winter weeds.

Prevent Summer Weeds

After treating winter weeds, it’s a good idea to pre-treat for summer weeds. Preventing their germination from the beginning will save you a lot of trouble, and help you maintain a weed-free landscape throughout the season. Common summer weeds include crabgrass, goosegrass, foxtail and Japanese stiltgrass. When planning your weed prevention, you will want to take into account whether or not you will be seeding your lawn.

For full information on preventing summer weeds, visit our summer weed prevention blog.

Seed and Fertilize

Take advantage of the spring season to fill in your lawn by overseeding. This is a great opportunity to select new seeds that will work great in your lawn’s conditions. We offer many varieties and are happy to help you select one that will thrive in your landscape. When you are seeding, fertilize your lawn as well with a high phosphorous formula.

For complete steps and our recommended products, check out our seeding and fertilizing blog.

Pruning, Winter

Getting Your Garden into Spring Shape

Spring is almost here and it’s time to start getting our gardens ready for the season. As you plan your March and early April gardening projects, here are some tasks you may need to complete.

Ornamental Grass Pruned

Prune Perennials and Shrubs

Cut back the old, browned growth of perennials and groundcovers and trim the leaves of grasses and liriope back to almost ground level. Removing the old growth will make way for fresh, green growth that will emerge this spring. Remove old stems of sedum, coneflower, chrysanthemums and other perennials back to where the new buds are beginning to emerge. This will help keep your perennials full and stocky while giving your garden a fresh look. After cutting back your perennials, thin boxwoods and prune hollies and yews. Needled evergreens such as junipers and cypress can be lightly sheared or thinned, but avoid any extensive pruning. If you prune back into the old growth on these plants, they will not fill back in. This is also a great time to prune crape myrtle, roses and other summer blooming shrubs, with the exception of bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangeas. Avoid heavy pruning for these plants, as this will interfere with their flowering. If you are looking for more detailed information on pruning times and methods for some of our most popular landscape plants in our northern Virginia region,check out our tree and shrub pruning guide.

Clean Up Landscape Beds

Give your landscape beds a professional look using a spade or edging tool to define borders with smooth, sweeping curves or straight lines. After this is complete, add fresh mulch to protect and improve the soil, conserve moisture and discourage weeds. There are several different types of mulch to choose from, and they all do a good job. Pick the one with the color, texture and price that suits your taste. As a note: never layer more than 3 inches of mulch in your landscape beds – it is possible to have too much of a good thing!

Eliminate Weeds

Get ahead of the weeds! As you are cleaning up your established landscape beds, pull out any weeds that crept in this winter and apply a weed preventer. Weed preventers create a chemical barrier in the surface of the soil to inhibit germinating seeds from becoming established. Just be sure not to use weed preventers in any beds where you will be adding new plantings this spring. For more information check our blog posts on treating winter weeds and preventing summer weeds.

Prepare Garden Beds for New Plantings

Amend the soil of garden beds where you will be adding new plantings with fertilizer and soil conditioner. We recommend using Merrifield Starter Plant Food for your fertilizer and Merrifield Planting Mix for the soil conditioner. Preparing beds now will make it easier and more enjoyable when you are ready to start planting.

Plant Cold Hardy Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Vegetables and Annuals

You can begin planting cold hardy trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables and annuals. Be aware that we will continue to have freezing temperatures and frosty mornings throughout our area until late April. If you have plants with tender new foliage or flowers, be prepared to cover them with a frost cloth on those cold nights and days. Pansies, violas and primroses will all provide spring color, but are cold tolerant and can handle the chill of early spring. We get new plants all the time, so you can always stop by and ask our plant specialists about what will work well in your garden. Improve the growth, color and flowering of your favorite garden plants by fertilizing now as the growing season begins. We have made this super easy. If you want to promote blooms, use Merrifield Flowering Plant Food, if you want to promote lush, green vegetative growth, use Merrifield Tree and Shrub Food.

If you have any questions about preparing your garden for spring, give us a call, email us at service@mgcmail.com, or drop by the store and talk to us!

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