Thursday, September 27, 2007

Garden Talks and Garden Thoughts

Hello again,

Welcome and greetings from Skillin's Greenhouses where we have been gardening and Planting the Planet in Maine and beyond since 1885!

For more info about Skillin's check us out at OR stop by one of our 3 retail locations (directions and so much more can be found at!)

We received this great email question a day or two ago and Terry Skillin gave this great response:

"question....why are there no acorns on my very mature oak...usually are hundreds???"

Here is Terry's answer:

"Our great grandfather Pa Skillin would have said "it is because there will be little snow this winter". But more than likely there are other factors involved.

The two most likely candidates would be the tough April weather may have reduced the insect world's ability to pollinate and then much of the fruit that was able to start to form may have been aborted because of the very dry summer and early fall. From May to the end of August the Great Portland area has received 19 less inches of rain than usual. "

Lack of rain also appears to be leading to premature leaf drop among some of the needled evergreens in Skillin's Country. Our nursery staff is getting lots of questions about juniper and arborvitae needles that are losing their green color, then turning yellow and orange and dropping to the ground. Usually such leaf drop occurs well into October as the weather turns cooler. But as Terry mentioned in the Oak answer, the drought of July and August has hit existing plant material hard and events like leaf drop among needled evergreens is happening early. White pines will almost certainly be dropping their needles a little early.

How can you combat this premature leaf drop? Make sure your needled evergreens and any other plant material showing early signs of stress (yellow leaves, leaf spots) get several good slow waterings over the next few weeks. You can do this by merely bringing your garden hose right to the base of your plant and letting the water run our very slowly so the water seeps slowly and steadily into the ground without creating runoff. Got large stressed plant material? Let the water run slowly for several hours if you need. Believe me the plants will drink up the water.

Also, your plants may be starving for nutrients. If you have not done so for awhile, give your evergreens a good feeding of Holly Tone by Espoma ( . Give your deciduous (plants that drop their leaves in the winter) a good feeding of either Plant Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics ( . Your plants will thank you and thank you!

Let us know at if you have any questions OR you can call us at the contact numbers shown at or of course you may stop by one of our locations.

Some exciting news from American Nurseryman magazine about the benefits of utilizing interior plants. The numbers quoted here pertain to commercial situations but the benefits can easily be translated into our homes as well as businesses:

“An adequate installation of interior plants in a modern sealed office structure could save US companies $129 billion through indoor air improvements….companies could save as much as $58 billion by preventing sick-building illnesses and $200 billion in worker-performance.

Interior plants can enhance worker productivity by 12 percent. Studies through Texas A & M University and Washington State University show an adequate installation of plants can significantly lower workplace stress, decrease fatigue and enhance productivity.

Proper selection and placement of plant materials can lower heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, the net cooling effect of one young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” That is amazing!

We have a great selection of indoor plants and plenty of people who can give you great advice! Indoor plants are easy to take for granted but as you can see from above the value they give to us all is astounding. One healthy tree is worth 10 room-sized air conditioners! Wow!

Many lawns and gardens and maybe yours too were absolutely infested by Japanese Beetles in July and August. Also over the fall and winter our soil and plants can be plagued by moles (and skunks) are actually digging in the ground looking for tasty white Japanese Beetle grubs. The best long-term cure for Japanese Beetle grubs is a product called Milky Spore Bacteria. This bacteria has been developed to be specifically deadly to beetle grubs only. It is an all natural product that does not harm plants, soil or any other parts to the environment except for Japanese Beetles. We sell Milky Spore in a powder form that is applied systematically to your lawn and garden area. We also sell Milky Spore in a granular form that can be easily spread with a lawn spreader. Once the soil is inoculated with Milky Spore and the bacteria has had time to take effect, your Japanese beetle problems should be over with for between 10 and 15 years! NOW is the perfect time to put Milky Spore down on the ground; our ground is nice and warm and next year's beetles are living just underneath the surface as tasty tender little grubs. Come see us so we can show you how to take back your soil OR check out for more details!

As you can see from our list of specials in the previous post, "Bird is the Word". Birds are feeding feverishly to gear up their feathered little bodies for the coming winter. We have a great selection of BEST quality bird food and feeders here at Skillin's. And much of our bird food is on sale this week for 20% off! Come see us with any questions or if you want to get started on feeding the birds.

Personally, I enjoy feeding the birds as much as I do gardening--I really do. It is just a blast to see my feathered friends hanging at the feeders. As I have written in other places, my favorite feeders are the Squirrel Buster series put out by the Brome Bird Co. We have the Squirrel Buster feeders here. They are well made, they attract the birds and they are squirrel proof! And best of all, this week they are on sale for 20% off (through Wed Oct 3). That means the Squirrel Buster Classic feeder that usually sells for $39.99 is on sale for $31.99. The Squirrel Buster Plus which cardinals love usually sells for $79.99 and is on sale for $63.99! Great savings.

Besides recommending the Squirrel Buster feeders, I also recommend using Sunflower food to attract the most birds. We sell Sunflower in several different ways right here at Skillin's. Also, it is important to keep the food fresh and dry in the feeder. So, don't overfill your feeders and also remember to shake out or take out any wet food from your feeders (check your food after each rain storm). Most feeders are easy to clean and refill and in just a few moments you have fresh food again in the feeders and birds galore!

Mark Your Calendar

Every Tuesday is Mature Gardeners Day at Skillin’s! Those customers who qualify will receive 10% off all regularly priced items. (Sale items and volume restrictions do not usually apply and some other restrictions may apply).

Every Friday brings Flower Power Happy Hour where we offer fresh cut flower stems and bunches at 30% off their regular prices. The Happy Hour lasts from 4 PM until we close at 7 PM!! Every Friday!

Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log. If you have time, send me a comment right here at the Garden Log or via; it would be good to have a feel for how many people are checking out our new Skillin's Garden Log and how it is working for you, our customer and friend.

Mike Skillin

Friday, September 21, 2007

Garden Thoughts

Hello again,

A few days ago I dropped some seed for Bright Lights Swiss Chard into a big pot. My goal? I have been growing some very colorful containers of great color this summer and I would like to extend my array of color well well into the fall. I have not grown Bright Lights Swiss Chard before but I have been told great things about it. So, I picked up a packet of Bright Lights Swiss Chard here at Skillin's, dropped some seed into a pot full of Coast of Maine Bar Harbor Blend soil (THE BEST potting soil I know of right now!) and lo and behold just about a week later I have Bright Lights sprouts all over the pot.

Tomorrow I plan on doing some thinning of the thin little shoots to keep the rooting competition down. Swiss Chard is very cold tolerant and I plan on having lots of color well well into the fall right in this outdoor container. Plus Swiss Chard is one of the best salad greens any of us can eat.

So plant some yourself right in a container or in the ground. Enjoy the color and the taste of fresh vegetables well into the fall.

Also tomorrow I plan on getting my fall application of Nature's Turf fertilizer down on the ground. I talked about the merits of Nature's Turf in the Skillin's Fall Lineup Week 4 posting yesterday. You can find that posting just a little further down in the Skillin's Garden Log. If I don't get it down tomorrow, no worries yet, we still have several weeks to get Nature's Turf down. Remember Nature's Turf is an all natural slow release fertilizer that will work to improve the soil this fall. Most of the nutrients will be available in the Spring when you really want the lawn to green up that fact plus the fact that we will have better soil and deeper roots because of the better soil means that our lawns will get off to a great start next year. Remember! We recommend two to three applications of the Nature's Turf yearly for the lawn.

Still have weeds in the patio or in the garden? Now is a great time to spray them. Right now the weeds are busy sending chlorophyll into the root system to gear up strength for the winter. Spray them now and this downward action by the weeds will get the spray into the roots that much faster and will make for a better kill so you can avoid more spraying down the road. For lawn weeds we recommend Bonide's Weed Beater Ultraor the Bayer Company's All in One Weed Killer; they are products that feature smarter science and are quite effective. Once those weeds are tamed in your lawn, a naturally fed lawn like I just discussed in the previous paragraph will make for a stronger lawn that will keep the weeds crowded out!

If I have time tomorrow I also want to get another feeding of Holly Tone fertilizer around my rhodys and other evergreen plants. Also once we get some leaf drop from our shade trees nestle some leaves around the base of your rhodys; they really appreciate the organic matter as the leaves break down. But right now the ground is pretty bare around my rhodys, so it is a good time to get that Holly Tone by Espoma down around the base of the plants.

Proper fall cleanup is vital to preventing future insects and diseases on your plant material. Insects and diseases love to use decaying plant material as a harbor or “home base” for their pesky operations. Deny them the opportunity! Make sure flowering vines that have “passed on” are pruned properly, broken branches—especially those with dying leaves are pruned and taken away, and dead leaves are raked and piled in a compost pile or bagged for recycling.

Don't forget to water your containers and hanging plants to keep them looking good. It has been a great growing season and the soil in my outdoor hanging plants and containers is chock full of happy roots right now. But lots of roots means much demand on moisture. So, check your pots frequently and make sure they get good soakings of water!


Mike Skillin

Skillin's Garden Online Q & A September 21, 2007

We love to get online questions from our Skillin's customers! Here is a sampling of some recent questions and answers we wanted to share with you. If you have any gardening questions, just email us at We always try to answer on a timely basis and if we do include your question and our answer in the Skillin's Garden Log we will keep your name to ourselves. So feel free to shoot us a question anytime!

Question: My plants in my garden get very tall every summer and fall over. Is there something I can feed them have stronger stems??

Answer: We will soon be having a pruning class (I believe Oct 20 at our stores and you may want to check that class out.)Good pruning helps strengthen the roots and base stems of plants and that helps them to stand up straighter.

Your fertilizing question is an excellent one and I will give you a straightforward general answer. We prefer to recommend good natural fertilizers because they will improve the conditions in your soil. Better soil makes for stronger deeper roots and good strong roots help your plants to better weather summer drought, spring wet, fall winds and winter cold. Think of natural fertilizers as being a good set of “square meals” for your plant.

In general we recommend Plant Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics as great all purpose fertilizers for your plants. They are granular fertilizers that should be applied two to three times per year. One major exception to these fertilizers would be for evergreen plants such as rhodys, azaleas, junipers, arborvitae, etc. and then we recommend feedings of Holly Tone by Espoma two to three times per year.

Question: I purchased some seed garlic last year and planted them. Can I now use some of these heads as seed garlic this year?

Answer: The answer to that question is yes!

October is the best time to plant garlic.

By the “heads” I assume you are referring to the garlic cloves.

Take the whole clove and very carefully break it up without bruising the cloves or damaging the root end or the growing tips. The individual cloves should be planted to about 3 to 4 times the depth of their in well-drained soil. I would add some good light organic matter like some Quoddy Blend by Coast of Maine organics and also a dose of some nice natural plant food like Bulb Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics.

The growing tip (the sharp pointed end) is planted up and is covered with soil. Once covered water the garlic cloves well and make sure they get good soakings twice per week until the ground freezes. Once the ground freezes I would mulch or cover that frozen crunchy soil to keep everything in place through the winter. I would lift that mulch in late March or early April.

We also have seed garlic available right here at Skillin’s!

Question: Is this a good time to transplant day lilies? I have some that I need to transpant. I bought some other bulbs and they would go better in the spot that I have the day lilies.

Answer: Now is a great time to transplant day lilies. They are pretty dormant at this point. Prepare your new hole with some good compost like Shrub and Tree Mix by Jolly Gardener plus I always like to put a little natural food like Plant Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics into the hole. Water the new transplants slowly and well twice a week until the ground freezes and they will do well. I would also mulch over the new transplants late this fall once the ground gets good and crunchy.

Question: How to best prepare blueberry bushes for the winter?

Answer: Let me give you a few quick pointers.

Your blueberries should survive our winters without too much trouble.

To keep the plants strong I would apply Holly Tone a great natural fertilizer for acid loving plants twice per growing season. The first application should be as the growing season gets underway in early April or so then I would apply Holly Tone again in mid to late summer to keep a good steady flow of nutrients and organic matter into the soil.

We ran into some dry stretches this summer and once or twice late this summer when the ground was bone dry I actually ran some water slowly into the ground for an hour or two each plant just to give the plants some help. Even though my high bush blueberries are about 10 years old, I felt they needed the help.

It is good to get some mulch around the base of the plants in late fall or early winter when the ground is good and crunchy. This helps to prevent ground heaving of the root system from cold then warm then cold again. Blueberries have a shallow root system and the root ball can get lurched around a bit.

If you have battled insect pests at any time during the season consider applying All Seasons Horticultural Spray an all natural pesticidal oil now and again in early winter. All Seasons helps to suffocate hard to spray insects and their eggs which otherwise can survive our winters.

Question: Is now a good time to prune a mock orange shrub?

Answer: If you prune your mock orange or most shrubs that flowered before the Fourth of July then you run the risk of cutting off growth that will send out flower buds next year and therefore you could impact next year's flowers in a big time way. You should probably wait to prune the mock orange right after it flowers next year. NOW would be a good time to apply a nice feeding of a good natural fertilizer like Plant Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics to get some good natural fertilizer and organic material down into the soil if you have not fed your shrub within the next last few weeks!

Thanks for the questions everyone!

Mike Skillin

Friday, September 14, 2007

Skillin's Fall Lineup Week 3 Clean Air Houseplants

Another weekend is approaching which means an arrival of another series of FALL LINEUP SALES. Our Fall Lineup is a series of scheduled week long sales that will take place in September and October to spice up your gardening life!

Our Fall Lineup theme this week is Clean Air Houseplants.

What better way to treat our planet right than to bring Plants for the Planet to your home and office?

Here are some fact Clean Air Houseplant facts:

* Houseplants can clean, purify and condition the air we breathe.
* Many common houseplants filter toxins out of the air that are found in drapes, foam chairs, paint and carpets.
* It takes 15 to 18 plants to clean the air in an 1800 square foot home.
* For best results, houseplants should be placed so air can circulate freely around them.
* Houseplants should be maintained and kept healthy in order to stay efficient and dramatically reduce harmful gas levels in our homes and offices. We can show you how to do just that!

We are holding a Houseplant Survival class tomorrow, Saturday September 15 at 9 AM at all our stores. Let us know if you would like to attend!

The following houseplants, their soil and associated microorganisms will help reduce indoor air pollution.

Low LightSpathiphyllum Species
Golden Pothos
Philodendron Cordatum
Aglaonema Silver Queen

Moderate LightBamboo Palm
Dracaena Marginata
Dracaena Massangeana
Cane Dracaena Janet Craig
English Ivy

High Light
Spider Plant
Ficus Benjamina

To celebrate Clean Air Houseplants we are offering the following specials through this coming Wednesday, Sept 19:

*Our foliage (non flowering) houseplants are 20% off. We have a great supply of easy to grow floor and table plants and Jeff Skillin and his crack production team have just made ready some wonderful new indoor hanging plants for just $14.99 BEFORE the sale!

*All baskets, potting soils, plant stands and pots and saucers are 20% off as well.

*We are continuing to offer shrubs, vines, groundcovers and ornamental grasses at 20% off. Take an extra 10% off when you buy 3 or more.

*Perennials are 30% off.

*Deciduous trees are 50% off; take another 10% when you buy 3 or more!

*Evergreen trees are 20% off!

Do you have plants still outdoors that you need to bring in? We have some natural plant insecticides that you may to pick up to apply to your plants to help take care of any unwanted and hard to see pesky insects or their eggs. My favorite product for this occasion is All Seasons Horticultural Spray made by the Bonide Company and sold right here at Skillin’s. All Seasons® Horticultural Spray Oil kills insect eggs and soft bodied adults by smothering them. It works great indoors or out on aphids, whitefly, mites and scale. The product degrades rapidly and has almost no toxicity. All Seasons includes a spreader/sticker which means that the product adheres very nicely to the plant and that means you don’t have to use excessive amounts. We consider this a very environmentally friendly and effective product.

It can also be a great time to prune back any “wild growth” on your houseplants or to just give your plants a good haircut. Finally, if any of your plants has grown a lot over the summer or you did not get a chance in the Spring, now is often a fine time to repot any houseplants that are crowding the insides of their pots. We have a bunch of shiny new pots in all sizes and designs that will do the job! Let us know if you have any questions!

Or check out our Houseplant Class tomorrow at 9 AM!


Mike Skillin

Friday, September 7, 2007

Skillin's Garden Online Q & A September 12, 2007

Hello again,

We love to get online questions from our Skillin's customers! Here is a sampling of some recent questions and answers we wanted to share with you. If you have any gardening questions, just email us at We always try to answer on a timely basis and if we do include your question and our answer in the Skillin's Garden Log we will keep your name to ourselves. So feel free to shoot us a question anytime!

Question: What do you recommend for weeds? I have a 2 year old Golden retriever who plays with his toys on the lawn and always seems to manage to get a mouthful of grass

Answer: For infestations that are not real severe, now is a great time to apply corn gluten to the lawn. Corn gluten is an all natural product that will lie in the lawn and gel as it gets wet. This gelling action covers any seed lying on the ground and prevents that seed from germinating. Right now there is lots of "tassled" crabgrass out there that is throwing a lot of seed onto the ground. Corn gluten will help limit that as well as other flowering weeds that throw out seed.
In terms of profuse weeds, you could certainly apply Burnout--an all natural herbicide that we sell here at Skillin's. It is very effective in warm weather but it will also burn any lawn that comes into contact with the Burnout.
In my own lawn I do have some serious weed infestation of a few varieties in some areas. For each of the last couple of years I have chosen to use Bayer's All in One Weed Killer. Not a natural product but it works quickly on the weeds and I limit my spraying. My plan is to NOT have to use a product that like too often.
Ongoing I plan on applying regular applications of a natural fertilizer called Nature's Turf by North Country Organics. Nature's Turf is a great fertilizer for our northeast grasses. We recommend two to three regular applications yearly. Nature's Turf will greatly improve the soil your lawn grows in. Your lawn's roots will be much happier and stronger. Strong, happy roots make for a dense lawn that can better withstand cold and drought and a dense lawn will crowd out many weeds!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Gardening Thoughts Sunday September 2, 2007

Hello again,

Folks another beautiful day in Skillin's Country but it is VERY DRY out there. I was lucky enough to be home yesterday and I noticed my very well established Pee Gee Hydrangeas were in a wilt. They are among the first plants to protest when soil conditions are dry and this dryness will not cause winter kill for them but it will cause premature leaf loss and will also hur the flowering of the plant.

So, I brought my garden hose over to the first of my three Pee Gees and set up slightly more than a trickle of water to come out of the hose. I ran the water this way for a good couple of hours down into the root system of the plant. Later in the day it appeared to be much happier. I did the same thing for the other two Pee Gees. So, for established plant material that is looking stressed; IF YOU CAN I would recommend some nice slow waterings for a couple of hours per plant. Nice slow waterings will not run off and also these waterings will not result in a big pool arond the plant that will just evaporate. Your plants roots will thank you!

I gave my rose bushes a nice slow watering a week ago and they are first on the schedule for a good soaking tomorrow.

This morning before I came to work I applied Serenade--a nice natural fungicide sold right here at Skillin's to my upright Phlox and also to my rose bushes. I have been giving both plant varieities weekly sprayings of Serenade early on Sunday mornings while it is still cool. I see lots of mildew on phlox around town but NOT on mine, thanks to the Serenade. And my roses look pretty good too. I will be applying Serenade weekly for the next few weeks to keep those leaves clean and green, especially on the roses.

It is not too late to plant cold weather vegetables! This past week we just received our first shipment of 2008 flower and vegetable seeds from Botanical Interests! (check them out at Peas, lettuces, swiss chard among others can get planted. There is a terrific type of Swiss Chard called Bright Lights that I am going to try to grow in a container. very brightly colored foliage that should be a fun fall look and who knows I might have some nice fresh Swiss Chard for my salad later on this fall!

Speaking of container plantings, I have grown some wonderful plant containers this summer at home. I cannot say enough about our Proven Winner plant material--just tremendous. But the real key I think was the soil. I used the Bar Harbor Blend by Coast of Maine products ( The Bar Harbor Blend is quite simply the best soil I have ever seen and I recommend it highly for all indoor and outdoor containers. I think frequent feeding is key to growing annuals here in short season Maine and I mixed generous portions of Plant Tone by Espoma with the Bar Harbor Blend and also side dressed my plants a couple of times this year with either Plant Tone or its cousin Rose Tone (depending on what I had at home at the time). Finally, when I watered I also used the Fish and Seaweed liquid fertilizer by Neptune's Harvest quite often (and I still will through the Fall, I want to keep these gorgeous flowers gorgeous). I planted my containers late in the growing season but with all that "love" they have really caught up and done great.

As I just wrote I will also plant some Bright Lights Swiss Chard and some Fall Mums soon in containers for a nice fall look. Easy to do and high reward!

Mum's the Word! We have some of the most gorgeous Fall mums I have ever seen grown here! Now is a great time to plant them because they still have time to grow and give you more flowers. Paul Parent gave a nice tip about planting mums this morning on his Sunday morning garden show ( Paul recommended that when you get the plant out of its pot to make an X with a sharp knife into the cluster of roots at the bottom of the root ball. This slicing of the roots will serve as a good root pruning and will help stimulate the roots to send out more root shoots into the ground. These additional roots will help the plant to grow and quite possibly give you more flowers. Our Fall Mums are very tender perennials that most often do not winter over here in Maine. But planting them this early in the season and this root pruning at this early stage may help to improve your chances. Also, like other newly planted material, give the mums a good soaking of water a couple of times a week this fall.

Even though it is very dry out there, now is a great team for lawn work or to put some lawn seed down. More details in a soon upcoming blog!

Check back often at for some great gardening tips and as always shoot us your gardening questions at!

Have a great Labor Day,

Mike Skillin