Monday, March 10, 2008

Garden Talks March 10, 2008

Hello again,

I have a short week at home this week as I am headed out on business for a couple of days at the end of this week and into the weekend. Before I leave, I want to get to you a few gardening tips which are appropriate for this time of year.

I actually stopped at a few web sites and saw some good information that I will pass onto you.

My first stop was at the P. Allen Smith website. P. Allen of course is a national gardening celebrity. Much of his advice does not pertain to us northeast gardeners but I do check him regularly to get a few sound points.

P. Allen just released a very good and very quick and easy to follow video on dormant oil spraying. Now is a great time to apply natural dormant oil spray to woody plant material (especially fruit and flowering trees) to help control overwintering insects and diseases that inhibit fruit and flowering production in the summer. We sell some very effective natural dormant oil sprays by the Bonide Company and would love to recommend the best product for you. The video can be found at and as I said is quick and easy to understand. You should be able to cut and paste the address I just noted above right into your web browser.

Recently, we have spent some time in the Garden Log talking about seed starting (The ABC’s of Seed Starting ) and I also recently sent out an email to folks on our email list detailing some common seed starting times.

P. Allen makes some excellent points about some problems that can be encountered in seed starting and even better comes us with some great solutions:

Even under the best circumstances, you might run into a few problems. Here's a list of a common symptoms and the corrective measures you can take to solve them.

Symptom: Spindly or Leggy GrowthCauses: Low light, too much water, excessively warm temperatures, over fertilization, crowded plants.

Corrective Measures: Some seeds will germinate without much light, but seedlings need bright light. Use grow lights if a sunny window is not available. Position the lights 4 inches above the seed tray and leave the lights on for 16 hours a day. Don’t forget to raise the lights as the seedlings grow taller.

Provide an air temperature of 70 to 75 degrees during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65 degrees.

Soil should be kept consistently moist, but not soggy. Mist with a spray bottle or water from the bottom up by placing the containers in a pan filled with 1 inch of warm water. Once the soil is moist, remove the seed pots from the pan.

Wait until seedlings have produced their first set of true leaves to fertilize. This is actually the second set of leaves that emerge. Use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Feed once a week.

Sow seeds and thin seedlings according to the packet instructions to prevent overcrowding.

Symptom: Dwarf Plants

Causes: Low fertility.

Corrective Measures: Because there is so little soil, nutrient levels are hard to maintain. As mentioned above, feed with a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength after the first set of true leaves emerge. Feed once a week.

Some seed starting soil mixtures contain nutrients such as Mycorrhizae, a naturally occurring fungus that promotes strong root development.

Symptom: Decay or rotting of the stems of young plants near the soil surface.

Causes: Damping-off. Disease organisms attack germinating seeds and young plants, especially during prolonged cloudy weather.

Corrective Measures: Use a sterile soil-mix designed for seed starting.Mound the soil in the container so that it is flush with the edge of the pot. This will allow air flow across the surface of the soil.

Symptom: Wilting followed by death of the seedling. Tiny insects hovering around soil.

Causes: Fungus gnat larvae will feed on the roots of the seedlings. Adult fungus gnats are those pesky, small flying insects that hover around potting soil. They are attracted to moist potting soils that have a high organic content.

Corrective Measures: Use a well draining potting soil.If you see the adult gnats, cut back on water to make the soil less attractive to the adult female gnat. You don't need to stop watering completely, just allow the soil to dry out between watering.

Placing a moist slice of potato on top of the soil will attract the larvae. Throw out the potato slice to get rid of the larvae .

Next I stopped by the website for Plants Unlimited owned and operated by Hammond Buck near the Camden Rockport area. The folks at Plants Unlimited reminded me of several good gardening "ought to do's" for this time of year that I will pass onto you:

"If you are tired of the 'same old' annuals that you've been planting year after year, why not plan a 'new look' in your garden. Now is a good time to sketch out your annual beds and decide what plants you'll need to enliven the color and perhaps even be less care. Be careful of the spacing of plants that you choose in your plan. Know the mature size of each variety because, in our experience, many people actually buy more plants than needed! A great annual gardening resource? Proven Winners!" We sell Proven Winners and they not only have great plants, their web site is a terrific resource.

"If you have overwintered tropical plants like bougainvillea, hibiscus or mandevilla or annuals like geraniums in your basement, take a peek at them today. Check the plants for any signs of green buds and the soil for moisture. If the soil is dry, water them lightly. Then start to bring these plants into a warmer and sunnier location. It's time to get them sprouting for spring! If you don't have enough sunny windows, use fluorescent grow lights." Great advice for right now! Spring is coming folks. We sell easy to use grow lights if you do need more light. I also would recommend applying a feeding of all natural and tremendously beneficial Plant Booster Plus by Organica to the soil of each plant. Future waterings will bring some very beneficial nutrients and microbes to your soil. Plant Booster Plus is going to be the natural fertilizer choice of many of us at Skillin's this Spring! Check out for more details about this awesome product sold right here at Skillin's!

"If you grow grapes, it's time to aggressively attack your vines with loppers and pruners while the vines are still dormant. You do this to keep the vines healthier, bear the best tasting fruit and keep the grape harvest within reach. Cut off at least three-quarters of last seasons growth, pruning all the way back to a handful of buds per cane. It's harsh pruning but it bears results in the fall!" Perfect grape advice. Remember with pruning, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind! (Kind of like raising kids!)

As always, let us know if you have any garden questions or comments by commenting below OR by dropping us a note at!


Mike Skillin

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