Thursday, May 15, 2008

Garden Happenings! Week of May 12

Hello again,

Gardening is Happening in Skillin's Country!

In this post we will be letting you know what we are doing or what we hear is going on out there in our local gardening world.

We will be updating this post with quick supplements all through the week!

So check here frequently!

If you would like to contribute just drop us a quick note at OR leave a comment at the end of this post.

We would LOVE any tips OR questions from you.

May 16:

More questions and answers today via email at! We welcome any feedback you may hve to any of our answers!

Question from CM: What kind of evergreen shrubs (small) can I plant out here in Bowdoinham that won’t attract deer? We have a lot of deer around most of the year. I know they love yew, and arborvitae, is there anything they don’t like?

Answer: I am checking out our list of deer resistant shrubs on our online nursery catalog at and I am seeing Colorado Spruce and Dwarf Alberta Spruce . The Albertas stay small. Boxwood is also an idea—that is a small evergreen shrub.

If you need a good deer repellent we usually recommend Liquid Fence and if their directions are followed you need only apply that monthly.

Milorganite is a natural granular fertilizer that also discourages deer.

Question from JR: We purchased a Butterfly Magnolia from you 3 seasons ago. It has had no dead branches and has sent out good growth last year and the year before. Last year there was not a single flower and this year it shows no promise of a flower either. Is there a nutrient requirement for this tree to produce flowers?

Answer: I also have a butterfly magnolia which is alive but has not flowered for the 3 years I have owned it!

Some articles I have read indicate that it definitely can take a few years for the butterfly magnolia to send out flowers. I am going to try a product this year by Organica called Flower Booster which is derived from Sea Kelp. Kelp is an awesome organic supplement for plant material and the kelp will encourage better root development and flower development.

I encourage you to try this product too and let’s see how our butterfly magnolias do. Maybe in another year we can exchange photos of some handsome flowering magnolias.
Question from SB: We had a tough year with our front lawn and wondered what you would suggest for a lawn that has a lot of moss on it and is mostly dead. We are going to put in a new lawn this year by tilling it but wondered what it costs for soil testing to see what it needs for nutrients. We thought we would till it up and mix peat moss with the loam and then lime it but we are not sure what is causing this. Would you have any ideas? Any help would be appreciated.

Answer: Lawns that have moss on it are quite often in very shady situations which makes for a great situation for moss and makes it tough for grass to thrive.

A soil test would be a great idea, we have soil test kits available right here at Skillin’s.

But again, I can guarantee the moss is there because the lawn must be quite shaded. Also lime will do fine with a pH that is acid so it is probably time to lime the lawn.

Can you limb out any low growing tree branches to let in more light? That would be a major help.

I would rake as much moss out as possible and I would recommend treating your lawn with a great natural product called Miracal by Jonathan Green (sold right here at Skillin’s). Miracal is a great source of calcium and calcium is quite often needed very much in our soils. Calcium is a great organic additive to the soil. Regular lime contains a great deal of magnesium which over time tends to compact our soils and moss and weeds do much better in compacted soils than grass.

For grass seed, I definitely recommend Black Beauty Tall Fescue by Jonathan Green. Black Beauty is a deeply rooting tall fescue grass that will carry a nice dark green color. The deep roots that Black Beauty sends out will help your grass very much in its battle against moss (when you have a shady lawn, you will almost always be battling moss to some extent.).

Finally, come see us this summer and we will get you started on Organica’s All Natural Four Step Lawn Program. Your soil is probably very much in need of some solid organic matter that will really help your lawn over time. We feel Organica’s All Natural approach is both easy to use, great for the environment AND will give you a very nice lawn with little monetary and time investment.
May 15:

Lots of questions and answers today via email at and I would like to share some with you today! There will be more Q & A posted tomorrow and I welcome your questions and tips about any answers we give OR any questions that you may have about your garden!

Question from HG: What is wrong if forsythia just blooms at the bottom or not at all?

Answer: Flowering problems with forsythia can often be bad timing on pruning. Flowering shrubs (except for Nikko Blue hydrangea) should be pruned within just a few days after they flower. If you wait too long for any flowering shrubs you may well be pruning new growth that will hold next year’s flowers.

Sometimes too with forsythia, the bottom will flower and not the top if the buds on top of the plant get blasted by cold air at the wrong time (the bottom would be protected by snow cover). But I am not really sure we had those cold conditions that would have battered the forsythia buds like that.

Do you think the pruning timing could have been late in the year?

Followup from HG: We didn’t prune at all. We do live on a hill that is pretty windy when it’s cold. Others on my road look the same as mine.

Answer to Followup: The windy hill could be the problem. Sometimes late winter cold blasts can burn forsythia blossom buds that have expanded as winter weather starts to warm up overall.

It may make sense to prune your forsythia soon and then if you can, wrap the forsythia in burlap next winter OR another idea would be to spray your forsythia with Wilt Pruf on a relatively warm day in late February or March and coat the Wilt Pruf on your forsythia. The Wilt Pruf will give way as the weather warms in April and you should get good blossoming.

Question from KH: My yard is surrounded by woods, and the border has become very messy after years of neglect. Lots of scrub, burrs, and damaging vines. So my sisters and I have been lopping away to prune the trees and clear the undesirables. We're still raking out the debris and leaves. Now I have 2 - 5 feet of bare dirt under the big trees (and fortunately, a big compost pile from the cleanup). This is a long border - probably 100 feet involved. I would like to start planting some ground cover to fill in the bare dirt. I'm not interested in expanding the grassy part of they yard. I'm going to test creeping jenny and white clover. Do you have any other ideas for ground cover that can handle a lot of shade? I don't have much money to spend on this project, so plants that can start from seed or that spread are ideal. I don't mind if it takes a few years - patience is a big part of gardening.

Also, once the leaves drop, will it be impossible to rake the ground cover? Maybe the leaf blower will help.

P.S. Your advice about composting and fertilizing my rhubarb worked like a charm. It is ten times better this spring. I'm watering it more faithfully with a soaker hose. The only problem is that the stalks are a little slim. I may need to divide the patch a little. I bet by next year, it will be back to complete health.

An interesting tidbit - my family has been in this house since 1954. The woods surrounding the house were nothing but tall grass when I was a little girl. My theory (not confirmed) is that when the boys in the neighborhood (including my brothers) grew up and stopped setting grass fires, the trees had a chance to take over. :-)

Answer: I am glad your rhubarb is doing well. Also, the grass fire theory is probably “dead on”.

Ground covers can complicate leaf raking a little. One terrific ground cover for shady spots is called Sweet Woodruff. We sell that in our perennial section for $4.99 per pot. In our nursery section, we sell both pachysandra and vinca—2 great ground covers that can do well in shade or partial shade spots. Vinca is probably easiest to rake leaves out of and our nursery staff can show you that!

Question from AR: I was most interested to read your comments ( See post of 5/14 just below) about Messenger. Does this work to combat (or prevent) blackspot on roses? When we first moved down here we got enough Hansa rugosa roses to make a hedge on our property. We thought that we were getting some roses which would be resistant to blackspot. However, we get blackspot every year from the humidity at the coastline. We have hesitated to use some of the strong chemical products because of the environment etc. So we have had to put up with the blackspot in spite of feeding the roses regularly etc. We will check out the Messenger the next time we are at Skillins if you think this would help us with this problem.

Answer: I highly recommend Messenger for you as black spot disease is just the sort of disease that Messenger helps a rose bush combat. I also sprayed some newly leafed out lilacs that have struggled some in recent years, some upright phlox that is always attacked by powdery mildew and a very struggling Wichita Blue Juniper. I will apply again in 3 weeks and through the season and I am very curious about how the Messenger will work. I have talked with several customers who SWEAR by Messenger.

May 14:

Well, it has been a few weeks since I pruned my rose bushes back to near ground level. Now they are showing some nice healthy growth with many new leaves growing!

Now is the time to spray your roses (and my roses!) with an exciting all natural product named Messenger!

Messenger (sold right here at Skillin’s) is an all natural product (the active ingredient is harpin proteins) that once introduced to the plant fools the plant into thinking it is being attacked by disease and therefore triggers the plants own natural immune defenses. It breaks down quickly and it is environmentally safe—it does not pollute the ground or water.Messenger means stronger roots, increased vigor, stress resistance and increased flowering and fruit set for any plant that it is applied to.

Many of our customers use Messenger for their tomatoes and peppers as well as rose bushes and lilacs as well as fruit trees and other fruit plants like grapes.Messenger should be consistently applied every 3 weeks throughout the growing season.

I also plan to keep the ground around my roses fed monthly with Plant Booster Plus by Organica. This is a new product for Skillin's (but well known in gardening circles). As I have written before, the Organica products excite me because of their patented commitment to including natural microbes and bacteria with their all natural fertilizers. The presence of the natural microbes and bacteria (unique to the Organica products) means for a faster and more efficent breakdown of the natural nutrients found in the product AND a better biological environment for the roots of my plants!

May 13:

Pruning opportunities coming soon!

In most cases, the time to prune MOST flowering shrubs and even trees is within just a few days (SOON) after they flower. Well, if your forsythia is frolicking into wild shapes or your PJM rhododendron is puffing out some crazy growth, PRUNE them just after their flower buds drop. Why so soon?

Well, you DO want to show your plants that you are their boss right? In all seriousness, pruning soon after blossoming is the best time to shape your plant. Plants usually send out all kinds of growth after they flower. By getting your plants in shape before this new growth takes off, you are giving your plants a much better base to start from.

If you wait several weeks after flowering and start cutting lots of new growth that has happened after flowering you may well be cutting off new growth that will produce next year's flowers. This is the most common reason why usual sure bets like forsythia, lilacs, and rhododendrons do not flower--because they get pruned too late.

Also, NEVER prune a Nikko Blue Hydrangea. These shrubs blossom on old growth. Learn to love the shape of your Nikko Blue!

Also, pruning above ground growth sends a signal to your plant's root system to GROW! (This is the way plants are wired. Pruning top and side growth always jump starts a plant's root system).
Remember to clean up what you have pruned and put it into a compost pile. Insects and disease thrive in plant clippings left around the base of your plant.

Let us know if you have any pruning questions!

May 12:

It is time for Skillin's Moisture Meter!

New outdoor plantings (namely trees, shrubs, and perennials) require at least 1” of water per week. This can be provided by a steady soaking rain that provides a total of 1” of rainfall per week (preferably split into 2 or 3 rain events.) A steady soaking rain is a rain that does not pour down “in buckets” (most thundershowers). A steady soaking rain also is not a mere drizzle. The 1” required weekly rainfall can easily be measured by a simple rain gauge (sold right here at Skillin’s).

If we do not get the required 1” of rain in a week then we as gardeners must provide that water in the form of “quality waterings” I define a “quality watering” as a slow soaking of your plant’s roots. Try letting water run slowly out of a watering can or the end of your hose into each plant’s root system or use a soaker hose for several hours twice a week. If you are not using a soaker hose pause on your watering if the water starts to “run off”; let the water soak in and then begin to water again. Repeat this process several times and move onto the next plant. For larger trees and shrubs (and if you do not have a soaker hose) merely set a hose against the tree or shrub for at least 15 to 20 minutes and let the water almost trickle into the ground and down into the plant’s root system. Again if there is runoff, pause and let the water soak in.

This Past Week: We have received no rain this week and even though we received much rain in prior weeks it is crucial that your newly planted material receive their quality waterings as we describe above.


This Week’s Moisture Meter Readings:
Quality rain (0).

Quality waterings required by you this past week: (2).

If you have met the quality watering requirement for this past week, congratulations! If not, pay careful attention this coming week and beyond and make sure that your new plants get those required quality waterings!

Let us know if you have any watering questions.


parlormaple said...

hi...I have a question on watering transplanted lilac much water and how often should this be done..I had 2 large (approx 10 -12 feet tall) lilac trees given to me a week ago that were dug up from someone's yard that did not want them..thanks for your help

Mike Skillin, Skillin's Greenhouses said...

Parlor Maple;

You will want to supply them with two good quality waterings per week. I would let water slowly run out of my garden hose down into the root system of the plant for about 20 minutes per time TWICE per week through the summer and even through September. Run the water slowly enough so there is no runoff from your lilacs; you want the water to seep slowly into the ground.

Get yourself a simple rain gauge. Every 1/2" of rain (thunder storms do NOT count) counts as one quality watering. SO, one full inch of gentle rain per week will mean you do not have to water for a few days.

Let us know if you have any more gardening questions!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses