Thursday, April 30, 2009

Garden Happenings! Week of April 27

Hello again,

Gardening is Happening in Skillin's Country!

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

I 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!

Barbara Gardener checks in this week with:
"This is a garden of leftovers. Didn't have room to plant them with the rest of the family. Sort of a combination of perennials and annuals. Maybe when they come up I can find a better place to transfer them . If not that's tough! The perennials looked pretty happy where they were. One lily leftover looks a little lonely by itself.

I planted the miniature roses yesterday. Had to get it done. If they don't make it, I'll be back!"
That is a great example of assorted plants that the talented Ms. Gardener has put together. It is a "mid summer" photo but I thought I would include it just to show where we are headed!
The miniature roses Barbara is referring to are some gorgeous specimens she bought here a couple of weeks back. I love miniature roses. They grow well in the house OR are very dependable as little tiny outdoor shrubs. Just beautiful!
May 2:
What a beautiful sunny day! Good birding friend Liz Cardinale called me and wants to let you all know that the Baltimore Orioles birds have arrived; so keep your eyes peeled for them.
Also, now is the time to get hummingbird feeders set up with clean water and nectar. The hummingbirds should be arriving very shortly and having them buzz around the garden is one of the joys of our season. We sell all the supplies you need here at Skillin's for hummingbird success: great choices of feeders and just the right nectar!
April 30:
Okay so where did April go anyway? My goodness...Walking around the yard this morning before I came to work I could not help but be pleased to see from fresh grass seed germination from some late fall grass seed planting I did with my favorite Black Beauty grass seed from Jonathan Green and some covering with the compressed paper pellets called Grass Seed Accelerator. (Both products sold right here at Skillin's and both products make an effective duo for good hardy, yet very attractive rich green grass.)
The Black Beauty grass seed is a Tall Fescue and sets deep roots into the ground. These deep roots have meant for great winter survival in some areas that I for years have had NO LUCK with (the strip beside the busy road I live on and a back yard area that has been plagued by so so soil). These "deep roots" go quite deeper than most other grass seed mixes and mean for much less watering needs. How "green" is that?
Jonathan Green's Black Beauty Tall Fescue grass seed. I HIGHLY recommend it! For more info about this great product click!
April 29:
Have you noticed all the beautiful flowering daffodils right now? Some people's yards are almost ablaze with yellows and whites right now. Make a note: we have the best quality bulbs here at Skillin's and we will have some great choices for you next September and October to plant then.
In the meantime, now is a great time to get some good natural fertilizer (think Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica) sprinkled around your bulbs. As the foliage starts to fade, the bulbs will be pulling nutrients from the foliage back into the bulbs so they can grow a little bigger and stronger (more flowers for next year!). The bulbs will use the nutrients you provide for better growth. I try to sprinkle some fertilizer now and also a little bit more in the fall to keep a good steady supply of natural nutrients going into the soil. After all for good plants, it is all about the soil!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carrots! Radishes! Swiss Chard!

As many of you know by now, one of my most trusted sources for this newsletter is the book titled "Crockett’s Victory Garden" authored by James Underwood Crockett who was also the original host of the PBS gardening show by the same name. Mr. Crockett wrote this book in the late 1970’s so I will make a couple of interjections regarding some products we carry that may not have existed at that time. That being said, his writing style is clear, concise and very straightforward. His subject matter is organized “calendar style” just as we try to live our lives. He writes in a way that both the beginning and intermediate gardener can understand. I find what he has to say very helpful and I hope you do too. For this edition of Garden Talks Online, I have pulled articles on carrots, radishes and swiss chard. Here is what he writes:

Carrots: Many seed catalogues don’t mention this, but the long, slender carrot varieties produced by commercial growers require a soil so soft, deep, and smooth that they are all but impossible for many home gardeners to grow. In the Victory Garden, where the soil contains not only rocks but impervious blue clay, it would be folly even to try these varieties. Instead, I plant one of the solid, chunky, blunt-tipped carrot varieties of the type known as Half-long. These stubbier varieties are every bit as tender and tasty as the longer ones.

Carrots can be sown as early in the spring as the soil can be worked, which, in this garden, is March or April. I dig the soil over, the full depth of the spading fork – at least 8 inches – loosening it and removing any rocks bigger than 1 inch in diameter. Then I work 5-10-5 fertilizer (5 pounds to 100 square feet) (we at Skillin’s recommend Pro Gro 5-3-4 or Plant Tone by Espoma as a better choice) into the top 4 or 5 inches of soil. After raking, the soil’s ready for planting, but as an added precaution against compacting the soil I lay long boards between the rows to distribute my weight as I work. (I leave these boards here for the entire growing season.) (You can also place some flat stones in strategic places for stepping in your garden. I don’t know about you but I have plenty of stones I am always pulling out of the ground!)

I sprinkle the seeds into a ½ inch furrow, or “drill” in garden terminology, trying to space them every ½ to ¼ inch or so. This is no mean task. The seeds are tiny and they cling to everything, including my hands. It’s well worth the effort to space them carefully, though, as this cuts down on the thinning operation, which can be arduous.

There won’t be a sign of these carrots for at least three weeks, but there certainly will be weeds. So I sow a few radish seeds in the furrow right along with the carrot seeds. The radishes will be up in a week, identifying the carrot row so I won’t pull the young carrots as I weed. About a week after the carrot tops break through the soil, the radishes will be ready for harvest. (This is a great tip by Mr. Crockett!)

Radishes: One of my favorite viewer letters came from a would-be gardener who confessed that while radishes were known to be “absolutely foolproof,” hers had failed miserably. Radishes are not that easy. For one thing, they need at least 6 hours of sunshine a day or they’ll make all tops and no bottoms. For another, like peas and spinach, they do best in the cool bright days of early spring and fall. The midsummer crops are often hotter than firecrackers. But unfortunately on those cool bright days of spring there lurks in the soil the dreaded root maggot, which will chomp its way through the radish crop, leaving the tender roots scarred and tunneled. So whoever started the rumor that radishes are a cinch had full sunshine, cool days, and no maggots.

I plant my first sowing of radishes in the open garden in April, though I usually plant some in March in the hotbed or cloche. First I work a handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer )(again we would now recommend Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Plant Tone by Espoma) into the soil that I limed and “manured” the previous fall. I sow the seeds in a ½ inch deep furrow about ½ inch apart along a 5-foot row. (Radishes are at peak flavor for such a brief time that I never plant more than I can use.) Then I keep my fingers crossed and hope. With luck I’ll have radishes in 25 to 30 days. To have tender radishes most of the summer and fall I plant successive crops every week or so except during June and July.

The following vegetable—swiss chard—is not always a popular vegetable but is an outstanding “green” that is easy to grow here in the Northeast:

Swiss Chard: Swiss chard is part of the beet family, but it’s grown for its succulent, vitamin-rich greens rather than for its roots. With just minimum attention throughout the summer, it will have a long, productive life: as the plant matures, I harvest the outer leaves and allow the crown and roots to stay in the ground, where they will continue to produce new growth until the ground freezes. In some of the warmer parts of the country, Swiss chard will even last the winter, producing new growth until spring. Then the plant, which is a biennial, sends up a flower stalk. So no matter where you live, you have to make a new planting of Swiss chard each year.

I sow the seeds directly into a 1/2-inch-deep furrow, dropping a pinch at 12-inch intervals. Late this month when the young plants grow to about 1 inch tall, I’ll sacrifice all but the most vigorous seedling at each spacing. If I want more plants I can transplant the pulled seedlings to another spot in the garden.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vegetables the Quick, Dirty Way

The following is a reprint from a great article published Sunday April 26 by the Maine Sunday Telegram (found regularly at . The writer of the article is Tom Atwell who writes a weekly column in the Sunday Telegram called "Maine Gardener". Tom does a great job every week and is a true friend of gardeners and garden centers in Maine.

David Buchanan is a major contributor to the article and he and David Mahaney recently taught a wildly successful vegetable gardening class at Skillin's Falmouth. I think his advice is terrific. Good gardening friend David Kuchta (lots of Davids here) has a different take on David B's take about raised beds and I have included his take at the tail end of this post. David Kuchta blogs daily about gardening at and I recommend that you check out his blog frequently. Thanks to all the Davids and to Tom Atwell for all you do for us gardeners in Maine.

"Everybody seems to be talking about vegetable gardening this year. Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden at the White House. The demand for community-gardening plots is strong. Seed companies are reporting big increases in sales of vegetable seeds.

With all of this new interest, new gardeners need enough information to do the job right. I write a lot about Nancy and me growing vegetables in our garden, and sometimes about growing specific vegetables at home.

But after some reflection, I realized that I had never written a basic column on how to create a vegetable garden.

Instead of writing off the top of my head, I decided to attend a "Grow Your Own Organic Garden" class sponsored by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. About 40 classes were held statewide on April 1, and they proved highly popular.

The class, held at Turkey Hill Farm in Cape Elizabeth, was taught by David Buchanan. Buchanan managed Turkey Hill Farm last year, is one of the organizers of Slow Food Portland, and is a designer with Stillman Land Restoration and Design.

"Light is the key to any new garden," Buchanan said. "Light and soil."

Your garden plot should receive seven to eight hours of sunlight every day, especially to grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, Buchanan said. For greens, such as lettuce and beets, you can cut it back to five or six hours. Root crops are somewhere in the middle.

"But as you lessen the light, you weaken the vigor of the plant," he said.

If you have several places with enough light, Buchanan suggests picking the one that is most convenient to the kitchen. "You want to get from your kitchen to your garden with minimal time, effort and clothing," he said.

If you are a new gardener, start small. Buchanan suggests a beginner's garden should be 10 feet by 10 feet. If you try to do more the first year, you can become overwhelmed and give up. And by planting closely together, you can get a lot of food from a 10-by-10 garden. If you do a good job with that garden, next year you can expand.

Removing sod is one of the first steps in creating a garden. Don't just till in the sod, because a tiller goes only 3 or 4 inches deep and the grass will keep resprouting through the year. The best method of getting rid of grass is starting a year earlier, covering the grass with a layer of newspaper six sheets deep, and putting mulch on top of that. If you didn't think to kill the sod last year, you are going to have to lift it this year.

Buchanan does not like raised beds. He said pressure-treated wood should not be used near vegetables, and creating raised beds is a lot of work.

The layout of the garden is up to you. You don't have to use the typical rows favored by commercial gardeners. Buchanan favors planting zones about 30 inches wide. You can plant several rows in that 30-inch space or put in groups of plants without any thoughts of rows. The 30-inch width is easy to reach from both sides for planting, weeding and harvesting.
You can companion plant in the garden. Buchanan suggests putting basil and tomatoes together because you can keep cutting the basil throughout the season and it does not get in the way of the tomatoes.

When you start a garden, sandy soil is better than clay. Clay is really difficult to break down, and it prevents the roots of plants from getting needed oxygen and moisture. Also, it's difficult to mix in compost with the clay. If all you have is clay, bring in a lot of compost – so you have a layer about 6 inches deep – and plant in that.

"Sand is a much better place to start," Buchanan said. "You just keep on adding organic material."

Buchanan believes in working the soil as little as possible. He uses a spading fork and a broad fork, which is similar to the U-bar that we use on our garden, to loosen the soil for planting and mixing in compost. If you work the soil too much, it breaks down the structure. Although it looks fluffy after it has been worked, it will get too compact when the rain and foot traffic come.
Buchanan said the theory of organic gardens is that healthy plants will be able to fight off pests with little assistance. He noted that soil is a living thing, and that the living organisms in the soil feed the plants. That is one of the reasons organic gardeners do not use chemical pesticides, although they do use organic products such soaps and oils.

Buchanan also believes that you should weed often and quickly, just running a hoe around your vegetables to disrupt the weeds when they are small.

That does less harm to the soil and plants than weeding when the weeds get larger, and it takes a lot less time.

Watering should be done only when the soil has gone dry, and then it should be done for a long time, so the water goes deeply into the soil, promoting deeper root growth."

From Daivd Kuchta:

"Another very good article that I enjoyed reading. As a Skillin's Greenhouse employee, I've often referred our customers to your columns. I
especially appreciate your promotion of organic options in the garden.
But I should note the ease and benefits of raised beds: I built mine in about half a day, at very low cost and minimal tools. The benefits of raised beds are: they allow you to control the soil, which is especially good for areas with poor or contaminated soil; there is no digging and less stooping, which makes them great for kids and those with limited mobility; there are fewer pests; and raised beds warm up more quickly in the Spring, so you can begin planting a little earlier.
There are many online tips on how to build a raised bed, but I wrote one on the Skillins Greenhouse blog at:"

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 28, 2009

KCB Minding Your P's

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

Allow me to introduce you to the Ps of Gardening: Plan, Prepare, Purchase, Plant. As the season progresses a 5th P will be included, Provide.

We will visit 2 of the Ps today!

I recently met with 2 different gardeners that had the same problem, their gardens just were ‘not doing anything’ for them. In each case these individuals loved to garden, have been doing so for a long time. One of these landscapes is entering its 6th summer, the other has been reformatted more times than I use to change my hair style. I was flattered each gardener asked that I coach them to improve their landscapes. So what was the problem? Impulsive purchases, sporadic planning, soil conditions or sunlight not appropriate for the plant. I can relate as this was so me. And it could be again in another time, another place. But Now is Now. We want to spend wisely.


How do you want to use your out door living space:
g Recreation
g Relaxing & Reflecting
g Dining & Entertaining
g All of the above by creating different ‘rooms’.

Determine a Budget
Envision a theme:

g Attracting butterflies, birds and other wildlife
g Moon Garden
g Waves of color or monochromatic
g Create your own theme such as a sea of succulents. A garden of grasses. Plethora of peonies.

Visit your favorite locally owned garden center; ask questions, explore, pick-up their catalogs.
Read the catalogs; they are one of my best resources when planning my purchases. A wealth of information is free for the taking from catalogs.
Make a list of desirable plants appropriate to your theme and or conditions.

PREPARE: The #1 and #2 P’s are the ping pong p’s as they fling back and forth.


Do a Soil test. All the feeding, watering and assorted “TLC” just won’t work if the base is not good. Our area tends to have acidic soil yet we can not assume that may be your scenario. pH is one thing but other nutrients must be present to produce healthy plants. This goes double if growing vegetables. Feed the soil, not the plant.

The results of your soil test most likely will determine that some amending is necessary. If you opted to test your soil utilizing the University of Maine’s resources ( your results will include what elements are needed. Feel free to discuss results and specific products with the staff at your garden center. There are several great products available. As with any product, apply per manufactures directions. Work the amendments into the soil prior to planting.


Have them sharpened or purchase new. Unless you have 2 of everything you don’t want to go a day without pruners or a sharpened spade. Make sure your gloves are in good condition or again buy new. Mud gloves are especially needed this time of year. With tools and gloves, you usually get what you pay for. You don’t have to purchase the most expensive but make sure they are well made, many manufactures offer guarantees.


Ease into your garden routine by stretching and walking.

Revisit the plan. Do your plant choices meet with your predominant soil type, available sun light, drainage or other conditions. Are they within your budget? If not, revisit what it was you liked about the plant, shrub or tree. Often a substitute can be found. Think palette not plant if it is the color of spiky lavender and not necessarily the scent. Lavender doesn’t always make it through our harsh winters in some areas. Russian Sage offers it’s own, though different, fragrance but the look is strikingly similar.

Again with the plan, make a list BEFORE you venture out.

I equate plant shopping to grocery shopping when hungry-we want it all!. When grocery shopping, no list usually means you forget something, usually the least glamorous yet crucial item (toilet paper) purchased more than you should have (now you have 4 bottles of that extra spicy hot sauce only you can tolerate). In these days when every penny really counts, a plan will save you $ and time.

I almost titled this piece, the year of serious gardening. This does not mean landscapes must be severe or dour. Perhaps the more whimsical the better. What it will be is a year we rethink our landscapes. We will make an effort to get the most out of what we have. Perhaps dividing and/or transplanting will off better results. Adding new plants and other well thought out finishing touches such as statuary, a boulder or three is what is needed. Liberally sprinkle sea glass, include containers, with or without plantings, a garden gate sans fence, a bench, a gazing ball. Bring the inside out to reflect your self. Or go against type but not the elements.

The next 2 Ps, Purchase & Plant will take center stage as we get closer to their time. If you really do have the purchasing bug, knock yourself out with pansies….

Ah……… is spring! Almost time for planting peas, not to late to mind your P’s!

Timely tips:

It is a great time to clean around your plants. Clear away the mulch that served as a winter protection as well as removing any other winter coverings.

While walking in your beds, especially when the ground is wet, be on the look out for tender seedlings or sprouts. Wet soil may be great for weeding but can wreak havoc on tender plants that can easily be stepped upon, especially in unsure footing. Think about adding stepping stones between plants in larger beds. They need not be a focal point and can be quite random. This gives you a place to step while working your gardens.

Be patient. A trait we gardeners have all but given up this time of year. Do not cut back your more tender perennials. The lavender may look all woody and dead. To cut it back now will surely do it in! Do cut back Ornamental Grasses, Sedum, Echinacea or perennials left for winter interest.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 28, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Garden Happenings! Week of April 20

Hello again,

Gardening is Happening in Skillin's Country!

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

I 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!
Thanks to good gardening friend Barbara Gardener for the above photo of some lovely zinnias and red salvia. Happy days are here again; beautiful flowers like that are just what we are headed for!
April 26:
Customer PB had a good question about greening up junipers:
Our Blue Rug Junipers have been in about 10 years. Now, this spring, the main stems are brown with some green only on the tips. Rather ugly looking. Would it be advisable to cut them back to the crown so they could grow again? Or what else to get some green growth from the center out?
Our answer:
I would cut them back to rejuvenate some growth. I do not think I would go all the way back to the crown though; try to leave a few inches of growth from the crown.

Also if you have not done so, NOW is a great time to apply Holly Tone by Espoma to the soil around your junipers. Evergreens need a good “kick” of nutrients and Holly Tone can keep that supply of nutrients going along. Try to apply Holly Tone twice yearly to keep your soil happy!

Speaking of the soil are the Blue Rugs near a walkway or the road? If so, road salt could be causing the browning (road salt is a frequent cause of browning of junipers). If you think this is the case you may want to consider applying some Fast Acting Gypsum to the soil to counteract the effects of the salt.

Both the Holly Tone and Gypsum are sold right here at Skillin’s!
April 25:
Customer DBK had a good question about rhododendrons:
Some but not all of our Rhododendron bushes have dead tops to the limbs. Was that caused by the winter winds and should we prune those back to the green healthy part of the limb?
Our answer:
I think you are right on there. The tops can get really bitten by the wind and cold and this winter had plenty of both. I would prune back to the green healthy part. If you think that you are pruning off some buds that will blossom then perhaps you want to hold off pruning those but my hunch is that the growth you are writing about does not have any buds.
I also have some dead stems on the top of my Endless Summer Blue Hydrangea that need pruning down to some live growth. I don't like to aggressively prune my Endless Summer but some slight pruning is clearly in order.
Driving around on some deliveries I see other shrubs that are in that kind "of shape" so get those pruners going and get some "snipping" happening.
Let us know at if you have any gardening questions that we can answer for you!

April 24:
My roses are starting to burst with growth. As soon as some leaves develop I am going to start my spray program with Messenger. Click Roses by Sheliah! for a past post on roses and how well all natural Messenger works for them!
I am hoping to get some time before work tomorrow morning to get a new vegetable gardening area built up. My father and I pruned a lot of tall trees back in my back yard and I have more sunshine to work with.
Thanks to an old compost pile and plenty of earthworms I should have some nice compost to work with!

April 23:

While driving around Skillin's Country doing some floral deliveries, I cannot help but notice that our lawns are starting to get green and lush! If you have not done so, now is a great time to finish raking your lawn. A good vigorous lawn raking is a great way to get out dead and dying grass so that light and air can get down into the blades of your grass and thus make way for new growth!

It won't be long but soon we will be hearing the sounds of lawn mowers. It is too tempting BUT don't cut your grass too short. A lawn with some height is a very effective way to discourage the growth of pesky grass weeds!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses

Friday, April 17, 2009

KCB Assessing Winter’s Damage Or How to change Doom and Gloom to Groom and Bloom

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

Today the temperature they say will hit 70 in some parts of the Greater Portland and surrounding areas. I can attest that it was 80 ° in my part of Portland. The part that is my attic apartment. A far cry from the ocean breezes that would filter through my former apartment. Nevertheless, I opened all the skylights and my one actual window. A CD that incorporates classical music such as Bach and Pachelbel with the sounds of the ocean almost has me believing that….. Who am I kidding? One can try, can’t they.

The season of spring is truly a time to look forward. It is a time of rebirth, regrowth and rejuvenation. It is exactly what I should be doing. This is also the time of the year that gardeners will check their landscapes for any damage that the past winter may have brought about.

Broken limbs, split and even downed trees litter lawns. A visit to one of my clients unveiled a Rhododendron that will be 1/3 of it’s former self once I prune away the broken branches. Another client said good-bye to an Oak Tree that stood it’s ground when that particular part of Falmouth consisted of a Salt-water Farm or two. It is sad to see it go, better the tree than the house my client quipped. It had never been the same since THE Ice Storm of ’98. Suffered again during the Patriot Day Storm 9 years later. As gardeners we say good-bye to lavender that we pampered only to vanquish in a snow less frigid winter. Peonies that survived generations can be lost when excessive spring rains bring about flooded conditions. As long as we are not physically damaged, our houses remain intact, we can replant. We roll up our sleeves, amend our soil, edge, plant, prune and persevere.

I have 2 more client’s landscapes to visit this week. My first order of the day will be to walk the property to assess any winter’s damage. Even when my client indicates that they made it thru the winter without loosing a branch, my inspection goes deeper. When something is lost, I am not filled with dread but hope. I consider it my Groom and Bloom take on the Doom and Gloom that is often touted by news bites from the media.

This season I have suffered some winters damage of my own. I have always felt more than blessed by my client base. It is more than just a living for me, it is a way to give back. To offer beauty. I will say good-bye to some of my clients this year for reasons that are what they are. Lifestyle changes, relocations, even the economy. As with the weather, I have no control. All I can do is roll up my sleeves amend what I must, plant myself where I can and persevere. I will allow myself to access winter’s damage one last time. Then on to groom and bloom. How about you?

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 17, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fertilizer Choices! Natural is Best!

Following is a quick outline of some of the basic fertilizers we sell and how these fertilizers will work to improve your soil and ultimately your plant's performance.

Now is a great time to fertilize your trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns. When these plants “awaken” from their winter slumber, they are starving for nutrients. What do you use for fertilizing? We at Skillin’s pride ourselves on our wide selection. And different situations do call for different remedies. However, we have 2 types of fertilizers that we recommend frequently for situations which are not dire, but when a seasonal supply of nutrients is in order. It is important to note that your soil should be tested once per year for pH and nutrients. (We sell easy to use and inexpensive soil test kits here at Skillin’s). These “once a year” soil tests will provide a good barometer over time of the needs of your soil.

The first types of fertilizers are of an all purpose nature and we offer many outstanding choices here at Skillin’s. Our old standby is called Pro-Gro. It is a totally natural fertilizer (manufactured by North Country Organics in Vermont) and is a wonderful food for all-purpose situations. For many years I have used Pro-Gro twice yearly on my deciduous shrubs and trees, and perennials. A natural fertilizer like Pro-Gro BETTERS YOUR SOIL. A better quality soil results in deeper root growth for your plants. Deeper root growth means larger plants and also plants and lawns that can better withstand cold winters and dry summers as plants thrive best in soil that is well draining and rich in organic matter. There is some immediate nutrient flow to the plant but the effects of using a fertilizer like Pro-Gro twice a year are of a long-term nature. The benefit takes a little time to show but your plants will be healthier and happier for a long period of time. In recent years, Espoma has very much improved their Plant Tone formulation by adding natural microbes and many people like that fertilizer. Organica produces Plant Booster Plus which I used for the first time in 2008 and I was very pleased with the results. Plant Booster Plus contains patented soil microbes and is I think a cutting edge product by a cutting edge company. All of these fertilizers are good steady soil additives but the microbial emphasis in Plant Booster Plus made it my choice in 2008 and I will probably use it again this year although for all purpose use, you cannot go wrong with Pro Gro, Plant Tone or Plant Booster Plus.

The second fertilizer is called Holly-Tone. Holly-Tone is also a natural fertilizer (manufactured by the Espoma Corporation) but is geared toward acid loving plant material (such as evergreens—pine, fir, spruce, rhodys, azaleas, and hollies are common examples). The same long-term attributes that apply to Pro-Gro also apply to Holly Tone.
Again we generally recommend two applications per year. However, it is important that your garden and lawn soil should be given a soil test annually.

What to feed the lawn? I am a firm believer in the all natural Organica Four Step Lawn Program that we highlight by clicking Organica's All Natural Four Step Lawn Program at the Skillin’s Garden Log. Organica's Four Step Program Lawn Program is a back to basics approach to plant management designed to revitalize soil biology and provide a foundation for healthy turf growth. The establishment of beneficial microbial populations is the key to creating a healthy soil environment. Organica's "Natural Lawn Program" is designed to reestablish beneficial microbial populations and provide the soil with the necessary components to promote healthy controlled growth and reduce plant stress. Your lawn will thank you and thank you!

How about vegetable gardens? Any of the all purpose choices will work although I find that Espoma's Garden Tone is high in calcium which is essential for good tomato growth!

As always if you have any questions or need any advice please contact us at any Skillin’s location or email us at!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 15, 2009

Vegetable Container Gardening

Vegetables can safely, easily and efficiently be grown in almost any container or plant pot that will hold the soil needed to grow the plant. I have successfully grown vegetables in “pots” for several years. I love to garden the “traditional way” but frankly I work many, many hours, I have a family and all of life’s errands to run. I do not have time to maintain a successful large vegetable garden at this point in my life.

BUT I want to grow vegetables because I love and value the fresh taste of my favorite home grown veggies, I love “local” pursuits and you can’t get any more local than growing your own food, I love to be outdoors in the summer and finally I do love to do something that connects me with my own childhood AND some of the activities my parents and grandparents did because they really kind of needed to grow some of their own food

The first and absolute most important need for successful vegetable container gardening is clearly sun. Most vegetables need FULL SUN to grow well and by full sun I mean at least 6 hours (preferably more) of full sun each day. One of the benefits of container gardening is that you can generally easily move your containers from one spot to another so that they get their full day of sun.

The second need is SPACE. Less (plants) will mean more (harvest)! By the end of the growing season one plant of many of the vegetable varieties will have grown thoroughly into all most any pot you can conceive. For best growth for instance one tomato plant of almost any variety should be given a home in about a 12” or more pot. By the end of the season the roots of the plant will almost fill the pot.

Space is also needed to counter overcrowding that inhibits light and air circulation. Many vegetables are prone to disease and leaf spotting if their foliage does not get enough air circulation. To compound problems, rain or overhead watering of crowded plants means the leaves can stay too wet too long in a sunny hot environment and this “rain forest scenario” can be a perfect incubator for leaf and fruit spot and disease. So, good space that allows for light and air circulation is important.

I would definitely recommend Bar Harbor Blend Potting Soil by Coast of Maine as THE SOIL of choice for containers. It is locally produced and we need to use all the local products we can BUT good news--it is not expensive AND it is the BEST quality potting soil I have ever used. I highly recommend it. Also I highly recommend aggressively using the Fish and Seaweed fertilizer (Neptune’s Harvest brand is my favorite—produced in northern Massachusetts, only 100 miles from here) when you water the containers early on in the season. This gets your plants off to a fast start NATURALLY and strengthens the roots for a good flowering or vegetable season. This is still Maine and still a short season so I don't think you can fertilize your containers too much as long as you do it naturally. Finally, I deposit at least two Plant Tablets by Organica into each container every month. Once I stop using the Fish and Seaweed food (after the first month) the broken down Plant Tablets give the roots of the plant all kinds of food and good natural bacteria.I grew some very nice vegetables this season in my containers. Full sun is needed and I was able to place some on the top of my paved driveway so my fall (or second) plantings still stayed warm for awhile. I would make sure your FALL CONTAINERS (use peas, even beans, carrots really try anything) should be planted by seed by the first week of August. The air gets pretty cold in September even when the containers are on the warm pavement so it is nice to have the plants pretty well grown by then.

DRAINAGE is very important; make sure your containers have at least one hole in the bottom (if one hole about 1” in diameter) to let excess water out. By the middle to end of the season your containers may need daily waterings to accommodate all the root growth. When you do water really soak your containers so the roots get plenty of water; but at this point there should be all kinds of water gushing out of the bottom of the pot.

How about vegetables that like to “run” or send vines out? I grew some great pickle sized cucumbers last summer by planting just one seedling in a 16” pot and then plunging a metal 6’ trellis behind my pot. For a few weeks, we got some nice pickle sized cukes (which I think make a great size for eating!). Want more cukes? Plant another pot and set up another trellis! Twice as many pots gives you twice as many cukes! Easy math and easy to do!

For tomatoes try the Topsy Turvy Tomato planter and hang your tomatoes upside down off a Shepherd’s Hook in the sun! Check out for how this neat product works! (We sell the Topsy Turvy right here at Skillin’s!) Or plant a patio tomato or something yummy like a Sun Gold tomato in a large pot with a tomato spiral hammered through the soil and through the hole in the bottom of the pot down into the ground. Your pot is anchored by the Tomato Spiral AND you don’t have to tie tomatoes to the Tomato Spiral. Just keep the tomato coming up straight through the spiral!

As I write this it is still early Spring. Almost all vegetables can be started indoors now ( I love the biodegradable Cow Pots that we sell here at Skillin’s for early starting of plants. The Cow Pots are EASILY transplantable into large summer pots). This early start will mean bigger plants and a better harvest earlier. Have some favorites? Start some now indoors and THEN grow a second crop in a few weeks to “stage” or “time” a longer harvest.

One of our favorite products is the Earth Box! The Earth Box is a growing system within a wide pot. They are easy to move (with wheels) and optional custom staking systems can be purchased. For more great information on the Earth Box go to We sell the Earth Box here at Skillin’s!

Drop us a note at or leave a comment at the Comment area below IF you have any more to add about Vegetable Container Gardening!

Mike Skillin (with assistance from David K)
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New Blog!

Folks you seriously need to add "A Garden in Maine" to your list of regular blog stops during the day. The author is a Skillin's staff person who is a contributor to this blog and a very valued weekend aid to our cause.

Here is the link:

Folks, I appreciate the Skillin's Garden Log and all we bring to you but this blog--a personal garden journal--is going to be a gem. Get in on the ground floor and check it out!

And keep coming back here as well!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 14, 2009

10 Easy-Grow Veggies for your Own White House Garden

Hello again,

We are back at the Skillin's Garden Log with a reprint of an article by Nancy Shute that appeared at on March 20 , 2009. This article was pointed out to me by the website of a greenhouse trade publication and I think it is just great!

"Michelle Obama just became the hero of parent-gardeners across America by spading up a corner of the White House South Lawn and planting lettuce, chard, and kale. She's not alone; seed companies across the nation say they're swamped with orders from first-time gardeners eager to grow their own. And why not? Homegrown veggies are cheaper, they're local, they can be organic, and they are less likely to have food-safety issues. The first lady also pointed out that making a family effort to raise vegetables emphasizes the importance of healthy eating at a time when childhood obesity is a national epidemic. Plus, homegrown veggies are way yummier. So it's time to join Sasha and Malia in the garden. (Michelle joked that she expects to have the whole family, including the president, out there pulling weeds. We'll see.)

U.S. News sought out expert advice on backyard vegetables that kids will love planting and eating. These are almost foolproof to grow, don't need pesticides, and many will grow happily in a pot on the patio. Here's the list for your own White House garden:

1. Sugar snap peas. Crunchy pods that beg to be eaten right off the vine; these also make a terrific lunchbox snack. Now's the time to plant in most parts of the country. Just let the vines flop on the ground, or plant along a fence so they can climb.

2. Lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. These are dead easy to plant and grow and can thrive in a patio pot, too. Michelle picked arugula, but kids might like some of the White House's other options better. Check out red and green lettuces, kale, cilantro, and dill. Sprinkle a new line of seeds every two weeks, and you'll have homegrown salad all season.

3. Radishes. They grow like superheroes, ready to eat in a month. Try an Easter-egg blend with pinks, whites and purples. Josh Kirschenbaum, product development director for Territorial Seed in Cottage Grove, Ore., says that if you plant radishes in the cool weather of spring and fall, they won't get fiercely spicy. The kids can give them to Mom for Mother's Day.

4. Carrots. Another quick-grower. The tiny seeds need to be sprinkled carefully, but soon you'll have real baby carrots, sweet enough for Peter Rabbit. The green tops attract swallowtail butterflies.

5. Potatoes. Cut in pieces, bury now, and you're eating new potatoes in June. "When you harvest, you just dig in the side of the little hill, and leave the mom plant there so she can grow more, bigger potatoes," says George Ball, chairman and CEO of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in Warminster, Pa. You can buy seed potatoes, which haven't been treated with growth-retarding chemicals like some supermarket potatoes. But a potato sprouting in the kitchen cupboard should work just fine, too.

6. Green beans. It's fun to plant the big seeds, and beans are delicious raw or cooked. Bush beans are simplest, but pole beans, which grow up a teepee made of sticks, make a great secret hiding place come July. Scarlet runner beans have a stronger bean flavor that some kids don't like, but they attract hummingbirds.

7. Sungold cherry tomato. Buy a small plant at the local garden store, and you'll be picking supersweet orange orbs off these prolific vines until frost. If you've got the space, plant a red grape tomato, too.

8. Pumpkins. They take a bit more space, and you'll have to wait until fall to harvest, but the vines are enchanting. Grow your own jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, or pick one of the adorable minipumpkins like Jack Be Little.

9. Sunflowers. Taller than Dad, or elf-sized mini versions. If you've got a big yard, plant a bunch and make a maze. In the fall, dry and eat the seeds, or leave them in the garden for the birds.

10. Broccoli. You might be surprised to see what kids like when they've planted and harvested the crop themselves. Garden broccoli is sweet and tender. Buy plants at the local garden store to speed up harvest. (Skillin's will have plenty of broccoli available soon!)

Where to plant? Pretty much any piece of ground will do, as long as it gets sunshine most of the day. "Rule No. 1: Don't have a children's garden," says Ball. "Have a family garden. Kids want to be with Mom and Dad."

Dig in a bag of compost or cow manure to enrich the soil. Organic is the way to go; kids and pesticides don't mix. In a home garden, "you can control most pests by just picking them off," says Lou Zambello, director of sales and marketing for Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. "The kids can learn the difference between a beneficial insect like a ladybug and a Japanese beetle."

Gardening with kids can bring delicious surprises for parents, too. I will cherish the memory of seeing my daughter poke her 3-year-old nose into a broccoli plant in our garden, then munch away like a happy little cow. Last year, she spotted celery starts at the local garden store and asked to buy them. Celery has a reputation for being hard to grow, but I'm a sucker for a 5-year-old who digs plants. That celery flourished, giving us with an abundance of crunchy, dark-green stalks with a flavor that shamed the watery supermarket product. I bet this year's crop will be even better than the Obamas'. "

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 14, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

KCB Gardening 101

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

The following outline served as the basis for a terrific Gardening 101 class held Saturday, April 4 at Skillin's Greenhouses ( in Brunswick, Cumberland and Falmouth.

We will gladly email this outline in Word Doc form, just email us at and put Gardening 101 in the subject line. We will also include two more informative outlines: "Soil Terms" and "Plant Hardiness" in what we email to you. "Soil Terms" can also be found added to this outline at the bottom of this post. You may in fact prefer that we email you these helpful documents rather than use this post as KCB's outline is better represented in the original documents than in the translation posted below. Either way, you and your gardens will greatly benefit from what KCB has to tell you!

Please email us at with any gardening questions you have!

Whether a seasoned gardener, just beginning or somewhere in between, it is best to have a strategy before you begin. With some forethought it could save money and pain, both physical and emotional, down the road.

1. Plan before you plant
2. Prepare before you plant
3. What you need
4. What plants need
5. Right Plant, Right Place
1. Think about how you wish to use your out-of-doors space:
g Recreation
g Relaxing & Reflecting
g Dining& Entertaining
g Theme Gardens
o Bird & Butterfly Magnet
o Culinary
o Mixed Border
o Moon
g All of the above
o Separate areas creating ‘rooms’

2. Imagine the garden beds and landscape you want to create
g Plants
g Colors
& Visualize a palette that you find attractive and not specific plants.
& Foliage!!!
g Textures
& Foliage
g Lacy
g Succulent
g Spiky
g Broadleaf

3. Budget
& For Materials & Maintenance

4. Maintenance
& Initial installation and on going
& Low Maintenance doesn’t mean NO maintenance
PREPARE BEFORE YOU PLANT1 Know your property
œ & Walk your property
o Check
§ Topography
§ Wind intensity
§ Drainage
§ Water Source
§ Micro-climates
§ Sunlight
· Time of day and duration
§ Wildlife
§ Known Pests

2. Know your soil
§ pH = soil acidity or alkalinity
· 7 is Neutral
o < = Acid (“sour”) § Add lime to decrease (increase pH) § Wood Ash o > = Alkaline (“sweet”)
§ Add aluminum sulfate (decrease pH)
§ Sulfur
§ Levels of Nutrients (only 3 are listed
· Nitrogen (N) 1st # on plant food/fertilizer bag
o promotes foliage over-all growth in lushness and color
· Phosphorus (P) 2nd # on plant food/fertilizer
o Promotes flowering (blooms) & Fruit development
o Promotes strong roots
· Potassium (K) 3rd #
o Promotes over-all health, strength and size of plant

3. Know your self
a.“Warming up before gardening is just as important as warming up before a vigorous workout. After warming up, stretching exercises for the major muscle groups that will be involved in performing the task can reduce the risk of injury.” The American Society of Hand Therapists ASHT®
b. Your schedule; how much time you really want to commit to your garden
APPROPRIATE TOOLS-sharpened and in good working order.
1. Tools for digging and/or planting
g Trowel
g Spade
g Digging/Pitch Fork
2. Tools for Pruning/Cutting
g Hand pruners
g Loppers
g Saws
0 pruning
0 bow
3. Tools for Weeding
g Garden Hoe
g hand fork
g Dandelion weeder
4.Tools for hauling
g Wheelbarrow
g Bucket
5.Tools for watering
g Watering Can
g Hose
6.Tools for comfort and Safety
g Gloves
§ Mud gloves
§ Light weight/flexible
§ Rose (long, up to elbow made of leather)
g Knee Pads
g Safety Glasses
g Sun Screen
g Hat
g Good Soil
g Sunlight
g Degrees of light
· Full Sun = 6 hours of sun between 10 AM 6 PM
· Part Shade/Part Sun = less than above or sun earlier in day
· Filtered Shade/Sun = Under trees or structures in full sun
g Water
· Achieve Balance
· Slow deep watering
· Do not waste
g A Good Start
· See Plan & Prepare!

Things to consider
§ Amount of Sunlight
§ Growth pattern/height
o Will plant spread
o Will self sow
o Height
§ Maintenance needs
o Deadheading
o Dividing
§ Watering needs

g Select plants appropriate for your property
§ Sunlight, soil, maintenance needs, height and spread
g Read plant labels/tags
g Ask professional nursery staff
g Keep a Garden Journal!
§ Make notes of what and when of blooming, what works, what needs dividing, any special notations.

For Soil Test Kits, various publications or to learn more about the Master Gardener program:
Cumberland County Extension Office
15 Chamberlain Ave.

Favored Web Sites: (great way to access the Skillin's Garden Log) (under construction-check back soon)
KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 7, 2009
Common Soil Terms
Good Soil is essential for all healthy gardens. Feed the Soil not the plant. A better quality soil means deeper and healthier roots for your plants. Deeper and healthier roots mean healthier plants that are better able to produce more healthy growth!

Types of Soil:

Clay: Heavy & Hard. Feels much like modeling clay. Holds its shape when wet. Slow to warm in spring and slow to drain. Too compact and can stunt root growth.
It does hold nutrients more than other soil types.
g Amend Soil w/composted materials
g Gypsum adds air and space to heavy clay soils

Sandy: Gritty feel, loose and falls apart when squeezed. Dries out quickly. Good drainage.
g Amend w/composted organic materials
g When planting incorporate new loam w/organic mix and original soil

Loam: Almost ideal. Smooth, only partially gritty. Forms a ball then crumbles easily. Equal parts clay, sand and silt.

More Soil Terms

Silt: Mostly minerals and organic material. Feels/looks like dark sand.

Humus: Organic materials from animals and plants found in soil. Soils rich in humus are referred to as ‘rich’.

Acid Soil: A soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is an acid soil. (a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline). pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil.

Alkaline Soil: A soil with a pH higher than 7.0 is an alkaline soil. (a soil pH lower than 7.0 is acidic) Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil.

Sour Soil: Acidic soil (pH lower than 7.0)

Sweet Soil: Alkaline Soil. (pH higher than 7.0)

Amending Soil: Adding organics or other nutrient to improve soil.

What & When:
Lime raises pH: Add to Sour or Acid soil to bring pH up.
Sulfur lowers pH: Add to Sweet or Alkaline Soil to bring pH down.

Coffee Grounds, Peat Moss (if sandy or dry) or Sulfur and/or Iron Sulfate for clay soil, will help sour or make more acidic.
Wood ashes will sweeten soil.
KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 7, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

KCB: No 5K for Me!

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

It’s here! Can’t you feel it? Smell it? Certainly you can begin to see it! It’s Spring!

New green growth is pushing up through the still frozen earth. The bulbs, quietly dormant under the record snow cover of this winter, seek the warmth of the sun. I’m always surprised at the rate of survival from year to year. Each day a new little nub of green I spot. No doubt I will squeal with delight at the sign of my first crocus!

Soon the squealing will be replaced with the groans and moans of a dormant body beginning the chores of spring. Each year I vow I will not put myself through the agony that is bestowed upon an out of shape me. I will prepare as an athlete prepares. Surely each Red Sox has a regiment they follow before they step on to the baseball field for the first time. A marathon runner doesn’t go from a couch potato to 5k run. Why should an activity as physical as gardening be any different? This year I declare to get my self in shape first. Don’t worry, you will not see me jogging around ‘the boulevard’ or practicing thrusts, though perhaps I should. No, just simple stretches. Anything is better than my usual 0 to 120 mph as many gardeners do.

Even weekend gardeners need to prepare for the coming season. The repetitive movements such a weeding, raking, digging and pruning put stress on hand and wrist. We also must be mindful of our knees, back and shoulders. Something as simple as a daily walk will begin to get the body prepared.

The following warm-ups were given to me by Andi, a Physical Therapists at the call center where I work. She knows my season is coming up and wants to make sure I’m in shape for all my jobs.

The American Society of Hand Therapists ASHT® has this to say about preparing for the gardening season; “Warming up before gardening is just as important as warming up before a vigorous workout. After warming up, stretching exercises for the major muscle groups that will be involved in performing the task can reduce the risk of injury.”

ASHT® recommends following warm-up exercises:
(Note: These exercises should never be painful. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult your primary care provider.)
œ Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel a stretch all the way from your shoulders to your fingers. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
œ Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
œ This is a stretch for the upper back and shoulder. Place your hand just above the back of the elbow and gently push your elbow across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times for each arm.
œ This stretch benefits the triceps. Raise one arm overhead. Bend the elbow. Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently push the elbow back and forth for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times for each arm.
œ To stretch forearm and wrist muscles. Extend an arm in front of you; making sure the elbow is completely straight. With your palm down, take the opposite hand and bend the wrist downward, hold for 10 seconds. Then turn the palm up and stretch the wrist backwards, hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times for each arm.

Another suggestion offered by the ASHT® surprised me; ‘work with well sharpened tools as well as tools designed for the task’. It does make sense. Too dull a tool, say a pruner, may not only damage the plant you are pruning but will result in too tight a grip to achieve the desired result. Another big ‘no’, is trying to prune a 4 inch limb with pruners more suitable for a 2 inch branch. Been there, done that. If it is taking you 2 hands to do the job meant for one, time to switch tools.

Other stretches offered by ‘my trainer’ I find very relaxing. At first I could not see how balancing on an oversized beach ball would help but I was assured it would. The balls circumference is approximately 3 ft and I take turns balancing on my stomach and back. The key is not to put pressure on feet or hands. This will prepare for the stretching we do especially when weeding and planting.

Since gardening has become such a passion for so many, those in climates such as Maine’s may suffer the most from repetitive motion injuries. Reason being, we lead such sedentary lives in the winter then jump right in. While caught up in our gardening frenzy we tend to contort and stretch our bodies in ways we would never dream of during the ‘off season’. If you don’t believe me think of how many times you would stretch to get one last weed, or dead head one more, than another spent bloom instead of getting up and moving slightly closer to your subject. You are nodding ‘yes’ aren’t you?

As the season progresses there will be other tips. If you have any of your own, please share. Personally I need all the ‘getting in shape’ help I can get. I vow this year not to spend the month of May applying Ben Gay and wishing to sleep in my truck just to avoid having to walk into my house.

Attention Skillin’s staff, this may not mean I will not need ‘help loading’ in the beginning, but be prepared if I answer with a resounding ‘no thank you’ before July!

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 6, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Organica's All Natural Four Step Lawn Program

Once again we are pleased to be featuring the all natural Organica Four Step Lawn Program this year for our customers. Read below the illustration for a great description of what the complete Four Step Lawn Program can do for your soil and ultimately your lawn.

Bought bag by bag the Four Step Lawn Program retails for $162. We are so enthusiastic about this program and we feel is it is the RIGHT way to treat your lawn that we have the Four Step Lawn Program ON SALE for $129! Plus at time of purchase we will give you an easy to redeem $10 coupon for Organica that brings your real purchase price down to just $119!

Organica's 4 Step Program Lawn Program is a back to basics approach to plant management designed to revitalize soil biology and provide a foundation for healthy turf growth. The establishment of beneficial microbial populations is the key to creating a healthy soil environment. Over the last 500 million years plants and beneficial soil microorganisms have developed a symbiotic relationship. When a plant photosynthesizes it releases a carbon exudate into the soil, which microorganisms utilize as a food source.

The microbes then surround the root to feed on the carbon and in return protect the plant roots, recycle nutrients, improve nutrient availability, improve nutrient absorption, minimize nutrient leaching and improve the soil structure over time. As you can see this truly is a "symbiotic relationship".

Unfortunately today many soils are grossly out of balance and are virtually devoid of beneficial microbial populations. This is due primarily to an over reliance on "quick fix" cultural practices, which rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to manage turf. Studies have shown that most insect and disease infestation is actually brought on by pushing excessive plant growth with water - soluble inorganic fertilizers! This unnatural growth weakens the plant and makes it an opportunistic target for insects and disease. Pesticides are then applied to control these self- inflicted manifestations and they exacerbate the problem by killing non - target beneficial soil microorganisms. Once you start killing off the beneficial microbial populations the vicious cycle begins. When the microbes are no longer there to protect the roots you are forced to apply more pesticides and the vicious cycle is perpetuated!!!!!

Organica's "Natural Lawn Program" is designed to reestablish these beneficial microbial populations and provide the soil with the necessary components to promote healthy controlled growth and reduce plant stress. Each component is synergistic further increasing the efficacy & overall performance of the program!!


LAWN BOOSTER (8-1-1): Apply in Spring. Patented biologically enhanced fertilizer. Contains corn gluten, bone meal, sulfate of potash & beneficial soil bacteria. Provides slow release N, P, K / Does not push excessive growth. Improves nutrient availability (solubizes P, K & fixes atmospheric N). Improves soil structure, increases humus levels. Provides turf with increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, foot traffic)

KELP BOOSTER: Apply Late SpringBio-stimulant / Contains plant growth hormones, micronutrients, vitamins & amino acids. Stimulates healthy turf growth, increases root development. Provides turf with essential micronutrients, amino acids & vitamins. Provides turf with increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, foot traffic). Rich in calcium (essential for cell wall development & plant growth)

MICROBIAL SOIL CONDITIONER: Apply Early SummerMicrobial soil inoculant / Contains beneficial soil bacteria, actinomyces, fungi, vitamins, amino acids. Provides turf with increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, foot traffic). Improves nutrient availability (solubilizes P, K, Ca, Mg and fixes atmospheric N). Rich in calcium (essential for cell wall development & plant growth). Improves soil structure, increases humus levels

LAWN BOOSTER (8-1-1): Apply Early Fall. Patented biologically enhanced fertilizer. Provides slow release N, P, K / Does not push excessive growth. Sustains turf through fall & winter months. Provides increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, cold, foot traffic). Improves soil structure, increases humus levels.
Check out for more great information about the Organica products--many of which we offer right here at Skillin's!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Perennial Basics: Weekly and Seasonal Tasks

The following article (reprinted from Spring 2008) wraps up our Perennial Basics series. We have presented this series weekly for the last few weeks. The previous articles are easy to find by looking to the right tab! Let us know if you have any questions!

We sell a wide variety of perennials at Skillin’s. We define perennials as usually green or herbaceous plants that are best planted in beds with other perennials or as a complement to your shrub and tree (woody) or annual plantings or other aspects of your landscape world.

Perennial plants are intended to give us the ever hopeful gardener years of enjoyment as we nurture and feed them, pinch and prune them, and divide and worry about them. Yes, perennials become an extension of our family. Many perennials do not flower for long periods of time which only makes our appreciation of their colorful offerings that much sweeter when that time of year comes. Perennials are a blessing!

Last year I came across a great article in a garden center trade magazine called “Green Profits” titled “Perennial Gardening Basics”. I think the article is fantastic for all perennial gardeners. For the next few weeks, I intend to give you small excerpts from the article (to whet your perennial gardening whistle). If at any time you would like the entire article emailed to you just let me know at and I will send you a “Word” attachment.

Here are some weekly and serasonal perennial garden duties to add to your “workout.”


First of all, if rainfall is intermittent, you will need to water your perennial garden. Check below the top two or three inches of soil and water if dry. Try to avoid wetting plant leaves during the day to prevent the spread of some plant diseases.

Spend some time walking through your perennial gardens removing spent flowers and damaged leaves by hand or with a hand pruner. Also, inspect for insects, diseases and signs of animal damage. Watch for leaves with holes or ragged edges; discolored or spotted leaves; chewed flowers or buds; or damaged stems. Once you have spotted a problem, your best move is to take the damaged part of the plant to your favorite garden center for a positive identification. They will also be able to recommend solutions for just about anything you confront them with. If you have no luck at the garden center, contact your local cooperative extension service.

Finally, everyone’s favorite task: weeding. Use a hoe with a small, sharp blade; a weeder; or pull them by hand. The trick is to get them by the root. Remember, you can burn as many as 300 calories an hour doing light weeding. There’s your incentive.


Keeping your garden tidy by edging the beds will add to its beauty. For the best results, use a half-moon edger or spade. Facing your garden, push the blade straight down about three or four inches. Then simply pull the handle toward you to remove a wedge of soil. Once you edge your garden once, it’s easy to keep it looking good with minimal effort.

Fertilizing and mulching should also be done periodically throughout the year - maybe not monthly, but certainly first thing in the spring and again heading into winter. Use a slow release, granular fertilizer or natural alternative in the spring. This should feed your garden well into the summer. Fertilizer formulations specifically for perennial gardens should not be difficult to find.

Mulch should be no deeper than two inches and organic materials like shredded bark should be replaced as they break down. (I like to mulch with compost, instead of conventional bark mulch)

Cut back most perennials to within eight to 10 inches from the ground after the tops die back or leave them intact for protection against the cold. In spring, cut back all dead stems to the ground and rake out debris. If you have questions about pruning back specific varieties, ask your favorite garden center expert.

Good Luck & Have Fun

I hope you are excited to get started planning a perennial garden. It is sure to provide years of enjoyment and receive plenty of compliments from friends and neighbors, all for very little effort.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quoddy Blend Congratulations!

Congrats to the folks at Coast of Maine as the Quoddy Blend (the best garden compost I have ever used) has just gained rigorous OMRI certification as a superior organic gardening product.

Sold at a Skillin's location near you! Brunswick, Cumberland, Falmouth and!

"Lilac on a Stick"

Sheliah checks in again from high atop Raymond ME. If you can garden there, you can garden anywhere so Sheliah "has it going on!"
Here is what Sheliah has to say:
"If you are looking for something cool and a little different as a focal point for your garden consider a Dwarf Korean Lilac Topiary or as I call it "lilac on a stick"! It doesn't only look awesome when it is blooming but looks great all summer and has great winter interest to boot. They look small when we get them in the Nursery in the spring but they are fast growers and no work. I have never trimmed or messed with mine though I may need to in the future. It is a perfect little tree for planting low growing shrubs, flowers, bulbs or annuals around the bottom. I always get a " Wow what's that" when people see it. It's one of my favorites!"
Thanks Sheliah!