Sunday, September 6, 2009

Garden Talks September 6--Peonies, Pumpkins, Frost, Brussel Sprouts, Winter Squash, Fall Flowering Crocus

Hello again,

While putting together the latest Garden Talks Online for Skillin's email subscribers I came upon some past garden writings from some old Garden Talks Onlines that are very topical right now. Basically I ran out of space for the upcoming Garden Talks Online (sign up for Skillin's email list at if you would like to hear from us that way but by following this blog you get all of that and more) I decided to post some of these past notes, updated of course for 2009 if need be!

Peonies can easily survive for over 50 years in the garden. Peonies are one of the showiest of garden flowers; their blossoms can reach 6 to 8 inches across in early summer and there are many neat colors available. Peonies can be left in the same spot indefinitely, but if you want to move your peonies or divide your old tubers to make new plants, the best time to do that job is in the early fall. It is important to dig the whole root system carefully. Leave any foliage so as to continue to build strength for the roots. Try to identify small pinkish buds that are the beginning of next year’s growth. (You may have to wash the garden soil off the peony roots). Any new division should have 3 to 4 buds on it; simply use a sharp knife and slice through the root system.

Place the divisions where the new plant will receive plenty of sun. Make certain you have placed plenty of good organic matter in the new hole as well! The real key to making peonies blossom is in the planting depth. If the tops of the plant’s buds are more than 2 inches below the surface of the soil, the plant will seldom bloom, though it will produce plenty of foliage! Don’t forget to water your new transplants well and make sure the ground stays moist right up until the ground freezes.

Pumpkins are ready for harvest when they are completely orange. They can be left on the vines beyond that time as long as the weather does not get too cold; pumpkins rot if they are subjected to a freeze, so if cold weather occurs (low temps around 40 degrees or lower), cover the pumpkins with a sheet or a tarp.

Use shears to harvest pumpkins because if the stem pulls away from the fruit, rot can set up quickly. Also avoid scratching the pumpkin’s skin. Pumpkins keep well if they are stored in a dry spot in temperatures in the low 50 degree area. A garage works great!

Terry Skillin wants me to tell you quickly about potential frost damage. Nighttime temperatures in some outling areas have been dropping to lows of right around 40 degrees. If temperatures drop much lower than that, then frost is very likely to occur. Keep an eye on those night time temperatures! Tender material planted in the ground (such as annual plantings and most vegetable plants) is really the plant material that is at risk. However, we still have many warm sunny days ahead of us, so we urge you to try and protect that plant material because we still have several weeks ahead where your flowers can be quite “showy” or your vegetables can still produce for you!

If you suspect frost damage is likely to occur on a particular night, try to cover the “at risk” material with a bed sheet. Or give this material a shower of water at dusk and then if frost has occurred give the material another shower to melt off the burning frost just before sunrise occurs. The early morning sun will touch those frost particles and cause the particles to in essence “burn” the plant material. Let us know if you have any questions about frost damage!

The best time to pick Brussels sprouts is right after a good stiff frost. This is when the sprouts are at their sweetest, so be ready to start picking your Brussels sprouts somewhere close to the middle or end of September. Leave most of the sprouts on the plant through the frosty fall weather, you can harvest Brussels sprouts until the ground itself freezes! I planted Brussel sprouts for the first time this year. I have to tell you, I underestimated the size of the plants and they are planted much too close. Apparently with all the odd weather sprouts are behind anyway but with the lack of light down into my plants my sprounts are tiny. So early this past week I decided to follow Paul Parent's advice on the topic (given a week ago) and snap most of the branches off my brussel sprouts plants. This has allowed much more sun and air "down into" the plants and it seems as if the sprouts are starting to grow well. Paul also recommended that we sprout growers pinch the tops of the plants to tell the roots stop growing plant and start producing side shoots (in this case sprouts). Paul also raved about his fresh Brussel sprouts he prepares with lots of butter each Thanksgiving. I am going to see Mr. Parent later this week so I am going to ask him for some cooking tips. Paul can be heard every Sunday morning on WBACH at 104.7 or online at His website is pretty darned informative as well if you have time to take a look.

Rosemary is a wonderful herb to use for cooking purposes and can be grown indoors in the winter. We have rosemary plants available here at Skillin’s! Or if you have a fine rosemary specimen in your garden you may want to take cuttings and start a nice fresh plant for the winter! To take cuttings, merely take a slanted slice of outer stem growth from the plant. Dip the cut into water and then into some rooting hormone (sold right here at Skillin’s). Then place the cutting into some good quality potting mix (also sold right here at Skillin’s). Keep the soil moist by misting the soil frequently (try not to mist the plant too heavily). Once the stems start to form little branches, pinch back the tips to encourage branching. At this point the rosemary plant can be watered from a watering can and not from the mister. Keep your plant in a sunny windowsill and enjoy the fresh herbs!

Winter squashes such as butternut, buttercup and acorn squashes are intended for long periods of storage but if they are picked in the wrong way, they will only last a few days. The quick and lazy way to harvest squash is to just pull the fruit from the vine, breaking the stem off where it joins the fruit. But this will leave the squash open to disease and rot. Instead cut the stems with shears about 1” from the fruit and also take care not to scratch the squash as you harvest it. Then put them into a dry room where the temperature will stay at about 55 degrees and you can be confident that the squash will last through most of the winter.

We have loads of spring flowering bulbs available right now--tulips, daffodils, alliums and crocus. We also have many unique bulbs available and one of those is the fall flowering crocus. Yes, it is true! You can plant crocus that will flower in the fall! Usually we think of crocus as being those darling little bulb plants that pop out and flower in the early Spring. Well at Skillin’s we now have available flowering crocus in whites, purples and reds that are best planted in August and September. They in turn usually flower in early fall (late September or early October)!

Plant the little bulbs in the same manner as you would the regular Spring flowering crocus. Plant about 4” deep and 2 to 3” apart. Be sure to add Bulb Booster for best results. Water the little gems well after planting. For the first year, it would not hurt to add extra mulch that can be cleared away in the early Spring. Similar to their Spring flowering counterparts, they prefer a sunny or half shade location. For best effect, plant the little bulbs in “naturalized” groups of 10 bulbs or more!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
September 6, 2009

1 comment:

Mike Skillin, Skillin's Greenhouses said...

This note actually from KCB:

Skillin’s Garden Talks September 1 and September 6 is just a plethora of information I was tired just reading it. Many excellent points regarding pruning, edging, preparing new beds (I have also incorporated recycled corrugated cardboard when creating new beds. I use this along w/my newspapers in areas where I may not be planting. It does take longer to break down and not as easily sliced for the installation of plants. As many know I recently moved back to my ‘old’ building where I once had a garden. I saved some of my boxes and printless newspaper (used for packing and purchased at a well known business known for moving). I have tripled the size of my garden and will top the papers & cardboard with a combination of organic mulch and loam. Fall is an excellent time to plan and establish new beds. Even if you do not plant now the area will be ready in the spring. As for me, I’m taking advantage of the incredible sales to get a jump start on next season.

I would like to add a note about roses, do not feed, deadhead or prune. As you stated, do remove, however any dead or deceased stems or branches.

Late fall or early spring is when I add the appropriate Espoma product.