Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Carving at Skillin's!!

Hello again,

We are hosting an awesome event this Saturday and we hope you can make it to one of our “locales”. We are calling the event Pumpkin Carving with Skillin’s and it is going on this Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM. Bring family and friends, purchase pumpkins for half price and let us help you carve the coolest, scariest, funniest and “ghouliest” pumpkins ever. Pumpkin carving is great family fun and we have some tricks and treats (yes refreshments for you!) up our sleeve! The weather is not supposed to be that great this Saturday so this should be a perfect time to have some pumpkin and Halloween fun!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


KCB is a professional gardener (http://finishingtouchesgardendesign.com/) 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 will always be on record as the 2008-09 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. We are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

The following post is a reprint from October 2008 but we find it very timely, shall we say "timeless" and with the approval of KCB here we go!

Inhale. Deeply! Now hold it. Isn’t that just the sweetest fragrance? Perhaps I should have told you to step outside first. Go to a window even, open wide then stick our head out and perform the aforementioned exercise.

Something about the aroma of the decaying leaves, coupled with the air that almost bounds your nostrils together during these chilly mornings, feels like home. Not only does it smell like a found memory it sounds like one too. Everyone in New England surely knows the slight bristling sound of dried leaves as they blow across the pavement. What of the sound as you purposely drag them with your feet while you shuffle along? The tinny sound as a metal rake grabs for all the leaves it can in one pass? Followed by the sound of laughter as children and adults alike jump into that waiting pile? Perhaps the in audible murmurings of the creator of such a pile who is trying to watch his words in mixed company? On the other hand, they may be stifling a laugh and vows to make the next pile big enough for the whole family to enjoy.

In my world, another sound can be heard. Clomp, clomp, clomp! Interspersed with the grinding of metal on metal. It is a sound that became all too familiar at the end of last week and will follow me at least through the end of October. What method of machine or tool makes this sound? Well, I do, that is when I am using my hedge sheers. I love my hedge sheers. Not as much as I adore my Felco pruners or my Soil Scoop®. Oh, and I cannot forget my buckets.

You know the kind; they are round, about 2 ½ ft tall, 3 ft wide, with handles of the same material and very flexible as well as versatile. I’ll have you know I have converted several people to being bucket users. I’ve done the same for the scoop. Why a bucket? Invaluable. I use it to put my weeds as I walk on my knees around the various beds. No little piles to pick up later. I use it to mix my soil and composted planting mix when installing any plant into the ground. It is used in the same manner except with potting soil for container time. It can be used for watering though I would only fill it about 3-4 inches. Water is heavy.

During this transplanting/dividing time of year, my bucket(s) are like my sentries. One awaiting the weeds and cut foliage, the other filled with my soil/compost combination. And since I am dividing, a third bucket is added; filled one –quarter to one-third with water. A necessity when separating different plants that have grown together. Also useful if a plant to be divided has extensive weeds growing within and around. Simply dig up the clump, gently shake away the loose dirt, begin to spread the roots w/your hand, and gently place root ball in the waiting water. Wait a few minutes or longer depending on the extent of the entanglement, your patience, and what ever else you may be doing while the plant soaks. It has not been unusual for me to have several different plants soaking in the tub together. I imagine it as a hot tub session for a bunch of plants that rarely have time to get together to simply unwind. It will make for easy work for the separation of plant or weeds from your target. Life is good.

Since I began this writing as a love song to my hedge sheers let me now expound on their virtues. Quick and Easy...that is if the blades are sharp enough. I always have 2 sets, one to use when the other is being professionally sharpened. Moreover, to serve as a back-up for the many occasions I have left my shears behind or simply lost them. It is at this time of year they get the most strenuous of workouts. The work-out I get cannot be denied as well.

Faded Veronica, clomp. Shastas, clomp, Daylilies, Hosta, Coreopsis, clomp, clomp, clomp. With one quick motion it is done. While this exercise may seem random, it is not. It is important to take just enough off but not too much; cut the plants down to within 2-3 inches of the crown. Cutting too close can result in winter injury or even some the buds for next year’s growth being lost as they may be right at the surface or higher and not below the soil line. For the often-temperamental Peony, be careful not to cut or damage the little ‘pink eye’.

I find it vital to remove the foliage and other decaying material that may have accumulated under and around the plant. To do so will help lessen the hiding place for rodents and pests. If you are worried and feel some winter protection is needed then replace all the damp and gooey (I can be so technical) leaves and decaying matter with a dark bark mulch/compost mixture, such as Coast of Maine Fundy Blend, or a mulch of freshly raked dry leaves. If pine needles are available, a mulch would be so enjoyed by all our acid loving plants and shrubs.

So, what has changed with me since I last wrote? Oh, I am still confused, a natural state of affairs for me. Yet less so. The seasons change and so must I. The leaves have made a mass exodus from the stately trees they called home; the foliage and stems are withering and become less attractive with each day. So much more to do. So until the next time…………

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good Frosty Morning

Hello again,

Good frosty morning Skillin's Country!

There is fairly widespread frost this early morning in Skillin's Country. If you have some favorite tender flowering or vegetable plant material that has not been protected by a sheet or some device, then I would suggest getting right out there and spraying those plants with a spray of water.

This fresh water can knock off any frost particles that might rupture the cells of your plants when the sun gets warm enough to melt those sharp little particles.

It is going to be a cold week this week but tender material is "saveable" with a covering of a sheet or frost blankets that we sell right here at Skillin's. As I just wrote it is possible to save exposed plant material with a quick shower as well.

Contact us at info@skillins.com or 1-800-244-3860 or leave a comment here with any questions!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 13, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Common Thread That Sows Us Together

KCB is a professional gardener (http://finishingtouchesgardendesign.com/) 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 will always be on record as the 2008-09 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. We are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

So, Portland, Maine and Chicago, Illinois have something in common, neither will be hosting the 2016 Olympics. At least the citizens of the greater Portland Area are not surprised by not being awarded the coveted host status. I for one am kind of relieved. The streets of Portland are already clogged during the summer months. Tour busses, trollies and the cute and loveable Duck make frequent journeys up and around the Eastern Prom/Old Port, the Western Prom and back. September/October has seen an increase in Cruise Ship berthings, all passengers eager to get a glimpse of New England Fall Foliage or an LL Bean flannel shirt.

On warmer days you can find me at any one of the Old Port Restaurant's open decks, cavorting with the tourists, sipping an ice tea or chomping a burger as we listen to a local musician. I enjoy playing tour guide when asked for “a favorite watering hole”, “the best lobster”, even “is there is a sandy beach nearby?”. A frequent query and perhaps one of my favorites ‘does any bar sell regular, old fashioned mass produced beer?’ I am able to offer answers for the most part but the latter does pose a problem. I do not know as I do not imbibe. With all the micro brews offered I guess it is name recognition (Did you say Bud) that those from away are looking for.

Having traveled, I enjoy chatting with the locals. I want them to experience what the guidebooks neglect to mention. I hope those who I do engage find my suggestions as satisfying.

With my slight hint of a Brooklyn (NY) accent I often am asked where I am from. Why couldn’t I be from Maine? I don’t sound like I’m from Maine, but what does the average Mainer sound like? Most of us do not have the accent that the Maine Humorist and Storytellers portray. There is no Cabot Cove in Maine and for those who admittedly were fans of the show, know there is no train to Augusta from Portland.

Our accents and origins may differ but over the years I always find common ground. Gardening!

Early summer, with the first flux of cruise ship passengers, I met a couple from Bristol, England that had just enjoyed a trolley ride around Portland and to “The Portland House Light” as it was called. They voiced surprise at witnessing the full bloom of our azalea and rhododendrons as those in their hometown had come and gone 6 weeks earlier. The British Isles boast hardiness zones from 7a in the extreme north to 10b on the SW coast. I remember my first visit to St. Ives. At first I wasn’t sure if the palm trees I saw were growing from the earth or potted pawns. Believe; palm trees are abundant in the SW of the British Isles. Further north, they may be, but it’s all about the Gulf Stream.

This past weekend a group from Texas was my table mates. One woman in the group shared it had always been a dream of hers to visit Maine. I’m not sure if by sea is the best viewing, I commented and she agreed. What was her favorite sight so far? The hydrangeas! There is a house on the Eastern Prom that boasts 2 mature PeeGee trees standing as sentries to the wraparound porch. PeeGee and Limelights are staples along the Western Prom. The panicle shaped flower head mellow from cream to dusty mauve they truly are specimen to envy. It seems the grandiflora; in order to shine is in need of a frosty winter. After, all, with blooms this showy it does need a rest. Their excursion to the very same light house visited by the Brits displayed landscapes now dotted with hydrangea. She was very jealous of the outstanding show that was created when combining this longed for shrub with Black-eyed Susans and Autumn Joy Sedum. Her husband and other traveling companions didn’t notice. Not everyone would. It is as if we gardeners have a secret. Yet these displays are there for everyone to behold.

Not sure how; BUT conversations with visitors, whether it be them on my turf or me on theirs, always comes around to gardening.

The common thread that sows us together.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
October 7, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009


KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area(www.finishingtouchesgardendesign.com). KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

The following post is a reprint from October 2008 but we find it very timely, shall we say "timeless" and with the approval of KCB here we go!

It happens this time every year. Wine; white or red? Do I pull out the fleece and put away the flimsy? Flannel or cotton? Shorts? Capris? Long pants? While these are not earth shattering quandaries, each day is begun with this group of questions. Coupled with the fact that my right-hand man, Ryan, will be leaving me to pursue another career, I feel so lost I become stuck. In not making a decision, nothing is accomplished. Even before I learned that I only had Ryan for another week, I faced each day in puzzlement. It is as if I asked the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz for directions and he points both ways.

What has me at such crossroads? The weather. In checking my records of the past 2 years, mid-October seemed to have been the best window for perennial division. Years before it was mid to late September. The record high for September 25th was set in 1891 @ 89 º, the low of 29 º in 1963, with the average temperature of 66 º it should be the perfect time. The weather is comfortable, relatively few pesky insects and the need for daily watering moderately minimal. What am I waiting for?

Other than Hosta, daylilies, Shasta and Iris, I wait to divide most of my other perennials until all fear of potential new growth has subsided. I want to be assured that all the plant’s energies are given to the roots. I no longer prune or dead-head my roses, I allow the Stokes Aster and Dianthus to put forth their final sporadic pops of blooms without fear I will behead their fruits.

Perhaps I will feel better when the average temperature is 64 º?! What if I wait too long? My tools are ready, newly sharpened, and eager to feel their shiny improved selves against the stems of the fading flora.

The gardens I tend to will soon be pockets of space and stubs. Some old stand-by plants will remain upright for as long as they can hold their heads up high. Joe Pye Weed, Echinacea, Ornamental Grasses, and even Astilbe keep their vertical presence for that ever-important wildlife and winter interest.

Each chomp and split of clumps of roots is a rite of passage. I envision sighs as I separate and divide as if the plant knows that they will face the new spring in less crowded conditions. Or perhaps it is the contentment that they realize they can continue their work below the ground. They have given all they have for this season by offering beauty and fragrance while contributing food for bugs and birds. Oh, how could we forget the deer and ground hog? However, I feel this less thrills my plants as for the pain it causes me.

Am I selfish in my wanting the best for my plants? Or is it all about my need to prolong the season? But wait, does the gardening season ever end? There is so much more to do. Division is just one aspect of our duties, there are bulbs to plant, mums are at their fiery peak, pumpkins, gourds, and other seasonal decorative elements to add. Where do I begin? Oh, I am so confused………..

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Garden Chores

Hello again,

I found these helpful garden tips at http://awaytogarden.com/my-october-garden-chores when I was noodling around BloominKrazy one of the sites we follow at www.twitter.com/skillins. The advice given is based on a zone 5B situation in very northeastern NY state and western MA so the gardening info given is quite appropriate to our conditions in Skillin's Country which probably averages zone 5A. I like a lot of the information they present. So I am listing some of what they have to say (their advice is in quotes) and I comment briefly (in italics) as to how we hardy gardeners in Skillin's Country can follow this gardening advice to our benefit.

"FALL IS HEATING UP, at least visually, even as temperatures trend downward. Cleanup is (hopefully) under way in earnest, with time out to cook up the last bits from the vegetable garden into a batch of ‘Tomato Junk’ or soup, or local apples into applesauce, checking on the kettles between rounds of raking and cutbacks outdoors. With such delicious reminders of summer and fall in the freezer, and the right plants in the garden, there’s no “end” to fear. Some of us even feel happy about the coming riches: berries and other fruits, bark, new birds.

Peak planting time for bulbs and for many woody things continues through month’s end or so; make that work include some focus on the addition of fall and winter plants to the landscape.
Garden cleanup, though, is the primary order of the day—and don’t forget: quickly stash your tender things as frost threatens or just after, depending on the plant, to carry them through the winter. Here we go:


"CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well." Great advice here. We hear quite a few heart breaking stories in early Spring about rodent damage to tasty trunks of fruit trees--especially young fruit trees. It doesn't take much eating to girdle the young trunks and that can be fatal. IF we get a plentiful amount of early Snow get a coffee can with some rodent bait down around the trunk to quickly ward off those pests. Let us know if you have any questions--this is important if you have young fruit trees on your property.

"BE EXTRA-VIGILANT cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season. So will mummies (shriveled fruit hanging on the trees). Best to pick and remove (though I confess to leaving mine hanging for the birds, who adore it)." Yes, I would leave the hanging fruit for the birds; this fruit along with some well placed feeders can make your yard a Leader Among Feeders! Speaking of that we have an awesome Bird Feeding class coming up on Saturday, October 17 @ 10 AM. Email us at info@skillins.com if interested. Back to the fallen fruit and foliage; these fallen items make a great harbor for diseases and also a great place for insects to overwinter. Clean it up and keep it clean!

"SCOUTING FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE begins later this month, when leaves fall and their egg cases are easier to see. Remove egg cases by pruning off affected wood, between then and April-ish, to reduce larvae and beetle issues in the coming year. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. I also watch in May for larvae hatch and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests." We talk about this in our nurseries BUT we don't write about this much and I am glad this is here for you to read.

"BE SURE TO WATER trees now through hard frost if conditions are dry, so that they enter dormancy in a well-hydrated state. Evergreens (needled ones and broadleaf types like rhododendron, too) are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and winterburn otherwise." Conditions ARE dry so this watering plan is needed. As Tim, our nursery manager, reminded me a week ago we have not forgotten the 20" of rain of the summer BUT our plants forgot that rain a long time ago. It appears that watering 2009 planted trees and shrubs will be very important this fall. The same goes for any plant material you consider vulnerable. I have some long established Pee Gee hydrangeas that are doing great BUT they are in a well draining area so they get pretty limp in dry conditions. I make sure they get good slow soakings during dry stretches. Check out Time to Water! or more watering tips.

"DON’T PANIC IF EVERGREENS continue to show some browning or yellowing of needles this month and next. The oldest, innermost ones typically shed after a few years on the tree." Again with the relatively dry conditions we have seen earlier browning or yellowing of needles than usual.

"ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too." Again insects and even diseases LOVE to overwinter in or on dead wood. Prune out those suckers, etc--keep the plant focused on healthy productive growth. Show that tree or shrub who the boss is!


"DID YOU SOW COVER CROPS? Green manures help build soil tilth and fertility. There are varieties for each season and region; I use winter rye and medium red clover through mid-fall here." We recommend winter rye and have it available in plentiful supply. Good gardening friend David K of A Garden in Maine uses unused legume seeds if he has them. I have some pea seeds I did not use so I think I will sow some later on this fall and let the cold kill it off. If you don't get to the green manure then plentifully lay some compost (we have great compost for the job if you need some) on your open vegetable spaces.

"PREPARE A SEEDBED NOW for peas and spinach for next spring, to get a headstart on such early crops. Spinach can even be sown now through Thanksgiving, for super-early spring harvest; not the peas, of course." Yes spinach sown or seeded this fall can quite often survive the winter as seed or even young plants for a very early harvest. I have not done this but I am wondering if row covers might be needed to shelter any young plants through the real cold parts of winter? If you have done this project drop us a quick comment at this post or send us a quick email at info@skillins.com if you have any practical info to share!

"AS VEGETABLE PLANTS (and annual flowers) fade, pull them to get a start on garden cleanup. Before composting the remains, cut them up a bit with a pruning shears or shred, to speed decomposition." Great advice. September has been a glorious month for so many of my annuals but the cold of October will inevitably take "the starch" out of these valiant plants. Yes, the worm is turning my friends.

"PARSLEY AND CHIVES can be potted up and brought indoors for offseason use. A few garlic cloves in a pot will yield a supply of chive-like (but spicier) garlic greens all winter for garnish. Determined types with really sunny windowsills can sow seeds of bush basil in a pot, too. I rely on frozen pesto cubes instead. I also freeze a lot of green herbs, from sage to parsley, this way. " Frozen pesto cubes? Okay....We make a point of keeping a healthy amount of good edible herbs available (at a low price of $3.99 a pot!) through the winter. Two aims achieved here: one to give you some fresh herb options; two to give you a "taste" of a garden plant during the winter!

"IF NEXT YEAR’S GARDEN plans include a patch of strawberries or asparagus or cane fruits like raspberries, do the tilling and soil preparation now so the bare-root plants ordered over the winter can be planted extra early come spring." First of all we have all these plants available for you in the Spring so save the shipping costs and support your fellow Mainers by purchasing these great plants from Skillin's or several of the fine garden centers in southern Maine. The soil prep referred to would be much the same as the green manure or compost layering that we talked about above.

"REPLANT YOUR BIGGEST CLOVES from your best heads of harvested garlic for best yield, or hurry and order a supply and plant now (about a month before frost is in the ground). Prepare a sunny spot, and plant each clove 1-2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in the row, with about 12 inches between rows. Green growth will happen this fall, which is great; don’t panic. It’s a hardy thing." You will have a great harvest in the Spring!


"PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION to areas to cleanup around peonies, roses and other flowers that are prone to fungal diseases; don’t leave any debris in place." Cleanup! Cleanup! The same truth exists here as to cleaning up around trees and shrubs. Dead leaves can easily mildew and disease and that mildew and disease can literally jump to vulnerable live plants. Include tall phlox, bee balm and lilacs as very vulnerable plants as well.

"CANNAS, DAHLIAS AND OTHER tender bulb-like things including elephant ears need to be dug carefully for indoor storage. There are many methods, but the basics: Once frost blackens the foliage, cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully, then brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks or so to cure. Stash in a dry spot like unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees, in boxes or pots filled with bark chips or peat moss." Well said although with begonias I have noticed they wither pretty quickly once left to dry or cure. Two weeks seems to be awhile; I would go shorter and keep an eye on these bulbs to make sure they don't begin to wither too much from the open air.

"DON’T COMPLETELY DEADHEAD FADED perennials, biennials and annuals if you want to collect seed (non-hybrids only) or wish to let them self-sow for next year’s show. Nicotiana, poppies, larkspur, clary sage and many others fall into this leave-alone group; some plants must be left in place or seeds shaken around during cleanup to insure the next generation. Plants with showy or bird-friendly seedheads, like coneflowers, also get a stay of execution." I pruned some of my coneflower this year to try and get more flowers; I am not sure I will do that again. I like the seedheads they have a certain glow to them! The birds like them too. Cleome should fall into this leave-alone group if you want some free plants for next year!

"LAST CALL FOR BULB ORDERS (see Sources), and plant as they arrive (lilies most urgently). Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when ordering. And think drifts, not onesies and threesies." Why order and pay shipping when Skillin's has an awesome selection? But I do agree: if you can think "early, middle, late" and by "drifts" we mean focus on LESS varieties for MORE color impact!

"PREPARE NEW beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top." The cardboard or newspaper method definitely works--and quickly! Check out More Discussion on Newspaper as Garden Mulch!


"START A FIRST POT of paperwhites, and stagger forcing more every couple of weeks for a continuing winterlong indoor display." Great advice and what a fast enjoyable way to enjoy fresh flowers through the winter! We have paperwhites available as well as their close cousins, Soleil D'Or and Chinese Sacred Lily narcissus.

"REST AMARYLLIS BULBS by putting them in a dry, dark place where they will have no water at all for a couple of months. In September, I put mine in a little-used closet; do it now if you haven’t." Amaryllis--one of the best winter companions you can have! Amaryllis also make a great gift and we will soon have a beautiful supply here at Skillin's!

"IF HOUSEPLANTS NEED repotting, do it before they come inside (less messy than in the house!). Ideally, I do this in spring just as they go outside, but if someone’s in need, do now. Don’t step up more than an inch (on small pots) or a couple (on large ones). Most plants don’t like to swim in their containers." Also check your plants carefully for any pests. IF you suspect the presence of little creatures then come see us for some very effective and safe to use Systemic Houseplant Granules by Bonide.


"KEEP MOWING TILL THE GRASS stops growing, and make the last cut a short one. Let clippings lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil, unless they are long and wet, in which case, rake and compost." Also later on this month, don't hesitate to grind those fallen leaves with your mower into the lawn. If you feed your lawn organically the healthy microbes in the soil will grab those ground up leaves and break them down fairly quickly over time so that the leaves will just become nice organic matter for your lawn. Lawn soil fed chemically do not have those plentiful microbe levels and so then too many ground up leaves turn to thatch and then layer or shut off the soil from air and sun. SO feed your lawn organically and grind those leaves and grass blades. For good organic feeding we recommend Espoma Lawn Food or the Organica lawn products (all sold right here at Skillin's).


"START A LEAVES-ONLY PILE alongside your other heap as a future source of soil-improving leaf mold, or when partly rotted for use as mulch. Running over dry leaves (and other dry non-woody material) with the mower to shred will reduce the area needed for such piles." See I told you so about grinding the leaves! Good advice about the separate pile as partly rotted leaves make great mulch. Oak and maple leaves take a long time to break down so we don't really recommend them for your own compost pile. I send most of my raked leaves to the town landfill where the leaves are then sold to various agricultural farms and returned to the soil that way.

"ORDER A SUPPLY of bulk mulch, which is cheaper than the packaged kind and also eliminates the waste of all those heavyweight plastic bags. Many local nurseries deliver. Top up mulch in all garden beds as they get cleaned up gradually in fall." I actually prefer using composts for most of my garden beds and we do sell bulk compost that can be easily delivered. We also deliver bulk mulch as well! If you don't need a tremendous amount of mulch it makes more sense to buy by the bag (Skillin's offers great locally bagged mulch by Jolly Gardener at competitive prices) and the bags can be recycled.

"I’ll recut the messiest of my bed edges, too, if there is time." Show me an active yard with gardens and there will always be eding needed. Another gift idea? We sell ergonomically excellent edgers by Radius tools. Your favorite diligent gardener will adore it!

Drop us a comment below with any questions or email us at info@skillins.com! We look forward to seeing you soon at Skillin's!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 1, 2009