Thursday, December 9, 2010

More December Gardening Tips!

Hello again,

December is a busy month! Although the coming holidays seem to add considerably more to our plate, there are still some useful gardening chores that can be done. Last week we mentioned some helpful December gardening and holiday tips and following in this post are a few more that we did not cover.

*Keep an eye out for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. It is great to give your plants a regular shower--many houseplant insect problems start from dusty plants. If you suspect you have a problem, separate this plant from your other plants and come see us to pick up Bonide's Systemic Houseplant Granules. These are fast acting granules that you sprinkle on top of the soil. Your waterings will integrate the plant's active ingredients into the plant's system for fast acting and thorough results.

*Start paperwhites in pebbles and water. Stagger them every few weeks for great winter color. We have 3 choices of such bulbs right here at Skillin's!

*Clear turf or weeds from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals before snow flies to reduce winter damage by rodents. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well.

*Be extra vigilant cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season.

*This cold weather means it is the absolute PERFECT time to mulch around your perennial beds, roses and other tender shrubs like Butterfly Bush. Use straw, fir boughs, compost, mulch or some combination to cover over these precious plants. Keep the frozen soil in place by covering ASAP. The freezing and thawing of your soil that can happen in Skillin's Country to unprotected plants is what causes cells in their root systems to be stressed and this is what causes our plants to perish!

Several of these tips were inspired by our friend Margaret at She is a good read and evidently a great gardener!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 9, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

7 Important Gardening Tips

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Rion Piccaro entitled The 7 Most Important Indoor Gardening Tips. I have added some comments in italics!

"If you enjoy gardening and would like to be growing all year round, but your climate doesn't permit you to grow outdoors in the winter months, you can always make an indoor garden. Whether you want to grow herbs, vegetables, fruits, or all of the above, you will find these indoor garden tips to be beneficial. There are plenty of grow guides and indoor garden tutorials online, so it is important that you do your research before you get started. Like with most project, it's wise to gather relevant information necessary for growing a successful indoor garden.

Top 7 indoor gardening tips:

Proper Light - Make sure you provide enough light to your plants. If they get too little light by intensity or time, they will become weaker and frail each day. Even if your home or office doesn't get enough sunlight, you can buy an indoor grow light. If adding a grow light is not an option, you can always choose a variety of plants that will grow well in low light environments.

Give Your Plants A Shower - No Kidding! You don't have to wash them every day, but it's a good thing to spray them down with fresh water regularly. The water will remove the dust and contaminants that may have landed on the leaves. Plants will absorb water through their leaves, so this is great for keeping your garden well hydrated. This is extremely important advice as so many insect problems start with dusty indoor plants and pots.

Soil Matters - Choose your soil wisely.... You can do no better than Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor Blend; an all natural and locally produced soil that is just terrific!
Drainage Is Important - Always add holes to the bottom of your plant container! Sure, you can buy planters with holes already in the bottom, but if you want to use a plastic container for starting seedlings, you may want to make your own from plastic cups. Without proper soil drainage, the water will stay in the pot, which will cause the roots rot. Good drainage along with good quality soil allows for deep waterings of your roots--very healthy!

Water Is Life - The most important indoor gardening tips regard proper watering. Water is an essential part of a plant's growth. Some plants need to be watered more frequently than others, but they all need water to survive. Room temperature water is most recommended for best absorption. However, you shouldn't never over water, or that will not be good either, but if you have good soil drainage, it will be hard to over water the plants. They will usually tell you when they need water by their leaves drooping down. When the soil feels dry to the touch about three inches down it's time to water thoroughly.

Fertilize For Success - Soil nutrients are also important factors for a healthy garden. Over time water will flush out some of the soil's nutrients, so you will have to add more nutrients periodically. Many people choose to use organic fertilizer in their garden which can come in a solid or liquid form. Always follow the instruction on the package of fertilizer that you are using for proper usage and how often to use it. You can purchase an electronic device that will check the nutrient level in your soil. I recommend all natural Dynamite--a capsulated fertilizer that needs to be applied every 3 months. Or liquid applications of Fish and Seaweed fertilizer (can result in a slight, temporary odor).

Capture It - Take lots of pictures because you may decide to start your own indoor garden blog and help others who are doing their research. Another great thing that a picture provides is the ability to post in a forum and get help with garden problems that other may have solved. Sometimes a picture is the best method for showing a certain problem to someone online or offline at your local garden center.

These are just my personal top 7 indoor gardening tips that you should consider to have your own success in growing plants indoors. Use these tips, but don't stop there. Continue to research and try new things to improve your garden so that your plants will have success and you will gain a sense of accomplishment."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 7, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Amaryllis (Post Holiday Care)

(picture from Paul Parent Garden Club)
Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website ( to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Here is some of what Paul had to say this past week:

Attention: anyone who receives an amaryllis as a gift over the holidays...don't throw that bulb away the minute the flower stalk becomes withered and ugly! With a little coddling, you can enjoy the same beautiful blooms next year.

After the blossoms shrivel, cut the flower stem 1 inch above the base with a sharp knife. Continue to water and feed the remaining bulb regularly, and provide plenty of light. Amaryllis can be planted outdoors - pot and all - in partial shade and then into full sunlight during the summer.

For Christmas blooms next year, bring the plants into the garage in late September and place the pots on their sides. Cut off all water. This gives the plants a couple of months to rest before preparing to bloom again during the holidays.

In November, remove any dead leaves and replace the top couple of inches of potting soil. Resist the urge to pot up, as amaryllis like being jammed into a small space; there should only be about 1" between the bulb and the pot. Thoroughly water, place in a sunny window indoors and wait until growth emerges.

Once a flower bud becomes evident, continue watering when soil becomes dry, and make sure the plant is receiving plenty of sunlight. Water well during blooming, but put the plant in a less bright spot to help the flowers last longer. Then, when the flowers begin to fade, it's time to start the whole process over again.

If you're in USDA hardiness zone 7b or warmer, amaryllis can also be grown outdoors like any other flowering bulb, although many of the Dutch hybrid types will not do that well. Just make sure the soil is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Space bulbs about a foot apart and barely cover the bulb tops with soil. Select a sunny spot in the garden that receives some shade during the afternoon hours. Avoid placing the bulb where it will dry out excessively; a light layer of mulch will help retain moisture and keep the bulb from overheating in hot weather.
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 4, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Beauty of Christmas Cactus

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "The Beauty of Christmas Cactus" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

                                            (Picture from the Paul Parent Garden Club)

While the poinsettia remains the most popular of the holiday plants, a healthy Christmas cactus in full bloom is a great gift idea for that special gardener. It is easy to care for and can be grown indoors throughout the year. The flowers range in color from yellow, orange, red, salmon, pink, fuchsia and white to combinations of those colors. Its pendulous stems make it a great choice for hanging baskets.

We have a great selection of Christmas Cactus at Skillin's right now!

The "Christmas cactus" is a closely related species of forest cacti that grow as epiphytes between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level in the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janeiro in southeast Brazil, South America. Epiphytes need structural support from the trees where they live to survive, not nutrition, since they make their own food. Similar plants are orchids, ferns and mosses. That is why their slender stems weep over, filling your pot.

We typically think of cacti as being heat tolerant, but Christmas cactuses will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures, 55 or cooler. It is important to keep plants in a well-lit location away from drafts of heater vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open. Over-watering turns the stems purple.

So, if you have a plant without flowers put it in the basement window for about a month and the flowers will soon appear. Christmas cactus, if put outside for the summer, will set flowers for you. As the weather changes in September the cactus will set flower buds all by itself. Cool temperatures, around 55 degrees F., are the trigger, along with short days. (I have great luck with a re flowering Christmas Cactus by keeping it on my shaded front steps until well into September) If it is in a room that the lights stay on until the 11:00 o’clock news, that could also inhibit flowering. The day never gets short enough to change from vegetative growth to flower bud production. Move it to a north-facing window.

The Christmas cactus is a tropical-type plant, not quite as drought tolerant as its desert relatives and, in fact, may drop flower buds if the soil gets too dry. Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The soil, should be kept evenly moist for best growth. I water about every 2 weeks.

Christmas cactuses will do best in bright indirect light. They do not need to be fertilized while in bloom, but most gardeners enjoy the challenge of keeping the plant after the holidays for re-bloom the following year. When they finish flowering, fertilize every 2 weeks with Miracle-Gro fertilizer, while the plants are actively growing. If taken care of properly, a single plant can last for many years, providing many seasons of enjoyment. If you repeat the cold process in the basement or cool room, it will flower again in February."

Thanks to the Paul Parent Garden Club!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 3, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to Grow Citrus Plants Indoors During the Winter

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "How to Grow Citrus Plants Indoors During the Winter" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"You do not have to live in Florida to grow good citrus plants. With today's new hybrids and grafting methods it is possible for you to grow a few oranges, lemons, limes, kumquat, and even grapefruit right in your living room no matter where you live.

They are not just citrus trees, they are decorative plants that will produce edible fruit and marvelous white flowers that are so fragrant that your entire home will smell of the great outdoors in spring time. Citrus plants are evergreen and the glossy, dark green, oval shaped leaves are even aromatic when crushed.

The flowers of the citrus are star-like and usually develop on the plant during the early spring in clusters on the tips of the branches. The flowers are about one inch in diameter and last on the plant for several weeks.

Citrus is traditionally pollinated by insects but because they are growing in an unnatural climate, your home, you will have to do the pollination by hand if you want fruit to form on the plant.

This will be fun--all you have to do is purchase a small artist's paint brush and tickle the flowers when you notice that the center of the flower has a yellow powdery substance forming on it. This is pollen; you have to move it from the pollen sacks and place it on the swollen center of the flower called the "pistil."

Move your pollen-covered brush from flower to flower every day that the flowers produce new pollen and new flowers open on the plant. I find that if you sing while you do this, it will work better! So "Buzz, Buzzz, Buzzzz." As the plant is accustomed to the romance of the buzzing bee, try this buzzing while your spouse or children are in the room and wait to hear the reaction from them.

Most years you will have new flowers and fruit at the same time on your plant as the fruit ripens slowly. If you're successful at pollinating the flowers, a small rounded fruit will form where the flowers were, and in time it will grow in size, forming a green fruit that will bend the branches it develops on. The fruit will form slowly and the color will change as it develops, from a dark green to orange or yellow depending on the fruit you are growing.

Grow Citrus in a sunny or bright lit window or in front of a sliding door, as the plant needs a lot of sunlight to make fruit indoors during the winter. When the weather changes and becomes frost-free place the plant outside in a full sun location until the fall arrives, then back indoors.

When you place the plant outside in the spring, I would like to see you repot the plant in a pot one size bigger but still small enough for you to handle. Use a good quality potting soil that contains a lot of organic matter like Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor Blend. Fertilize every 2 weeks, spring to fall and then monthly during the winter months.

Water the citrus plant weekly when the plant is outside and more often if the weather gets hot. During the winter, water sparingly while indoors but keep the soil moist; do not let it dry out. (I let my calamondin orange go too dry and did get some leaf drop. But citrus plants are durable; it will bounce back!) During the winter, it is best to keep the plant on the cool side--50 to 60 degrees if possible--and avoid temperatures above 70 degrees, as the plant is resting.

Fertilize with an acid-based fertilizer such as Mir-Acid and keep lime away from this plant. When you put the plant outside for the summer, add a little bit of Holly Tone organic fertilizer to give it a push and help the plant make new growth. To keep the feeding natural I use all natural Citrus Tone by Espoma or even Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed fertilizer.
If you start to see the foliage color fading or turning yellow, use Mir-Acid fertilizer as a foliar feed. Citrus loves humidity, so keep the plant on a tray of stones that you can add water daily to. This will help provide moisture to the air around the plant. A humidifier will help keep the plant happy--and daily misting is wonderful also.

When you purchase plants, be sure that they are labeled as dwarf or grafted plants. This will insure that they will flower and fruit while still small, usually when the plant reaches 3 to 6 feet tall. Non-grafted plants will need to grow 10 feet plus to produce fruit in your home--like growing an apple tree in your house.

When you eat citrus and save the seeds for potting, they will grow, but because they are not grafted or dwarf they will not bear fruit for you unless you have real high ceilings. The plants are beautiful, the flowers smell great, and with some luck you can have "native citrus" in your living room at this time next fall, no matter where you live. Enjoy!"

We have some awesome Citrus choices right here at Skillin's for you right now!

Thanks again, Paul Parent

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 27, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks to You Sale!

Hello again,

Griffin and Mike say Thanks for Being a Customer!

Here are the details to our exciting Thanks to You Thanksgiving Weekend Sale:

*6” Poinsettia (630002) reg $14.99
       Buy 2, Get 1 Free!!

*Bird Feeders and Supplies
   20% off

*Wind Chimes
   20% off

*Pots and Saucers
  20% off

*Wreath w/Red Ribbon
  Reg $17.99, Sale Price $13.99

*Fresh Maine made Roping—a great decorating weekend!
  Reg $2.40 per foot, on sale for $1.59 per foot

*Christmas Tree Ornaments
  Buy 5 or more, save 10%

*Christmas Tree Stands
  20% off w/ purchase of Skillin’s Christmas tree (receipt req’d)

*Colonial Candes
  10% off w/purchase of 1 box
  20% off w/purchase of 2 boxes

Sale ongoing “Black” Friday Nov 26 through Sunday Funday Nov 28!!!!

*Thank You! *Thank You! *Thank You! *Thank You! *Thank You!
(very few restrictions may apply; prices for in stock items only; while supplies last)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Micro Greens for Holiday Meals

From the folks at Botanical Interests: (a few comments by me in italics)

"Gourmet restaurants have been using micro greens for years to dress up their entrees, but it's so easy to grow them yourself at home in a sunny windowsill and jazz up your holiday meals! During cold weather, growing micro greens is also the perfect way to get our 'gardening fix' indoors.

The article below talks about many different varieties of micro greens and we have most seeds of these plants in stock from Botanical Interests. Pretty easy to grow!
Unlike sprouts, micro greens are vegetables or herbs that are grown in a shallow container of soil and harvested when the first shoots are just 1"-2" tall. In this tender young stage, nutrients are concentrated, and you can enjoy the essence of each flavor as a sprinkling on your favorite dish.

Micro Greens Mild Mix contains: Beet Bulls Blood, Pak Choy, Cabbage Red Acre, Kohlrabi, and Swiss Chard Lucullus. These varieties add pretty red & green color and a very mild flavor to soups, crackers, sandwiches, or salads.

Micro Greens Spicy Mix contains: Sawtooth Mustard, Peppergrass Cress, Cabbage Red Acre, Mustard Red Giant, and Radish China Rose. These varieties add pretty red & green color and a more perky, spicy flavor that is a complement to creamy soups, mashed potatoes, cream cheese spreads on crackers, salads, sandwiches, and Asian dishes.

Once you realize that micro greens are indispensable in the kitchen, you can get really adventurous and try growing individual varieties. Amaranth, arugula, basil, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, and sorrel are great vegetables that can be harvested as micro greens. Some excellent herbs to try include basil, cress, dill, marjoram, oregano, and watercress.

Since micro greens are grown and harvested so quickly, a sunny windowsill or fluorescent lights will work fine as a light source. Grow a quick batch in a shallow container with a drainage hole or a recycled plastic clamshell container like those you get berries or cherry tomatoes in from the grocery store (keep the attached lid closed to hold in moisture until seedlings sprout). Fill your container up to ½" from the rim with seed starting mix or a finely milled potting soil. Make sure the soil stays moist, but not soggy. Watering by soaking the tray from below will prevent soil from splashing onto the plants. Or, you could just mist frequently with a spray bottle. Most varieties sprout in 5-10 days and will be ready to harvest within a week after that. When seedlings are 1"-2" tall…voila! You've got micro greens ready to harvest.

Microgreens in an attractive container can also add a fresh look to your holiday table, especially when paired with the warm glow of candles. Think how fun it will be to allow guests to do their own little 'snip snip' to add a dash of freshness to their meal!"

"Pass the micro greens, please."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tucking Perennials in for the Winter

From the folks at Botanical Interests(a few comments by me in italics)

"You may have nestled your dormant vegetable beds down for a good winter's sleep with a nice blanket of mulch. But, don't forget your perennial flowers and herbs!

If you live in an area with hard frost, you should wait to mulch your perennials until after the ground freezes (typically after several hard frosts and when the soil is impenetrable by a shovel). To get them through the winter, the goal is to mulch them to retain some moisture around the roots and prevent upheaval from the soil from fluctuating freeze/thaw cycles. A few inches of shredded leaves or bark, weed-free grass clippings, straw, or evergreen boughs will tuck them in nicely until spring. The exact best time to do this mulching can really vary in Skillin's Country. I would say we are looking at a couple of more weeks before the ground "binds up" enough to be worthy of mulching.

Some gardeners like to tidy their garden up in fall, cutting back all dead or declining perennial foliage. There may be an aesthetic to that, but consider the benefits of leaving at least some of the stalks and seed heads intact. If you live in an area that gets snow, the stalks can help trap snow at the crown, insulating it and providing moisture as it melts. Also, many flower seed heads provide food for birds through the winter. I know, I know many of you want to trim those gardens all the way back. But Botanical Interests really gives some good reasons to wait on cutting back some of your material.

If have really dry winters with infrequent rain or snow, you can increase the chances for your perennials to survive if you give them a little water once or twice a month during warmer days. (Watercress is one perennial variety that definitely needs supplemental water to survive.)

Do you have perennials in containers? Cluster them in a sheltered area and add a little mulch on top. If the plants are hardy in your zone, the most common thing that damages them during the winter isn't extreme cold—it's lack of moisture. So, be sure to give them a little drink on warm winter days. Good advice but in Skillin's Country I almost always recommend planting your perennials in the ground for the winter.

As your caring for your perennial flowers, remember the perennial herbs too. If you have catnip, chives, garlic chives, feverfew, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, marjoram, mint, mitsuba, oregano, sage, sorrel, thyme, or watercress, they will also benefit from some winter protection. "

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 15, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Preparing Your Blueberries and Strawberries for Winter

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Preparing Your Blueberries and Raspberries for Winter" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"It's time to put the berry garden to bed for the season, a time to collect our thoughts of what we did to these plants and what they produced for us. Last week I drove by a "Pick your Own Strawberries" field and noticed that they were covering the berry beds with two inches of straw. I pulled in to the berry fields and talked to the workers, to find out that the fall is the best time to prepare the bed for the year.

Applying fresh straw in the fall helps to protect the berry plants from cold and snowless winter winds, as snow acts as a blanket of insulation to protect the plants. Straw, not HAY, is used to keep weeds out of the strawberry bed during the year; it helps warm the soil in the early spring to wake up the plants and get them growing. Straw also keeps the berries clean, as they are off the ground and slugs are less of a problem. When the workers finished, they were planning to apply limestone to the entire growing area to help keep the soil on the neutral side--remember neutral soils have less weeds growing in them. (I would only apply the limestone to the strawberries--not the blueberries. I know this is Paul's intent!)

(I think too we have a little time to get the straw down around the strawberries. Too early in the month will provide a great deal of time for mice and other rodents to use this straw as a winter home and your plants for food. So if you can wait on this project and other straw mulching projects until later in the month).

In the spring, the strawberry plants will poke through the straw and begin to grow on top of the fall layer of straw, which also helps with air movement around the plant to help prevent possible rotting of the berries and speed up ripening. In the spring, just add a bit of fertilizer and the plant is ready to produce. Use a fertilizer like Garden Tone by Espoma first thing in the spring and again in early summer, after picking the berries, to help the new developing plants for next year's crop. All you will have to do now is keep the birds out of the garden and enjoy the berries. (We sell some great garden netting at Skillin's that you can put down in early June to keep the birds away!)

In the blueberry garden, it is time to clean all the fallen leaves from around the plant and add them to the compost pile. When the garden is clean, add a two-inch thick layer of pine needles, straw, salt marsh hay, or pine bark mulch around the plants and in between the rows of plants. This layer of organic matter will insulate the roots of the plant during the winter, keep them cooler during the hot days of summer and control weeds in the garden.

I like to fertilize these plants spring and fall with Holly-Tone by Espoma fertilizer, and I add aluminum sulfate in the spring and fall to help keep the acidity level high in the soil. Aluminum sulfate will lower the pH of the soil, helping plants achieve their goal of high crop production. Also use it on blue hydrangea spring and fall to keep the flowers blue. (All natural Soil Acidifier Garden Sulfur by Espoma can be subbed for Aluminum Sulfate--I recommend it!)

Once the garden is ready for the winter, I always apply All Season Oil and Copper Sulfate Fungicide to the entire garden. This will help destroy any insect eggs or disease spores left on the plant by insects and disease from this year. I also reapply both of these natural products again in April, so I will have few if any problems with the garden. In the spring, when I notice that the buds are beginning to swell, I apply my fertilizer to help the flower and leaf buds develop properly.

Strawberries are most productive the second and third year in the garden. The first season in the garden is to help establish the plants. At the end of the third, dig up the berry bed and replant for next year. Blueberries are a real long-time crop that will last 25 years or more in your garden. With proper care, the plants will continue to grow, increasing production each and every year. So be sure to condition the soil when planting with compost and animal manure, mulch yearly, feed regularly (with Holly Tone by Espoma) and keep the soil on the acid side.

Most insect and disease problems can be controlled with the application of a general purpose fruit tree spray; follow the recommendations on the package to develop a spray program for your garden. The flavor of fresh-picked berries is far better than store-bought--and so is the nutritional level in the berries. Enjoy! "

Mike Skillin for Paul Parent
November 2, 2010

Mulching for Winter Protection

Hello again,

Good garden center friend Hammon Buck owns and operates a fine garden center in Rockport ME called Plants Unlimited. Hammon quite often sends out some quality gardening advice to his customer list and I wanted to share this with you as a good reminder:

"Mulching is one of the best lines of defense for perennial plants against chilling temperatures. Mulching also can prevent the repeated freezing and thawing of soil that causes plants to "heave" out of the ground.

But the trick is not to mulch too soon. Mulching needs to be done after the ground starts to freeze but before the first significant snowfall of the year. If you mulch sooner, mice and other rodents may nest in the mulch, and plants may not be completely dormant. In general, the end of November is a good time to apply mulch in Maine although if an early snowstorm is predicted, you may want to apply mulch before it hits.

You can use pine needles, straw, leaves, or shredded bark. Straw is the best mulch because it is hollow and that provides good insulation. If you use leaves, make sure they are finely chopped to prevent them from matting down. (Another good reason to wait a few more weeks before mulching is that mice and other rodents will use these loose mulches--all of which I prefer--as a winter nest if they are laid down as mulch too early).

Apply a layer at least three to four inches thick around each plant. After you've laid it down, gently pull it away from the trunks and stems to give plants room to breathe. This helps prevent disease problems. Deeper mulching may be necessary in especially cold or windy sites. "

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pruning Raspberries

Good garden center friend Hammon Buck owns and operates a fine garden center in Rockport ME called Plants Unlimited. Hammon quite often sends out some quality gardening advice to his customer list and I wanted to share this with you as a good reminder:

 "November is a good time to remove spent canes from raspberries. Use sharp pruning shears to remove this year's fruiting canes, which will have done their job and will not live any longer. Cut them off all the way down to ground level. Removing these canes will help prevent diseases such as cane blight or spur blight from overwintering in the plants. Remove weak or broken canes, and thin remaining canes to about five or six per row foot. (Always leave the strongest ones even if the numbers per row foot aren't perfect.) Thinning reduces competition and results in larger berries next year.

Red raspberries will grow naturally in a hedgerow system as the picture illustrates . The suckers, originating from the root system, will fill in the entire length of the row. Suckers growing outside the 12-inch hedgerow may be removed at any time. Fall or early spring is the best time to prune in Maine. Raspberries can be dormant pruned any time canes are fully dormant. In the dormant season, remove canes outside the 12-inch width of the row, thin canes to 6 to 8 inches between canes, and top remaining canes to 48 to 60 inches in height, removing about one-fourth of the cane. Be sure to retain those canes with the largest diameter."

For another good take on cultivating raspberries check out Growing Raspberries at our Skillin's Garden Log!

Composting Leaves and Pumpkins

Hello again!

From the folks at Botanical Interests who offer a great variety of vegetable and flower seeds that we feature here at Skillin's! I make a few comments in italics.


"Are you wondering what to do with all those falling leaves? The easiest thing to do is rake them into shallow piles then mow over them with a mulching lawnmower. This excellent carbon/nitrogen mix of leaves/grass can then be dumped straight into the compost bin.

If your compost bin is full, it's worth buying a trashcan with a tight fitting lid to keep near the compost pile. The leaves will stay dry in there all winter. Then, you'll have 'brown' material on hand to alternate with 'green material' in the spring and summer. Before storing them, you can run them through a shredder or fill a tub with them and stomp them with your feet to break them up. (This is a great kid activity!) If you don't want to bother with breaking the leaves up now, you can store them whole and simply take handfuls of them and crunch them up with your hands before adding them to the compost bin. Breaking them up into pieces no larger than 1"-2" in diameter is best to encourage airflow and keep the pile from getting matted down.

Extra leaves that have been shredded also make an excellent mulch to cover your garden beds for the winter. Scatter them a few inches deep across the soil surface, but not too close to the crowns of perennials where they could cause root rot. With this method, the leaves will decompose slowly over the winter, enriching the soil. In early spring, any remaining leaves can be worked into the soil (along with some compost) to recharge your beds for planting."

Great advice above by the folks at Botanical Interests. I mow and grind as many leaves as I can into my lawn. These shredded leaves decompose nicely into the soil and help enrich my lawn growth. I don't recommend doing this if you do not feed organically. Too many ground leaves can add to thatch if your soil is not organic and alive. But I do feed my lawn's soil organically and my soil that is "alive" with worms and even smaller microorganisms incorporates the leaves quite nicely!

I also bag a fair amount of leaves and I know that these leaves are used by municipalities for compost. I do not add many leaves to my compost pile or use my leaves as mulch but the comments above by the folks at Botanical Interest are just fine in my opinion.


"After Halloween, there's no reason to put your sagging Jack O'Lantern on the curb for the trash company to add to the local landfill burden. Why not let it enrich your garden instead? First, remove any melted wax inside or non-organic accessories. Then, use a sledgehammer (another great kid activity, as long as they're protected with goggles and a warning about safety) to smash the pumpkin up into small pieces. These pieces can be scattered around the garden, buried under soil, or added to the compost pile along with layers of leaves to decompose over the winter. The pumpkin pieces will add organic matter and nutrients to garden soil, helping to give you a head start on next spring's crops."

I recommend putting pieces of pumpkin into the compost pile and let it decompose into compost rather than adding bits of it straight to the vegetable garden!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 1, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Storing Winter Bulbs--It's Time!!

Hello again,

It is nearly time to store our summer flowering bulbs such as tuberous begonias, dahlias and gladiolas for the winter. Unfortunately these lovely bulbs cannot survive our winters outdoors in the garden.

After a truly hard frost has knocked the life out of the foliage of these bulbs, I dig them carefully out of the ground. You will be amazed at the growth your bulbs have put on over the summer! Cut the foliage away from the bulbs (such foliage makes great compost!) and knock as much soil as possible off the bulbs. Let them sit for a couple of days on your porch or deck until all the soil can be easily rubbed off.

                                                   (Glad corm picture from Plants Unlimited)
Dahlias and glads in particular will have added to the parent bulbs over the summer. By that I mean that the dahlia tubers will have added new tubers and the gladiola corms will have added new corms to the parent corm. Feel free to break off these new additions; they will mean more plants next year! Tuberous begonias will have almost doubled in size. There is really nothing to divide but in a situation where you may have had 4 or 5 begonia tubers in one container for 2010 this means for 2011 in the same container you can probably have 3 begonia tubers and still have the same showy look. This means more containers of beautiful tuberous begonias next year.

Winter storage of these bulbs should have 3 goals:

(1) Treat the bulbs for any mildew or little bugs they might have now. Bulbs are living creatures; mildew can reside on them or tiny bugs called thrips can also call your bulbs home. We recommend a product such as Garden Dust by Bonide. I put some  dust in a plastic bag and place some bulbs in that bag. Close the bag and shake it well; this dust will cover the bulbs and help get rid of mildew and pesky little bugs such as thrips.

(2) Prevent the bulbs from freezing. The bulbs should be stored in a situation where the winter temperatures are cool—between 40 and 50 degrees. I have an unheated crawl space under my house that works well. Most people have heated basements that may well be too warm. I have heard of people digging a hole about 18” deep outside next to their foundation where the temperature hovers just above the freezing mark.(I have not tried this method myself). Some people have cool basement corners and store their bulbs against the cool basement walls.

(3) Prevent the bulbs from dehydrating. I store my bulbs nestled in some loose good quality potting soil or peat moss in the same plastic bags that I shook them with the Garden Dust. Once I have the bulbs snuggled in with the soil or peat moss, I tie up the bag and wish them a good winter’s sleep. A "zip loc" baggie works great as well!

                                                             (Awesome tuberous begonias)
In late February, it will be time to wake the tuberous begonias and pot them in fresh soil. They will have to stay indoors near a sunny window until the danger of hard frost is past in the Spring. “Ditto” for the dahlias except I would plan on starting them in early March. The glads can be started indoors in mid April.

One final note about bulbs! We have a great selection of fall bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, alliums, fritillaria and more here at Skillin’s! These Spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall!

Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log and let us know if you have any questions at!


Mike Skillin

Beds To Rest!

This post is written by Kathleen Carr Bailey:

The weather is crisp, sun shining, and the air smells of crisp apples, composting leaves and the hint of frost. Still wanting to be outside, yet not up to hiking? What to do? Ah, if only you could still tend to the garden? But you can!

The best preparation for a healthy, colorful & fulfilling Perennial bed for spring and the summer beyond is a good fall cleaning!

Other than divide/transplant or plant bulbs what to do?

Any perennial whose foliage is turning brown can be cut back; some, such as Dianthus, Campanula, (Bell Flowers) and Shasta Daisy, have green foliage at the base of the plant that should be left to overwinter.

Dos and Don’ts of the fall.


œ Allow for perennials and shrubs to go dormant.
œ Cut back withered/dried foliage and stems
œ Remove all debris (fallen leaves, excess mulch)that can harbor disease & pests
œ Add cut back debris to your compost bin
œ Take soil samples for testing (less expensive during winter months)
œ Pull annuals from bed, compost or till in garden
œ Add a germination retardant to ward off annual weeds
œ Add a top layer of Organic Compost
œ Mark place of newly planted bulbs or disappearing Perennials w/golf tee to ovoid misplacing and/or uprooting
œ Construct wind breaks or sun screens around plants predisposed to winter damage
œ Spray Broad leaf evergreens with anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf or other moisture retaining product.
œ Apply a light application of fertilizer to shrubs late fall.
œ Thoroughly clean w/light bleach solution containers for next spring readiness*
œ Add bright colored paint or Duct tape to tool handles for ease of recognition and sight.
œ Order seed & Nursery Catalogues.
œ Plan next year’s beds.


œ Dead head or prune shrubs which will encourage new growth
œ Stop Watering during dry periods
œ Pull stems. Cut at the crown instead.
œ Cut back Cone Flowers, Ornamental Grasses or other perennials that add winter interest or appeal to wildlife.
œ Compost foliage that appear to have a fungus/disease or may be invasive
œ Pull tender perennials that may self sow; snap dragons, pansies, dusty miller.
œ Forget to Lift tender bulbs such as dahlias, tuberous begonias, gladioli, and callas
œ Skimp on weeding
œ Fertilize perennials
œ Forget to put undercover or take inside glazed, ceramic or terra cotta containers or garden décor to prevent damaging due to freezing or breakage. Rusting of metals and glass breakage may also occur,
œ Neglect your tools. Clean, sharpen & oil so they may be ready at the first sign of ‘gardening weather’.

œ Forget to pour a cup of hot tea, but your feet up and dream about how ready you will be for next spring

Plants & Shrubs
With Special Needs

Shrubs should be left alone now--prune them in late winter or early spring, or right after bloom, depending on when they bloom. Roses also are pruned in spring, although if a Rose has grown an exceptionally long cane or two, you can remove a couple of feet of growth to avoid damage that might occur should they whip around in the winter winds. Hydrangeas and Clematis each have their own specific instructions

œ Hybrids:
o Prune all dead branches
o After frost hill organic compost & soil up to the graft to protect crown.
œ Shrub:
o Prune for the last time mid-late September with the exception of dead branches which may be removed anytime.
o Protect crown as above up to 6-12 inches.
œ Climbers:
o Secure branches susceptible to wind damage.


œ Mulch with Pine Needles or Oak Leaves to keep soil acidic,
œ Protect w/burlap those with exposure to high winds.
œ Add organic fertilizer, made for acid loving plants such as Holly Tone late fall (Thanksgiving)
œ Spray Broad leaf evergreens with anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf or other moisture
retaining product. (late fall)


œ Wrap evergreens (particularly if newly planted) with burlap if exposed to prevailing winter
winds or salt spray.
o Very wet snow may cause some evergreens to split (arborvitae) wrap w/rope or burlap if necessary
œ Water deeply once every seven to 10 days if weather is dry

Kathleen Carr Bailey for
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 25, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color

Forcing bulbs: There is no quicker way to bring spring indoors during the winter than with a pot of bulbs. Many different bulbs can be forced, including tulips, hardy narcissus, hyacinths, squill, and crocuses. These are all hardy bulbs that need a 15-week prerooting period before they can be brought into active growth. That period of enforced cold convinces them that winter is at hand; when they’re brought to a warm spot, they assume that spring has arrived and they bloom.

To begin the process usually several bulbs are potted together in a 6-inch bulb pan. Hyacinths, which are large-flowered, look handsome planted as singles in regular 4-inch flowerpots. Add a dusting of a good natural fertilizer like Bulb Tone by Espoma to the soil so the bulbs will have additional nutrients. When they’re planted in the pots, the tips of the bulbs should peek just above the soil line, which should itself be about ½ inch below the rim of the pot. Then moisten the soil and the bulbs are ready for winter.

There are several different ways to store winter bulbs; the purpose is simply to keep the bulbs at 40 degrees or so. Also they can’t be allowed to dry out or freeze. A bulkhead, cool cellar, or refrigerator is fine. Also a cold frame or a bulb trench dug outdoors can be used. After 15 weeks, the first of the bulbs can be brought indoors. Plan on bringing in just a pot or two at a time to give you a sequence of flowering plants through most of the late winter and early spring. Put the pots on a bright but cool windowsill until the shoots are about 4” tall. Then move them into bright sunlight until the flower buds start to show color, at which point move them back into bright indirect light. While bulb plants are growing and in flower, they do best with night temperatures in the low 40s at night and the 60s in the day. Keep the soil moist but don’t feed them. Then enjoy an early taste of spring.

When the bulb plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, reduce the amount of water and give them only enough to keep the leaves from wilting. By the time the leaves have withered entirely, the soil should be dry. The bulbs can be stored in their pots until the fall, or they can be taken from their pots and stored in a cool dry place. Most bulb plants can’t be forced a second time. But if you have an outdoor garden, you can save the bulbs and plant them outside in the fall. They may not blossom extensively the next spring, but they will regain their strength and eventually produce fine outdoor spring flowers.

One final note about hyacinth: We sell “pre-cooled” hyacinth and that enables you to skip that 15 week cooling process. Put your hyacinth in pots or even easier pick up a few hyacinth vases and just place your hyacinth in water and let nature go!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Galanthus aks Snowdrops" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"After a long winter, the snowdrops are the first spring flowering bulbs to emerge from your garden, and it's a real treat to watch the flowers develop. Snowdrops appear when the weather is still bleak outside during late winter and into early spring. The grass-like foliage begins to emerge as soon as the snow melts from the cold ground and is quickly followed by beautiful flowers.

The short stem that forms holds a single pendulous, white, mildly-scented six-petal flower that develops in the shape of a lantern or street light. As the temperatures warm up, the flower stem grows taller until it reaches 6 to 8 inches tall--and so does the foliage. The flowers break open, revealing three inner short petals in the center of the flower that are green tipped on the end of each petal. The three outer petals are oval, 3/4 inches long and pure white. The bloom is translucent white and the outer petals resemble the wings of a bumblebee.

From the Greek language, Galanthus means "milk flower," and according to Christian legend, the snowdrop first bloomed to coincide with the Feast of Purification, held on February 2, known as Candlemas Day. To celebrate the arrival of spring, snowdrops must be planted in the fall, and they will do best in full sun or partial shade. The bulb will grow best in a soil that does not dry out during the heat of summer so if your soils are sandy, plant them in partial shade or under tall deciduous trees that have had lower branches removed to allow the sunlight in.

Plant the bulbs in groups of 2 or 3, in a hole 3 to 4 inches deep and wide. If your soil is good, the bulbs will produce seeds that will mature and increase the size of the clump, so add a handful of compost to the hole when you plant. I also add Soil Moist granules to help hold water near the bulb. The bulbs will do great in heavy soil as long as there is no standing water on them and prefer soils that are neutral, so add limestone on the areas you plant for better growth and more flowers.

Snowdrops are small bulbs and inexpensive to purchase when compared to tulips or daffodils. These bulbs are also not eaten by rodents, rabbits or deer and make a great plant to naturalize areas on your property where wildflowers grow. Once established, the area will thicken with flowers quickly. As long as you do not mow the foliage down before it has turned yellow, the plant will spread quickly.

The foliage needs time to ripen and uses the sun's energy to make food for the bulb for next year. If you plant in a grassy area, do not use a broadleaf weed killer or the bulbs will also die off. Plant bulbs in groundcover beds such as English ivy, pachysandra or vinca for wonderful early spring color before these plants make the new foliage in the spring. If you plant on the side of a hill, set them up on the top of the hill and watch the plants spread down the hill each year as the plant produces seed--almost like a stream of water running down the hill.

Fertilize in the spring when the flowers fade and again in the fall with Bulb-Tone by Espoma and never use bone meal as a fertilizer or it will encourage animals to dig in your planting beds. The bulbs are hardy from Maine to Northern Florida, as long as there is a cold spell during the winter season.

You will like these bulbs better than crocus, because of the time of the year they flower, the hardiness of the bulb, and the fact that the bulbs are not eaten by animals; plus they are inexpensive, so you can purchase more bulbs for your money and get more flowers. Plant some snowdrops this fall and in the spring you will know why I love this bulb so much. Enjoy!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Keeping Carved Pumpkins Perky

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Carved pumpkins look the best one to two days after carving and rarely look good after seven days. So, if you want your carved pumpkins to stay fresh until Halloween night, don't carve them until at least October 22nd.

Before carving, wash your hands well with warm soap and water or a disinfecting hand sanitizer, and make sure your carving tools are clean to avoid transferring bacteria to the pumpkin. You may also want to wipe the outside of the pumpkin down with bleach before making the first cut.

Once carved, you can keep your pumpkin perky for up to a week by wiping the inside and cut areas with bleach, spraying with a household cleaning spray that includes bleach, or spraying with one of the pumpkin sprays available in craft or party stores. Then, give those areas a thin coating of petroleum jelly like Vaseline. (Some people use vegetable oil, but it's more flammable---a consideration when using candles.)

Carved pumpkins rot the fastest in warm weather. Keep them out of direct sunlight and move them into a garage, cool basement, or a refrigerator when temperatures exceed 70 degrees. If your climate is humid or it is rainy, you should dry off and refrigerate your carved pumpkins at night. Freezing temperatures also speed decay, so move them to a protected location when temperatures outside are below freezing.

If a pumpkin starts to shrivel or gets a little mold prematurely, you can soak it for a couple of hours in a bucket of water to revive it. (Add 2 teaspoons of bleach for every gallon of water for disinfecting.)

If you are lighting up a pumpkin for more than one night, use a battery-operated candle or small flashlight inside instead of a candle (always safer anyway!). This will prevent soot and heat damage that could shorten the pumpkin's lifespan.

Check out a great variety of vegetable and flower seeds by Botanical Interests--many of them organic--here at Skillin's!

October Garden Talks 2010

The purpose of this post is to relay a few "quick hit" garden tips to you through the month of October. Some of these tips will be garden tasks I am doing myself, some of these tips will be quick pieces of advice we are giving to customers, some will be quick links to good gardening advice we encounter on the internet.

                                                     (photo found at

Check back to this post often as we will update it often as we roll through October 2010!

Here are our September Garden Talks 2010 .

October 18--Sorry folks meant to do some posting over the last couple of days but work duties have kept me from the keyboard! Let's review--Skillin's Country received about 3.5" of rain on Friday. Hopefully not too many lost power. This rain has really soaked our gardens and lawn areas and that is a good thing!

It will be VERY COLD tonight in all parts of Skillin's Country. I still have some container plantings I want to keep going so I am going to haul the frost blanket out. I will also spray some plants later tonight with water and then again early tomorrow AM. This may hold off (or in the case of the morning showering blow off) those nasty frost particles!

I talked with many customers yesterday about planting bulbs. We still have a great selection of bulbs here. One KEY is to plant those bulbs DEEP--usually 2 or 3 inches deeper than normal directions. Try going about 4 times as deep as the bulb is wide.

Deeper planting of bulbs is better for several reasons: 1) to better insulate bulbs from roller coaster soil temps. The deeper the bulb the more even the temperatures are.  Bulbs like it cool. 2) A deeper depth makes it more difficult for above ground rodents to tamper with the bulbs 3) A good depth also makes it easier to plant annual plantings "on top" of the bulbs in the Spring.

October 14--Here is a recent email question we received from customer Donna:

From customer Donna: Is fall the best time to prune lilacs? My bush isn't producing very well.

Answer: Lilacs can be pruned in the fall but it is not the best time to prune them. By now the lilacs have set much of the growth that will produce flowers for next year. SO, by pruning now you would probably not have any flowering this coming Spring.

The BEST time to prune lilacs is in early to mid June right after their normal flowering time of late May.

One suggestion would be to give your lilacs a good feeding of Plant Tone by Espoma right now and some handfuls of a good calcium based lime like Mira Cal by Jonathan Green. Both products will work slowly to improve the soil around the lilacs and this should help the lilacs produce better. I usually recommend two feedings of Plant Tone and one of Mira Cal yearly.

Also, we had a very dry summer—we have had some good rains lately but make sure your lilacs get a good deep watering weekly between now and when the ground freezes.

Finally, lilacs thrive in the sun. Are they in an area where it is shady? Perhaps that is the issue as well.

October 13--Gardening friend Margaret from checks in with some great garden tips quite often. Her web site is worth a visit. This garden tip from her "October Chores" caught my eye: "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. I sometimes just run piles of dry things over with the mower (nothing too woody or you’ll wreck your blade, of course)."

October 13--Here is a recent email question we received from customer Nancy. I thought I would pass the discussion along:

From customer Nancy: I have a question about soil. I have gardened for years and have always had great luck with vegetables. This summer, for some reason, I used Miracle Gro organic potting soil for tomatoes on my deck and Miracle Gro garden soil mixed with the soil in my garden for vegetables in the yard. Now, this was great for my flowers - I have never had so many healthy blossoms - but the plants didn't set much fruit at all. The only thing that grew well was beans. Was I missing some key element for the plants to set fruit?

Answer: For container plantings we recommend the all organic Bar Harbor Blend potting soil by Coast of Maine Organics (we sell this Maine based product right here at Skillin’s—good pricing!). This is a very well composted soil. We then recommend weekly or every other weekly liquid feedings with all natural Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer by Neptune’s Harvest. Yum Yum! This gives your veggie plants a good balance of nutrients with a great shot of calcium that is great for vegetable fruit.

October 12--Gardening friend Margaret from checks in with some great garden tips quite often. Her web site is worth a visit. This garden tip from her "October Chores" caught my eye: 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).

October 10--We survived the frost of last night pretty well along the coast but I have an idea deeper in Skillin's Country the cold was very likely more severe.

We received a couple of email gardening questions at and I thought I would pass the discussion along. Feel free to email us your gardening questions!

From customer Marty: "You recommended composting perennial beds this fall. Have lots of daffodil bulbs in them. Do I need to put on bulb fertilizer too or will the compost do for all especially when the bulbs are mixed in so much with the later plantings?"

Answer: I would put some scatter some Bulb Tone by Espoma all natural fertilizer (or its cousin Plant Tone) on top of the soil before I laid down the compost.

This fertilizer will be available in the Spring to help give those daffs a nice PUSH in the Spring.

From customer Lori: "I bought a passionflower vine this summer, and I'm wondering if it will winter over okay, or if I should try to bring it in? If I can leave it outside, is there anything I can do to protect it?"

Answer: I would definitely bring the plant indoors this winter. It will not overwinter out of doors.

When you bring it in, give it as much light as possible. It may well need a good haircut sometime over the winter to set it up for as nice shape as possible this coming Spring.

October 7--Well that rain we received overnight was great. About 1.5" of rain fell in Skillin's Country and our plants will use it well!

October 6--As the weather turns cooler and cooler in Skillin's Country we are at a point where it is good to cut back almost to the ground any perennials whose foliage has become unsightly. The seedheads and dried foliage of some perennials add interest during the winter months, while others just look messy. As the weather continues to cool more and more perennial foliage will turn less and less attractive so keep those pruners sharp and ready! This weekend looks to be a good time to get out in the garden for tasks like this. The eminent garden writer KCB posted a terrific article on putting garden Beds to Rest. Check it out!

October 1--Good gardening friend Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited in Rockport ME recently sent out a great gardening email. One piece of advice focused on using Winter Rye as a cover crop and I liked what Hammon wrote. If you do rototill your garden in the Spring, we recommend winter rye as a winter cover crop or what the "old timers" like me call "green manure". Here is what Hammon wrote:

"Cover crops are grown to protect and/or enrich the soil rather than for short term economic gain. When turned into the soil, a cover crop is called a green manure, so the terms are reasonably interchangeable. Cover crops are an important part of a crop rotation plan to maintain soil health and reduce insect, weed, and disease pressure.

Cover crops protect the soil from wind and water erosion, and they can help alleviate compaction. With the exception of legumes, which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, cover crops don’t actually create nutrients, but they can conserve nutrients which may otherwise be lost through leaching. Some deep rooted crops can obtain nutrients from below the root zone of most vegetables. When these cover crops are turned under, the nutrients will be released to the upper zone of soil. Fast-growing cover crops are well-suited to suppressing weeds, by “smothering” them and starving them for light. Use high seeding rates if cover crops are grown for weed suppression.

Winter Rye is a common winter cover crop, sown after cash crops are harvested in the fall. It is very hardy, adapted to a wide range of conditions, and seed is inexpensive. The latest-sown cover crop, it produces a lot of biomass in the spring. This adds organic matter to the soil but may be difficult to incorporate prior to crop planting. Sow 60-120 lb/acre if drilled, 90-160 lb/acre if broadcast, from late summer to mid-October in most areas. Incorporate rye in early spring before it gets too rank for your equipment to handle."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Storing Vegetables and How to Use a Root Cellar

Denise at recently posted a quick and easy to read post about "How to Use a Root Cellar".

She writes about what conditions a root cellar brings and gives some good general advice about storing vegetables.

Some key points:

"Remember that the driest, warmest air is near the ceiling; more-humid air is lower as well as farthest from the door. So crops that need a dry environment will do better up higher and crops that do well in a more humid air will do better near the floor."

"Vegetables piled together generate heat, which can lead to spoilage. Put on shelves close to the floor and rotate."

Denise includes many more tips and she is a good clear writer. For anyone storing vegetables this is a good quick read. Click HERE for the entire post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 11. 2010

Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Checking for Ripeness

How do you know if your pumpkins are ripe and ready to pick? Mature pumpkins will be fully colored. Thump them to see if they have a hollow sound inside. Try denting the rind with a fingernail – a mature pumpkin may dent, but it won't puncture easily. The foliage is starting to turn yellow and decline. The stems are hard or starting to crack or turn brown.

Immature Pumpkins

It's best to leave pumpkins on the vine as long as possible to ensure that they are fully mature. (If frost threatens, go ahead and pick any green ones (leaving a 4" stem) and bring them to a protected location. If they are far enough along, you may still be able to ripen them enough for carving. Follow disinfecting and curing instructions below, and expose green areas to sunlight.)

Beware of Frost

Many pumpkin farmers leave their pumpkins in the field to let them cure naturally and to open their fields for "you pick" pumpkin patch sales. Mature pumpkins can withstand a light frost that kills the foliage and leaves the fruit intact. However, extended exposure to frost or hard frost can damage the pumpkins, leaving them vulnerable to fungal or bacterial problems that can result in rapid decomposition. Ideally, pumpkins should be harvested when the foliage has begun to turn yellow and dry out and before the first light frost (28-33 degrees).


To harvest, cut pumpkins from the vine with a knife, leaving a stem that is at least 2" long. (Shorter stems offer a route for air and pathogens to get inside and promote decay.) Handle your pumpkins carefully to avoid bruising or scratching it, and do not carry them by the stem.


Pumpkins will last longer when sprayed or dipped in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water to disinfect them. Cure them on a sunny windowsill or on a porch at 75-80 degrees for 1-2 weeks before eating, carving, or storing. The curing period helps to harden the rind and fully ripen them. Bring them in at night if frost threatens.


If you have extra pumpkins that you will not be carving or cooking within a few weeks, you can store them for later use. Mature pumpkins will store for 2-3 months if kept in a cool (ideally 50-60 degrees), dry location with good ventilation that is not in direct sunlight.

Check out a great variety of vegetable and flower seeds by Botanical Interests--many of them organic--here at Skillin's!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Whether you carve your pumpkin for a Halloween Jack O'Lantern or plan to us it for baking, be sure to save the seeds for roasting. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Vitamins B, E, and fiber. Homemade baked pumpkin seeds taste better and are healthier for you than the ones you buy in the store, because they are fresher and have less salt.

As you scoop out the flesh from your pumpkin, remove as much pulp as you can from the seeds. Rinse the seeds and spread out to dry on a clean dish towel. Spread seeds out evenly on a cookie sheet. Spritz them with a little olive oil and give them just a sprinkle of salt. (Additional seasonings can be added like garlic powder, chili powder, seasoned salt, or Parmesan cheese.) Bake at 350 degrees in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until they just start to turn light brown. Remove and cool. Store in an airtight container.

(P.S. --- All winter squash seeds can also be roasted in this manner.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Frost Tolerance of Vegetables

From the folks at Botanical Interests:

In early fall, it pays to keep an eye on nighttime temperatures, so you aren't caught off guard and can get the last of your crops harvested in time. Here's a simple list of common vegetables and their frost tolerance.

Light Frost – Temperatures 28-33 degrees F.

Hard Frost - Temperatures below 28 degrees F.

May be damaged by light frost: Beans, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Muskmelon, New Zealand Spinach, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkins, Summer Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Watermelon

Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, Beets, Calendula, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Pansies, Parsnips, Peas, Snapdragons, Sweet Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Swiss Chard

Can withstand hard frost: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips

Plants can be protected from a few light frosts with row covers or blankets.

Mulched beets, carrots, leeks, radishes, and parsnips can be harvested later in fall before the ground freezes. Frost makes leafy greens and root vegetables sweeter, so it's worth leaving some of your kale and carrots in the ground until your ready to use them.

Early fall is a great time to sow salad crops in a cold frame for harvest in late fall and early winter. Bok choy, lettuce, mesclun, kale, mustard, and spinach are a few good varieties to try.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips

Hello again,

Frost is fast coming to Skillin's Country but I thought we would still post these Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips by our friends at Botanical Interests. We sell Botanical seeds here at Skillin's and we highly recommend you check out their seed racks at Skillin's as well as their website,

Here is their article:

Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips

"By September, you've been enjoying luscious homegrown tomatoes for weeks, but tomato season is winding down. If you haven't already had frost in you're area, it may be coming soon. So, it's time to start thinking about how you will harvest and store the last of your crop. (If you live in a mild southern or coastal climate and are planting tomatoes in fall for a winter harvest, save these tips for harvest time in winter.)

Conserve Plant Energy

If you are within a few weeks of the first frost, clip off all remaining blossoms. (Blossoms can abort naturally when temperatures are below 55 degrees.) You can also cut the roots on two sides of the plant with a shovel. This will force the plants to channel all energy into ripening the existing fruits.

Frost Protection

To protect your tomato plants through the first few light frosts (temperatures 28-33 degrees F), you can cover them at night with a blanket or piece of thick plastic that drapes all the way to the ground. It's worth the effort if you have a lot of fruit that is already turning color that you want to be fully vine-ripened, and you know that you still have some warm weather ahead. However, if your weather stays cool from this point on, tomatoes that are too immature may not ripen. If hard frost (below 28 degrees) is predicted, fruit must be brought indoors or it will be damaged.

Short-term Storage

If frost is imminent, the easiest way to quickly save your tomatoes is to pull up the entire plants and hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area like a garage or basement. The fruits will continue to ripen over the next few weeks. (Check the plants daily for ripe fruit. Overripe fruit may fall on the floor.)You can also pick individual full-sized green fruits and store them wrapped in newspaper or in paper bags in a cool, dry area, stacked no more than two deep. (55 to 68 degrees is ideal for storage.) Contrary to popular lore, tomatoes do not ripen faster on a windowsill. They'll ripen the fastest in a warm, dark area. Avoid storing tomatoes in the refrigerator. It's too cold and will adversely affect the flavor.


Whole cherry tomatoes or slices of large tomatoes can be dried down in six to eight hours in a dehydrator machine or the oven at 150 degrees. In Italy, sun-dried tomatoes are made by hanging plants outside to dry in the sun on hot tile roofs. You can try drying outdoors too if your outdoor temperatures are at least 85 degrees F. Lay a single layer on a cookie sheet, and protect them from bugs with a layer of cheesecloth. It will take two or three days to dry slices down (longer for whole cherry tomatoes), and they should be brought in during the night. Fully dried tomatoes will be dry, but pliable. Store in airtight jars.


Dip whole tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, let them cool in a bowl of ice water, then slip skins off. Freeze (whole or chopped) in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to one year.


Tomatoes are typically canned with the water bath method, using sterilized Mason jars. For safety, follow directions that came with your canning equipment. Choose 'paste tomatoes' for canning, because they are meatier and make the best sauce. They include San Marzano, Speckled Roman, and Ace.


During the last weeks of tomato harvest, consider sharing your excess harvest with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Unlike the notorious giant zucchini, fresh tomatoes make wonderful gifts, especially when delivered in attractive fall baskets! They'll be so impressed with the flavor of your homegrown tomatoes, they might even be inspired to plant a few themselves next season."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Growing Herbs in Containers

Cathy Brewer is an experienced gardener who just loves herbs ( and in fact, all types of gardening). She recently wrote the following article about Growing Herbs in Containers. This article and more herb gardening information can be found right HERE at I have made some comments in italics.

"Even the beginner gardener can grow a few herbs in containers. It's a very cost effective way to start your own Home Herb Garden. It is also very rewarding to see and use your own home-grown produce knowing that it is healthy and free from pesticides.

Growing your herbs in containers not only looks great but is very practical, as your herbs will be handy for you to use but also will create an interesting display in your courtyard or patio area. (One interest I had in posting this article is that herbs can also be grown very well in containers indoors in Skillin's Country in the winter time. Lots of sunlight needed!)

Where space is at a premium in cities there is usually no more than a terrace, balcony or a small yard, so container gardening is ideal as it is the only way to grow a few fresh herbs and other plants. Growing Herbs in Pots provides a way of softening the landscape and bringing the garden to your door, capturing the richness of the passing seasons.

The type of container you use will vary with different materials, shapes and textures, from plastic pots and terracotta to any container you have. All that your container requires is drainage holes and a good soil blend. (We recommend using all natural Bar Harbor Blend potting mix by Coast of Maine--it is terrific!) Half barrels are a good size to group a variety of herbs. Ugly containers can be hidden amongst foliage or tucked behind more glamorous pots. Using containers of the same color and style can look effective with different herbs planted in each.

Container size is important as they must be big enough to hold enough potting mix for the plants to root securely and to supply enough moisture and nutrients to maintain growth, with holes for drainage. It is no use planting a bay tree in a 6 inch pot as it needs more soil to grow well as it will grow into a big tree.

(Want to learn more about Growing Herbs in Containers? Click HERE for the entire article at Also check out

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trees Painted Up for Fall!

Terry Skillin stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with a colorful post about such a colorful time of year. Terry explains why we see the colors in the trees!

It seems that I have just planted my spring crop of peas and now its fall? I remember old men telling me how fast time goes by. Of course I was in my late teens and early twenties; I knew it all and that was how old men talked. Well I now know precious little and the people I thought were old men were younger then than I am now. I am not really sure what has been happened to me but I do have a handle on the color of the trees.

During the growing season most leaves are made green by a chemical called chlorophyll. Plants use this chlorophyll in photosynthesis which leads to the production of glucose then they use the glucose for energy. Of course it is not quite that simple (a lot more goes on). Plants produce oxygen, they filter out toxic material in the air and it all works well until the season changes. Chlorophyll is produced with the help of the sun and warmer temperatures and as the days become shorter and the temperature --especially night temperature-- begins to drop, the production of chlorophyll slows down.

So where are the tree’s new colors coming from? I used to tell my brother that small woodland critters did it and they were going to get to him too. I always wanted to “put the water colors to him” while he slept, but figured the only thing that would remain red was my backside when Dad got home. Somehow Mom always forgot to tell him any of my misadventures when he got home but I knew the threat was real. So, anyway, the yellow and oranges are there in the leaves all season long but they remain covered up until the green chlorophyll starts to break down. Probably our favorite yellow oranges are from the Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum that change yellows to burnt oranges with some red. Yellow and oranges are also found in several ashes Fraxinus americana and pennsylvamica that are found from Nova Scotia to Texas, Paper Birch Betula papyrifera found although North America.

                                                                       (Sugar Maple!)
The red leaves, well they take a little more chemistry for their big show. Remember when I said that chlorophyll help to produce glucose; well it’s that leftover glucose that turns red in the leaves at the end of the growing season. When we are seeing reds we are seeing plants like Red Maple Acer rubrum. Red maples have many cultivars that have very strong red fall color like Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze. American Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana will show off several colors yellow, orange, red and reddish purple according to Dr. Michael Dirr. Pin Oak Quercus palustris is maybe the best oak for fall color as it turns bronze to red.

There are hundreds even thousands of other shrubs and trees that grace our colorful fall landscape with these colors and with many variations. I think it’s this color, the fresh air and fall smells that makes fall my favorite time of year. Now if I hurry I’ll get my peas in by April 15th!

Terry Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 3, 2010