Friday, April 30, 2010

Purple Leaf Plum

                                    (above picture from Paul Parent Garden Club)

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 Purple Leaf Plum (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"As I look out my window this time of the year my eyes search for a small tree planted near my driveway called the Purple Leaf Flowering Plum. It is unique because the trunk and the branches of this tree are black and really stand out among other trees in the yard. Last week, the flower buds started to swell and in just the last couple of days, the flowers opened, covering the black branches with deep pink blossoms. The flowers are 1 z' inch in diameter, with single petals that are fragrant. These flowers will last for three weeks or more depending on the rain and wind, as they are delicate like the flowering cherry trees. About a week or two after the flowers open, the new growth will begin to develop--and this is when it gets exciting for me. The new growth is purple-branches, foliage, and all. The new purple growth, paired with the pink flowers on the black branches, really stands out on a green lawn. (I too love that rich purple growth--this plant is a real standout and a must for your landscape!)

The Purple Leaf Plum will grow 15 to 20 feet tall and wide when matured. You can expect 12 to 15 inches of new growth each year, so it is a fast-growing small tree. The leaves are oval shaped, with a point on the tip and a smooth edge. These leaves will grow 2 to 3 inches long and about 1 inch wide. As they emerge and develop, the foliage will be bronze-purple and will mature to deep reddish purple. It will stay this wonderful color all summer long and really stand out in your yard. The colored foliage on this tree is more beautiful than the flowers because it will last right up to the frost in the fall. The tree is thick with leaves and some years if we get a lot of hot sunshine, the inner foliage will fade to deep green, but the outside leaves stay purple. The Flowering Plum does not have fruit and is a clean tree for your yard. It is very hardy and will tolerate a wide open growing area with wind.

The Purple Leaf Plum will look great when planted alone in a garden with underplantings of perennials or annuals. Plant the Purple Leaf Plum in a row along your driveway or along your property line. When the trees are used as a barrier, they are striking to look at and will give your property great lines. I like them because the tree has no disease problems with the foliage, unlike flowering crabapples. Fertilize them (use Plant Tone or Tree Tone by Espoma) in the spring when in bloom to help produce more foliage and flower buds for next year. I use Plant Tone and the new Plant Thrive with Mycorrhizae bacteria fertilizer to help them get established when young. The flowering Plum loves a rich soil, so add plenty of compost or peat moss (we recommend the Shrub and Tree Mix by Jolly Gardener--a great compost for planting!) when planting. The roots are shallow and a layer of bark mulch or compost on the planting bed really helps the tree at all seasons. When you first buy the tree, it will be upright growing because of how it was grown in the nursery. Once you plant it in your yard, it will s pread out and get wide in just a few years. The tree will grow best in a well-drained soil with no standing water. During hot dry summers, when rain is hard to come by, watering is necessary to keep the leaves shiny or they will get a dull finish to them.

Look for the Newport Flowering Plum, as it is more rounded in shape and has white to pink flowers. It will grow 15 to 20 feet wide and tall and is also hardier in a cold climate. The Thundercloud Flowering Plum is taller, growing upright to 20 feet plus, with deeper pink flowers. Keep trees away from the side of the road because, like most other flowering small trees, they do not like road salt . The thick foliage will also make a great place for birds to nest. Remember that hummingbirds love red and if you want to attract and feed them, this is a great tree to place a feeder on a pole. Enjoy!"

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Garden Talks

Hello again,

The purpose of this post is to relay a few "quick hit" garden tips to you through the month of April. Some of these tips will be garden tasks I am doing myself (although I wish there were more of those. I am here at Skillin's so much, my own yard and garden falls quite behind this time of year!), 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.

Check back to this post often as we will update it often until we roll into May 2010!

*Thursday, April 29--Want a reliable perennial that makes an early appearance in the garden and comes with some great colors? Pick up some columbine--an old time favorite that Skillin's has available in many different colors! I highly recommend it as one of Mike's Must Haves.

*Thursday, April 29--Happy Birthday Mom! My mom Brenda's birthday is today. She has done so much for all of us. The support she (Dave Skillin's wife) and Sally Skillin (John Skillin's wife) gave to their husbands was critical to the success of Skillin's back in earlier days.

Weeds are growing out there folks and now is the time to get the cultivators out to keep those weeds scraped away. And if your beds are clean and you have put that Plant Tone or Plant Booster Plus around your perennials this is a great time to put Fundy Mix down between your plants. Love that Fundy Mix--an all natural compost and light mix of bark that will give sustenance to your soil AND help keep the weeds suppressed AND moisture in your soil. Fundy Mix for your perennial garden--even around shrubs and annuals!

*Tuesday, April 27--I spotted this article about radishes at "Muddy Fingernail"; one of my favorite garden Twitter sites.  Everybody knows radishes but not many of us grow radishes. They are easy and fast to grow in the vegetable garden. Like so many vegetables their taste FRESH out of the garden is so much fresher and much more vibrant than the veggie you buy at the store. "Radishes are colorful and easy to grow in most areas. They are a root crop and can be pink, black, red or white in color. They grow quickly and can be harvested in about twenty days. Their spicy, hot flavor add zing to salads or dips. Their leafy tops can also be added to salads. A good organic fertilizer (I recommend Garden Tone by Espoma) will help your plants grow better. The addition of a good organic fertilizer also improves the flavor and increases the "hotness" of your on here for more great tips about growing and using radishes!

*Monday, April 26--Joe K first posted this link at Skillin's Twitter and I think it is worth a mention here. The Maine Sunday Telegram in yesterday's paper printed a neat article about using plants as hedges. Click here for the article. I really found their opinion of a rugosa rose hedge to be right on. Such a hedge gives you a real diversity of looks and textures through the season. The look may not be for everyone for sure but worth a lot; if not that some other shrub roses perhaps or some evergreens. I am not a fence guy so using plants as hedges has alway interested me. I have a neighbor who we get along with great. A few years back she had some forsythia planted near our mutual property line and we have both really enjoyed the forsythia. Very yellow right around now and a nice green throughout the growing season. This is a backyard border and when the weather is cold and the leaves are gone, none of us are out much so the lack of leaves then is not a concern.

*Sunday, April 25--It is still too early to plant many annuals and tomatoes in the ground. But for sunny protected areas I would think seriously of planting up patio pots and setting out hanging plants. Also, a great time to plant broccoli, lettuces (we now have all of that including mesclun mix and arugula for the first time!) Back to the flowers: if we get frost, just bring the plants in OR cover them with a sheet!

*Sunday, April 25--Wow! I can't believe it has been 5 days already! Getting lots of questions from customers today who are seeing big white Japanese Beetle grubs as they dig in their gardens. NOW is a great time to put down Milky Spore Bacteria as a very effective long term Japanese Beetle control.

*Tuesday, April 20--I spent some early morning time spreading generous amounts of Plant Booster Plus fertilizer by Organica around a good amount of my perennials and rose bushes. I know I sound like a broken record but I recommend two feedings per year around most garden plants--Spring and fall, summer and fall; something like that! Two feedings spread of natural foods really keep a good steady dose of nutrients and beneficial microbes coming into the soil. This makes for a better soil structure and better biological activity in your soil. AND this means stronger deeper roots for your plants. Better summer growth, better winter survival. Plant Tone by Espoma also works very well around perennials and deciduous shrubs. Use Plant Tone's first cousin, Holly Tone by Espoma for your evergreens (rhodys, azaleas, junipers--you know evergreens are plants that keep their foliage over the winter).

*Monday, April 19--I spoke to a customer by phone today about garden rototilling. I am not necessarily a huge fan of rototilling the garden. Click here for a Garden Log post about No Till Gardening. In any event, she is going to get her garden rototilled but her garden is quite full of weeds. Does she need to get rid of the weeds prior to or will the rototillling get rid of the weeds? My experience is that the rototilling will NOT get rid of the weeds and that rototilling can spread even more weed seed and roots. SO, get rid of us many weeds as possible before you rototill. DO NOT rototill a wet garden: the sure result will be clumps and clumps of soil. Also click here for a Garden Log post about using newspaper as garden mulch. Laying down newspaper on weeds and grass and then covering the newspaper with compost is a great way to kill weeds, increase worm population ( a very good thing) AND add organic matter to the soil.

*Monday, April 19--I spoke to a customer by phone yesterday who asked if this was a good time to move her blueberry plants. I told her it is a good time--probably for a couple more weeks. Blueberries have a shallow root system and because of that are quite easy to move. Always put some Hollytone by Espoma in the hole first--Hollytone increases the acidity of the soil for blueberries and the Biotone contained in Hollytone will lend some nice microbial activity to the soil around the roots. Blueberries are the best!

*Sunday, April 18-Click here for a great article by Tom Atwell, the "Maine Gardener" in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.  Tom is a great writer and a super gardener. He is a real asset in our gardening community. Check him out each Sunday for some great gardening tips. I especially like his tip about space saving for carrots and radishes.

Tom also writes about spraying for devouring worms like cabbage worm with bacillus thuringiensis (BT) an all natural but very effective antidote against these pests. Jeff Skillin is a big advocate of the effectiveness of BT against these pests. He sprays our crops like cabbages and broccoli with a brand of BT called Thuricide and thus we sell plants with no problems in that area. You may want to spray your plants too. BT is all natural and effective.

*Sunday, April 18--We are having a nice day (not forecast by the weather folks). If you have not done so yet, get out there and give your lawn a good vigourous raking before it gets too tall! There is no better "green" thing to do for your lawn then to give it a good raking at the beginning of each gardening year. It is the best way to pull out old dying grass and give sun and air to the remaining lawn so it can better thicken! Got lawn questions. Click here for our Skillin's Lawn Program!

*Saturday, April 17--Finished applying Lawn Booster by Organica to my lawn. Lawn Booster (sold right here at Skillin's is a corn gluten product--all natural- that can help prevent overwhelming weed seeds like crabgrass, dandelions and others from germinating in the lawn. Corn gluten is a great organic source of nutrients including nitrogn that really help the grass "green up" and stay greener longer. I highly recommend applying Lawn Booster twice per year--now before the forsythia blossoms drop and then again around Labor Day (early to mid September).

*Saturday, April 17--Planted seed potatoes in some new Potato Bags using Bar Harbor Blend by Coast of Maine Organics. I use the Potato Bags because much of my property lies on ledge and potatoes need some good depth. Grab some seed potatoes from Skillin's, slice portions in about 3 to 4 eyes, plant about 6" deep in some good well drained soil. Plant with a healthy dose of Garden Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Once the plants germinate I will feed often with Fish and Seaweed Food by Neptune's Harvest until they flower. The all natural ingredients really help all vegetable plants! As the plants grow a few inches add more soil around the stems so they can send out more roots! Better plants! More potatoes!

Let us know at if you have any garden questions OR leave a comment at this post.

*Also for great garden happenings check this blog (A Garden in Maine) frequently!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gladiolas--an Old Time Flower with Bright Bright Colors!

Good friend Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited sends out some very nice gardening information. This recent post came to my attention and I thought I would pass it on to you. This is extremely topical and VERY good advice for us gardeners in Skillin's Country. Plants Unlimited is a terrific garden center based in Rockport Maine. Hammon and I talk quite often and I always learn something about gardening and garden center business when we do speak. I hope he benefits some as well. Plants Unlimited is always worth a visit and they can be found at and also at 629 Commercial Street (Route 1) in Rockport ME.

"Glads" grow from corms (bulb-like structures) that are not winter-hardy in Maine.. They must either be dug in September and stored until planting time the following May, or replaced annually. Some gladiolus experts recommend treating them as annuals because you are more likely to get large, healthy blooms each year that way, and you don't have to fuss with storing them.

                                                        (above picture from Plants Unlimited)
Choose a location in full sunlight. Although newly purchased corms are ready to bloom and should flower even in the shade, flowers will be larger and brighter and stalks will be sturdier when they're planted in sun. The glads will also be able to store more energy for the following year's bloom, which is critical if you plan to re-use your corms.

Well-drained soil is essential for successful gladiolus growing. If your soil is heavy or tends to be wet, create raised beds for your glads (and most other annuals, perennials, and bulbs). Whether or not you garden in raised beds, loosen the soil to a depth of ten or 12 inches. Fertilize, if necessary, according to recommendations based on a soil test.

                                                       (above picture from Plants Unlimited)
Start planting in mid-May, then again every two weeks through mid-June. This schedule will keep the flowers coming form July through August. You could also choose early, mid-season, and late cultivars, plant them all in May, and still enjoy continuous bloom for much of the summer. The final strategy to extend bloom time would be to plant different sized corms. Larger corms bloom somewhat earlier than smaller corms of the same variety."

We also recommend planting the glads with either Bulb Tone or Flower Tone by Espoma and adding some more of this natural fertilizer around the first of July for another "kick". Glads are truly an old time and traditional flower that offer the brightest of colors!

Mike Skillin
Skillins Greenhouses
April 27, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Growing Spinach

(above image by Paul Parent Garden Club)

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 Growing Spinach (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"The first time I fed my children spinach, it came in a baby food jar labeled "Strained Spinach."They did not like it and I do not blame them, as I would not eat it myself in that form. It tasted like green plaster but I had to eat some, to show them that Dad liked it and it must be good. As the kids grew, they never acquired a taste for it because of this first experience. Then one day in the spring, I took the kids out into the garden to plant. We planted tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and salad greens -- the things they liked -- except that year we also planted some spinach as a test. That first year we picked the spinach as a green for the salad and they liked it (two points for Dad). At Thanksgiving, we picked the last of the spinach from the garden and cooked it for the dinner. There were strange looks from the kids but the deal was, "Try a little bit and if you do not like it, you do not have to eat it". I think back now and remember seeing more butter, salt and pepper with a little white vinegar on the spinach than was needed, but they ate it and enjoyed it for the most part. It is still not a favorite when cooked but they love it in salads.

Spinach comes from Persia originally, then moved to China and then Spain. Spinach was a very popular crop in Colonial New England as it grew in the garden when the weather was still cold for most other vegetables and everyone was looking for fresh vegetables. Today spinach is grown all over the world, but the United States is the number one producer of this spring vegetable. When planted in April, spinach will be ready in late May and last until late June. If you plant a crop every 2 weeks, you will have fresh salad greens until the hot days of summer arrive. I always buy double the seeds required so I can plant a fall crop in mid August for September and October. When the weather get hot the plant grows very fast and "bolts" which means going to seed rather than making foliage. The leaves at that time also become bitter tasting, so pick and enjoy while the weather is cool. During July and August plant Swiss chard for fresh greens.

Plant spinach in a rich garden soil. Condition the soil with compost, animal manure or peat moss. The better the soil, the more foliage it will produce; if you can keep the plants watered regularly and fed with a vegetable fertilizer once a month, you will have enough to give away to neighbors and friends. Plant the seeds 1inch deep in rows and 2 inches apart between seeds. I like to plant a double row 12 inches apart and 3 feet long. In two weeks, plant another 3 feet until the space is filled up. The seeds will germinate in 7 to 10 days and must be kept wet during that time, so water every day for the best germination. If the garden soil gets dry, the plant will stop producing foliage and go to seed, so water regularly to keep it productive. Plant Bloomsdale or Melody Spinach for early crops and switch to New Zealand Spinach for crops that will mature when the heat arrives, as this variety is more heat tolerant.

For salad greens, pick when the leaves are small and young. The plant will keep producing as you pick the leaves as long as you feed with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle-Gro. For cooked spinach, cut the plant to the ground, wash, and pull off the individual leaves along with the buds for cooking. Pick, wash and store in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator to toughen the leaves for salads. No matter how you use it, fresh picked will have a much better flavor than what you purchase at the supermarket. One last thing, "Popeye the Sailor Man" was right, because spinach has over 20 minerals and vitamins in the foliage, making spinach a real power house green vegetable from your spring garden. Plant some today for yourself and your kids!"

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010


(above image from Paul Parent Garden Club)

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 Magnolias (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"From Maine to Florida, when spring arrives, it is greeted with the one of the most beautiful flowering trees--the magnolia. This tree is reliable and will flower each spring no matter how hard the winter was. It will grow in most yards no matter what type of soil you have as long as there is no standing water. You can plant it on the front lawn as a specimen plant in full sun, or in the backyard in a small shaded garden. The magnolia will do well near the seashore if sheltered from the wind or plant it at a cottage near a lake or pond for early flowers. You even have your choice of flower size from the large cup-shaped 5 to 10 inch blooms or the smaller star type with 3 to 4 inch multi petal.

The Saucer Magnolia is the most popular with gardeners because of the large flowers, which resemble very large tulips with nine petals that stand up on the tips of leafless branches in April. Many years, if the spring weather is normal the magnolia will be in bloom for Easter. The flower color ranges from white, pink, purple and the new yellow variety. The bark of the tree is smooth, gray and very pleasant to look at even during the long days of winter. During the winter, the flower buds are very noticeable on the tip of the branches because of their size (almost as big as your thumb). The flowers will last for several weeks as long as there is no severe rain or wind storms as the flowers mature. With good weather, it should bloom for four plus weeks.

One of the qualities I think the magnolia has is the look it gives to your yard when all the flowers fall from the tree. The petals seem to fall all together, covering the ground like a blanket of petals around the tree. This blanket of colorful petals will last for several days as long as the weather is not too warm. The leaves--3 to 6 inches long and oval, with a smooth edge--will develop on the plant after the flowers fall from the plant in May. The leaves are also dark green and have a shine to them. Fall color on the magnolia is just a muddy yellow and not exciting to look at. The tree will grow to 20 to 30 feet tall and wide.

The Star Magnolia is more popular in a colder climate, as it can grow to minus 30 degrees and still flower every year. The plant is more shrub-like, with many stems developing from the base of the plant. Give this plant room, as it will grow 15 to 20 feet tall and can spread out to as much as 15 feet wide. The flowers are not as large--3 to 5--inches in diameter and resemble a pinwheel. The flower is made up of small petals in the shape of your finger 1/2 to 3/4 wide and 1 to 2 inches long. The Star Magnolia contains up to 30 petals per flower. Most varieties are pure white and because they are smaller, they will last longer on the tree. The wind seems to blow right through them, unlike the saucer type. They also have the same look, dropping flower petals like a blanket below the tree.

The best time to purchase a plant is in the spring when it is in bloom; that way you know what the color is when you buy it. The purple-pink flowering type of magnolia will have some that are more pink and others that are more purple in color, so you choose. When planting the magnolia, use plenty of compost in the hole to help the plant to develop a strong root system. To help hold moisture, use "Soil Moist" during the hot days of summer. Also, add Plant Tone or Tree Tone by Espoma to the hole as these products contain mycorrhizae to stimulate the roots and help make flower buds for next year. Use either of these products every spring to keep the flowers coming. One last treat: if the bees do their job, the plant will make a pod 3 to 4 inches tall which resembles a baby rattle. As the pod dries, small red seeds will develop inside the pod and the birds will eat them--or you can save them and start a new tree."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Container Edibles

Hello again,

Melissa and Mary of Skillin's Falmouth have spent a great deal of time last fall and through this past winter growing container vegetables. And of course in Maine that means mostly growing container vegetables both indoors and outdoors! They have been very pleased by their experience and have learned a lot! Now we are ready to pass on what they have learned to you. The following has been written by Melissa and serves as the basis for our gardening class "Container Edibles". From Melissa:

"If you do not have space for a vegetable garden, or if you live in an apartment with no yard space of your own, consider growing your vegetables in containers. A windowsill, a patio, balcony, or doorstep can provide sufficient space for a productive garden. Problems with soil-borne disease, nematodes, or poor soil can also be overcome by switching to container gardening.

With increasing interest in container gardening, plant breeders and seed companies are working on vegetables specifically bred for container culture. One prime example of this is Peas ‘N-A-Pot, developed by Burpee seed company specifically for containers. They grow to only 10 inches high and said to give high yields of peas. They also taste very good – I know I have eaten some that I grew this winter!

The amount of sunlight in the area you plan to put your container garden may determine which crops can be grown. Vegetables grown for their fruits generally require at least 6 hours of full sunlight every day – they do better with 8-10 hours. You can increase available light with the use of reflective materials around the plants, e.g., aluminum foil, white painted surfaces, white rocks…. Root crops and green leafy crops can tolerate partial shade. Container gardening lends itself to creating some very attractive plantscapes . You can easily brighten your patio area with baskets of tomatoes or colorful herb mix. Container gardening offers many opportunities for innovative and creative ideas. “Think outside the box”.
Getting Started

Containers –

1- big enough to support plants when they are fully grown

2- hold soil without spilling

3- have adequate drainage

4- never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people

Some examples of containers you could use: bushel baskets, decorative pots, gallon cans, tubs or wooden boxes, or recycle bags (the kind they sell in the grocery store). The size of the container will vary according to the crop selection and space available.

Soil – Good garden soil may be good “in the ground”, it is not a good choice for your containers – it can become hard and compact. You should use a good commercial potting mix (I prefer Coast of Maine soils) as your growing medium. These soils are rich in nutrients and allow for good drainage.

Watering Vegetables grown in containers (outside) require frequent watering because they can dry out quickly from sun and wind. Some of your plants you may find need daily watering. You should give each plant pot enough water so that it reaches the bottom of the pot – you should see water coming out of the drainage holes. Always keep you container plants evenly moist, never allowing them to dry out completely. By the same token do not overwater your crops – this will slowly kill plants because the roots will not receive enough oxygen. When watering avoid getting the leaves wet , especially if you are watering late in the day. Wet leaves encourage the development of plant diseases. Experienced tomato growers know that if watering is not consistently maintained, tomato plants are unable to take up calcium, a vital nutrient to healthy plants. The result will be tomatoes with a dark leathering spot on the blossom end. This doesn’t signal disease and there is no magic spray to fix it – you just need to pay attention to your crops.

Fertilizer – Container grown vegetables need to be fertilized more frequently than field grown vegetables because they have less soil from which to draw nutrients. As a general rule, add an all purpose dry fertilizer – organic or chemical – according to package directions when you plant This can be applied while watering, or in a powder form that you scratch into the soil and then water.

LightNearly all vegetable plants will grow better under full sun. However, leafy crops such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage and parsley are more tolerant of shady conditions. Fruit bearing plants need the most sun – at least 6-8 hours a day. Remember – you can always move that container!

Harvesting – Harvest your vegetables at the peak of their maturity – when they will be the most flavorful. At the end of the growing season, discard the plant and soil from the pot. Do not reuse the same soil for a second season.

What to plant

Most any vegetable that will grow in a backyard veggie garden will grow in a container – you have to be sure and get the correct container size. Some of the best vegetables for container growing include tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, green onions, beans, Peas ‘N-A-Pot, lettuce, radishes, parsley. If you choose to plant snap peas or pole beans you need to be sure and give them plenty of support and plenty of room for their vines.

Seeds should be started in a warm area that will receive sufficient sunlight about 4-8 weeks before you want to put them in their final container and out in the yard. Most vegetables should be transplanted into their outdoor containers when they develop their first 2-3 true leaves. When transplanting be careful with the plants as they are still quite fragile at this time.

Container Gardening Success

Container gardening can be very successful and rewarding. Plant growth and vigor can vary depending on pot location, and the amount of attention and care you give the plants. The following is a list of golden rules of any vegetable garden:

1- Inspect your plants daily, and if necessary water, trim, train or prune

2- Check your plants daily and remove pests and weeds – treat disease and insects if needed

3- Sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Some varieties to try in your container garden

Beets (5 gallons, 5-6 plants) Scarlet Prince, Burpee’s Golden

Carrots (1 gallon, 2-3 plants. Use pots 2” deeper than the carrot length) Short & Sweet, Petite & Sweet

Cucumber (1 gallon, 1 plant) Pickle Bush

Peas (5 gallons, 1 plant);

Peas ‘N-A-Pot (5 gallons, 8plants) Sugar snap peas, shelling peas

Peas ‘N-A-Pot

Leaf Lettuce (1 gallon, 2 plants) Butter crunch, Salad Bowl, Romaine, Mesculin etc.

Pepper (5 gallons, 1-2 plants) Most any

Tomato ( 5 gallons, 1 plant) Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Cherry

Spinach (1 gallon, 2 plants)

Broccoli (2 gallons; 1 plant) Packman, Bonanza & others

Kale (1 gallon; 2 plants) Any variety

Melissa M for Skillin's Greenhouses
April 23, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tomato and Potato Late Blight Information for the Upcoming Growing Season

From the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service:

Late blight devastated crops in 2009

Many farmers and gardeners in Maine saw late blight on their potatoes and tomatoes for the first time in 2009 and experienced firsthand the amount and speed of crop destruction that it can cause. Introduction and widespread distribution of the late blight pathogen into Maine occurred during late June and July, when potato and tomato plants were growing rapidly. Then extended periods of rainy and humid weather hit Maine, completing the disease triangle of pathogen, host, and environment. The results were devastating to the tomato and potato crops in many areas.

Will last year’s late blight affect this year’s garden?

If your garden area is free from plant debris, and your compost pile is free from living plants, last year’s infected tomatoes and potatoes will not affect this year’s garden. While you should rotate vegetable planting areas from year to year, the pathogen that causes late blight does not overwinter in the soil under our conditions.

Click here for the entire UMaine Cooperative Extension article about late blight. If you intend to grow tomatoes and potatoes in 2010, come to Skillin's and we will set you with everything you need to have a great growing year. BUT first check out the information provided by the UMaine Cooperative Extension Service. It is not hard reading and will put your mind at ease!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 20, 2010

Herb Gardening!

Hello again,

Following is a nice introduction article about herb gardening that we picked up from We have a great selection of herbs on hand and as we head into outdoor gardening for Spring 2010 I think the timing is great for this article:

"Herbs go way back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. There are also bits of evidence in the Bible and medieval documents that show herbs were used in several homes. Planting herbs is something that is very useful to gardeners for several different purposes. Herbs may be used to flavor food, for potpourri, for tea, for medicinal uses or to even control pests in the garden. Herb gardens can be dedicated towards one of these particular areas or a mixture of a few different uses. They can also be cultivated in a garden with other species of plants or in containers inside.

Herb gardens can be made in different ways such as an indoor herb garden in the kitchen or a tiny portion in your garden. A tiny plot about four feet by six feet is a large enough area to grow a small family. Though a well-accepted utilization for herbs are for cooking otherwise known as culinary herbs, they are also planted for their aromatic foliage and some for the beauty of their flowers. They can either be used fresh or dried. Some herbs are made as adornment for plates or salads while other kinds of herbs can be used to spice up the taste of a dish.

Like some other plants herbs grow as annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. When planting herbs, you should use well-drained soil. If you find that your mud is heavy or tight, you can sprinkle some organic matter to it. Fertilizers are not a necessity. Most herbs thrive in a sunny spot although a few thrive in full shade. Amazingly, very few diseases or insects destroy herbs. Occasionally in dry, hot weather, red spider mites can be found on low-growing plants, and aphids may stick themselves to dill, caraway, anise, or fennel. Rust can also destroy mint.

Herbs can be bought and grown into a home garden or they can be grown from seeds. It is a wonderful honor and a joy to be able to see a plant thrive from one seed. You are able to take pleasure in every step of the development from birth to death in a way. When cultivating a plant like an herb from a seed the the whole thing is all the more rewarding because herbs are very practical. Almost all herbs can be grown from a seed. Seeds should be placed in a low pot or box during the late winter season. Use a light, well-drained pot of earth to plant your seeds in. Since herbs lack a deep root base, make sure not too put too much soil on the seeds. They should be planted shallow.

Follow the rule: the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown. You can replant the baby plants to the outdoors during spring. Even though most herbs can be grown from seeds, some herbs do not react well to being transplanted. Herbs like dill, fennel, anise, and coriander should be planted directly into the garden. "

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tips For Growing Celery in Your Home Vegetable Garden

Hello again,

I came across this article at MuddyFingernail, one of many sites we follow at MuddyFingernail is often a great place to find easy to read and follow articles about gardening. This one fits the bill and is called Tips For Growing Celery in Your Home Vegetable Garden . The writer is Michael Podlesny. I have included a few comments in italics.

"By itself, I believe celery is very bland and tasteless, but throw some peanut butter on it and all of a sudden you get a crispy, crunchy, healthy snack. Celery is so versatile because it can be added to a variety of dishes, such as soups and salads, to actually add flavor.

Celery has been dated as far back as 30 A.D. where it was written that celery seeds were used as a means to relive pain. More recent studies show that celery contains a compound called 3-N-butyl-phtalide that has shown to reduce blood pressure in rats, so maybe back in 30 A.D. they were on to something.

Beyond all the background and scientific data on celery you will find it most interesting if you enjoy vegetable gardening like I do, that growing celery is easier than you think. If you are going to give celery a try in your next growing season, here are some tips to help you out.

As always, start with an excellent foundation and that is your soil. Make sure your soil is in the 6.0 to 7.0 pH range. That makes it neutral to slightly acidic. You can test your soil's pH level with a $4 home testing kit available from any home or garden center.

Always start your seeds indoors. They will have a better chance for survival and once they have germinated they will more easily adapt to the environment in which you are going to move them to. You can start them indoors as early as 10 weeks prior to the final frost of the season in your area.

When you do plant your seeds indoors, because celery seeds are very tiny, you can just slightly cover them with soil with very little soil. Do not bury them deep as they are not large enough to produce enough energy to break through large amounts of dirt. (At Skillin's we will soon have celery seedlings available; 6 plants for only $3.99! They transplant well and should give you all the celery you need!)

You are ready to move them outdoors when day time temperatures remain steady above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and night time temperatures do not dip below 60 degrees. Should temperatures fall below 60 make sure you cover them to protect your celery from the elements.

Space your celery plants out at least eight inches to give them plenty of room to grow and thrive. A weekly heavy watering schedule combined with adding a fresh supply of compost to ensure they receive the high amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous they need should do the trick. (I would recommend planting them with a good dose of compost but also some Garden Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica in the hole. For a few weeks too I would give them weekly doses of Fish and Seaweed Blend by Neptune's Harvest...this is Maine after all and our vegetable plants need ALL the boost they can get!)

Celery makes for a great companion to plant to nearly all vegetables. However in a plant rotation avoid following members of the cabbage or lettuce family. (Great advice; plant rotation is a basic and important step in avoiding nutrient deficiency but also keeps caterpillars and other pests more at bay).

As you can see adding celery to your home vegetable garden is not that difficult of a task. Just follow these tips and suggestions and you can be adding fresh celery from your garden to your next plate of Buffalo wings."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 19, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dahlia Flowers in Pots

Recently customer Jessie sent along this question to us at about growing dahlias in pots:

"I frequent Skillins very often in Falmouth Foreside; I deal often with Mary and am due to have another visit soon!!!!! I wonder if you would be so kind as to let me know some tips on how to plant Dahlias in containers. I have purchased many agapanthus plants from Mary and keep them in my greenhouse all winter, then bring them outdoors on my decks. I want to add some beautiful dahlias this summer and rather than purchase them, I thought I would try my hand at trying to grow these on my own.

Your guidelines for doing the above will be greatly appreciated."

(This is a dahlia, courtesy of Sheliah of Raymond)

Here is our answer:

"Dahlias are not difficult to grow in pots. We still have a good array to choose from.

I usually recommend starting them in peat pots or the new “Cow Pots” with Bar Harbor Blend potting soil from Coast of Maine Organics. Place them in a sunny window. You can start them anytime.

In a few weeks, you will notice some nice growth coming from the pots. Keep the soil well watered but do let go dry to the touch. I would also feed with Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed liquid food every couple of weeks.

When the plants get top heavy they can be transplanted into the “ultimate” pot and everything can be placed outdoors in late May when the weather is warmer. Or the peat pots and dahlias can get planted into the ground as well.

By starting them early you should get a great summer and fall of dahlia blooming and dahlias are among the most gorgeous flowers going.

I would use Bar Harbor Blend potting soil in the big pots with a handful of all natural Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Also feed every couple of weeks with the Fish and Seaweed liquid food. Great stuff and totally organic!

Enjoy those dahlias and let us know if you have any more gardening questions! The dahlias can be kept over the winter in the bulb form. We can tell you how later if you would like!"

We love questions from customers! Just drop us a note at!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 18, 2010

Growing Asparagus

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 Growing Asparagus (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"This gourmet food has been prized since the Romans and is still regarded as one of the great delicacies of the vegetable garden. In the spring, the asparagus is the first to emerge from the ground and much better tasting when grown in your garden and fresh picked than what you buy in the store. Growing asparagus is a long-term project for your garden, as it will take 2 to 3 years after planting before you can harvest those delicate and tasty shoots. On the positive side, once established the plants continue to produce for 25 years or more, and sometimes up to 50 years. The harvest season is also quite short: six weeks and the plant is not very productive for the amount of space it takes in your garden. That is why it is the most expensive vegetable to buy.

Plant asparagus roots in a sunny location. The soil should be well drained, light, rich in organic matter and deep. The pH should be as close to neutral as possible. The better the soil, the better the production will be. Set out roots at the end of the garden so they are not bothered in the future when working in the garden. Wet spots can rot the roots of the plants and if this is your problem, use a raised bed to grow the roots. It is important to prepare the soil before planting as this vegetable is in the ground for a long time and you will not get a second chance to mend the soil later. Compost and animal manure are the best fertilizers for this crop and should be applied to the garden each spring prior to the new shoots coming to the surface. Mycorrhizae fertilizers are best when added to the soil in the spring and fall, so look for Garden or Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Mycorrhizea will help make a bigger and stronger root system. Asparagus plants grow tall so be sure to keep them out of the wind.

When you plant asparagus, purchase 2 year-old roots from your garden center and look for male roots. Male roots are more productive and larger shoots will develop from those roots. One year-old roots will save you money but you will have to wait one additional year to pick. The spring is the best time to plant asparagus and I suggest that you call your local garden center and have them call you as soon as the roots arrive.(We have one year roots available at Skillin's as of this writing!) Roots in a poly bag that have been in a heated building tend to dry up fast and take longer to get established. A bundle of fresh root packed in peat moss is better and less likely to have a mold problem like plants in a poly bag. This is the time when paying more for a product is worth the investment. You will have this plant in your garden for a long time, so begin with quality.

Dig a trench 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Make a small mound of soil that you have conditioned in the center of the trench every 18 inches. Spread the roots around the mound of soil so the crown is 2 inches higher than the roots. Now cover the roots and crown with 2 to 3 inches of conditioned soil, firm them in place and water well. As the plants begin to grow slowly, fill in the rest of the trench until even with the rest of the garden. Fertilize spring and fall with Garden or Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica. Use limestone, wood ash or Mag-I-Cal to keep the soil sweet and neutral. Once the shoots are up and growing I like to spread 2 inches of compost over the entire planting bed for weed control and to help prevent moisture loss during the summer. (Excellent advice!) Water 2 times a week to keep soil moist but NEVER wet. You will enjoy the foliage in your garden and remember the foliage makes energy for the plant to make it stronger and more productive for next year." ( I am not a huge fan of the foliage as I find the wispy asparagus foliage yellows as the season wears on. I guess some yellow tones are better than others!)

Special thanks to the Paul Parent Garden Club!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 18, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tuberous Begonias

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 Tuberous Begonias (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"This begonia is a creation of horticulturalists from all over the world. No flower has had so many ancestors and undergone so many complicated modifications. Begonias named for Michel Begon, a botanist who spent many years developing new varieties of the plant. He was at one time governor of French Canada and is responsible for many of the current varieties we have today. Tuberous Begonias are known for their flowers, whose shapes vary a great deal, resembling hollyhocks, carnations, camellias, and roses. Some varieties have a single flower, some have double flowers and some have both single and double flowers on the same plant.

Tuberous begonias are like no other summer flowering bulb, as they will flower all summer long and well into the fall. They are the showiest and the largest family of shade loving bulbs. They also have more applications than any other bulb when planted in the garden. Begonias can be planted in containers of all types and even in hanging baskets. Try them in window boxes, urns and even whiskey barrels. On your decks, patios, terrace, or porches they will provide you with endless color all summer." I keep a couple of containers going all summer and into the fall and as the season progresses, I fall in love with the begonia more and more each day! I am partial to colors similar to what you see above. At Skillin's we do not have many begonia BULBS left but we will soon have started plants ready for you--and with an investment of around $12 to $15 you can have gorgeous rich color for months!

"With many hundreds of varieties to choose from, the Begonia family has the plant height, flower size, flower color, foliage texture, and growth habit for you. I like the hanging or drooping varieties that cascade flowers over the side of the container, covering it with flowers. The drooping or cascading types have clusters of small flowers on their stems and are wonderful for porches or small terraces in a shady location. The large flowering types will grow to 18 inches tall with thick stems that help to hold flowers up to 3 inches in diameter. The foliage is deep green and triangular shape with small teeth on the margins.

Purchase your bulbs now and start them indoors on your windowsill. Fill a pot with a man-made soil like Jiffy Mix half way and place the tuber with the cup side facing up. Cover the bulb with 2 inches of soil and keep it moist but not wet. In no time at all, the warmth of the window will develop shoots from the tuber and the growth will develop quickly. In the house, the plant matures quickly and by the time the weather is safe enough to be planted outdoors, flower buds will be developing. When you plant, be sure to condition the soil with compost or animal manure. The better the soil the more flowers the plant will make. When growing in containers use Soil Moist in the soil to help retain water during the heat of summer. Fertilize every two weeks with Miracle-Gro or add Osmocote pellets to the soil mixture for continuous feeding all summer long.

The Begonias come from mild climate countries and when grown in a cold region, the tubers must be dug up from the garden after a frost and stored in the basement during the winter months. Store the bulbs in a box filled with dry peat moss on the basement floor. Keep them away from heat but temperatures must be above freezing, so don't store them in your garage. I always dust the bulbs with "Rose and Flower" garden dust before winter storage. If you grow begonias in containers, allow the top of the plant to be frosted and cut the foliage off to the ground. I put the containers in the basement for the winter and they never dry up, as all the roots are still intact. Do not water during the winter! In April I just add water and it comes right back to life. Shade is not a reason not to have flowers around your property when you have so many types of Tuberous Begonias to choose. Enjoy!"

Special thanks to the Paul Parent Garden Club!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beyond the Bloom!

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website.

The following is the basis for an exciting Beyond the Bloom Class that was held Saturday, April 17 2010 at 2 PM at Skillin's Brunswick, Cumberland and Falmouth.

For a great companion article to this post click here  for a recent piece titled "Foliage takes top billing over flowers in leafy landscapes" by Valle Novak.

Who doesn’t love bright bodacious blossoms? Nevertheless most blooms of our favorite perennials are fleeting. Get the most bang for your buck by incorporating plantings that offer interest long before and after the bloom has blown.

Consider the following for a landscape that offers 4-season interest:


o Combine Strap-like spiked leaves with bold broad leaves.

 Daylilies with Heuchera

 Ornamental Grasses with Sedum

o Complement lacy greenery with succulents.

 Hosta or Bergenia with Astilbe or ferns

 Succulent

• Sedum

• Ajuga

 Evergreen - Other than the usual subjects (needle and broadleaf shrubs)

• Astilbe, Heuchera, dianthus, ajuga,

 Lacy

• Ferns, Astilbe, Yarrow and Artemisia

o Tree Bark

 Paperbark Maple

 Birch, Paper or River

 American Beech

 Winter Honeysuckle

 Shag Bark Hickory

 Hornbeam

o LOOK FOR COLORFUL FOLIAGE. Combine Silvers w/burgundy, Neon greens & yellows w/deep green or blue green.

 Silver (these also have the added benefit of ‘glowing’ in the moonlight)

• ‘Snow in Summer’

• Wormwood

• Lambs Ear

• Sea Holly

• Munstead Lavender

 Burgundy-Perennials

• Endless list of heuchera

• Sedums

• Astilbe

• Bugbane

 Variegated

• Perennial Cultivars with variant greens, creams, and yellow foliage increase almost yearly.

o Hosta, Iris, Solomon’s Seal, Obedient Plant

 Other: Japanese & Ghost ferns Silver with Burgundy-a must for any shade/woodland garden.

 Succulent

• Sedum

• Ajuga

 Evergreen - Other than the usual subjects (needle and broadleaf shrubs)

• Astilbe, Heuchera, dianthus, ajuga,

 Lacy

• Ferns, Astilbe, Yarrow and Artemisia

 Fall Color

• Ferns, bloody geranium, grasses, Hosta


• Nine Bark

o Diablo

o Dart’s Gold

o Coppertina

• Black Lace or Black Beauty Sambucus Elderberry

• Weigelia

o Wine & Roses

o Fine Wine

o Red Prince

o My Monet

• Willow

o Hakuro Nishiki Willow

• Hypericum St. John’s Wort

 Berries

• Cotoneaster, Virburnum, Winterberry, Beautyberry. elderberry, Shrub St. Johns Wort


 Plant a fragrant shrub under a window

o Clethera

o Roses

o Lilacs

o Bugbane (perennial but tall enough to reach a window

 Some ornamental grasses offer a soothing ‘swish’ sound in the breeze.

 Many plants are tactile

o Lambs Ear

o Cone flower ‘cones’

o Creeping Thyme

o Allium

o Lady’s Mantle

Roses for Everyday People Like You and Me!

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website.

The following is the basis for an exciting Pursuit of the Rose Class to be held Saturday, April 17 at 10 AM at Skillin's Brunswick, Cumberland and Falmouth. If you are reading this post in time and HAVE time, please come by for this free (and worth much more!) class.

Would a Rose by any other name still smell as sweet? What is it about the Rose we find the most attractive, the delicate beauty or the heady scent? Roses continue to be the most romantic of flowers. Bouquets or a single stem are given as gifts and tokens of affection. Definitions are offered for color choice, a Red Rose offered represents Love; White Roses (KCB Fave) represents purity or Pure Love; to express passion and excite, a Rose of Orange is the choice. What these roses lack, however is fragrance. The sweet smell lamented by Romeo is not present in most modern roses offered by florists. These rose cultivars are developed for the sturdiness and length of stem, vibrancy of color and over-all vase life. For beauty much is lost.

So, what can we average folk do to grow our own roses? We are willing to sacrifice vase life for abundance and fragrance in our gardens. While we may suffer a few thorn pricks and I won’t mention the possibility of a Japanese Beetle or 2, yet these will be the only pains suffered in the pleasure of producing plentiful roses. As a hardworking gardener who actually works smart not hard has added roses as a perennial favorite. Here are my tricks:


 Soil

 Fertile, rich in organic matter, allowing for air to circulate, water to penetrate and retain enough moisture so not to dry out roots.

 PH of 6 – 6.5 (slightly acidic)

 Site

 Minimal wind exposure

 Good air circulation between plants

 Good Drainage

• Wet feet do not make happy plants.

 Sun

 4-6 hours of mid-day direct sun daily

 Sustenance

 1 – 2 inches of water per week

• Prefers slow drip during one session.

 Heavy feeders

• Feed with a complete fertilizer (containing all elements: Nitrogen (N1st #) Phosphorus (P2nd #) & Potassium (K 3rd #) such as

Espoma Rose-Tone

o Begin @ first bloom during the season, continue thru August.

o Final Feeding late fall at time of winter protection

Finishing Touches:

 Deadhead to promote new blooms

 Heavy Pruning Early Spring (April in zones 4/5)

Additional points of interest:

 Roses do not have true thorns but prickles

 ‘Old Roses’ were originally in shades of pink & reds plus white

 Rosa Rugosa is NOT native to Maine or the true ‘Beach Rose’

 Most grafted roses used Multiflora Rosa (Rambling Rose) as the root stock.

 One of the most fragrant yet invasive of roses in Maine

 Rosa Carolina (Pasture Rose) is a native to New England

Types of Roses:

 Approximately 150 species of roses (Rosa)

 Majority of species are single flowers of 5 petals

 Growing Habits:

 Climbing, crawling, shrubs, erect, arching.

Hardy Roses for Maine

 Alba Roses: free-branching shrub roses with relatively few thorns; semi-double to double, highly fragrant flowers in clusters of 5-7 in June; flowers produced on shoots from second year wood

 Gallica Roses: dense, free-branching, and generally prickly; single to fully double roses, most of them scented, from spring to early summer; pink, red or maroon flowers produced on shoots from second-year wood.

 Explorer Roses: modern roses developed by Agriculture Canada based on the hardiness of Rosa kordesii.

 Shrub Roses: rather artificial group of roses that don't easily fit into other categories; most flower in early summer; wide range of traits, including hardiness.

 Species Roses: naturally occurring roses with little or no improvement from breeding efforts.

• Most hybrid teas and floribundas are tender to Maine winters. To winter over these tender roses, bury the bud union several inches in the ground. After the first frost, mound compost or soil over the bud union up to one foot thick.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spring Rejuvenation of Your Perennial Garden

Hello again,

Garden writer Nicki Goff wrote the following great advice about Spring care of Perennial Gardens. The article appeared HERE in March and I have posted at the Garden Log now because of its timely value!

I would be careful with her advice about iris; I don't think iris should generally be dug and divided until fall. Otherwise this is a superb article and I agree wholeheartedly with what she writes. If you have any questions, please contact us at Here it is!

Spring is a good time to rejuvenate your perennial borders and gardens. If you're at all like me, you enjoy the thought of getting out in the cool but pleasant sunshine after a winter away from your gardening. Spring is easily one of the busiest times of the year if you have a garden full of perennial plants.

"Not all perennials will have been cut back in the fall. Some you have left so the interesting seed heads offer winter interest. Others fare better with some of the foliage left in place to protect the crown of the plant. Spring cleaning of the perennial beds includes removing any of the old dead foliage and seed heads.

Be careful as you do this. If the ground is still wet, walking on it will compact it and close up the air flow to the roots. It's better to wait until some growth is visible so you don't damage the emerging stems. The old growth you remove can be added to the compost pile as long as it is not diseased.

If you have mulched some of your perennials in the fall for winter protection, you can remove the protective mulch and compost it. For more tender perennials, leave the mulch in place until all nights are frost free.

Rockery perennials like aubretia, sea thrift and thyme should be given a haircut, removing any old blooms or seed heads. This shearing back will encourage new bushy growth and later flowering. With others like heuchera, remove any dead or damaged leaves.

Ornamental grasses are becoming a common element in landscaping. You've probably left the seed heads of the fall blooming ones like Miscanthus in place for winter garden interest. If you have these, chop them back before they start their spring growth.

Spring is a good time to divide perennials. Dividing perennials allows the crowded root systems more space to grow as well as giving you new plants to expand your planting or to give away. Each perennial is divided differently, so know how to divide the ones you have that are in need of dividing.

Clumping perennials like hostas, yarrow, phlox and perennial lobelia are easy to separate into individual plants once the clump is dug up. Replant each section in good humus rich soil and water well as you set it in place. Spring is also a good time to relocate any perennials that need a new spot.

In the case of summer-flowering iris, new fan shaped arrangements of leaves will appear along the rhizome. Dig up the entire rhizome and cut it into healthy sections that contain both leaves and roots. If any roots show signs of iris borer, dispose of them in the garbage, along with any dead foliage, and replant the healthy rhizomes in a new location. Note: this can be done EARLY in spring but by mid April it is getting late for this. Best done in the late summer or fall!

This is a good time also to get rid of the weeds, while they are still small and not deeply rooted. They are much easier to pull when the soil still holds winter moisture. Once weeds are removed, you may want to add a new layer of mulch to retain moisture and discourage any new weed growth."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 15, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pansies, Violas, and Jonnie Jump Ups

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 Pansies, Violas and Jonnie Jump Ups  (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"When the winter season comes to its end and the spring season arrives, the pansy family of flowers is more than ready to show us their happy faces in our gardens. Pansies hold a special place in my heart--and for most gardeners-- because of the cheerful flower faces that welcome the new season. Some years, the weather does not cooperate and we are surprised with a blanket of snow after planting them, but the pansy family does not care; it just keeps smiling until the snow melts. No other flower can tolerate the type of weather that they can; cold and wet growing conditions are not a problem. For your own peace of mind plant pansies, violas and Johnnie jump ups this spring.

(Pansies at Skillin's!)

The pansy family comes from the mountains of New Zealand and got its start in America from a Dutch grower who brought seed to Massachusetts, where the gardeners could not get enough of them. Before long new pansy hybrids developed to bring cheer to a cold spring gardens. The pansy is the floral emblem of Rhode Island and the state flower of New Jersey and Wisconsin.

The Violas were named for a lover of the God Zeus, and even Shakespeare mentioned them often in his works. Napoleon, banished to Elba, said he said he would "return with the violets." When he did return, Josephine was dead. He picked violets for her grave before going into exile again to St. Helena. When he died, a locket found on him contained a lock of her hair and violet flowers.

The pansy family has many names and I thought you would like to know just a few of them: Tickle-my-Fancy, Kiss-her-in-the-Pantry, Three-Faces-in-a-Hood, Love-in-Idleness and Heartsease. This flower has five petals that are arranged on a short stem, with two petals on top, one on each side and one larger one on the bottom. The center is most always yellow, even in solid darker colored flower types. The foliage is medium green, the leaves are I to 3 inches long, and the shape is oval to heart shape. The plant grows in a clump 4 to 8 inches wide and 4 to 8 inches tall. The plants are easy to grow and are very hardy in all types of weather. Plant pansies in partial shade where summers are hot. Pansies will also grow in a sunny or shady spot in your garden or even in containers or hanging baskets. Select a location with a humus-rich soil for the best results, though they will also grow well in a moist well-drained soil.

If you want to grow pansies from seed, you must plant them 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost, usually during mid January. Once the seed germinates, keep the new seedlings in a cool room or they will grow fast, stretch and grow tall, often falling over in the garden. All greenhouses, nurseries and garden centers have plants available now, ready to face the changing weather where you live. The flowers will last until the heat arrives when planted in the sun, so transplant them into a shaded garden in late June for summer flowers. If you like pansies, look for the new fall-blooming pansies available in September. These plants will bloom until the snow covers them in November or later. Many of them survive the winter and reappear the following spring.

(Fish and Seaweed Food Neptune's Harvest)

When planting add a bit of "Soil-Moist" to the planting hole: it will help them save water during hot days. Feed them every other week with "Miracle-Gro" fertilizer (I prefer Fish and Seaweed Food by Neptune's Harvest every week or every other week. It's natural ingredients will sustain these plants much better than Miracle Gro) once planted. The "BIG" secret is to pick off the faded flowers so the plant does not make seeds. The more you clean them, the more they will flower. When you pick off the faded flowers, crush the seed pods and throw them into the garden, where some of the seeds will germinate and spread. Smile with the Happy faces of Spring."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 11, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Terry Skillin on WCSH 6 "207" talking Container Gardening!

Terry Skillin very recently appeared on a segment of "207" at WCSH 6. Here is a link to the video. Great stuff:

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 9, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Nursery Plants for Skillin's 2010, Part 3!

Hello again,

Tim Bate our Nursery Buyer and Manager has compiled what I think is a rather exciting list of new nursery shrubs and trees for 2010. We are breaking it into parts and will bring you the separate parts over the next few days.

Click HERE for Part 1 of New Nursery Plants for Skillin's 2010!

And click HERE for Part 2 of New Nursery Plants for Skillin's 2010!

A designation of "#2" means a 2 gallon pot; #3 is a 3 gallon pot and so forth. And now from Tim Bate:

Hardy Flowering Cherry:

Spring Wonder (Prunus Sargentii ‘Hokkaiko Normandale’) Z4

20-25 tall and 15-20’ wide. This hardy new variety of Sargent Cherry developed just outside of Minneapolis, MN should add to the wonder of our spring gardens. Flowers pink in spring, followed by purplish foliage, which changes to green in the summer, and finally adds to the fall display with colors of yellow, orange and red.

#10 – 160.00


Evans Bali – Classified as a sour cherry, but with much sweeter fruit than typical sour cherries. Very cold-hardy and self-pollinating. Z4 (3)

Regina - A new, sweet variety, or “sweet new variety!” from Germany. Excellent fresh eating from a productive and disease resistant tree. Pollinate with another sweet cherry. Z4

Presidential Plum from colonial days:

Green Gage – A delicious plum for fresh eating and jams. Sweet and Self-pollinating. Z5

                                                                (Green Gage Plum)

A new “donut” peach:

Saturn – this white-fleshed peach is tender and very sweet. Excellent for fresh eating and desserts. Very productive. Freestone. Self-pollinating. Dwarf (add stakes at planting time to help support the more mature growth.) Z5

      (Saturn peach--note the donut shape)                        

(Saturn peach blossoms)

Plenty of Pears:

Daisui Li – large, medium green fruit, bursting with sweet flavor. Pollinate with another Asian pear. Z4

Raja – Golden brown with sweet, richly flavored fruit. Very productive and disease resistant. Pollinate with another Asian pear. Z4

Red Bartlett – Beautiful red fruit is very similar to Bartlett. Pollinate with another European pear. Z5

(red bartlett pear)

A featured plant in many Garden Magazines:

Fineline Buckthorn (Rhamnus frnagula ‘Ron Williams’) Z3

5-7’ tall and 2’ wide. A fantastic form for a tight space, as a living screen, or a container accent. Grows in full sun to full shade, though screening is probably better in sun/part sun.

#2 – 29.99

#3 – 44.00

Great Groundcovers!

Creeping Argentea Willow (Salix repens var ‘Argentea’) Z3

12” tall and spreading. The soft, silvery foliage on this ground cover willow brings a sparkling carpet to the front of the border, or a waterfall of luminous cascading growth down a rock wall.

#2 -29.99

A unique specimen tree

Oakleaf Mountain Ash (Sorbus x thuringiaca) Z4

30’ tall and 20’ wide. Leaves, lobed like that of English Oak, emerge slivery-gray in the spring and progress to dark green above and silver underneath. Flowers are white, and abundant fruit later in summer is brilliant red-orange.

#20 – 225.00

Splendid new Spireas

Double Play Artist (Spirea japonica ‘Galen’) Z4

24-30” tall on a neat mounding form. The ‘Double Play’ comes from this plant’s two points of color interest. Spring foliage flushes an attractive purple-red, setting it apart in the landscape, and then the large purple, early summer flowers complete the picture.

Dead heading will promote repeat blooms.

#3 – 34.99

Double Play Gold (Spirea japonica ‘Yan’) Z4

15-24” tall on a neat mounded form. The ‘Double’ comes into play from this plant’s two points of color interest. Spring foliage emerges a bright yellow, and matures to gold and leaf color holds exceptionally well throughout the season. Early summer flowers are vibrant pink and will continue through autumn if spent blossoms are removed.

#3 – 34.99

Firegold (Spirea x vanhoutti ‘Levgold’) Z4

4-6’ tall and 5-7’ wide. This glowing new addition to the Bridal Wreath-type spireas offers up yellow foliage in spring changing to lime-green. The golden arching branches are covered with white blossoms in June. Foliage color is strongest in full sun.

#5 – 44.00

Come again?

Bloomerang (Syringa x ‘Penda’) Z4

4-5’ tall and wide. This compact growing lilac will reward you in mid to late spring with an abundance of fragrant purple-pink blooms. Usually takes a rest in early summer, but then blooms AGAIN late summer and into fall. It flowers on first and second year growth, so planting in a rich garden soil, pruning right after the spring show, and watering during summer drought, will maximize the late season display.

#2 – 34.99

Best Blue!

President Lincoln (Syringa ‘President Lincoln’)Z3

8-10’ tall and wide. Single, Blue-Lavender flower. Still one of the best lilacs in the blue color class.

#25 – 1.75”

For the Bonsai enthusiast…

Hokkaido Dwarf Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia ‘Hokkaido’)Z5

Very slow growing elm with tiny, dark green leaves and interesting corky bark.

Great for rock gardens and bonsai.

#1 -22.99

Seiju Dwarf Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’)Z5

Another neat dwarf elm variety for rock gardens and bonsai. Leaves are a little larger than the Hokkaido cultivar and the plant is a bit faster growing.

#1 – 22.99

Wine lovers take note!

Marquette Z4

A red wine variety that combines disease resistance and cold hardiness with excellent wine qualities, offering notes of cherry, black pepper and spice.

Bright new addition!

Rainbow Sensation (Weigela ‘Kolmajira’) Z4

3-4’ tall and wide. This sparkling new variety lights up the landscape with fresh variegated color even before the soft pink trumpet-like flowers beckon to passing hummingbirds in early June.

#2 – 34.99

This plant is smokin’!

Golden Spirit Smokebush( Cotinus coggyria ‘Ancot’) Z4

6-10’ tall. Beautiful golden spring foliage, changes to lime-green in summer when the blooms float above the foliage. This unique shrub for the border is a standout mixer with blue and violet colored perennials. The show keeps going in the fall when the foliage changes to salmon-pink, orange and yellow.

#3 – 49.00

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Transplanting Seedlings

Hello again,

At the Skillin's Garden Log we have discussed the ABC’s of Seed Starting. We reviewed how to start seeds indoors and when to start seeds indoors. (If you need a copy of that article, just let me know!). It may be time to transplant your seedlings when they show their first true leaves! This brings us to sections E, F, and G of the ABC’s of Seed Starting.

Equal parts of peat moss and vermiculite makes a good growing medium for your seedlings to be transplanted into now that they have their first true leaves. (Actually instead of peat moss and vermiculite, I would recommend Pro Mix or sifted Bar Harbor Blend potting soil by Coast of Maine Organics. Unless you sowed your seeds directly into an individual peat pot (which I actually recommend in many cases), you will want to transplant your seedlings from their starting trays to give them more room and a better chance to grow. For containers, consider using plastic 6-packs, 3” or 4” peat or cow pots, or peat flats, spacing seedlings one to two inches apart. Moisten your mix with warm water to make handling manageable. Fill each container within a quarter inch of the top and tamp down. Gently tap the seedlings as a group out of the container they were started in. Carefully separate the seedling, attempting to keep as much of the original medium around the roots as possible. Using a label or a pencil, make a hole for each seedling in your mix. Generally you will want to place the seedling at the same soil level it was previously. (Bushy type plants like lettuce or petunias need to be planted at the same soil line so their growing point is not buried, where upright plants such as tomatoes can be planted to the base of the first leaves and roots will develop along the stem that is buried.) Pinch the soil in around the base of the transplanted seedling. Set in a pan of warm water for bottom watering, as this will be the least likely way to disturb the new transplants.

Fungus disease known as damping-off can be the worst enemy of new seedlings. A seedling will appear perfectly healthy then you discover it has toppled over- a black line of rot cutting through its stem. Over crowding, being too warm and damp, and still air can all lead to this infectious loss. Prevention is the best weapon against damping-off. We do recommend a light application of milled spaghnum moss sprinkled over the top of your growing medium as good protection against damping off. Make sure your seedlings get enough air circulation. Don’t keep them covered with plastic and don’t over water.

Growing your seedlings on, place them in a very sunny window using a sheer curtain in between to prevent scorching, or place under artificial light, adjusting the height as they grow. Fertilize once a week with a quarter strength solution of a liquid organic fertilizer ( I highly recommend Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed fertilizer diluted with water.) Yummy! Continue to water and grow on until ready to set out.

Mike Skillin
April 6, 2010