Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grateful Dead(heading) by KCB

As KCB has been known to say, "Too much ‘KCB’ is never too much" so by popular demand we are reprinting a post from KCB that originally ran on July 27, 2008. Every gardening year is different yet in many cases the timing of the forest (aka "big picture") stays largely the same. So we thought this post would be quite appropriate or perhaps even "timeless".

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

The mantra of many a Maine Gardener is “I want a garden that is colorful throughout the summer”, “ with minimal maintenance” is often tacked on to the end.

Other than a select group of annuals, creating such a landscape involves a plan with a variety of shrubs and perennials that bloom at different intervals. Pockets or expanses of color and texture throughout the growing season are possible by carefully choosing plants based on their bloom time.

Yet, even a plan once implemented needs assistance along the way. We can coax some perennials to extend their blooming time or put forth a new flush of blooms later in the season. This even includes some flowering shrubs.

How? By Deadheading; the removal of brown and withered flowers

Have you ever given thought at to the primary purpose of a plants life? Yes, to offer beauty, fragrance, and often sustenance for humans or wildlife. However, no one really told that to the annuals or perennials. They feel they were put on this earth to reproduce. They exert their energies to producing seeds and once accomplished they can rest. What we must do is to take away the spent blooms before they go to seed. This way the poor plant feels that it has not performed and will have to start all over. Oh, don’t you feel like the big meanie!! Not really. This is what the plant wants to do. We just make it work a little harder.

Removing spent blooms from most plants is easy; as to where to cut is obvious. Other plants make it more of a challenge thus requiring some patience and at times skill.

A few perennials that fall into the latter category are Dianthus (cheddar or maiden pinks. Fire Witch is an excellent choice), Campanula (Bell Flowers), Balloon Flowers as these take a precise cut or pinch so not to disturb a tender bud directly attached to the spent bloom. On occasion, I have been known to shear Dianthus and have severely cut Campanula to be rewarded with a flush of new blooms later in the season.

Many of the varieties of Shasta Daisies will continue to put forth new blooms, simply cut back to the point in the stem until a leaf and a tiny bud are visible. The subsequent blooms will be on a shorter stem. Vertical and height variety serve to add to a garden’s interest.

Veronica (spiked Speedwell) also enjoys resurgence for several weeks if consistent removal of the seed spikes is performed.

Some perennials are a lot more forgiving and allow for severe cut back. Nepeta can and will flourish if sheared about this time of the year. I know there are many other long blooming perennials yet I will list some of those I can keep going once the blooms begin:

Sweet William
Coreopsis (tickseed)
Scabiosa (Pin Cushion Flower)
Spider Wort
Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)—profuse blooming
Echinacea (Cone Flower)
Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Deadheading the annual Cosmos will keep the delicate blooms coming until the first frost. I love the airiness of the plant and is often included in the perennial gardens I install.

Shrubs can also be coaxed to offer another bloom. I will not include the new hydrangea varieties but those whose unexpected flowering is worth the effort. Weigelia and Spirea will put forth new blooms if the spent flowers are removed once they begin to turn brown. This may seem like a daunting task yet for some of the more compact varieties, the flurry of color can be very satisfying.

Oh, I almost forgot roses! Some of ‘my roses’ will bloom until November. At least one bush was still flowering when I made my last visit. With Roses, I stop my pruning the second week of September, as I do want those puppies to be ready for the long winter’s nap. But for now, prune away…………

Or as the Grateful Dead would say ‘Keep on Truckin’……………….’

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
KCB can also be found at www.finishingtouchesgardendesign.com/

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June Garden Talks 2010

The purpose of this post is to relay a few "quick hit" garden tips to you through the month of June. 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 through June 2010!

June 23--Great gardening friend Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited in Rockport sent out some great gardening advice the other day. Plants Unlimited can be found at 629 Commercial Street (US Route 1) in Rockport ME or at http://www.plants-unlimited.com/. I highly recommend a visit!

Here is what Hammon has to say about Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes: "Blossom-end rot is a disorder of tomato, squash, pepper, and all other fruiting vegetables. You notice that a dry sunken decay has developed on the blossom end (opposite the stem) of many fruit, especially the first fruit of the season. This is not a pest, parasite or disease process but is a physiological problem caused by a low level of calcium in the fruit itself.

(image from Plants Unlimted)
Blossom-end rot usually begins as a small "water-soaked looking" area at the blossom end of the fruit while still green. As the lesion develops, it enlarges, becomes sunken and turns tan to dark brown to black and leathery. In severe cases, it may completely cover the lower half of the fruit, becoming flat or concave, often resulting in complete destruction of the infected fruit.

Calcium is required in relatively large concentrations for normal cell growth. When a rapidly growing fruit is deprived of calcium, the tissues break down, leaving the characteristic lesion at the blossom end. Blossom-end rot develops when the fruit's demand for calcium exceeds the supply in the soil. This may result from low calcium levels in the soil, drought stress, excessive soil moisture, and/or fluctuations due to rain or overwatering . These conditions reduce the uptake and movement of calcium into the plant, or rapid, vegetative growth due to excessive nitrogen fertilization.

You can supply calcium by using lime, composted manure or bone meal. (I actually recommend feeding your tomatoes with Tomato or Garden Tone by Espoma--2 feedings and also watering the gently once per week with Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed food for best tomato performance.) Also, maintain uniform soil moisture by mulching and watering correctly, planting in well drained soil and not cultivating deeper than one inch within one foot of the plant. Also avoid the use of high nitrogen fertilizers."

June 22--While driving around doing some floral deliveries today, I noticed some lawns already taking on that scorched or brown look. Folks it is dry out there.

One of the basic tenets of good organic lawn care is to simply raise the level of your lawn mower. A slightly taller lawn shields the roots of the lawn from getting "fried" by the hot sun. Your lawn's roots stay more resilient when the grass is higher. Higher lawns also canopy sun loving weeds and can really prevent a lot of weeds from taking strong root. Also higher lawns make for good lawn clippings that should NOT be bagged. Leave the clipppings to decompose back through the lawn and into soil. This gets good organic matter back into the soil. If you apply a good organic lawn food a couple of times per year your soil should be healthy enough to decompose those grass clippings before they become nasty thatch. I general set your mower height to 2.5 to 3". I recommend making your last mowing of the year (in late fall) a close cropped mowing but not until then.

June 20--Joseph of Skillin's Falmouth notes that clematis are "heavy feeders" and perform best when their roots are cool yet receiving many nutrients. Of course the plant itself needs as much as you can give it; yet the roots like to remain cool. Joe recommends mulching or covering the roots with a nice compost (we sell many great choices here at Skillin's!). He feeds his clemati pretty regularly with all natural Fish and Seaweed liquid fertilizer from Neptune's Harvest (also sold right here at Skillin's!) and he says his clemati are doing just fan tab ulistic!

June 19--Customer Lauren started some veggies and flowers on her own and they came up great. She has since transferred them to containers and she told me that their color was pale and the plants were kind of spindly. Her plants are an assortment of sun loving plants and the plants are in the sun; she feels her potting soil is good quality with some added compost. But she has not fed the plants so I recommended her to try some weekly feedings of Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed fertilizer. Her plants are hungry. Folks, time is ticking and our season is indeed short. Composted soil is essential but so isn't a good regular meal of natural fertilizer to get needed nutrients to your plants for best performance!

June 15--Customer Nancy wrote today asking about woodchuck prevention. Woodchucks can be very damaging to flowers and vegetables. Darn it! The damage they do can just break a gardener's heart! My heart has certainly been broken a few times. Here is what I wrote Nancy:

"Nancy, I have battled woodchucks with many methods over the years and most have not worked.

The method that absolutely did work for me is a battery operated tube now called the Mole Mover (old name Go-Pher It). The Mole Mover is powered by 3 C batteries and emits a long beep every 28 seconds. The key is to know approximately (within 30 feet) where the woodchucks den is. Woodchucks typically live under sheds, decks, porches, croppings of stone, “other sides” of berms, someplace with a feel of shelter or protection.

They love to be in their dens so it is key to stick this tube as near (again within 30 feet) of their den as you can. After about a week of hearing this consistent beep every 28 seconds they and their family typically leave your area. If you are not sure of where they live, keep an eye on where they run to when you startle them. They typically waddle straight for the den.

Other customers have their methods—fox urine, human hair in panty hose are two favorites. They may work for a time but I have found at the worst moment when the fox urine may be depleted or the hair scent is not there that they strike.

The tubes worked and are still working for me and for many other customers. I hope they work for you…let me know if you have any more gardening questions!"

We love your gardening questions! Just shoot us a comment here at this post or email us at skillins@maine.rr.com!

June 14-I recently mentioned these gardening tips in our Garden Talks Newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter at http://www.skillins.com/!

*Slugs are out in abundance; living under larged leafed plants by day and chomping and tearing on fresh plants by night. Slugs can eat incredible amounts; your leaves will look torn. Slugs can easily be controlled by all natural Slug Magic (safe for pets and wildlife) sold right here at Skillin's.

*In most cases now is the time to prune your lilacs and rhodys that have just flowered. The window is not open for long as soon they will be forming growth that will contain next year's flowers. So get those shrubs in shape!

*Now is a great time to put all organic Kelp Booster by Organica on your lawn if you gave your lawn a nice boost earlier this Spring with a nice natural food like Espoma's No Phos Lawn Food. Kelp Booster is a nice all natural supplement that will really benefit your lawn (and even your garden's) soil. If you have not applied any natural lawn food yet to your lawn get on over here and pick up some no phos Espoma Lawn Food.

*The air has been wet and heavy which means fallen leaves from our plants can easily host mold and mildew. These blights can move onto live growth. The first and best step against disease on your plants is to prune off any dead and dying growth--also to keep the area around our plants clean of fallen growth. I have been using a relatively new all natural product called Vaccinate on my rose bushes, upright phlox and lilacs. Vaccinate works naturally to help plants build up resistance to disease. So far my roses, phlox and lilacs which can get mildewy and diseased look great.

*Weeds are growing like crazy! Keep tall weeds from crowding your plants--these weeds can compete for moisture, nutrients, and air circulation. Small weeds should be controlled as well; hopefully with a garden hoe or cultivator.

*Many veggies like peas, beans, lettuces, broccoli, radishes and carrots can be grown in multiple crops or stages through the gardening year. We have fresh plants and seeds coming in all the time. Let us help you keep fresh waves of garden products coming to your garden! You can easily keep harvesting all these veggies and more well into the fall.

June 13-We are Just Getting Started! Friends, our soil is just warming up...plants that have started slowly because of cold soil temps are about to JUMP. If you want to grow more veggies and more flowers our selection is top shelf; in most cases FRESH second and third crops that are well established, well grown and well on their way to a timely harvest in a happy garden like yours! This goes for ground gardens as well as container gardens!

Planting veggies? Great! Plant some flowers too! Vegetables are a blast but flowers look great, some deter pests, and all of them help to pollinate vegetable plants. We have got veggies and flowers and today, this week, and/or this coming weekend and beyond is the perfect time to plant!

Annual flowers are a great bargain. We offer 6 or 9 packs for just $3.99. And annual flowers are "the plant that keeps on giving" by flowering well into the fall!

Our good gardening friend, Tom Atwell writes a great article in Sunday's Maine Telegram about how you can still enjoy late-planted vegetables. Great reading that I highly recommend!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
June 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

STOP, LOOK, READ Or how to avoid landscaping mistakes!!!

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.

Wow, what a title!? Lots to live up to but then, there are a lot of mistakes landscapers make. I’m not pointing fingers, mind you; I would be pointing more than one at me. I just want you to learn from my pain. This is the same pain I see in countless gardens when I am commissioned to renovate garden beds. What you are about to read has been said before. Some of you may know it in your heart but figure ‘it could never happen to you.’ It may already have.

First, allow me to digress. Years ago I saved an article entitled ‘Landscape Mistakes’. The other day I reread the article for the first time since added to my collection. Luckily some of the mistakes are no longer an issue. We have learned. Still a long way to go. Here is my list.

• LACK OF PLANNING. Oh there she goes again. Impulse buying may be good for the soul nevertheless, without knowing what it is you want, need or even have room for, can wreak havoc with budget and sanity. You know the drill.

• OVER PLANTING. You have a plan, perhaps yours or a professional's. We live in a world of instant gratification so I cannot truly fault either party. We all want the best bang for the buck. Too much of a good thing can be too much. I am working on 2 landscapes that could easily landscape 4 other areas of similar size. Friends and families are benefiting from this expensive blunder. Plants, shrubs and trees grow. It may take 3-5 years for an ornamental perennial bed to come into its own. Landscape designers offer a concept of the final outcome. Nature will take care of the rest.

• TOO MUCH. This is different from above in many ways. One ‘too much’; too much color. Incorporating every possible bloom and flower color can create a chaotic affect. It is too busy for the eye. Keep it simple, buy 3, 5, or 7 of one plant variety, combine it with one or 2 others. Keep in mind to purchase at least 3 of each plant. There are many theories why designers use the ‘odd rule’. It works. Coupled objects appear static; odd numbered groupings come to life. When areas with different light requirements must be incorporated for a cohesive look, focus on color, textured and height vs. actual plant. More ‘too muches’; mulch, lawn, garden ornaments.

• BAD PROPORTIONS. A large house needs large beds, shrubs, trees even containers. A small house can forego a lawn for the cottage garden look; just keep plantings, especially trees in proportion. A 3 story 4500 square foot home commands more than dwarf Alberta spruces or weeping cherries. The steps of an Arts & Crafts Bungalow would be dwarfed by large containers planted with giant agapanthus Lily of the Nile.

• HOUSE HUGGING. Somewhere between the 1960s and 80s landscapers and homeowners felt the need to cloak the foundation with shrubs, primarily evergreens. Shrubs planted too close to the home may hinder electrical, cable or other utility contractors to access meters or wires. Overgrowth will eventually block windows and may even be a security issue. Out of control shrubs could serve as a hiding place for intruders. Additionally, ornamental beds that hug the house cannot be enjoyed from the inside. See below.

• EVERYTHING AT ONCE. If you want a complete over haul of your landscape, it may be ideal to have it all done at once, especially if your budget can handle the expense. Prioritize. What area is the most bothersome? Do you want curb appeal? A backyard sanctuary? Beautiful vistas from inside your house?

• FEAR. Yes, fear. Especially if a home is purchased with established beds. ‘I was afraid to do anything’ is almost a mantra when I meet a homeowner for the first time. 3 years appears to be the litmus test. If nothing is pruned, divided or otherwise maintained within this time period the gardens become overwhelming. Don’t be afraid take out anything you don’t like. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for assistance. Your local family owned garden center are full of associates eager to assist. If more help needed, hire a garden coach. Someone to guide you while you perform the work.

Now I must continue to correct so many mistakes, so little time……..

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
(written in May 2010, finally posted by Mike Skillin: June 2010!)