Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to Grow Citrus Plants Indoors During the Winter

Hello again,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again, Paul Parent

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 27, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks to You Sale!

Hello again,

Griffin and Mike say Thanks for Being a Customer!

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

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

*Bird Feeders and Supplies
   20% off

*Wind Chimes
   20% off

*Pots and Saucers
  20% off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Micro Greens for Holiday Meals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Pass the micro greens, please."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tucking Perennials in for the Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 15, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Preparing Your Blueberries and Strawberries for Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Skillin for Paul Parent
November 2, 2010

Mulching for Winter Protection

Hello again,

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pruning Raspberries

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

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

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

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

Composting Leaves and Pumpkins

Hello again!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 1, 2010