Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December Gardening Tips! And tips for the Holiday Season!!

Hello again,

Here are some very timely tips for this early part of December:

Mulch perennials and roses. If not completed in November, spread a heavy layer of mulch over your plants after the ground freezes. This will protect them from winter thawing.” I have still not had a chance to mulch around my roses and perennials. I am waiting for the next cold snap to freeze that ground up ( I shouldn’t have to wait long!) and then I am going to mulch around my roses and perennials.

Mark driveways and walkways. Before the ground freezes, mark the areas that will need snow removed during the winter to protect the landscape and make plowing or snow blowing easier.” Great practical advice. We recommend using oak stakes and perhaps painting the tops of the stakes with a bright color. Though the ground might be frozen on the surface it is possible to get oak stakes into the ground.

Dig a hole for live holiday trees. Living trees are often a popular choice for holiday decorating. For the best chance of winter survival, these beautiful trees need to be planted outdoors as soon as possible, usually after five days of being inside. Dig the hole before the ground freezes and store the soil indoors so that it remains unfrozen and can be used to plant the tree.” Live Christmas trees are one of our favorite options this time of year. Several years ago my former neighbor and his family planted some marvelous spruce and fir trees along our property line that had been their live Christmas trees. They have moved away but the trees are still there and make a nice hedge along our property line. We do have a great selection of live trees left at this point. Again it is still be possible to get that hole dug. If not we can talk to you about keeping those trees cold in a sheltered spot in your yard or near your home.

Turn off all outside faucets. If your outdoor faucets are not self-draining, they should be turned off within the house to prevent freezing and cracking. Also, hoses should be drained and properly stored.” Again great advice!

Mark perennials and bulbs. Marking plants in the garden before they become snow covered helps for early spring spotting and identifying.” The next time I do this will be the first time but it is an absolutely super suggestion. You always think you will remember just where you planted those neat plants—guess what when the snow melts it is HARD to remember. Make it easy; mark those plants with a permanent marker and at least some of those wooden “tongue depressor” labels. We have some classy metal labels that work very well also!

Prepare plants for snow loads. Building small structures over brittle plants or wrapping with burlap will prevent winter damage and help keep plants healthy.” We have Maine made cedar A frames available for you at a great price that should do the job!

Plant pre-cooled bulbs for indoor spring forcing. After bulbs have received eight weeks of refrigeration, it is now time to put them into a loose potting mix in a dark, cool location for another six to eight weeks. Water only as needed for continued dampness.” This is the essence of “forcing” bulbs such as tulips, crocuses and daffodils. We also have hyacinth and paperwhite narcissus that can be forced by merely placing the bulbs in water. Winter color that is easy to come by!

Also: some popular questions and answers for this seasonal time of year:

Does Skillins Greenhouses mail order wreaths?
Yes, we have a State of Maine Wreath decorated for $38.99 that we can
ship anywhere in the continental United States.

We make all types of wreaths! Check out http://www.skillinsmainewreaths.com/ for this and other choices of wreath and great gift ideas.

Which type of cut tree lasts the longest?

They will all last through the season providing you give them a fresh cut (about 1 to 2 inches) before placing them into their stand and they are never allowed to run out of water. If you are going right home with your tree, we will be glad to cut the tree for you here at Skillin’s!

We have a great selection of all native grown Scotch Pine, Balsam Fir and Frasier Fir cut Christmas trees. We grow about half our trees right here in Falmouth ME. The remainder is contract grown for us by another multi-generation family in the Skowhegan ME area.

How should a cut tree be prepared?

When the tree arrives home and is ready to be put up, cut about 2" from the bottom of the trunk. Then place the tree straight into the stand and fill with water. Add a tree preservative into the water and every time you need to add water to the stand. Check the water level twice a day and always maintain the highest possible level. Giving your tree a plentiful supply of water is critical to achieving a long and healthy “indoor life” for the tree.

How many lights are needed to light a tree?

Mini lights require 50 lights per foot of tree height, and the larger lights require 15 lights per foot of tree.

How do you care for a poinsettia?

Place the poinsettia in a bright spot, keep it from draft, and water when soil is dry but not to a wilt. Do not allow poinsettias to sit in water; decorative foil on the container may hold water so remember to check this and remove any excess water. Poinsettias are not poisonous! And have I told you we grow our poinsettias right here in Maine?

How do you keep holly and mistletoe?

Keep holly cool and misted, replace as needed. Do not use fresh holly outdoors, as it will freeze. Mistletoe will remain fresh if kept cool; it will also dry nicely holding its leaves and berries. All parts of mistletoe are poisonous.

Thanks to Terry Skillin for these questions and answers!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
December 6, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


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 out a great post titled "Cyclamen". The post is following this paragraph. We grow our own cyclamen here at Skillin's--you cannot buy a more local product than our cyclamen plants. The plants are terrific--they flower for a long time in our homes and the colors are gorgeous!

One Lovely Color for Cyclamen--We Have Other Great Colors Too!
"Nothing is more beautiful in the garden than a large display of cyclamen. They are among the best fall-blooming plants. You can use them in pots on tables, by the front door, or planted in a nice shady spot outdoors before the frost arrives. They are great for atriums.

The flowers resemble a butterfly fluttering above the plant. The foliage is in the shape of a heart and they grow in a mound over the pot. There are miniatures varieties for small spots and the common larger plants for the table or garden. The foliage color can be green to silver and every combination in-between. The flower color ranges from white to pink, red, lavender and some multi-colored. Some varieties can also have frilly flowers or smooth edges. Hint: a great gift plant for someone with a cool home during the winter.

A few notes on growing cyclamen:


Try to keep water away from the crown area (they can get crown rot).

• Do not bury them too deep; keep the top of the tuber just slightly above the soil line.

• Keep your plants well fed; feed every couple of weeks while they are in full leaf.

• Pull out the stems that have gone by. Hint! Bend the stem down towards the foliage and quickly pull the stem out. It will snap free from the plant. Never leave old flower stems on the plant as they will rot and kill some of the leaves next to them.

• Pick a few flowers to go into a bud vase. They are lovely and last quite well.

• As the flowers begin to fade, gradually allow the plant to dry out for 2-3 months; do not feed during this time.

• Resume feeding when new growth appears. Repot at this time in a container 2 inches larger.


• Cyclamen like cool weather (that's why they make great winter-bloomers). That means outdoors in a shady to semi-shady spot. If you have a spot that is full shade in summer and gets more light in cooler weather, that is ideal.

• Make sure they are planted in a well-draining area.

• They like cool weather--but not severe cold. Some are hardier than others are, but all need some protection against cold. These plants are bulb-like and will not survive outdoors during the winter. They must be brought indoors for the winter and they will bloom most of the winter for you. Great in mixed containers for the front step also. Try planting with flowering kale and cabbage.


• Pick a cool spot. Make sure they have good air circulation, but keep out of cold drafts. Also heating vents where hot and dry air can dry plants quickly. Hot forced air will force the plant to send all flower buds into bloom all at once. Cool temperatures spread out the flowering time over many week indoors.

• High humidity, especially during winter, is very important. Try putting the cyclamen on a tray of water with a layer of pebbles to form a shelf for pot to sit on. Don't put the cyclamen itself in the water. You want humidity around the plant, not soggy soil.

• Let the cyclamen have plenty of light in winter; sunburn is rarely a problem. In summer keep it in indirect light.

• Repot when the tuber fills the existing pot; it's best to repot it while it's dormant. Use a pot just a little larger than the old pot.

Thanks to Paul Parent for this great post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 29, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November Garden To Do's

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 out a post titled "It's Mid-November; Time to Put the Garden to Bed". He brings up many helpful points for this month.:

The weather has been mild for most of us but let's use these remaining nice days to our advantage and close up the garden for the year. The weather has a way of changing without much of a notice so let's get it done and move our gardening skills indoors now.

In the vegetable garden let's pick all the roots crops, such as carrots, beets, turnip, and rutabagas. Remove all the foliage but do not cut into the flesh of the vegetable, I usually cut the foliage to one inch of the top and toss the greens into the composter. Store these vegetable in your garage or cold basement in a box of sandbox sand. All I do is cover the bottom of the box with a thin layer of washed sand and then place the root crop in the box and cover with the rest of the sand. This keeps the air off them so they do not dry up while in storage. Sandbox sand can be purchased in 50 pound bags at your local garden center and it keeps the vegetables much cleaner than using peat moss. When you're done eating the vegetables, use the sand on the snow and ice on your walkways as needed.

If you have not pulled your onions, shallots, sweet potatoes, or regular white potatoes, now is the time to do so. Shake off any soil, wash them with the garden hose, and let them air dry. Remove any dried foliage and place them in your garage or cold basement in open baskets or mesh bags to create good air circulation while in storage. . Check often for possible rotten vegetables and dispose of them as needed. (One rotten potato can and will destroy all your work.) When everything is removed, rake the garden clean of debris and spread limestone over the garden to keep the soil from getting too acid.

All your winter squash can also be kept in the same storage conditions in baskets and dry. Butternut, acorn, buttercup, Hubbard and more will keep well most of the winter. Many places are having specials on winter squash right now so take advantage of the price and stock up while it is available.

Brussels sprouts can stay outdoors in the garden until you are ready to eat them; along with kale. Many years I have picked both of them right up until Christmas; several years I had to dig them out of the snow and they tasted real good.

Let's not wait any longer--winterize your roses now. First, if you have potted rose bushes, potted tree roses, or miniature potted roses they must spend the winter in an unheated building like your garage or tool shed, NOT your house or basement. Roses must go dormant for the winter and rest. If you keep them alive they will grow themselves to death. Like you and me, they need downtime and winter is their time to rest. Once all the foliage has come off or turned brown, water the planter well and move it indoors. Do not feed them, do not prune them; just let them rest in the cold building until mid-March. When the weather changes, move the container outside, water well, and wait until April first before pruning the plant and feeding it to begin a new season in your garden.

Roses planted in your garden need extra protection for the long winter if you live in a cold climate like New England. Right now build a mound of soil, compost or bark mulch on top and around your plant 12 to 18 inches tall and just as wide. This will help protect the delicate graft on the plant. I also recommend that you spray the branches or canes of the rose bush with an anti-desiccant like Wilt-Stop or Wilt-Pruf to prevent the winter winds from drying out the delicate canes. Do not prune your rose bushes during the fall ever; wait until April to prune them and at that time start your monthly application of rose fertilizer. If you have climbing roses, make sure to tie them up to the structure they are climbing on so the branches are not damaged with the winter wind and snow. In April, spread the mound of protection material around the plant to help keep the roots cool during the heat of summer.

Hydrangeas should be cleaned of all dead flowers on the plant to prevent heavy snow or ice damage. Those large dried flowers will catch the heavy wet snow or ice and the weight will bend, possibly breaking the branch. Just remove the dead flowers; do not cut back the branches until spring. Your summer flowering blue hydrangeas are the least hardy, and if you live north or west of Boston, in northern New York State or in western Pennsylvania, they should be protected much the same way as the roses are. Follow the same steps with the mound of mulch and a spraying of an anti-desiccant to help protect the delicate flower buds on the plant for next year.

Newly planted trees over 6 feet tall should be staked to the ground to prevent the wind from moving the plant around during the winter months. If the tree moves around during the winter, the root ball in the ground will also move and the small newly developing roots will snap off, preventing the plant from establishing itself. If you have a flowering or fruit tree, it should also be wrapped with tree wrap to prevent the bark from cracking or splitting with the fluctuating temperatures.

If these trees are planted near open fields or near a wooded area, there is the possibility of rodents damaging the plant by eating the bark the first couple of years, until the bark toughens up. Please take the time to build a ring around the trunk of the tree with hardware cloth wire from the ground to the first branch. Make the wire collar so it has a 1 inch space from the trunk of the tree to the wire. If you don't, mice, moles, and rabbits will feed on this tasty bark when the snow gets deep; if they eat the bark off the plant, the tree will die.

If you have new arborvitaes, look at them closely and see that they are multi-stem plants; ice and heavy wet snow will split them, breaking them apart. Just take a piece of rope, like clothesline rope, and tie a piece at the base of the plant and wrap the branches together like a cork screw around the plant. Go 3/4 of the way up the plant to prevent damage and leave it on the plant from November to April. This will need to be done for the first 2 to 3 years until the plant has begun to mature and the branches harden.

If you have a new or established birch clump it might be a good idea to tie them together to prevent them from falling over with heavy wet snow. Tie one tree with the rope and wrap the rope around the others--like the arborvitae--in a corkscrew pattern. T,here is strength in numbers, so tie all the individual trunks together. Birches have weak stems and easily bend under heavy snow never to return to the same position in your yard.

Any newly-planted broadleaf evergreen like azalea, rhododendron, boxwood, holly or mountain laurel should be sprayed with an anti-desiccant like Wilt-Pruf or Wilt-Stop NOW and AGAIN in early February to keep them fromdrying out in a windy location. To me it's worth spending a dollar per plant to prevent damage on a plant worth $25.00 or more, now, isn't it?

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's Not Too Late to Start a Family Tradition!

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?  Do all good things come to those who wait? Is it really better late than never?  Yes!  Especially when it comes to planting bulbs.

Over the past 2 weeks I have been deluged, ok not exactly, but have received several comments of surprise from passersby as I plant bulbs in my client’s gardens.

In one densely populated neighborhood, where the garden abuts a well traveled sidewalk I was quite the subject of discussion between 2 walking friends.  The planting area is framed by a stone retaining wall and is at waist level.  I was diligently digging, placing, amending and back filling without so much as standing erect while I moved along the wall.  I could hear the women wonder aloud as to what I was doing. When I stood and turned to exclaim I was planting bulbs one said to the other, ‘I told you.’ The doubter was sure it was too late.  Similar questions were asked as I made my way throughout other gardens. Why would anyone think it was too late?

Now is the perfect time. As long as the ground can be worked holes can be dug. In fact most old time bulb planters claim the best time to plant is AFTER the first mild frost. My theory is that once the average daily temperature is in the 40s with evenings at freezing then is a wonderful time of the year, for bulb planting, that is.  Don’t fret if we have the unusual 50 to 60 degree days, the bulbs will not suffer. Alternatively planting too soon may fool the bulb to think it’s time to sprout.

True, the selection of bulbs may not be at its optimum best, nevertheless many are on sale to make way for Christmas trimmings. If you are new to bulb planting this will give you a way to experiment without breaking your bank.  Beware! It can be addicting.

Just what does this have with ‘Family Traditions’?  The thought occurred to me when conversing with a client. She was excited as her daughter was flying in from Colorado for Thanksgiving break.  This would be their first in Maine.  Extended family members were coming from other locals to have a ‘Maine Thanksgiving’. Not sure if they expected snow or to go over the river and through the woods but she wanted to do something special. A tradition.  Having a bag of 50 Narcissus and a jumbo bag of Muscari, Grape Hyacinth, I suggested ‘why not plant bulbs?’ Besides I was tired, cold yet still wanted to create a special spring for my new client and her new home. A few instructions and hand-on training and she was psyched.  Perfect! So different with undertones of a long held tradition.

Some families may opt for an energetic game of touch football; others prefer to nap in through football as the television stream endless NFL games. Personally, I always applaud those who volunteer at a soup kitchen.  I even know one family that go to bed early only to wake before midnight to start their holiday shopping. It is not unusual to have more than one tradition, something that becomes as much as a part of the day as Turkey and Stuffing.

So what If your family is not athletic, would rather rub sandpaper on a fresh sunburn then approach the mall or box stores on ‘Black Friday’, yet still would like to have some out of door time together. Planting bulbs is a perfect event. One can dig, others can place, someone can be in charge of incorporating the bulb food, don’t forget the critter repellent, next backfilling and then watering. An assembly line of assorted people, ages and skill sets. Just imagine the photo opportunities. This may be the only tradition that will result in as much anticipation after the main event as sliced turkey sandwiches.

I cannot wait until speaking w/my client to see how her new tradition was received. She had a strong feeling that it would give the college students another reason to look forward to a late spring visit to the coast of Maine. To relish in the fruits of their labor. Perhaps she will freeze some Turkey Soup to make its premier during their visits. A reminder that good things do come to those who wait.

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

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November (early November) Garden Talks

Hello again,

Think No-vember is a month for No-Gardening? Well No-Way to that! Here are some gardening tips for this time of year:

*Cleanup is so important. Stay vigilant with your leaves. I grind quite a few of them with my lawn mower. I feed my lawn organically so I have a nice live soil that embraces the chopped up leaves and breaks them down nicely in short order to help make an even better soil for my lawn!

As the leaves really start to tumble I do bag quite a few of the leaves. Most towns will haul away those leaves and turn them into a nice compost that makes it back to many garden centers as compost for us to  buy. Just another way of keeping it local!

*"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. Click HERE to read a complete post on Pruning Raspberries.

*Great gardener Margaret of A Way to Garden has some terrific November gardening tips. Check out her web site for her whole list and so many more gardening articles. Here are some very timely tips that stood out to me:

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

**Be extra vigilant cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season. Technically mummies (fruit still hanging) should be removed, too, but I like to leave it for the birds.

**Start a pot of paperwhites in potting soil or pebbles and water, and stagger forcing of another batch every couple of weeks for a winterlong display.

**Continue resting AMARYLLIS BULBS in a dry, dark place where they will have no water at all for a couple of months total. I put mine in a little-used closet, and they will come out late this month, since they went in around mid- to late September. Pot up new ones now.

Thanks Margaret! And again I urge you to regularly follow her website, A Way to Garden!

*More on amaryllis: As a rule, amaryllis plants are in bloom by Christmas (or at least heavy bud) if the're potted up in November. Begin with a pot that is about 2" larger in diameter than the bulb itself which allows for a 1" margin all around between the bulb and the pot. The planted bulb should be about 2/3 of the way out of soil, so hold the bulb suspended over the pot, letting the roots hang down and fill in around the bulb with a good quality potting soil (I suggest Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor blend--sold right here at Skillin's!). Water the planted bulb thoroughly and let the excess water drain.

Amaryllis perform at their best with at least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day until they flower. They also like warm temps--60 degrees at night and in the 70s during the day. (Who doesn't like that?). Once they flower, move your amaryllis out of the direct sunlight to better preserve the bloom--blooms should last for about 3 weeks!

*Have you been good and active in your garden and done a good job cleaning out those vegetable plants and cut back your worn perennials? Well great job! But if the urge comes to you don't hesitate to spread some compost over these wide open spaces you have created! This is a great step to take now as this compost will break down and benefit your soil. And you SAVE so much time in the Spring by crossing off "Improve Soil in my Garden".

*Raking time is upon us! Now is the time to clean out the leaves from around your perennials and shrubs. Also it is a great time to do any weeding--the more weeds are pulled now the less weeding in the Spring. Later this month when your perennial beds are clean is an ideal time to mulch around the base of your perennials. The goal is to keep the ground frozen and to prevent too much freezing and thawing around roots of your plants. Read HERE for more timely tips about mulching around your perennials.

*We do recommend all natural Wilt Pruf as a spray for broad leafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas to help prevent leaf wilting and curling in the winter and early Spring. Wilt Pruf is best applied in November on a nice warm day. Wilt Pruf essentially clogs the open pores of a plant's leaves and this reduces transpiration or moisture loss through the plant's leaves. This coating also helps protect the cells of the leaf against burning wind (much like lip balm protects us). If we get a particularly warm day or two in late February or early March it may be smart to reapply Wilt Pruf then. It also often helps to wrap your tender plants such as hollies, roses as well as evergreens in high wind locations. We burlap for wrapping and also some easy to use Shrub Covers.

*Yes our fall bulbs are indeed on sale at 20% off. Too much snow at the end of October has left us with too many bulbs! One bulb I would definitely recommend you plant is the Snowdrops. (Galanthus). Plant them in a sunny spot and they will reward you with a surprise of nice white and green color when you want that color most--late March or early April. Our friends the Snowdrops are among the first bulbs to flower in the Spring.

*It is time to restock your feeders as our feathered friends will be looking for winter meals. Use good quality food that has mostly sunflower. If you can hang some suet--the extra fat and protein helps to keep our bird friends warm.

*Also consider using a bird bath de icer in a bird bath to keep water going all winter long for your friends. When the water is frozen everywhere birds can labor from being too thirsty. So help them out--we can show you how!

More November Gardening Tips to follow soon!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 8, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011


To say good-bye! 

It is at this time of the year it seems that we say those words the most. Not always aloud, not always the exact phrase. Nevertheless, there is a passage.

Children go back to school, some around the corner, others across the country or around the world. We say ‘so long’ to the heat of the sun and ‘I’ll miss you’ to the longer days.  ‘Until next time’ to our warm weather clothing, seasonal friends, and gently pat the door of the summer camp as we turn our backs and walk away.

Gardeners face their own rite of passage by saying good-by to our gardens. It is made more difficult when our gardens continue to offer punctuated pockets of colorful blooms. Unseasonably high temperatures earlier in the month keep annuals & perennials aglow. Even the recent unusual early snow did not stop my Shasta Daisies or Ruby Purple cone flowers. New silvery blue orbs from my Globe Thistle rise above the fading foliage.

Earlier this week I was prepared to empty the overflowing containers of one of my clients. To my surprise the owner of the house pleaded, “Wait!” Purple Osteospermum smile at the sky, hot pink Superbells cascade and the gold/yellow of the annual Carex grass wave a hello. Ok, I’ll wait one more week to bid these plants adieu. I, too, am a little reluctant to walk away from my clients for another season. Moreover it pains me to see something so beautiful and apparently full of life go before it’s time. In Maine, time has a way of catching up to our plants and us. We may be just tempted to walk away and let nature take its course.

This is easier for us, but not the best for our plants, containers, shrubs or trees. Offer them the best good-bye you can by cleaning the beds of debris, cutting back spent perennials. Remember to leave the seed heads of those favored by the birds and wildlife choose to stay the winter and not chirp good-bye. Tuck your beds in with a top dressing of organic compost and offer a late season dose of slow release fertilizer. In other words offer a good-bye worthy of your garden all the while focusing on the knowledge you will be reunited.

Yes, if you care for something, someone or any special moment in time, saying good-bye wounds our hearts.  Rejoice when it is not truly a ‘good-bye’--just a separation of time and space. Summer clothes will emerge from the darkness of the closet, camps will be re-opened, seasonal neighbors will return. Your garden will burst forward with new growth.  The sun will continue to set, the sun will rise. However, that perfect melding of cerulean, teal, indigo, fuchsia and fire that captured your soul lingers only within. Memories of a Monet moment when peak blooms met perfect lighting offered an impressionistic vision that was one snap-shot of time.  I have often tried to recapture the feeling of visiting a client’s garden several Octobers ago. A cornucopia of color awaited me; the foliage of the Golden Spirit Smoke Bush was fiery persimmon, Burning Bushes lived up to their name, berries of the cotoneaster rivaled the red of the cardinal singing in the yellowing Ivory Halo Dogwood. I revisit that day in my mind and heart. Nevertheless the day was never duplicated--no matter how many subsequent visits. Little did I know that the accumulation of nature, time and spirit would make these incidents unique? If I had I may have remained a little longer to enjoy it more.

Therefore, as I say good-bye to all the gardens in my care I know next spring they will reemerge and most, with much hope, I will see again.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but say a special prayer for all the good-byes said this year. While it is not easy, I can rejoice in the hello that ultimately led to the good-bye.

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

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
November 3, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

October Garden Talks Mailbag

Hello again,

Welcome to October in Skillin's Country. Some might say that October is an "off" gardening month. Well after you read some of the Questions and Answers in this month's mailbag you may have to  rethink that. October is a great transition month. Plants coming inside. What to prune. Vegetables to grow.

So ask the Questions and we will give the Answers! "We Know" gardening!

Check back to this post often--we will date the entries and keep the more current Questions and Answers near the top.

AND we will donate $5 to the Good Shepherd Food Bank for each Question and Answer we post to this Garden Log. At 10/14 we have 15 Questions and Answers! That means $75 so keep the Questions and Answers coming!

If you have a question you would like answered just send your question to skillins@maine.rr.com!

Question: (10/12) From Skillin's Friend Mary: "We have a weeping cherry tree that lost its weeping branches and the branches that took over don't bloom.Was it a graft? Should we wait or cut it down?

It is more than 3 years old, we (are) think(ing) the branches (may have) died as a result of the very cold winter(s)."

Answer: "Sometimes those trees have side grafts and sometimes top grafts. They are generally hardy to -15F and sometimes -20F.

Thoughts: Are the new, non-blooming branches weeping? If so, they should bloom if the winter is not too rough on the flower buds. Is the tree planted in a lawn that receives high nitrogen lawn food? That can interfere with blossom set and bud hardiness.

I would wait and see what happens next spring. The tree is given a little time, and if you decide to replace you will have many options next May/June. If your garden happens to be too cold for the weeping cherry, a weeping crabapple should work for you in its place."

Rhubarb Leaves Make Great Compost!

Question: (10/11) From Skillin's Friend Mary: "Is it alright to compost rhubarb leaves? Heard they are poisonous."

Answer: " Mary, it is absolutely fine to compost rhubarb leaves. The leaves in their pure form are toxic to humans but the toxic Oxalic acid breaks down very easily in any compost pile. So the composted leaves give plenty of organic matter to your compost."

Question: (10/10) From Skillin's Friend Roxanne: "I have a black walnut that finally produced nuts this year. It will take me a while to get the hang of harvesting, cleaning, and drying them though. My veggie garden and blueberry bushes are all within 80 feet of the dreaded drip line and I must make the decision to move the garden and bushes, according to websites I have consulted. They did not do well this season.

What advice can you impart on this loyal Skillin's gardener re preparing a new spot for both."

Answer: Congrats on the black walnut; we are excited for you. Tim and I have both looked at your email. We feel the veggie garden and blueberry bushes should be planted well beyond the 80 feet mark. We are reading the same 80 foot barrier that you are but our experience is that the black walnut can go grow roots beyond the drip line and secretions from these active roots can cause problems for your plants.

I have looked for revised distances but without much success. I think adding another 40 to 50 feet of distance would do the trick.

Be extra good about cleaning up black walnut leaves, branches and of course nuts.

As to the veggies and blueberries I would go "standard procedure" on the new location. A very sunny area--the more sun the better! Prepare the soil well with good doses of organic matter/compost. Fall is an excellent time to prepare a bed in anticipation of the coming Spring.

Question: (10/07) from Skillin's Friend Linda: "I read recently about a product called Bobbex to repel squirrels and other such animals.  I noticed that red squirrels? (or some other animals) are chewing the top of some wooden posts on our unfinished shed.  Would Bobbex be safe to use on the wood?  If not, what might you suggest I spray to deter animals from chewing. "

Answer: “You could try the Bobbex or some sort of hot pepper spray. It might prove to be a little bit of a deterrent. We do not carry Bobbex but I hear good things about it. We offer a product called Repel by Bonide which might be effective. We also offer the hot pepper spray. Jeff Skillin also suggested you employ a small Hav a Hart trap and to keep it out only during the day as that is when the Red suireels are out. They sleep at night but skunks are out at night!”

Question: (10/06) From Skillin's Friend Barbara R:  "I have had a bad season with snails and slugs; there's almost nothing they won't eat. I have used beer, Sluggo, homemade ammonia spray (You have to find them to use this) and still more bugs! My question is, is there anything I can do this Fall to prevent this onslaught next year?"

Answer: "I am not aware of anything you can do this fall to prevent the onslaught.Question: (10/05) From Skillin's Friend Barbara D: "We have a lovely cast-aluminum fountain planter that accumulates algae during the summer season in the water. A friend suggested we place copper pennies in the fountain to stop the algae. Does this remedy work?"

I pretty faithfully use Slug Magic by Bonide (similar to Sluggo) and that helps a great deal. Slugs and snails love to live in dark places—like under hosta canopies. When you apply Slug Magic make sure you put some near or under the Hosta. They almost always prefer the Slug Magic over plant material and that placement might help deter some more. “Get them where they live” during the day so to speak."

Answer: Copper pennies would work on a real limited basis—I would recommend picking up a good Pond Clearing algicide (sold at most garden centers). Besides pennies are not really copper these days, is that correct?

Question: (10/04) From Skillin's Friend Judy: "I have some bamboo growing right next to my foundation of the house who can i get rid of it.it is impossible to dig out the roots."

Answer: Judy bamboo is very tough to get rid of. Persistence is the key.

You can not dig out the roots without strengthening the plant in the long run.

Question: (10/04) Also from Skillin's Friend Holly: "I planted a bugbane last fall, and this spring it got early growth to about 6 inches, then nothing happened all summer. Was expecting it to do more this year.  Should it next?"

Answer: "I love the bugbane--one of Mike's Must Haves. If the plant is was still looking healthy this summer and early fall despite its diminutive state then I suspect the plant was devoting more time for root growth. More roots should mean a much bigger plant next year and beyond!"

Question: (10/04) From Skillin's Friend Holly: " I know that foxglove is a biennial, but I thought when I bought a lovely, large plant from you this spring from White Flower Farm, that it would at least bloom this year.....nothing! Should it next year?"

Answer: "It should bloom next year Holly and furthermore those flowers should drop seeds which will mean a few more plants down the road."

Question: (10/03) From Real Skillin's Friend Bruce: "I have several amaryllis plants that have spent the summer outside in pots. How should I get them ready to bloom?"

Answer: "In late summer or fall bring the amaryllis indoors, reduce watering and allow the plant to die back. As the foliage dies, cut it back to the top of the bulb, remove the bulb from the pot and clean off the soil and old roots. Store the bulb in a cool (45-50 degree) dry area until mid December and then begin again! (The natural tendency of an amaryllis is to bloom in late January and well into February; this is when your amaryllis will bloom in subsequent years)."

Question: (10/02) From Real Skillin's Friend Holly: "What is your opinion on fall garden clean up for perennials? I have been advised to totally cut everything back to about an inch or two
from the ground, and then another person says to just leave it. Which do you
recommend and what would the best time do this, after the first frost?"

Answer: "As for the perennials, the rule of thumb I use is to prune back any dead or dying growth. Much growth this time of year can still in good shape. I would not prune that yet. Wait until late hard frosts have killed that growth off or prune such growth very early next year (March or so). An early Spring pruning is a neat way to stimulate the roots of your perennials to send out nice new growth. Back to this year: much of our earlier flowering material (peonies, astilbes, coneflowers) is dying off or has died off. That "worn" or "dead" growth is what I would prune. Cut everything back to fresh green growth and then look to cut more when more dead growth occurs! Also pick up and clean out any material lying on the ground. Such material will become great hiding places and incubators for next year's insects and diseases. Fallen leaves and branches should be picked up and composted."

Question: (10/02) From Real Skillin's Friend Barbara: " I have 2 miniature rose plants in pots outdoors. Can I plant them in the ground, will they come up next  Spring or summer?  Any special treatment needed ? "

Answer: "Miniature rose plants make great year round outdoor plants. I think they may be more hardy and reliable than many conventional rose plants. Plant them now and water them in very well when you do plant. Keep them well watered between now and when the ground freezes. I would also mulch them over late this fall as the ground is freezing. Pull that mulch off in early April or so."

Question: (10/01) From  Real Skillin's Friend Lois: "I have two hibiscus plants that I put outside in their pots for the summer.  They didn't produce blossoms and now they look terrible.  The leaves yellowed and fell off. There are few leaves left. I just brought them inside a week ago.  What should I do do with them.  During the winter, they did blossom. They really need a lot of something."

Answer:  Lois, great to hear from you! I am sorry about the hibiscus; here is what I would do:

First off your hibiscus need as much sun as possible through the winter. Second it is time to give them a solid, solid haircut to make a better shape. This haircutting will encourage MUCH new growth and the flowers always come from new growth.

Third, hibiscus can attract insects when outside. Next time you are here pick up a small container of Systemic Houseplant Granules by Bonide. They are easily applied and can provide weeks of protection against any harm that can come the hibiscus way.

Fourth, hibiscus love great soakings. Their roots are numerous and very fine. They drink a lot of water. So when you do water them, really soak them (think a couple of gallons at a time). Any excess water should be poured off. (Use your bath tub for convenience sake).

Fifth, hibiscus love consistent food and Miracle Gro does not do that. I recommend applying all natural fertilizer granules by a company called Dynamite (sold right here at Skillin’s!). Apply these granules every 3 months and let them work their benefits on your plants.

Lois, when that hibiscus is blooming beautifully bring me a flower!

Question: (10/01) From Real Skillin's Friend Mickey: "Please advise me when it is the best time to prune my rose of sharon bush. This year I had the most beautiful roses on it. "

Answer: Glad to hear about your great success with the rose of Sharon. The best time to give your rose of Sharon a good pruning is late this March or early in April of this coming year. Give it a haircut to a few inches BELOW where you would like to target it’s growth. That way when it flushes back it’s growth it should fill in nicely!
  It is always a good idea to give the bush a protection of mulch around the base when the ground starts to freeze. This will keep the root ball in place and ensure a great amount of flowers for you!

Many people live with a segment of bamboo and then use a herbicide like Bonide Brush Killer to keep new growth at bay. I recommend being persistent with spraying Round Up on new growth that emerges. Vigilance and attention will cause the new growth to shrink back and will actually result in less overall spraying! You still have at least a couple of more effective weeks to use the Brush Killer by Bonide (sold right here at Skillin’s).

Many gardeners also do cut back the bamboo that they want to get rid of but they do this cut back for the purposes of having the bamboo send out new tender leaves. These tender leaves are ripe for spraying because the leaves will absorb the Brush Killer rather quickly. The Brush Killer will then go onto weaken the bamboo roots.

Persistence, persistence!

Mike Skillin
October 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beautiful Berries on Your Shrubs and Trees for the Fall and Winter Months

 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 "Beautiful Berries on Your Shrubs and Trees for the Fall and Winter Months" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:
"Right now we are all enjoying the beautiful fall foliage but soon the magical colors will disappear and our garden will begin to look a bit drab! Unless...you planned ahead by planting shrubs and trees that not only flower but make beautiful fruit or berries for the fall and winter months. When most gardeners think of plants with berries, they think of holly--but there is so much more for your garden and there is no better time to learn about these berries than now when they are on the plants. Plants that make berries come in two categories, summer and winter types. Because it's fall, let me tell you about the winter types of berry plants for your garden.

The Awesome Winterberry--Great to Plant Now!

Let's begin with the wonderful trees that produce clusters of fruit in many colors and shapes to feed our birds during the fall and winter months. Yes, the berries are beautiful to look at, but their main purpose is to provide food for birds and wildlife during the winter months when most native plants are dormant or covered with snow. My favorite is the European Mountain Ash because of the wonderful white flower clusters in the spring and large clusters of bright orange fruit that develop during September.

I planted an 8 foot tall tree at my parents' house in the late 70's and today it's well over 40 feet tall. I would often watch the birds pick the berries from the tree around the Thanksgiving holiday. One Thanksgiving morning, my grandfather and I were having coffee and watching the birds from the kitchen table, when he told me this story about the Mountain Ash tree. My grandfather's name was Romeo Parent but everybody called him POP. I always called him "The Fisherman" because he loved nothing more than going fishing--and he often took me along. When I got older, it was my turn to take him fishing and we spent many wonderful hours together fishing--but let me tell you the story he told me about the Mountain Ash tree.

POP lived in the days of Prohibition, when beer and liquor were outlawed but POP and his friends used to pick the berries from the wild Mountain Ash trees growing in Maine to make homemade wine with them. Despite the law, almost everyone he knew made their own alcohol with wild berries and fruit like apples, pears, and peaches. POP told me that his favorite homemade wine was from the Mountain Ash tree and every time I see the Mountain Ash Tree I think of my Grandfather. If you're looking to plant trees with wonderful fruit go to your local nursery and ask to look at the following trees:
  • The Flowering Crabapple family: Not all varieties make fruit, so be sure to ask for ideas from the nurseryman and for his suggestions. Some of my favorites are.
  • Japanese Flowering Crabapple: with yellow to red fruit.
  • Tea Crabapple: with golden fruit with a red blotch.
  • Sargent Crabapple: with red fruit.
  • Donald Wyman: with glossy red fruit.
  • Harvest Gold: with glossy gold fruit.
  • Zumi: with golden yellow fruit.
  • Red Jade: red fruit
  • Weeping Candied Apple: with cherry red fruit.
  • Spring Flowering Dogwood: with jelly bean shaped red fruit.
  • Kousa Dogwood: with a raspberry shaped red fruit.
  • Magnolias: red to pink fruit in a pod that will break open to reveal the fruit.
  • Sourwood: white early, then turning to brown.
  • The Flowering Pear family: green to yellow.
  • The Hawthorn family: Glossy red to reddish purple fruit.
  • Red Cedar: powdery blue fruit.
  • Russian-Olive: silvery green fruit.
  • Autumn- Olive: burnt orange to red fruit.

If your yard has no room for trees, here are a few wonderfulshrubs with unique fruit for both evergreen and deciduous plants. Here are some evergreen plants with much to offer your garden.
  • Oregon Grape Holly: clusters of dusty bright blue fruit.
  • The Holly family: clusters of bright shiny red and some gold fruit.
  • The Skimmia family: clusters of bright red fruit.
  • The Ilex family: shiny black fruit.
  • The Cotoneaster family: bright red fruit.
  • The Evergreen Euonymus family: red to pink fruit that will break open and reveal orange seeds.
  • The Daphne family: red fruit.
  • The Inkberry family: dark blue to black fruit.
  • The Pyracantha family: My favorite shrub with bright orange to orange-red fruit clusters, and also yellow.

Here are some wonderful deciduous plants with wonderful fruit clusters. Fruit is showy with and without foliage on the plant. With snow on the ground they are spectacular.
  • The Viburnum family: This is the largest family of fruit bearing plants; they vary in many shades of red to reddish-purple, blue, and black. If you want birds you will need the Viburnum family on your property.
  • Bayberry family: Dusty blue fruit.
  • Barberry family: Oval red to yellow fruit.
  • Snowberry; beautiful white fruit clusters.
  • Burning Bush: red to pink fruit that will break open to reveal orange seeds.
  • Privet Hedges: with wonderful blue black fruit clusters.
  • Rosa Rugosa: Bright orange fruit that changes to red.
  • The Beautyberry family: white, pink, and purple fruit clusters. A must-see plant in the fall.
  • Winterberry family: My favorite deciduous plant, with shiny red fruit clusters that cover the new growth on the plant. Winterberry is often sold during Christmas to put in window boxes outside for the winter with greens. "
Paul, thanks again for a great post that is rich with information! We would love to talk with you about any of these plants!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Colors of the Fall Foliage Around You

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

"I think that I enjoy the fall season more than any other seasons, because it's Mother Nature's turn to show off all of her hard work. It's also the perfect time for us to add color to our yards by looking at the colors of the foliage around us. If you enjoy red flowers in your garden during the summer months, then why not plant shrubs and trees that have red foliage during the fall months?

Fall is a season for every color in the rainbow--from reds to pinks, gold, orange, and yellow. So look around you at your gardens and your friends' gardens as you drive around town or on the trip to the mountains for the fabulous fall foliage color. Then visit your local nursery and take advantage of their fall sales to add color to your garden during the fall months. Here are some of my favorite plants to add color to your yard this fall.

Let us start with the trees, because they form the canopy over and around our property and will give us the most color for our money. The color of the foliage will vary from year to year, depending on the rainfall during the summer months and during the early weeks of fall. Also helping to determine the color is the temperature during the color changeover and the health of the tree overall. The length of the color on the tree is also determined by the weather and all it takes is a big rain and wind storm and the show is over--but nice "Indian Summer" weather will extend the show of fall foliage for many extra days.

The Gorgeous Norway Maple!

  • The Maple family: Has the best color in the fall and a wide selection of colors to choose from but there are many other trees just as beautiful to look at, so print this list when you go "Leaf Peeping."
    • Norway Maple: best shades of yellow to gold and even a bit of orange on the same leaf.
    • The Norway maple Hybrid 'Crimson King' has reddish purple leaves spring to fall.
    • Red Maple: Brilliant and the best reds, with splashes of orange and yellow mixed on the same tree.
    • Silver Maple: Yellow and orange blend with a splash of red on the same tree.
  • The Oak family: Known for shades of reds and deep green on the same leaf that will often develop later during the fall season and fade to reddish-brown. Some varieties hold the leaves well into winter.
  • The Birch family: known for bright golden yellow foliage and the wonderful white papery looking bark.
  • White Ash: known for the reds and purple shades mixed on the foliage.
  • Green Ash: known for superb yellow to gold foliage.
  • Beech family: known for bright yellow to golden brown to brown leaves that stay on the tree until winter.
  • Ginkgo: brilliant bright yellow for many days but all the leaves will fall from the tree at the same time.
  • Elms: shades of yellow with lines of green running thru it before turning brown and falling.
  • The Linden family: shades of striking yellow to gold foliage.
  • The Flowering Pear family: starts as a shiny yellow-orange then changes to red. Striking.
  • The Flowering Crabapples: shades of deep bright orange and red on the same leaf.
  • The Dogwood family: red to reddish purple and red to bright orange on the same leaves.
  • The Shadblow family: bright orange and very striking.
  • The Weeping Willow family: bright and shiny yellow foliage.
  • The Mountain Ash family: showy golden yellow foliage.
  • The Sourwood: begins yellow, then turns to shades of red and maroon foliage.
  • The Dawn Redwood: an evergreen needle that will turn orange-brown to reddish-brown and drop.
  • The Larch family: an evergreen needle that will turn bright yellow to gold and drop.

Here are a few suggestions for the best shrubs for fall foliage color for your yard and your gardens!

Many of these shrubs also have beautiful flowers and fruit on them so the fall foliage is just an added benefit to the plant. Fall is for planting, so take advantage of the sales at your local nursery and get your yard landscaped this month and save money at the same time.

The Burning Bush is the KING of all fall foliage shrubs. In some states it has been removed from the nurseries and is not available for sale because these states overplanted them along the roadways and they have become invasive. These states will not agree with me but see for yourself when you drive along the highways how many are planted on the side of overpasses to prevent erosion, to give color to the highway and make the roadways look more beautiful during your many hours of traveling.

You all know the Burning Bush because of its wonderful bright fire-engine red foliage during the month of October. I Have several in my yard and have never seen seedlings develop around the plants, but because state horticulturists who overplanted them have passed a law preventing them from being sold, you are no longer able to purchase them in my state. If you have a Burning Bush in your yard please look around your property for seedlings and let me know if your plants have become invasive!
  • The Viburnum family: varying shades of reds to reddish purple and very showy.
  • The Witchhazel family: brilliant yellow to orange foliage.
  • The Enkianthus family: bright red foliage with a bit of yellow splash on the inner leaves of the plant.
  • The Sumac family: rich reds, scarlet, maroon and some new hybrids shades of yellow foliage.
  • The Shrub-type Dogwoods: shades of red foliage with colorful stems that are red or golden yellow.
  • The Fothergilla family: wonderful shades of yellow, orange, and red blended on the foliage.
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea: unusual shades of reds to purples on the foliage.
  • Rhododendron PJM: burgundy red fall color
  • Rhododendron mucronulatum: Deciduous variety with yellow fall foliage.
  • The Cotoneaster family: shiny bright red to reddish purple.
  • Bridal wreath: orange and red combinations on the foliage.
  • Forsythia family: green and burgundy foliage
  • Kerria family: pale to medium yellow foliage.
  • Blueberries: shades of yellow, orange and changing to bronze and red foliage.
  • The Leucothoe family: rich wine to burgundy evergreen foliage during the winter months.

There are a few vines and ground covers with good fall color that you should also look for at your local nursery. Most plants stay green or the foliage falls off the plant green in the fall season, but look for these two plants and you will not go wrong.

Boston ivy: bright reds, crimson and even new hybrids with yellow foliage, the best vine for fall color.
Euonymus Coloratus: my favorite ground cover will turn a plum-purple color from the first frost and last until the new growth develops in the spring before turning green again.

When selecting plants for your yard and garden it is always better to select plants that will provide you with more than one quality while in your care. The flowers are nice but they can only last for so long and if fall color is also available you have a plant with two qualities, not just flowers for 4 to 8 weeks a year. Enjoy!

I have one more suggestion for you for this fall. If you have family or friends who live in an area of the country where the foliage does not change colors in the fall, do this for them. Pick an assortment of colorful leaves and stuff a bag with them, then send them out to them where they live. I do this every year and take a large zip lock bag. Place a couple paper towels that are wet to cover the leaves and place in the bag. The leaves stay moist and hold their color until they get there. I use a Priority Mail envelop from the post office and it gets there in a couple of days for less than $10.00. It's a wonderful gift for people who have moved out of the area; it will bring back many memories for them. Great for the grandkids who live in the South where the closest thing to colorful plants is ORANGES on a tree. "

Thanks Paul Parent for a super article! Folks we can talk to you about a number of these plants right here at Skillin's. And Paul is right our shrubs and trees are on sale!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 10, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bulb Gardening Thoughts

Spring bulb planting begins in October as the night and day temperatures begin to fall and the air becomes clear and dry. Purchasing bulbs is another story and that can begin in September. Bulbs should be firm and show no signs of rot or damage. Some retailers sell inexpensive bulbs but be cautious of these, although they will survive they may be too young to produce flowers for several years if at all. Here are some of the products needed:

Bulbs of your choice Spring bulbs need to be planted in full sun (min. 6 hours) in little well drained soil. Each variety of bulbs has a mature height and bloom time so stag your planting low in front tall in back as well as stagger the variety for bloom time to lengthen the season.

Espoma Bulb Tone Bulbs like many of our garden favorites are not always growing naturally in our yards so the nutrients that they require mat not be available in the levels that they need to perform at their best. Bulb Tone is an all natural plant food (3-5-3) a complete blend aiding in the full development of our bulbs. Always follow the recommend amounts that are suggested on the packaging unless a soil test tells us differently.

Coast of Maine Cobscook Blend, Quoddy Mix or Little River Compost Bulbs like most of our perennials require a moderate amount of organic matter in the soil for them to flourish. The Coast of Maine products are the most consistent and general show the best results.

Bulb Planters Nothing beats a good shovel when creating a mass planting of bulbs. However for spotting bulbs throughout the garden in and around existing plants a bulb planter or auger that fits onto a cordless drill is a very effective tool. Bulbs should be planted at least 4 X their diameter. This is from the top of the bulb to the surface of the garden bed. This means the top of a 2” bulb should be 6” deep in the soil making the hole approximately 8” deep.

Ro­-Pel Many of our native animals of all sizes enjoy our bulbs as much as we do but for an entirely different reason. They taste good. We have found that Ro-Pel has been one of the most effective repellant to protect our bulb investment. Before planting bulbs soak them in Ro-pel for one minute allow to dry before planting. For deer and other spring feeders spray all surfaces including both sides of the foliage.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
September 28, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Skillin's Moisture Meter

New outdoor plantings (of vegetables, annuals, perennials, and certainly shrubs and trees) require 1 inch of water per week optimally spread out over at least two deep waterings per week. A "deep watering" is defined as a slow soaking of your plant's roots.

(More detail about "deep waterings": A soaking rain which brings a half inch of rain or more qualifies as a deep watering. In lieu of rain a deep watering can be accomplished by letting water run slowly out of a watering can or the end of your hose into each plant's root system or by having a soaker hose at work for several hours twice a week. In "non soaker hose situations", pause on your watering if the water starts to run off; let the water soak in and then begin to water again. Repeat this process several times and move onto the next plant. For larger trees and shrubs (and if you do not have a soaker hose) merely set a hose against the tree or shrub for 1 to 2 hours and let the water almost trickle into the ground and down into the plant's root system. Again if there is runoff, pause and let the water soak in. )

Let us know if you have any more questions about watering!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Russian Sage

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 "Russian Sage" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:
Russian Sage
(Picture from Paul Parent Garden Club)

With all the heat of the last month, you need to know about a perennial flower that loves the heat and will thrive in dry, sandy soil. The plant is called Russian sage but is not native to Russia; it's from Afghanistan. Until 1995 it was not a plant that most gardeners had it their gardens but the Perennial Plant Association named it the "Perennial of the Year" and today it is found everywhere. Let me tell you about this plant so you too will know the story of this wonderful perennial garden plant and why it was named the perennial of the year.
First of all, Russian sage is not in the Sage family of plants, it's actually in the Mint family--a close relative. The Genus name Perovskia was given to the plant after a Russian general, V.A. Perovsky (1794 to 1857), who was much admired by the Russian people. The plant can be found growing all over Russia today. The sage part of the name came because, like the mint plant, it has a pungent mint-like scent to it.

Let me tell you why you need to have this plant in your garden. The stems of the plant are gray-white to silver in color and they develop at the base of the plant, like wonderful outward-arching branches. The foliage is small, less than an inch long and narrow, needle-like but a unique fuzzy gray-green color. When the foliage stops growing the plant will make wonderful tall spikes of light blue flower spikes. Each flower spike will quickly develop many side shoots of spike flowers that will quickly cover all the foliage of the plant. The flowers come in clusters on these spikes and resemble tiny tubular blossoms that cover the plant, giving them the appearance of lavender blue to pale blue cloud.

The plant itself is woody looking, and also looks like a shrub, because it will grow 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. If you want to control the height of the plant you can pinch the tips of every stem in the spring when the new growth reaches 12 to 15 inches tall. Each of these flower spikes can grow 2 to 3 feet tall on the plant. The flowers are long-lasting on the plant, usually lasting from June to September. If the blooms should end early, cut back the plant by removing all the faded flowers and one third of the foliage of the plant. Fertilize with a granular fertilizer like Flower-Tone or Dr. Earth Flower food with Pro Biotic and the plant will bloom again, lasting until the first hard frost in the fall.
Russian sage will grow best in a soil that is well drained; average to poor soil is best and never clay-like or heavy. This wonderful plant will tolerate a dry soil, sandy soils, acid soil, and open areas with a lot of wind like the seashore, making it the perfect plant to grow in a seaside garden or at a lake front garden where most plants fail. If your soils are heavy, make a raised flower bed or create a mound of soil to grow the plant on, as this will keep the crown of the plant and the roots out of the water especially during the winter months and early in the spring when the ground is wet.

Plant in a garden located in sunshine all day long for the best flowers on the plant. If you have a location that gets real hot during the summer and where watering can be a problem, this is the plant for you. If you plant in a partial shade or shade garden they will not do very well for you and will not flower. This is one plant for which conditioning the soil when planting is of little importance but you must keep the plant well watered the first year until is it well established and able to find its own water. Mulching around the plant is helpful in holding water in the soil during the growing season (along with weed control) but in cold climates like Northern New England mulch also helps to protect the root system.

In the fall, you can leave the plant as-is and enjoy the unique plumage-like winter branching or you can cut back the plant to 12 inches. This is a woody perennial and the new growth will develop on the branches that remain from the previous year's growth. New shoots do not develop from the base of the plant but from the woody branches.

In a cold climate, never cut back the plant right to the ground or it may not develop in the spring. If your climate is cold, be sure to build a mound of mulch 4 to 6 inches deep around the base of the plant to protect the plant just in case snow falls lightly to protect the plant from winter wind and frost heaves. The plant will tolerate temperatures that drop to minus 30 degrees when mulched in the fall. (This is an important paragraph. I lost my first Russian Sage because I cut the plant back too much in the fall and did not mulch enough. This plant is typically planted in the bright sun which means it is usually found in an exposed area in the winter so mulching through the winter is very important!)

You can plant Russian sage in containers like whiskey barrels as long as they have good drainage; you can also lift them off the ground with bricks or pot feet to encourage good drainage during wet weather and the winter when they freeze. If you're growing in clay or ceramic type pots, bring the pot into your tool shed or garage for the winter months and do not water until you move back outside in the spring; around March.

Put several plants in your cut flower garden for unique textures and the long flower spikes will be the most talked of among your fresh-picked bouquets on the dinner table. These flower spikes will outlast all of your cut flowers used in the arrangement. Blue is difficult to find in cut flowers and this flower will replace baby's breath or statice in your arrangement.

In a mixed border the Russian sage should be planted in the back of the garden or on the end of the bed, as the plant will get tall--3 to 5 feet. Give it room, as the flowers will develop from the ground up to the top of the plant. In a rock garden they will thrive with all the heat the rocks draw to the garden, and in a stone mulch garden they will outlast most plants in the garden.

I like the plant when planted in mass or in groups to create a splash of color in the planting bed for summer color. Mix with blue mophead type hydrangeas to create different textures in the garden.  (Great idea!) You can plant just one on the end of a fence to soften the hard surface, and if you live on a street with a rotary or traffic island, it will make the perfect maintenance-free plant; use instead of grass that needs watering and mowing. Create a garden on a slop or steep hill where mowing could be a problem or the soil is not very good.

You will like planting Russian sage in flower beds with daylilies, coreopsis,r udbeckia daisies, Oriental lilies, fall-flowering sedum and, in the late summer with an under planting of flowering cabbage or flowering kale for wonderful contrast. They will also flower at the same time as perennial hibiscus, rose of sharon, butterfly bush and all the new types of hydrangea--P.G. hybrids--for wonderful summer color near your swimming pool or patio. If you're spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, the Russian sage is the plant that will give you more color than any other perennial plant in your garden today.

Fertilize in the spring with a granular organic fertilizer, once a year and then forget it. Russian sage has no insect or disease problems to worry about and butterflies love this plant. Enjoy!

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
August 9, 2011