Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kitchen Garden Basics

Hello again,

Tim Bate of Skillin's Greenhouses just taught a great class called Kitchen Gardening for our Spring Open House series here at Skillin's Greenhouses. Following are the notes from his presentation and there is a great deal of good information here:

What IS a Kitchen Garden?

A kitchen garden differs from the traditional vegetable garden, which can be thought of as a family farm in miniature, with multiple long rows of vegetables.

A kitchen garden can be a central feature in an all-season landscape; or a simple vegetable plot that includes fragrant herbs, fruits and edible flowers; or a collection of containers bursting with color and flavor. It is often a structured space with geometric patterns - but a carefree, cottage style, or combination of formal and casual is also beautiful.

It is a traditional part of many European gardens. Its use is growing rapidly in the U.S, especially by gardeners that do not have the acreage or time for a little family farm, but find they do have a sunny spot of soil or space for pots, and an appreciation for the best tasting food.

Why plant a kitchen Garden?

• Because of the cost?

• To know where your food is coming from?

• To move towards being more “green”?

• Tastes better!

• Fresher food.

• Lifestyle

Where to grow?

• Choose a sunny spot with a minimum of 6 hours of sun.

• Near a water supply

• Near the kitchen?

• If it is going to be a design feature, do you see it from the house, and/or walk through it to enter the house? Is it part of an outdoor living space?

• In raised beds

• In containers


• Soil types – Sand, clay, silt, loam. What do you have?

• A soil test may be helpful in determining soil potential. http://anlab.umesci.maine.edu/soillab_files/faq/index.html

• Adding compost improves soil structure and improves results. Take one of our composting classes or pick up the class composting handout.

• Using organic fertilizers provides major nutrients (N-P-K), minor nutrients and trace minerals.

Think of your favorite vegetables and flavors.

 Do you favor traditional Asian vegetables and greens with accompanying seasonings? (See Botantical Interest Seeds!) Do you love fresh salsa, or a rich, ripe tomato sauce for pasta? Would you like a salad with that? A tall glass of iced lemon verbena tea, perhaps? Make a mean mojito with mint. Start small and plant what you love.

Some kitchen garden plants


Tomatoes – Bush (Determinate) vs. Vining (Indeterminate) Stake vining types to add vertical structure. Plant in garden a couple of weeks after last average frost date, or after last average frost in a container like Earth Box. In the absence of a soil test, a ½ cup of lime incorporated into soil around the transplant is a good idea.

Green Peppers/Hot Peppers – Good for containers if you want to get an early start. They like it just right, not too hot and not too cold. Planting closely helps to shade the peppers.
Pole Beans/Bush Beans - using Pole beans adds vertical structure and extends season. Keep picking for extended production. For beauty and flavor try the Italian heirloom variety Trionfo Violetto.
Lettuces – Good cool season crop. Plant from seed or transplants. Can be interplanted with radishes to maximize planting space. Plant seed in spring every 2 weeks for a succession of fresh greens, and then again July 15 to Sept 1 for extended season harvest.

Radishes – Plant from seed. Good for interplanting among later season crops

Chard/Beets – Plant from seed. Eat the thinnings. Adds beautiful color to the garden.

Spinach – An easy, cool season crop. Interplant with carrots to maximize planting space. Spinach is a quick grower and provides a bit of shade and cover for the slower to start and more delicate carrot seedlings. Plant again Aug 1 to Sept 1 for extended season harvest.

Carrots – Soil should be clear of rocks, soil clods and other debris to a depth of 1 foot, and keep on top of the weeding. Thin, thin, thin seedlings as they mature and eat, eat, eat all season after they begin to color up. They are little more work, but a carrot right from the ground is a sweet treat, indeed. Ask any kid!

Cucumbers – Bush vs. Vining Again, use the vining type is a good way to maximize available space (and hanging cucumbers grow straighter). Keep picking to extend the harvest; large, seed loaded cucumbers left too long on the vine diminishes production rapidly.

Fennel – A delicious plant, but also beautiful texture in the garden. All plants with umbel-like flowers are fantastic for attracting beneficial insects and butterflies!


• Annual Culinary – Basil, Dill, Stevia, Rosemary, Parsley

• Perennial culinary – Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley, Chives, Sage

• Scents – Lemon Verbena, Geranium, Mint, Pineapple Sage

Edible Flowers
• Borage

• Marigold

• Calendula

• Nasturtium

• Chives

• Brocolli


– plant bushes and trees at north end so as not to cast too much shade over the garden.

• Blueberries

• Raspberries

• Strawberry jar?

• Espalier Apple/Pears

• Lemons in pots

• Limes in pots


Soil needs to be kept evenly moist during seed germination, so frequent light watering is the rule. After that, 1 inch of water per week is needed for best growth and production, usually applied in 2 ½ inch applications.

Watering is best done in morning so foliage dries during the day, with evening being the least favorable as overnight moisture encourages diseases and is favored by many insects.

Water the ground and not the foliage, if you can, by using soaker hoses. If you are hand watering, apply water in soil reservoirs around plants.

Some plants in containers, like tomatoes, will need to be watered almost every day. Self-watering systems like the Earth Box keep plants evenly moist. This is especially good when growing tomatoes in containers

Weeding and Mulching

Tilling brings weed seeds to the surface where they will happily germinate. Except for periodic additions of compost, minimize turning the soil and the weeding chore is diminished greatly. Weeding is still required, however, and it is very important, especially when the plants are young.

Mulching helps control weeds in the garden rows, and after the seedlings have some size, or after transplanting, mulching over their roots assists greatly in regulating soil temperature and moisture.

Start small and start growing!

Tuck a few vegetables into your flower garden

Add a couple of pots of herbs

Include something that you like to touch or smell beside the pathway.

A couple of great books on gardening:

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

The Four Season Harvest by Elliot Coleman

Special thanks to Tim Bate of Skillin's

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 29, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

Perennial Gardening Basics

Hello again,

Just a few years back our friends at the National Gardening Association sent over a very nice article entitled Perennial Gardening Basics. The article contains some good basic pointers about why to garden with perennials, how to start, how to plant and how to maintain a good perennial garden.

The author of the article is Bill Calkins with help from the National Gardening Association (http://www.garden.org/).

Here is the article (with some comments by me in italics):

"...perennials are plants that come back year after year unlike annuals, which are generally replaced each year. That’s great news for most of us who have busy lives and gravitate toward plants that require little maintenance in exchange for a show of color in the garden. There are perennials for just about every garden environment and a rainbow of colors from which to choose. We’ll start with some suggestions for getting started on a perennial garden and then discuss some general maintenance.

Getting Started

Chances are you are not starting from scratch and already have some trees, shrubs and possibly existing perennials in place. Feel free to work within existing gardens, but be sure to clean them up first. If your gardens require extreme trimming or removal, it’s a good idea to contact a professional for advice and service.

To begin, all gardens need a focal point to help draw the eye and give the garden an orderly look. Your focal point is completely up to you and can be anything from a spectacular specimen plant to a unique sculpture. Once you have this in place, it’s time to think about a color scheme. Try to pick three or four colors to create a scheme. If you spend a lot of time entertaining outside, it might be fun to match outdoor furniture and d├ęcor. As one year turns to the next, focal points may change. And given the length of the gardening season your perennial bed will almost certainly have more than one focal point during the course of the season.

Now it’s time to get your hands dirty. Preparing the garden bed is as important as choosing the plants. Most common perennials prefer soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, but as always, there are exceptions. Be sure to read plant descriptions to learn about special light and pH requirements they might have. Be sure to rejuvenate existing soils with amendments like manure, humus or compost. This will help kick start new plants and keep them healthy as they establish.

Placing Plants

Most perennial gardens include plants in clumps or blocks – three or more of the same plant grouped together. Creating the masses of color that make perennial borders so attractive means you need to plant clumps in a few different areas in each garden bed. Feel free to repeat clumps of varieties throughout your gardens. (I absolutely love and believe in masses of color. These masses (white Candy Tuft, scarlet Bee Balm, purple coneflowers, etc. give your garden a personality, life and soul!) That’s up to you. Be sure to allow plenty of room for expansion. Every plant grows differently so consult labels for spacing between plants. Space clumps further apart – about two or three feet.

When choosing varieties, it’s vitally important to understand the area where you will plant them. Most perennials thrive in full sun, but there are options for shade, as well. And because perennials are long-term plants, thinking long term is necessary. If your garden is in an area with newly established trees, consider how fast they will grow and how much shade they will provide down the road. If you are planning your garden based on a color scheme, pick the basic colors but be open to changing varieties based on your garden environment.

For The Birds

Another consideration when planning a perennial garden is the type of wildlife in your area. There are perennials available to attract birds and butterflies and also plenty that will discourage our friends who might see a garden as a buffet table. Talk to the perennial expert at your local garden center to find out options that will work in your area. Wildlife gardens are becoming more and more popular, so chances are your favorite garden center has plenty of “attractive” options.

Filling Gaps

Of course, a new perennial garden will not be bursting with plants. Perennials take about three years to fill in and reach optimum size. A great way to fill some gaps without spending a fortune is with annuals, which help to add color and interest while your perennials mature. Even existing perennial gardens go through periods of the year when few plants are in bloom. (Again a great point. Annuals are a very cost effective way of providing great color for many months. Some of my favorite annuals that give great long lasting color are Victoria Blue Salvia, Supertunias--and for height, Cleome and Cosmos).

Maintaining Beauty

One of the main reasons gardeners of all skill levels love perennial gardens is that they require less maintenance than other alternatives like vegetables, roses and even lawns. They do, however, need regular care and attention for peak performance and health. But before you groan about the work required, remember gardening is a great form of exercise, and light gardening can burn as many as 300 calories an hour - similar to a moderate walk or a game of golf. Here are some weekly and serasonal perennial garden duties to add to your “workout.”


First of all, if rainfall is intermittent, you will need to water your perennial garden. Check below the top two or three inches of soil and water if dry. Try to avoid wetting plant leaves during the day to prevent the spread of some plant diseases.

Spend some time walking through your perennial gardens removing spent flowers and damaged leaves by hand or with a hand pruner. Also, inspect for insects, diseases and signs of animal damage. Watch for leaves with holes or ragged edges; discolored or spotted leaves; chewed flowers or buds; or damaged stems. Once you have spotted a problem, your best move is to take the damaged part of the plant to your favorite garden center for a positive identification. They will also be able to recommend solutions for just about anything you confront them with. If you have no luck at the garden center, contact your local cooperative extension service.

Finally, everyone’s favorite task: weeding. Use a hoe with a small, sharp blade; a weeder; or pull them by hand. The trick is to get them by the root. Remember, you can burn as many as 300 calories an hour doing light weeding. There’s your incentive.


Keeping your garden tidy by edging the beds will add to its beauty. For the best results, use a half-moon edger or spade. Facing your garden, push the blade straight down about three or four inches. Then simply pull the handle toward you to remove a wedge of soil. Once you edge your garden once, it’s easy to keep it looking good with minimal effort.

Fertilizing and mulching should also be done periodically throughout the year - maybe not monthly, but certainly first thing in the spring and again heading into winter. Use a slow release, granular fertilizer or natural alternative in the spring. This should feed your garden well into the summer. Fertilizer formulations specifically for perennial gardens should not be difficult to find. Mulch should be no deeper than two inches and organic materials like shredded bark should be replaced as they break down. (I like to feed twice yearly with a good natural granular fertilizer like Flower Tone by Espoma. I also feed new plants regularly with a good natural liquid food like Fish and Seaweed fertilizer by Neptune's Harvest. For mulching I prefer to use a good compost with a little bark like Fundy Mix by Coast of Maine. All these fine products sold at Skillin's!)
Cut back most perennials to within eight to 10 inches from the ground after the tops die back or leave them intact for protection against the cold. In spring, cut back all dead stems to the ground and rake out debris. If you have questions about pruning back specific varieties, ask your favorite garden center expert.

Good Luck & Have Fun

I hope you are excited to get started planning a perennial garden. It is sure to provide years of enjoyment and receive plenty of compliments from friends and neighbors, all for very little effort.

SIDEBAR: Stephanie’s Three Staples

World-renowned perennial expert Stephanie Cohen suggests a few plants perfect for any perennial garden. An additional benefit provided by these three winners is that if you plant all of them, you will have something exciting to look at throughout the entire year.


Blooming beautifully beginning in late winter or early spring spring, there is almost and endless number of hellebores to choose from and you should have no problem finding a range of choices at your local garden center. Colors range all across the board: pink, chartreuse, green and on and on. An important added benefit is that deer do not care for hellebores. Stephanie suggests any of the hundreds of hellleborus x hybridus Lenten Rose varieties.


Even the most inexperienced gardener can be successful with daylilies and most varieties bloom repeatedly from summer through fall. You should have no problem finding plants to fit your color scheme. Daylilies come in most colors, from rich vibrant red, to pink, lavender, royal purple, white and even black. Stephanie recommends hemerocallis Happy Returns, a yellow that blooms from May through July.


Especially for fall and winter interest, go with ornamental grasses. This time of year, many perennial gardens are only skeletons of their summer selves, but grasses provide structure, texture and even movement to your garden. Talk to your local garden center about grasses best for your area and be sure to choose a few that will continue to stand tall all year long, not flopping over. (we have many great choices!) Stephanie’s pick is Panicum virgatum Northwind, which grows as tall as seven feet and stands upright all winter.

Thanks to Bill Calkins and the National Garden Association!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 21, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Suburban Vegetable Gardens - Eat Your Backyard

Heather Lynds is the founder of http://ezgarden.com/, an online vegetable garden planner for the home garden. Based on your local climate, vegetable preferences, and desired servings of vegetables, the EZ Garden planner uses Square Foot Gardening techniques to generate a garden design and planting schedule that fits your family perfectly. EZ Garden was inspired by Heather's early attempts at gardening and the trials she experienced. Her goal is to make vegetable gardening easier for everyone, especially new gardeners.

Following is a post written by Ms. Lynds. She recently wrote the following post titled "Suburban Vegetable Gardens - Eat Your Backyard". This article and more vegetable gardening information can be found right HERE at http://www.ezinearticles.com//. I have made some comments in italics.

"If you live in the suburbs and have dreamed about having a vegetable garden, then don't wait any longer! Recent gardening innovations have made it easy for families to grow fresh, organic vegetables in suburban backyards. Once you have started growing your own vegetables and you experience the convenience of harvesting dinner out your back door, we suspect you will continue adding onto your garden year after year!

For suburban gardens, the trick is to forget the old style of row-based gardening. It simply takes too much space, and when you live in the suburbs, space is at a premium. Rather, use Square Foot Gardening method. With this method, three 4x8 foot garden beds can fulfill most of the vegetable requirements for two adults and two children....

The first step is to create your garden beds. "Garden beds" can be as simple as marking off a section of your yard for growing vegetables. Rocks make fantastic borders. If you have poor soil or drainage problems, raised beds are the way to go. You can make your own using 2x6 untreated lumber, or there are plenty of commercial options available--we have some great options at Skillin's including the Maine made Boomer Bed. The most important point, however, is once your beds are marked off - don't walk on them! This compacts the soil and makes it difficult for plants to thrive.

When sizing your beds, we recommend a minimum width of three feet. Four feet seems about optimum, however, because most gardeners can easily reach in two feet from either side of the bed. Space your beds three feet apart. Any closer could cause crowding, because as the plants grow, they will spill over the sides of the bed.

Each bed will need to be marked off in 1 foot sections called "planting squares". Use twine connected to stakes, or build a simple wooden grid insert using 1 inch strips of wood.

At the same time you build your beds, we recommend implementing a composting system. Again, keep it simple to get started and then fine-tune as time goes on. One of the best ideas I've seen for suburban yards is a long trench dug along the back fence for collecting fallen leaves. Rather than bagging the leaves, they are raked into the trench, watered, and left to decompose into leaf mold. Pile the leaves deep rather than wide, and then next year, create a new pile next to the pile from the previous year. It will take a year or two for the leaves to decompose. Start harvesting compost from the first pile added as soon as it is a brown, crumbly texture and is not recognizable as leaves. Apply the compost to your garden beds periodically - this is what keeps the soil healthy and capable of producing vegetables full of nutrients.

For yard clippings and kitchen scraps, we recommend bins made out of lumber and chicken wire. If you are handy, you can make your own. Or, commercial options are available. Be sure to skip composting of any yard clippings treated with pesticides or herbicides. We have great compost bin options here at Skillin's!

Controlling pests is a priority. Rabbits can be a big problem for suburban gardens. Clearly, the most effective solution is a fence around the yard to keep the rabbits out. If that isn't possible, then try chicken wire fencing around each bed. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to keep the rabbits out.

Although not absolutely necessary, we do recommend installing drip tape or hose on each bed for irrigation. You can buy supplies at your local hardware store. Consider buying a timer, too. They aren't very expensive, and with a timer, you can basically forget about watering. For the ultimate irrigation system, install rain barrels. Your vegetables will appreciate the unchlorinated water, and you'll save money on your water bill and benefit the environment. Thorough watering is the key; timers help but remember you have to keep moving that hose for slow soakings. Overhead watering is not always thorough and wet garden foliage can breed disease! Let us help you at Skillin's!

Even before your garden is ready, you can begin planning what you want to plant. If you are looking for an interactive planning tool, check out the garden planner at EZGarden.com. Based on your vegetable preferences and serving goals, it generates a garden plan tailored to your climate that provides step-by-step planting, maintenance, and harvest instructions.

Good luck, everyone, and welcome to gardening!"

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 19, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

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.

Who hasn’t heard the expression ‘Beware the Ides of March’? Long before I knew the meaning, actually thought it was ‘the eyes’ of March, I sensed its connotation filled with dread by and large for the manner in which it was said. The Soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar was not heeded; he did not take the precautions that were needed to save his life that day. While my prediction is not so outrageous, for we all know spring is approaching and its fever quite contagious, I do hope you will take a hint or two from the suggestions I will relay.

It is time we gardeners get off our duff and begin to do outdoor stuff. Start slow and steady there is much we can do to get ready before we take out spade or hoe.

This following tale has been often told, and I hope you forgive me for being so bold, but repeat it I will. Death or disease will not come upon us it is our plants, shrubs, and trees that will flourish from your gesture of goodwill.

• First, take a walk around your property. Doing so is helpful for garden and gardener. Walking is one of the best ways to begin your spring training for marathon gardening. Bring a friend, a pet, or both. In any case, bring your garden journal.

• Remove or at least pull from your garden beds any branches or limbs that may have fallen over the winter. As your ornamentals wake and push thru the earth, they will thank you. Would you want to wake with the equivalent of a 40-foot maple on top of you?

• Check and make note of any winter damage especially the inside of shrubs. Often dead branches can be overlooked once the shrub is in full leaf or bloom.

• Gently clear away any leaves or debris from the base of plants that has accumulated over the winter. Patience is key, as you will need to wait until the layers have thawed. Do not be too aggressive as to damage any new growth or seedlings. Hand clearing is best and if done in stages the effort is minimal. The sooner we get to this the less hiding places for slugs and other pests.

Remind yourself that no matter what the calendar may say it is still March in Maine so there are some things you may delay:

• Avoid removing any winter protection or fencing too soon.

o Straighten or remove if the protection is interfering with the shrub or tree*

• Don’t be in a rush to pull away any mounded protection of mulch or compost. *

• Prune roses too soon. *

*Topics to be revisited in future writings.

There may be those whose property isn’t ready to be ‘walked around’. Alternatively, you may not be ready. Nevertheless, there is one thing we all should do; Check your tools.

If they weren’t sharpened upon retiring them for the winter, now is the second most perfect time. We have all been there; ready to prune our roses, or cut back spent foliage and stems with the only action being the bending of the target. Your efforts only produced a partial or worse no cut. While, you attempt to finish the job with your hand some of the bark or outer layer is peeled away. You are faced with potential damage due to disease or insect infestation.

Therefore, now that you have been given your task, do not hesitate to question or ask on any other topics of interest or concern. Also feel free to dare, to offer hints and share as I am not only here to write, but also to learn.

One finally thought I give to you, do not fret over the ‘Ides of March’. The 15th of this month means no harm. It is the Ides of April, the day my taxes are due in which I will be asked to give leg & arm

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
March 15, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March is the Time to Begin Planting Bulbs Indoors

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 "March is the Time to Begin Planting Bulbs Indoors" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"It's time to look at the calendar, not out the window! If you planning to have tender bulbs in your summer garden, NOW is the time to start planting them in your home. Visit your local garden center and pick up such bulbs as tuberous begonias, cannas, calla lilies, caladiums, and dahlias--just to name a few. If you can start them during March in your home and transplant them to your garden in early May, these plants will bloom earlier and longer in your garden for you! (We will have all these bulbs in our stores very soon!)

In the past, many of you have planted these summer flowering bulbs directly into the garden--and that is OK! But if you start them this month in your home, it will motivate you, encourage you, and excite you that spring is really coming. Please try it--you will feel better!

Some of you have stored these bulbs in your basement for the winter. It's now time to bring them upstairs, wake them up, repot them, and watch them come to life. These bulbs have been hibernating all winter, like you, and NOW is the time to get moving! Are you getting the message yet? It's time now!

All you will need is a good sterile potting soil mix like Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor Blend all natural soil. Use new pots or wash your old pots with bleach before adding soil to them and then you're ready to plant. I use one cup of bleach to a gallon of water to sterilize the containers. You can reuse them year after year. Brush off any soil stuck to the pots and dip the pot in this mixture for 30 seconds. Allow them to dry and you're ready to plant--so let's clean those pots now.

Here are suggestions for pot size; tuberous begonias use 4 to 6 inch pots, cannas use 6 to 8 inch pots, calla lilies 4 to 6 inch pots, caladiums 4 to 6 inch pots, and dahlias will depend on the size of the bulbs types. Dahlias that grow 1 to 2 feet tall – use a 6 inch pot, 2 to 3 foot tall growing--use an 8 inch pot, and 3 to 6 foot tall growing--use a 10 inch pot.

When you purchase these bulbs for the first time, ask the sales person to show you what side of the bulb is up. Please do not be embarrassed to ask for help, this is new to you and you want to do it right the first time! (We love to answer any gardening questions you have!)

Planting depth is easy, usually, as most bulbs need to be covered with one inch of soil in your container. Once the bulbs have been planted, give the soil around them a good watering and place the containers where it is warm in your home. These bulbs do not need light until they begin to emerge from the soil; warmth is more important to wake them up and get them growing.

The soil should be kept moist while these bulbs develop so poke your finger into the container and feel for moisture before you water again. Until the roots form, your soil will not dry up so be careful not to over-water. Once the plant pokes through the soil, give it a good drink of water and fertilizer such as Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer or Tiger Bloom by Fox Farm! This is a great fertilizer for root development and flower production on all flowering plants--especially bulbs.

Once the bulbs begin to grow move them to a sunny or brightly lit window where they will stay until they are ready to go into your garden. I spin the container every week, some times more often if I notice they are bending towards the light. This will keep them growing straight. If at all possible, choose a room that stays cool to keep the stems short and thick; if they are growing fast and thin, move them to another window that is not as hot.

Two weeks before you're going to plant them in your garden, put them outside during the day and back in the house at night to get them acclimated to the outside temperatures. Do this the first week and the second week move the plants into your garage or tool shed for the night time. If the weather is stormy during the day leave them in the tool shed or garage as they need to prepare for the move outside.

Start with just a few bulbs the first year and see how you make out. This is just another area of gardening you must learn how to do. You may fail, but you could also succeed and this is a great learning experience for you. When you succeed, pat yourself on the back and call me on Sunday to tell me all about it. If you're having problems, call me. I will be there for you. Enjoy."

Many thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 10, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Skillin's 2011 Open House Specials

Our Spring Open Houses take place March 18 through 20 at Skillin's Falmouth and March 26 and 27 at Skillin's Brunswick and Cumberland. We would love to have you attend! Click HERE for directions to each location! Store hours are Friday 8 AM to 6 PM, Saturdays 8 AM to 5 PM, Sundays 9 AM to 5 PM.

Here are our specials for the Open House. These sale prices are in effect for the entire "Open House Week" from March 18 through March 27. This list may well change as we get closer but only for the better!:

Garden Center

All Birding 20% Off

Jolly Gardener and Fox Farm Potting Soils 20% off all sizes

Spring Bulbs 20% Off

Seed Starting Supplies 20% Off

Earth Boxes Save $10.00

Espoma Lawn Food 20% Off--coupons available for deadline of 5/31!
Buy a Plant and a Pot Get 20% off the Pot--(and We Re Pot Them for Free!)

Griffin at 2010 Falmouth Open House--so much to see it will just tire you out!


Buy one get one FREE 8” foliage hanging plant  reg price $14.99

African Violets save $2.00 reg price 4.99 sale 2.99

4” Zonal Geranium buy 3 receive 30% Off

6" Orchids $29.99 (reg price $36.99)

4" Herbs buy 3 get 30% Off


Spring Bonds $37.50
Floral and Gift

KIDS free Carnation and coupon for their choice one packet of seeds

Tulip Bunches $4.99 (regular price $7.99)
Silk Flowers and Plants 20% Off

Skillin Grown Daffodil Bunches just $3.99

Outdoor Furniture 20% Off w/3 pieces or more
PLUS 10% Off for Orders Placed During Open House (early bird special does not apply here)

Colonial Candles 10% Off One Box

Colonial Candles 20% Off Two or more Boxes

Rugs and Doormats 20% Off   (Hello Mud Season!)

Sweetgrass Farms 20% Off

Vance Kitira Candles 20% Off

Door Prizes

Arrangement a month for 6 months

Floral Party for up to 10

3 Perennials

2 Spring Bonds

4” Orchid

Herbs in Planter

I hour Landscape Design Consultation

Earth Box, soil and 3 packets vegetable seeds

$500. Gift Certificate (one winner)

$250. Gift Certificate (two winners)

Refreshments (Mike's favorite part--have you looked at him lately?)

Coffee, Decaf, and Tea

Soda (or in Maine Soder)

Cookies and Doughnuts


Terry Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 8, 2011 (updated)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Calla Lillies! So Much Skillin's History; So Much Beauty Always

Terry Skillin--the "elder" of the Fourth Generation of the Skillin family involved in our business and our Company President checks in to the Skillin's Garden Log with a great post about Calla Lillies. Lots of history here!

I always like to take a look back in history-- especially the history that revolves around our family and business. Maybe it is because I am the second oldest family member still in our business --not that I am old. Of course my cousin Mike who enjoys pointing out my “few” streaks of “premature” gray hair and my slight loss of hearing claims that I worked shoulder to shoulder with our great grandfather Pa—Alexander Skillin. Pa actually started our business in 1885, so you see my point. I do actually remember Pa because he lived a good long life thanks to his healthy habit of taking naps in the afternoon, but definitely what I remember the most are the stories about him and some of his amazing accomplishments.

One of his accomplishments or perhaps passions was the growing of Calla lilies. He became so well known in a large part of Northern New England for growing and selling cut Calla Lilies in the local market that back in 1930 he had an exhibit at the Boston Flower Show featuring his Calla Lilies. Part of his display was a miniature replica of a wooden greenhouse that he built . You can still see the greenhouse on display at our Falmouth store. His daughter Florence also helped with this display and we have a great photo of her alongside the replica greenhouse. I wish I could tell you more about the 1930 Boston Flower Show and his great display that year, but hey I wasn’t there, Mike!

Pa would start his Calla Lilies in special growing beds he would prepare on the floor of what we used to call greenhouse #1 early every spring. (Currently our large plant "atrium" is in that spot). He would sterilize his soil (soils now come to us already sterilized!) by using live steam pumped in from the steam boilers—this process would kill pest and funguses in the soil. Once the basic soil was sterilized he would put the finishing touches on his special soil mixture. I have never been able to come across any of his notes describing his formula for blending the soil and since it was part of his success I’m pretty sure he kept it safely lock in his head. It’s too bad I didn’t pick up on it when I worked with him Mike!

The Calla lilies of those days were used a lot in weddings, in big formal floral pieces for special occasions and for funeral work. White was the big color and for the most part they where the bigger flower types. Now here is where I enjoy history, it repeats itself. Over 100 years later and well into the 21st Century, Calla lilies are found once again in production as a great cut flower, but with a twist. Now they are raised over the world all season long, they are no longer just big and white but small and grown in many great colors. The creation of these new varieties has enable this great flower to be part of the everyday cut flower scene while many varieties are great grown as a container crop as well as for “showy” flower gardens.

So the one Pa grew was probably “Florist Lily” Zantedeschia aethiopica or something very similar. It grows up to 48”tall with huge Ivory white flowers in the summer. Looking recently at the catalog of one of our Holland bulb growers I see they are listing 12 different colors of Calla Lilies and if you are planning something new for the garden this next growing season then take a look at these.

Zantedeschia aethiopica--very possibly the Calla Lily that Pa grew

We will have many of these fine varieties available soon!

Zantedeschia ‘Albomaculata’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Arrow shaped speckled leaves

White blooms

Used primarily for 6” pots

Height 12-14”

Z. ‘ Anneke’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Speckled Leaves

Lavender Blooms

Used primarily in 6” pots

Height 18-20”

Z. ‘Best Gold’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Speckled green leaves

Gold blooms

Primarily used in 6” pots

Height 14-18”

Z. ‘Classic Harmony’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Lightly speckled green leaves

Blooms Peach with pink undertones

Primarily used for 6” pots

Height 14-18”

Z. ‘Crystal Blush’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Plain dark green foliage

White blooms changing to blush pink

Use for 6”pots, or cut for in the garden

Height 18-20”

Z. ‘Dark Eyes’

Blooms summer , 70-75 days

Plain dark foliage

Dark pink with dark purple throat

Use for 6” pots, or cut flowers in the garden

Height 16-20”

Z. ‘Flame’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Arrow shaped spotted leaves

Large yellow and red blooms turning deeper red with age

Use for 6” pots, or cut flowers in the garden

Height 14-18”

Z. ‘Galaxy’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Lightly speckled green leaves

Fuchsia blooms

Use for 6: pots, or cut flowers in the garden

Height 12-14”

Z. ‘Mango’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Speckled green leaves

Orange blooms

Use for 6” pots, or cut flower in the garden

Height 16-18”

Z. ‘Picasso’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Speckled green leaves

Velvet purple blooms edged in yellow

Use for 6”pots, or cut flowers in the garden

Height 16-18”

Z. ‘Rubylite Pink Ice’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Vigorous plain green leaves

Uniform soft pink blooms

Use for 4” pots, or great garden flower

Height 12-14”

Z. ‘Super Gem’

Blooms summer, 70-75 days

Plain green leaves

Large rose pink blooms

Use for 6” pots, or cut flowers in the garden

Height 14-18”

Netherland Bulb Company (our calla lily bulb supplier) has some great growing tips though I’m sure not as good as Pa’s. Netherland Bulb and for that matter most all bulb producers treat callas with Giberellic acid to increase bud count to maximize the color for that growing season. Tubers that we gardeners save for the next season will still have great blooms ; however, there is a good chance not as many.

 A general rule for planting in pots is one calla tuber per 6” pot and up to 3 in pots 10 to 12” wide. Use a well drained potting mix (Bar Harbor Blend by Coast of Maine Organics is all natural and works just great!) and cover the tubers with about 1” of potting mix. Watering is critical; callas do not tolerate wet feet but neither do they like to dry out completely. Night growing temperature is best at 60 to 65 degrees F and not to drop below that during the day. Callas are not heavy feeders so lightly fertilizeonce shoots begin to appear. Even if you plan to grow your calla lilies in the garden I feel it’s best to still start them in pots and allow good root development and plant out after the first of June.

Callas are full sun plants, great for cut flowers, butterflies and are deer resistant and will produce elegant blooms in about 7 to 9 weeks. Hey Pa created “quite a stir” with his calla lilies and I bet you can too!

Terry Skillin
Skillin’s Greenhouses
March 7, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Growing Your Own Apples in Your Backyard

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

"Several hundred years ago in the mountains of Central Asia, early gardeners found trees that produced a fruit that would one day be grown around the world. This tree was moved from country to country by man because of its flavor, its ability to keep well in storage and its ability to grow most anywhere it was planted without much care. The Romans grew apples and propagated new varieties with grafting techniques. Early settlers in this country and abroad use crosspollination to develop new varieties and this is how the American gardener developed the Golden Delicious apple and other varieties.

Apples--Great to Grow!

Here is what you will need to consider if you are thinking of growing apple trees in your yard this year. First and most important is location! By location I mean an area with FULL SUN all day. Do not kid yourself: the tree will grow in partial shade, but it will never produce the fruit it is capable of. Next is air circulation around the tree, to prevent possible early frost damage to the tree that is in bloom. Circulation of air around the tree will also minimize disease problems during the growing season, but avoid windy locations. Also if you have the choice of planting on top or the bottom of a slope, always choose the top of the slope as cold air will always move downhill and cause problems early in the growing season.

Drainage is also very important and your trees should never be planted in soils that will have standing water during the winter and early spring. The soil should be fertile, well drained, slightly acidic, and as deep and rich as possible. Soils that are alkaline and shallow will make the tree struggle.

Here is how to plant your tree this spring. Begin by digging a hole 2 feet deep and as wide as possible. If your soil is not good, dig the hole bigger so you can backfill the hole with conditioned soil when you plant. Use compost and animal manure to condition the soil around the plant. I also add Soil Moist granules, to help hold moisture around the young root system to help get it off to a better start during the heat of summer. Also use the new technology in soil science and add mycorrhizae-enhanced products when planting to stimulate root development. (I love to plant with Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica because of the mycorrhizae-enhancements of these natural fertilizers).
All fruit trees should be staked at the time they are planted to help keep them in place during windy days and prevent root damage by the wind. Stakes should be left on the trees for 2 years to insure good root development. When you place the soil around the roots of the plant in the hole, firm it in place, but never stamp it down. Cover the planting bed with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch around the plant to keep out weeds and help retain moisture during the heat of summer. (I love to use Fundy Blend by Coast of Maine because it does contain bark mulch and also some compost!) This planting bed will also prevent damage to the trunk of the tree by your lawn mower or weed whacker when you care for the lawn in your yard.

Water regularly for the first year right up to the time the leaves fall from the plant in the fall--water is that important to plant growth. Spring and early fall are also the perfect times to fertilize your tree until it is well established and producing fruit.

Use a slow release fertilizer like Tree Tone by Espoma for uniform growth above and below the ground on the plant. Also very important is to add a ring or collar of hardware cloth wire around the trunk of the plant to prevent rodent damage. Make the wire covering a good inch away from the trunk and push it into the ground 1 to 2 inches deep to keep all types of animals away from the tender and sweet-tasting bark. The wire should be 2 to 3 feet high and remain around the plant for 3 to 5 years if you have animal problems on your property.

The type of tree you select will depend on the amount of work you desire and the room you have on your property. The most popular types are standard growing trees that will grow 25 feet tall and wide, semi-dwarf trees that will grow 15 feet tall and wide and the dwarf trees that will grow under 10 feet tall and wide. Taller growing trees require more maintenance, more time by you, and better equipment--but produce more fruit. Semi-dwarf trees will be easier to maintain and you will not have to leave the ground to perform the maintenance; great for smaller spaces. Dwarf trees can be grown in a container or garden and are very easy to maintain but produce less fruit, so you'd need to plant more trees.

Plan a spraying program for your trees if you want good fruit and foliage from the tree. This will begin--before the flowers open--with an application of,  Lime-Sulfur Spray to kill off disease spores that overwintered on the plant. I also apply it in the fall when all the foliage has fallen from the tree. At the same time, apply Bonide All-Season Oil to kill any overwintering insect eggs on the tree, both in the fall and spring. During the growing season, use a fruit tree spray every other week to keep problems under control.

New this year is a systemic foliage insect control for fruit trees to keep most all insects off the tree. The product, made by Bayer Advanced and called Fruit, Citrus and Vegetable Insect Control, will offer season-long protection without spraying! It will kill insects and prevent new infections; rainproof protection won't wash off. This product stays only in the foliage and will not enter the fruit. (This sounds pretty neat!)

Here is a trick to accurately time your first applications of Fruit tree spray to make it more effective and have better control. Buy 2 plastic red apples with stems on them and tie a piece of string to them. Tie the apples on your fruit tree branch, at eye level and coat them with a thin layer of Vaseline. The red apple will become an insect monitor and when insects arrive, they will be drawn to the red apple. The insects will get stuck on it, telling you it is now time to apply your fruit tree spray and begin the spraying program. This idea was developed at the University of Massachusetts in 1970 by my Orchard Planning teacher and our class, and it helped get him his Doctorate. Today it is used in all orchards across the country and because of this LESS pesticide is used to grow your apples.

If you're going to do this right, get yourself a good book on growing fruit trees, I recommend The Backyard Orchardist by Stella Otto. Learn all the tricks of the trade from a family-run business that specializes in fruit trees for a living. Planting, pruning, varieties, and harvesting--it's all there and easy to read and understand.

Apples have been around for a long time--it all began with Adam and Eve, so be careful what you eat! Apples are the Tree of Knowledge, The Tree of Life, and in this country it all began as a movement in Leominster, Massachusetts by John Chapman in 1774. John, a pioneer nurseryman better known as Johnny Appleseed, planted thousands of apple trees from New England to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. John was a pioneer and a gardener credited as the inventor of the modern apple; not a fairy tale, but a true person.

Americans eat 19 pounds of apples a year, that's just one apple per week on average and this fruit is Americans' favorite. Think "Mom and Apple Pie." An apple a day does keep the doctor away, as it helps to slow cholesterol plaque build-up, improves brain health and reduces the risk of heart disease. Just because Snow White got a bad apple, do not stop eating apples and apple products; you will be healthier.

Here are a few more apple quotes to remember and I am sure you have heard them before. "The apple does not fall far from the tree." "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." "As American as apple pie." Washington is the apple state, the number one producer of apples. If you watched the Wizard of Oz, the bad apple trees did throw apples at the Scarecrow and Dorothy. This spring, plant an apple tree and enjoy your garden.

Many thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 4, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heirloom Flowers of our Forefathers

Hello again,

Below is some great information from our good friends at Botanical Interests--a family owned seed company whose seeds we feature here at Skillin's Greenhouses.

Presidents' Day this week celebrated the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. As we are gearing up for spring, we thought it would be a good time to remember that our forefathers found inspiration in their gardens.

George Washington had a farm at Mount Vernon, Virginia from 1754-1799, where he planted over sixty types of crops. In addition to growing cash crops like tobacco, wheat, and rye, he viewed his farm as a grand experiment where he grew orchards, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and flowers. Some of the vegetables he grew included cabbage, cauliflower, celery, crookneck squash, and Swiss chard. He also likely grew popular flowers of the day such as black-eyed susan, foxglove, hollyhock, blue flax, echinacea, lavender, marigold, nasturtium, and Oriental poppy.

Though Thomas Jefferson's birthday is in April, one cannot think of heirlooms without mentioning him. His 5,000-acre plantation, called Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, was his own personal laboratory for botanical experimentation. His interest in horticulture was documented in his Garden Book that he began in 1766, listing meteorological records and notes about his sowing times and harvests. He was so fascinated by plants that he required Meriwether Lewis to study botany for nine months before starting his infamous expedition with William Clark across the Far West in 1804. Vegetables were the mainstay of Jefferson's diet. He grew over 250 varieties including artichokes, beans,cabbage, lettuce, peas, spinach and tomatoes. Some of the heirloom flowers grown at Monticello were columbine, Johnny Jump Up, sensitive plant, snapdragon, Sweet William, and violet.

Abraham Lincoln was born on his father's Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky in 1809. Life in the early 19th century was intimately linked to the garden and farm, and one of Lincoln's recorded childhood memories includes sowing pumpkin seeds between rows of corn on his father's farm. Today, the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Illinois contains a working living history farm that teaches visitors about rural life in the mid-1800s.

Though many of the specific varieties grown by our forefathers are no longer available today, many heirlooms that have been around for fifty years or longer are still enjoyed.

Botanical Interests offers over 300 heirloom seed varieties. (And we offer by far most of the 300 varieties right here at Skillin's!) Some of these varieties were likely planted by our forefathers, and others were certainly planted by our fathers and grandfathers. This season, plant a little history in your garden and reap the beautiful and delicious rewards!

Thanks to Botanical Interests!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 1, 2011