Monday, April 25, 2011

Growing Strawberries

Hello again,

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

"If you're looking to grow the most luscious of all the berries that can be grown in your backyard garden, look no further than the strawberry. When ripe and freshly picked from your garden, there is no better tasting berry for its sweet flavor than this easy to grow plant--the strawberry. Like any other fruit or berry, the picking season is short, so be sure to save room in your freezer for those cold days of winter when you crave a sweet treat.

Strawberries will grow best in full sun in an area that is sheltered from harsh winds. The plants will still grow if they are in partial shade for a few hours but the production of fruit will be less. Avoid planting in low spots in your yard, like the bottom of a hill, to prevent frost pocket problems early in the season. One other tip--do not plant in the same area where you recently grew potatoes or tomatoes in the last 3 years; it will work against you.

Strawberries are not picky about the soil they grow in, as long as it is well drained. Wet soil during the spring can and will rot the roots of the plants. Wet spots that freeze during the winter, forming ice, will kill the plants over the winter. Soil preparation is the key to great strawberries. If you prepare the planting bed ahead of time, you will save a lot of problems later. Add plenty of organic matter like peat moss, composted or dehydrated animal manure, or rich compost (I am not a fan of peat moss--not well draining--and dehydrated manure is hard to find. Composted manure and/or Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend is a great way to go) to the garden and blend it 6 to10 inches deep. If your soil is heavy with clay, add coarse sharp sand, like what is used to build the base of a brick walkway. I much prefer gypsum to break up sharp clay instead of coarse sand! Paul goes on to mention gypsum....

I also suggest using a product like garden gypsum to help break up clay soils and apply garden lime to the soil as needed to keep the soil almost neutral--a pH of 6 to 6.5 is best. Remember the plants will be there for 3 to 4 years, so do it right the first time. Another tip for you is to plant strawberries in a raised bed. All you have to do is dig out the soil from the walkways 2 to 3 inches deep and add to the planting bed. If you get a lot of rain in the spring, the extra water will have someplace to go and not hurt the roots of the plant.

Strawberries can be planted two ways in the garden: as staggered rows that are allowed to fill in the entire planting bed or as evenly spaced plants to be grown as individual plants. Staggered rows that fill in the planting bed will give you more fruit, but in time the berries will get smaller because of competition with other plants. Plants grown on individual mounds will have much larger fruit but fewer berries. Each average strawberry plant should produce one half to one pound of berries per plant for the three years they are in your garden. I like a staggered row concept but one that allows you to grow rows by year. In other words keep all the plants or runners from one year together!

Spacing is 15 to 18 inches in between plants, 3 to 4 plants wide per planting bed; this will make it easier to harvest berries later. When you plant your strawberries, be sure to set plants in the ground at the same depth in the garden that they originally grew in the pot. Look for a green ring around the short stem of the plant and just barely cover it with soil. Spread the roots out in the garden soil to help them develop more easily, and make sure the leaves are not covered with soil.

I also like to spread straw on the ground around the plants to help choke out weeds, prevent slugs and snail problems and--best of all--keep the berries off the ground and clear of the soil. Place the straw around the plants and be sure to lift all foliage and berries off the soil; this will give you better air circulation and help prevent berry rot. Use barley or wheat straw--NEVER hay--and weeds will never be a problem.

New plants should be watered regularly until established, and during hot and dry growing periods. When the berries are ripening, keep water off them to prevent gray mold and other disease--water the soil, not the fruit. The best time to water is in the morning, so excess moisture can evaporate quickly off the berries with the morning sunshine. NEVER water strawberries late in the day or at night or you will have moldy berries.

Fertilize in the early spring as the foliage begins to develop and the flowers form. Use organic fertilizers,, as they feed slowly and last longer in the soil. Mycorrhizae added to the planting beds will produce stronger and more productive plants. If your soils are sandy be sure to add a pinch of Soil Moist Granules to the planting hole when you set the plants in the garden.

Your biggest problem will be BIRDS because they, like you, love strawberries. Just cover the berry plants with plastic netting at the first sign of the berries ripening and make sure the netting is raised above the plants so the birds cannot poke through the holes in the netting. Pick early in the day and pick often to keep them from eating your berries. In wet weather slugs can be a major problem but much less so if you use all natural Slug Magic to keep the slugs at bay!

One last thing: strawberries come as June-bearing plants or ever-bearing plants. June-bearing plants produce all at once, usually in 3 to 4 weeks, while ever-bearing plants produce for a much longer period of 6 to 8 weeks. Both produce about the same amount of berries overall; it depends on how fast you want them for your table. Enjoy! Enjoy!

Thanks to Paul Parent!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 25, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April Garden Talks: Seed Potatoes and Strawberries

Hello again,

Years ago before we could spell "b l o g" we published some tips on growing seed potatoes and strawberries in the garden. The time is now to plant seed potatoes as well as strawberries in the garden. Here are the updated highlights from our original 2001 Garden Talks about this subject:

"I have borrowed from Jim Crockett of Crockett’s Victory Garden to bring you excerpts of some material from his fine book, Crockett’s Victory Garden:

Potatoes like full sun and a light, sandy soil. They also want an acid soil, as alkalinity will promote the development of a skin disease called scab. So I’ve made a point of keeping the potato area free of lime. If your garden has been limed and you still want to grow potatoes, add sulfur at the rate of ½ pound over the surface of a 15 foot row to lower the pH of the soil to between 4.5 and 5.5, which is just right for potatoes.

At Skillin’s we sell certified seed potatoes by the pound.

I could just plant the whole potato, but I can get more for my money, and a larger yield, by cutting the potato into section about the size of an egg, making sure each section has two or three eyes. I plant each of these sections separately, and each will produce a strong potato plant.

Before the sections go into the ground I dip them in sulfur or captan (fungicides) to prevent rotting of the cut surfaces. Then I leave them exposed to the sunshine and air for 3 to 4 days. This dries out the cut surfaces as a further precaution against rotting when the sections hit the cold, damp soil of early spring.

I dig flat-bottomed trench 6 to8 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches deep. Then I sprinkle in 3 good handfuls of 5-10-10, an excellent potato fertilizer (I recommend using Pro Gro 5-3-4 by North Country Organics or Garden Tone by Espoma), in a 15- foot row and scratch it into the soil so it won’t be in direct contact with the potato sections. I put the potato sections in, cut sides down about a foot apart in the trench and cover them with about three inches of soil. As the plants grow, I’ll pull soil in from the trench to keep the plants cool, a procedure known as hilling or mounding.

Mr. Crockett ( a fraternity brother by the way of David and Jeff Skillin of Alpha Tau Gamma at U Mass Amherst) also offers the following advice about strawberries:

Strawberries grown in the home garden are usually sweeter and richer than any that can be bought in stores.

I set my June-bearing strawberry plants into the ground as early in the spring as possible so that they could become will rooted before the warm weather. I prepared the soil the previous fall by covering it with a layer of 2 inches of cow manure and 4 inches of compost. In the spring I dug both these materials into the soil. It wasn’t necessary to add more lime because a soil test indicated a pH of 5.7, the slightly acid condition ideal for growing strawberries.

Strawberries multiply by sending out runners, or aboveground stems, from the main plants. At approximately every 12 inches along the runners a new plant grows and sets down roots into the soil. For this reason I plant strawberries in what’s known as a matted-row system: the plants grow throughout a 3-foot –wide row.

Strawberry plants have long roots and they need to be planted carefully into a deep slitlike hole. If planted too deeply, the crown is likely to smother and rot; if set too high, the crown will dry out and the plant will die. The idea is to set the plants in the slit so that one-half of the crown is buried below grade, one-half above. I make the hole with the flat-bladed spade, which I insert 8 inches deep at 2-foot intervals along the row. As I slip the plants in, I fan the roots out slightly to separate them and give them a better chance to grow. Then I firm them in and give them a good drink of our transplanting elixir, water and liquid fertilizer (we absolutely recommend Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer by Neptune's Harvest).

June-bearing strawberry plants are undoubtedly the most familiar variety of strawberry, but they are not the only variety, and they’re not, in my opinion, even the best. Ever-bearing, or Alpine, strawberry plants are substantially different from their June-bearing counterparts: for one thing as the name implies, they produce fruit all season long, from the spring through to the first frost; for another, they do not produce runners and so remain as tidy handsome plants throughout their lives; finally, their tartly sweet fruit is beautifully shaped and a rich, deep red.

It’s best to replace strawberry beds every two or three years, because the plants and the soil nutrients will have become too exhausted to produce good crops."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 23, 2010

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

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 "Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"Did you know that a bleeding heart is a wild flower that grows as a native plant under the deciduous tree canopy in the forest from New York to Georgia? The variety that grows wild is called Dicentra eximia or fringed bleeding heart, and is also known as dwarf bleeding heart. The larger-growing variety, known as the old-fashioned bleeding heart, came from China.

There are two distinct types of plants: the larger growing, taller growing and spring flowering, bleeding heart Dicentra spectablis and the dwarf types that bloom later in the season and throughout most of the summer. If you have a shade or partial shade garden, these plants should be in your garden. If they aren't, add them to your list to plant this spring. And yes the flower looks like a heart that has broken, with a tear falling from it.

The old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) is one of the earliest flowering perennials in our gardens to bloom. It will begin in mid-spring/late April and last well into June. When your tulips, daffodils and crocus are in all their glory and your forsythia, dogwoods, and wisteria are the show makers in your yard, the bleeding heart is the king of the perennial garden.

The foliage is almost fern-like and deep green in color (though there is a cultivar with almost golden foliage). This foliage develops early--a soft fluffy mound of greens that quickly grows 2 to 3 feet tall and just as wide. Once the foliage is formed, look for tall growing arching branches that will grow another foot tall with no leaves on them; these will develop all over the plant. Then the flowers begin to form in the shape of deep pink hearts that develop quickly on the tip of the stems. As the flower matures and grows in size, they seem to break open at the base of the heart and a tiny white tear-like flower emerges. The flowers develop in rows along the tip of the stem and may number a dozen or more in each row, making the stem arch even more with the weight of the flowers. Each flower will grow to an inch in diameter and last several weeks on the plant, especially if the weather is cool.

The bleeding heart is a perennial plant that needs little to no care once established in your garden, so leave it alone and do not move it around once it has been planted. If you divide the plant, it will take several years to recoup from the division--especially the mother plant. You're better off to buy new plants if you want more plants for your garden. When the heat arrives in July, the plant will begin to turn yellow and go dormant for the summer unless you have a cool moist summer. Just cut it back to the ground and wait for next year as the plant did give you a beautiful flowering plant from April to July.

Plant the bleeding heart in a soil rich in organic matter--the more organic matter the soil contains, the larger the plant will grow and the more flowers it will develop. Compost and animal manure are the best soil conditioners but peat moss and well-rotted bark work well also. I always use "Soil Moist" granules when planting to help hold moisture around the roots, especially if the soil is on the sandy side. Keep the soil moist when plants are in bloom and place a 2 inch thick layer of compost or bark mulch around the plant to control weeds during the growing season and to hold moisture around the plant when it gets hot out during the summer.

Fertilize with Plant Tone fertilizer in the early spring when you see the plant emerge from the ground; no additional feeding will be needed during the rest of the year. You can lime the garden if you begin to notice moss growing in the garden or in the grass around the garden to prevent the soil from getting too acidic. These plants are very hardy and will tolerate -10 to -20 degrees below zero during the winter and even thrive in a climate as far south as northern Florida, where winters are cool.

Most of us know this plant with the deep pink flower with the white tear, but did you know that a red or white heart is now available with the white tear. The all-white or red and white flowering types do not grow as large but will stand out in your garden. Plant them with other shade loving plants like hosta, astilbe, primrose, lily of the valley, helleborus, and ferns.

The dwarf- type fringed bleeding hearts, Dicentra eximia, grow differently but do develop a dense mound of deeply cut fernlike foliage much like the taller growing type. The foliage is gray-green, more feathery looking and stays closer to the ground. This variety is a summer bloomer and it will flower most of the summer despite the heat as long as you can provide enough moisture to keep it happy. It is heat -resistant and will take a bit of morning sun but you will have to water more. I add "Soil Moist" when planting and that will help a lot in the long run to keep moisture around the roots when you forget to do so.

The flower stems are like the spring-flowering types, with no leaves on them; they contain fewer flowers per stem, but the plant produces many more stems during the season. The plant will grow 10 to 18 inches tall and spread the same width. If your soil is rich with organic matter and you provide moisture during the hot days of the summer, your plant can grow up to two feet tall and just as wide. If your soil dries out with the hot weather, your plant can turn yellow and go dormant earlier than normal. The plant will not die but will stop growing for that year.

The dwarf varieties will vary on height and spread, some staying small--under a foot tall--so be sure you read the plant label when you purchase the plant and check with the salesperson for more information. Also like the spring-flowering types you can select white, pink, red and coral pink flowers varieties. The flowers on the smaller growing varieties are not as dramatic looking, with big heart-shaped flowers of spring flowering types, but look very nice in your garden during the summer.

Both types of plant will produce a flower stem that can be cut and used with other flowers in a vase of water on your table. The flowers will last well over a week as a cut flower. Insects and disease problems are few and the plant is not eaten by rabbits and deer--a real plus if these animals come to your yard.

Both plants will attract butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds to your garden. Use bleeding hearts in perennial borders, mixed planting flower beds, plant them as wild flowers under tall growing trees to create color in a wooded lot, in shrubbery beds as a foundation planting around them for additional color--and they look wonderful when planted along shaded streams on your property with other wild flowers.

The bleeding heart plant will be in bloom for Mother's Day and will make a great present for Mom! "

Special thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 19, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tips for Tomatoes

Hello again,

Our good friends at Botanical Interests recently published this good primer on starting tomatoes from seed. Jeff Skillin, our plant grower, does not start Skillin's tomatos until April 15. They grow quickly and readily and stay nice and stout for you to plant in the garden.

Here is the article from Botanical Interests:

Tips for Tomatoes

Timing is Everything!

Tomatoes are the most popular members of the home vegetable garden. Most gardeners transplant a tomato seedling into their garden instead of directly sowing seeds because of the limitations presented by season length. Tomato transplants are simple to start indoors, and with a few tips, your tomatoes will get off to a good start .

Tomato transplants grow quickly, and have been known to grow out of the control for even the most experienced gardeners. This makes timing possibly the most crucial element when starting and growing your plants. Start 6-8 weeks before you wish to transplant outdoors. Sow seeds in high-quality seed starting mix, under closely placed lights, and hasten the germination process with some bottom heat at 75-80ºF.

When you see your plants start to emerge from the soil, the race is on! Tomatoes grow fast. However, a transplant that is too large may struggle to acclimate to the outdoors and delay production. The ideal early season tomato transplant is 4"-6" tall with 3-6 pairs of leaves. Under indoor conditions, this may be a challenge. So, here are some strategies to create a great transplant. Start your seeds in small containers. If they get too tall, you can transplant them deep into another container, leaving just one set of leaves above the soil and carefully removing the rest. The submerged stem will grow roots, contributing to a healthier plant. Also, if your plants are growing too quickly, the small container size will constrict growth and may help prevent overly tall transplants. Secondly, fertilize your seedlings sparingly, and do so with a low phosphorus food, like 15-5-15, 14-0-14, or 5-1-1. (I recommend a liquid feed of Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed Blend or Garden Tone by Espoma). Tomatoes don't require much food when they're young, and as long as they're a healthy green, they'll be fine until they get into your garden. The low phosphorus food will help prevent stem stretch. Lastly, supply vigorous air circulation, and brush against your plants regularly. Research shows that wind and frequent, gentle disruption of plants causes them to grow shorter with thicker stems.

When you use these suggestions together while growing your tomato transplants, the results will be short, stout, plants that, after gradual acclimation to the outdoors, will start healthy growth and production faster than their tall, spindly counterparts.

Thanks to our friends at Botanical Interests!

We have an outstanding variety of tomato seeds here at Skillin's and by mid May we will have a great selection of tomato seedlings!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 13, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

Whatʼs New in Skillinʼs Country - 2011

Hello again, the following plants were picked by Tim Bate of Skillin's along with Becky and Elaine. This was originally used as part of a class by our Skillin's staff in Cumberland in January--we thank them as well. This is a nice listing of plants available at Skillin's for Spring 2011! Check us out--if you need driving directions visit us at!
Some New Woody Plants

Hydrangea arborescens `Bella Annaʼ

Another in the splendid series of reblooming Hydrangeas in Dr. Michael Dirr's Endless
Summer® series, Bella Anna™ is a rosy-pink flowered selection of our native American species, H. arborescens -- essentially a pink 'Annabelle'! Blooming on both old and new
wood, this 4ʼ shade-tolerant shrub regales you with big round mophead blooms from early summer through the middle of fall! Zone 4

Hydrangea paniculata ` Little Limeʼ

A new dwarf form of the ever popular 'Limelight' hydrangea, Little Lime sports the same great flowers and coloration as 'Limelight' but in a smaller package. At one third the size
(5ʼ max.) of traditional hardy hydrangeas, this new variety fits well into any landscape. Summer flowers open soft green and turn pink and burgundy in the fall. Zone 3

Chaenomeles Double Take ʻPink Stormʼ (Quince)

3-4ʼ tall. Double, camellia-like, blossoms on thornless branches arrive early in the season.
An eye-popping and car-stopping welcome to spring! Full to part sun. Zone 5

Spiraea japonica `Double Play Big Bangʼ

The bright yellow foliage has all-season interest, before and after those super-size pink
flowers are on display. A Proven Winners®/Color Choice® variety. Height: 2-3'

Deer Resistant: Yes

Exposure: Full or Part Sun. Blooms In: May-June. Spacing: 3-4'. Zone 4

Buddleia 'Flutterby Peach Cobblerʼ (Butterfly Bush)

Beautiful, peach-colored blooms against silvery foliage.
Hardiness Degree : -20°F (-28.9°C)
Blooming Season : Early Spring through Late Summer

Plant Habit : Upright

Height : 48 - 72" (122 - 183cm). Width : 48 - 72" (122 - 183cm)
Exposure : Sun

Lonicera sempervirens ʻMajor Wheelerʼ (Honeysuckle)

6-10ʼ vine. Excellent red flower color begins in June and continues throughout the growing season.
Superior disease resistance. Full sun to part shade. Zone 4

Rosa 'Oso Easy Fragrant Spreaderʼ

Its fragrance will impress you for weeks! Fragrant Spreader's soft pink, single flowers are abundant and highly fragrant. The plant will spread out to almost five feet across, making it ideal for covering large areas. It's perfect for banks and slopes. This rose does not need to be sprayed like many other rose varieties, and does not need pruning.The glossy green foliage remains free of disease, and complements the bright flower

Rosa 'Knockout Home Runʻ

Improved child of Knock Out Rose, Home Run boasts showy 3" flame red blooms all
summer long. Like Knock Out®, it is extremely resistant to black spot. But, unlike its
parent it is also COMPLETELY resistant to powdery mildew and has a higher level of
tolerance to downy mildew. Home Run also boasts a truer rich red flower and has a
more compact shape than Knock Out® growing to a desirable height of only 3 1/2 - 4'.

Rounded, bushy, fast to flower and nearly always in bloom. This is simply one of the
most disease resistant and carefree shrub roses available. Blooms early summer to
frost. Zone 4

Weigela florida 'Ghostʼ

A cool Weigela with dark red-pink flowers in spring and remarkable foliage that magically turns to a ghostly, iridescent butter yellow as the summer progresses.

Provides seasons of color. Sporadically reblooms during the summer into fall. Lightly pruning will encourage repeat flowering.

Garden Height: 48 - 60"; Tall
Spacing: 48 - 60“
Zone 4

Some New Perennials

ACHILLEA Tutti Frutti ʻPOMEGRANATEʼ (Yarrow) – NEW INTRO FOR 2011.

Magenta-Red flowers with dark green foliage. This variety is extremely disease resistant and heat tolerant and will not ʻmeltʼ in the heat of summer like other achilleas. Excellent cut flower. Full Sun. 24”-30” tall. Zones 3-8. – GW

AMSONIA hubrechtii (Arkansas Blue Star) – Perennial Plant Association Plant of the year for 2011. Native Species. Clusters of light blue, star-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer. Foliage is very fine and delicate, almost white pine needle-like giving the plant a very graceful appearance. The foliage is spectacular in the fall when it turns a gold-yellow. It is a bit slow growing but a very long lived perennial. Sun to part shade.
36” tall. Zones 4-9. WG

AQUILEGIA ʻSPITFIREʼ (Columbine) – NEW at SKILLINS for 2011. Petite variety of columbine with small, red-orange flowers with short spurs. Nicely mounded foliage. Sun to part shade. Blooms late spring to early summer. Zones 3-9. WG

ASTILBE ʻCOLOR FLASH LIMEʼ – NEW INTRO FOR 2011. Spikes of soft pink flowers. Foliage is yellowish light green tinged with burgundy. Very floriferous. Blooms early to mid-summer. Part shade to shade. 22” tall. Zones 3-8. DV

BRUNNERA ʻKING'S RANSOMʼ – NEW INTRO FOR 2011. This is a sport of the popular Brunnera ʻJack Frostʼ. Tiny forget-me-not like flowers bloom in early to late spring. The heart-shaped leaves are silver with a cream yellow margin and a light ʻfrostingʼ over the whole leaf. Leaf margins lighted to a creamy white in summer. Part to full shade. 10”-12” tall. Zones3-8. WG


Sometimes Elaine and I are just attracted to plants that can only be described as ʻfunkyʼ (or fun). The gold-yellow quilled petals of Matchsticks have fire red spoon shaped tips like a matchstick. It is a very compact variety of mum and does not require staking. Blooms early to mid fall. 18”-24” tall. Full sun. Zones 5-9. Looks great in a container. WG

COREOPSIS ʻSIENNA SUNSETʼ – NEW at Skillins for 2011. A sport of ʻCrème Bruleeʼ.
Burnt sienna (terra-cotta) flowers that lighted to peach as they age. Very long bloom time. Beautiful finely cut foliage. Blooms early to late summer. 16”-20” tall. Full Sun. Zones 5-9. WG

DELPHINIUM ʻBLUE LACEʼ – NEW at Skillins for 2011. True sky blue flowers with lavender-pink accents. Stems are very sturdy and usually do not require staking. Great cut flower. Blooms early summer and again in late summer and early fall if deadheaded. Full sun to part shade. 5ʼ-6ʼ tall. Zones 3-7. WG

DIANTHUS ʻAPPLE SLICEʼ – NEW INTRO FOR 2011. 1.5” deep red double flowers with a pale pink center and a narrow pale pink picotte edge. Blue-green grassy foliage.
Blooms early summer and again in early fall. Re-bloom will be best if dead-headed. Full sun to part shade. 10” tall. Zones 4-9. WG

ECHINACEA ʻFRAGRANT ANGELʼ (Coneflower) – NEW at Skillins for 2011. Large, fragrant white blossoms with overlapping petals and huge yellow cone. Blooms early summer to early fall. More blooms if dead-headed. Butterfly magnet and birds love the seeds in the fall. Deer resistant. Great cut flower.
Full sun to part shade. 30” tall. Zones 3-8. WG

ECHINACEA ʻSUMMER SUNʼ (Coneflower) – NEW at Skillins for 2011. Blossoms are fragrant and start red-orange and lighten to a gold orange as they age. Butterfly magnet and birds love the seeds in the fall. Deer resistant. Great cut flower. Full sun to part shade. 40” tall. Zones 4-8. WG

ECHIUM AMOENUM (Red Feathers) – New at Skillins for 2011. Another funky plant that Elaine and I could not resist. Russet-red florets in feathery spikes over low mounds of leathery dark green foliage. Very drought tolerant and grows well in poor soils. Blooms in spring with a very long bloom time. Will re-bloom in summer and fall if deadheaded. Deer resistant. Nice cut flower. ʻTHRIVES ON NEGLECT” how great is
that! Full sun and well drained soils. 10”-16” tall. Zones 3-9. GW

HELLEBORUS ʻGRAPE GALAXYʼ, ʻICE FOLLIESʼ, ʻPINK PARACHUTESʼ – NEW INTRO For 2011. Winter Thrillers series – Have been hybridized tested to be true to color, notoriously hard to accomplish with hellebores. Grape Galaxy has 3.5” grape purple flowers with flecks of dark purple. Ice Follies has 3” cream to light yellow flowers with burgundy flecks. Pink Parachutes have huge 3.75” bright pink flowers with dark pink to wine colored specks. The back of petals of Pink Parachutes are lighter blush to white.

All are very floriferus with 50 or more flowers on mature plants. Deer resistant. Blooms early to mid spring. Full to part shade. 18”-22” Zones 4-9. WG

PAEONIA ʻDINNERPLATEʼ (Peony) – NEW at SKILLINS for 2011. Very large double shell pink flowers. Rose like fragrance. 24” tall. Full sun. Zones 2-7. DV

PULMONARIA ʻLITTLE STARʼ (Lungwort) – NEW at SKILLINS for 2011. A compact variety. Very floriferous. Pink buds open to deep cobalt blue flowers. Leaves have small silver spotting. Deer resistant. Blooms early to mid spring. Full to part shade. 12” tall. Zones 3-9. GW

RUDBECKIA ʻCITY GARDENʼ – NEW at Skillins for 2011. Very similar to Rudbeckia ʻGoldstrumʼ but only 12” tall. Gold-yellow flowers. Very sturdy upright habit and long bloom time. Great for smaller gardens and containers. Great cut flower. Blooms mid summer to early fall. Full sun to part shade. Zones 4-10. WG

SALVIA ʻMADELINEʼ – NEW INTRO FOR 2011 – Large bi-color flowers. Flowers are a bright violet-blue with a white lower lip. May re-bloom if cut back. Compact, upright habit. Deer resistant. Blooms early summer. Full sun. Zones 4-8. WG

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 4, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Home Grown Lettuce

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 "Aunt Ruth's Home-Grown Lettuce" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"When my Aunt Ruth was alive, she loved to work in the vegetable garden--and my garden became hers. That was OK, because I never had to weed or water that garden and, most of the time, I could just stand there and enjoy watching her enjoy what she was doing. She loved to grow leaf lettuce because it grew so fast, tasted so good and because you could cut it down to a couple of inches of the ground and it came back without replanting. (I too share Aunt Ruth's love for leaf lettuce. It tastes fresh, grows so well and makes a lot of sense for us home gardeners!) She loved the different shapes, colors, textures and tastes of the foliage; most nights she would pick lettuce for us and make a wonderful salad. Her favorite was a salad of just mixed lettuce greens with basic oil and vinegar dressing. She would say to us, "I have made a honeymoon salad--lettuce alone." I do miss her a lot, and when I am in the vegetable garden working, I know she is right there next to me, working alongside me.

Luscious Red Sails Leaf Lettuce--my favorite!

Did you know that there are 4 main groups of lettuce that you can grow in your garden? The crispheads, loose heads, Cos or Romaine types, and leaf lettuce. The crispheads will form a solid and more rounded head of foliage--the 'Iceberg' is the most popular type found at the supermarket. This family is great for the spring and fall only, as it does not do well in the heat of summer. Cool weather is the key for this family of lettuce. It takes about 85 days to grow in the spring and 95 days in the fall for this family to mature, so plan ahead.

The loose head types--commonly known as the Bibb lettuce family--do not produce a firm central head. The foliage is loosely packed, more tender, much darker in color, and forms many outer leaves around the head. Some of these types of lettuce will tolerate the summer heat, but all will grow in the spring and fall.

Cos or Romaine types of lettuce will form upright growing heads with longer leaves and a thicker central midribs for support. This family will take longer to grow and mature, so plan ahead. The flavor is best when planted as a spring or fall crop in your garden. Summer heat will spoil the flavor and the plants will bolt easily in the hot weather, making them bitter tasting. (You can try growing the Romaine in the shade in the summer but I do agree with Paul for sure.)

Aunt Ruth's favorite was the loose leaf; this family does not make a head at all. It resembles an arrangement of beautifully arranged leaves growing from a central point with foliage of different sizes and colors. This family will mature very quickly--in just 40 days in the spring or fall. During the summer, it's even faster because all you have to do is cut it back to within 2 inches of the ground and in just a couple of weeks the plant will replace all the foliage you ate earlier in the season. This plant has the ability to re-grow new foliage 2 to 3 times a season, if you fertilize with a water solvable fertilizer every 2 weeks. Use Miracle-Gro or Blooming and Rooting for the best response. (I really recommend all natural Fish and Seaweed fertilizer for this purpose!)

All lettuce plants do best with cooler temperatures and you might think of planting some of your favorite varieties in the shade during the summer. To me lettuce can also be used in the landscape as a foliage plant grown for color. Much like what dusty miller, vinca vines, coleus, and sweet potato vines are grown for. Best of all, when lettuce is grown in containers you can eat the foliage as it matures as a bonus. Lettuce will also make a wonderful container plant for those of you with limited growing space--so consider growing mixed colored and foliage types of loose leaf lettuce instead of flowers in your container this summer. (My wife and I prefer leaf lettuce grown in containers. It is easy to cut and use immediately because it grows cleaner in a container--less soil from your garden finds its way onto the lettuce leaves.)

If you would like early lettuce for your garden, now is the time to start the seeds indoor to transplant seedlings into the garden during mid to late April. Use a seed-starting soil like Jiffy mix or the new Espoma Organic Soil with mycorrhizae bacteria added to it. When the plants are 1 to 2 inches tall, transplant them into the garden and space them according to the type recommendations. You can direct seed into the garden in late April, as soon as the ground has warmed up. If you're planting loose leaf lettuce types and want fresh lettuce all year long, plant 2 to 3 feet of new seed row every 2 weeks. This will give you fresh succulent plants developing all season long.

When you plan your garden, just remember to rotate your crops, as lettuce should be rotated every year to a new location, so as not to deplete the soil of nutrients that the crop needs to grow. I plant lettuce at the base of tall-growing plants like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts (just for example) in the summer and use the shade they produce to cool the lettuce plants. The main thing to remember is that lettuce MUST have a lot of water during the hot days of summer or the plant will "bolt," which means it stops making leaves, and makes seed instead--and the foliage will get very bitter tasting.

Lettuce will grow in most soils and the better you prepare it, the faster the plant will mature--especially during the heat of summer. If you direct seed in the garden and seedlings come in thick in areas and spare in others thin thick area--just dig out a few seedling and transplant them. If plants are grown too close together, they will be less productive for you. Plant seed just about 1/4 inch deep and keep wet until they germinate; they will take about 10 to 14 days to germinate.

If you like variety in lettuce you can also purchase mixed blends of seed like Mesclun spicy mix, Mesclun Salad Mix, mixed color leaf types, and mixed texture leaf types. (We will have more types of lettuces and greens available this year than ever before!) I plant several of these mixes for variety, color, texture, and flavor. This spring, be sure to plant lettuce in your garden, your containers or as an accent plant in your landscaping. As my Aunt Ruth would say: "How about a honeymoon salad tonight--lettuce alone." Enjoy!"

Special thanks to Paul Parent! (Aunt Ruth sounds like she was quite the character!)

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 3, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Direct Seeding in the Ground for Vegetables

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 "Direct Seeding in the Ground for Vegetables" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

Placing seeds in the ground should be done when the ground has warmed up to temperatures of 60 degrees or above. Peas and spinach are the exception; they will germinate at 50 degrees. (Don't forget the old farmer's adage that peas should be planted by Patriot's Day!) I place an old outside thermometer in the ground about 3 inches deep into the soil. When it's ready, I plant. If you use weed block over the soil, the soil will warm up much faster and it will keep weeds out all season long. Great advice about the weed block!

Many Great Tasting Vegetables Can Be Grown from Direct Seeding in the Ground!
Click HERE for a great chart by Paul on timing, spacing and an idea of yield for your direct seeded vegetables!
Your soil should be prepared before planting with good organic matter--we can help you with that right here at Skillin's! If your soil is heavy, be sure to add liquid gypsum to break up the clay soil and add lime if your soil is acidic. Powered lime can be applied in the fall, but if you want a better garden and forgot to lime last fall, use Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal because it will change the acidity in just 7 to 10 days. Most vegetables want a pH between 6 and 7 reading for better growth and to help make the fertilizer you apply work better.

If the weather is wet and air temperatures cold, hold off and plant your seeds a week later. Wet soil will rot the seeds and germination will be erratic with many misses in the row. If the weather pattern persists, plant your seeds closer together and thin the rows later as they develop. Spacing is very important with root crops and thinning the rows will help them produce more vegetables and better quality.

When planting in rows, I always cut a shallow trench with my garden hoe to plant seed into. This helps to keep the rows straight; you can see where they are planted, making it easier to water before and after they germinate and become visible. Use the soil on each side of the row to cover the seed and be sure to mark the front and back of the row so you will know what you planted there.

I always add Soil-Moist and fertilizer (I recommend all natural Garden Tone by Espoma for a vegetable fertilizer) to this trench before planting and mix well. Blend the soil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, as soft soil will encourage quick root development. Potatoes need to be planted in a trench 6 inches deep and just as wide to help young tubers to develop in soft soil. Fill in the trench slowly as the shoots begin to grow until the ground is level.

Water the garden daily, and keep the soil moist during the seed germination period. Side dress plants growing in the trench with a granular fertilizer; apply on both sides of the planting row 3 weeks after foliage forms in the trench. Keep notes and enjoy the season.

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 1, 2011