Friday, October 14, 2011

October Garden Talks Mailbag

Hello again,

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

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

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

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

If you have a question you would like answered just send your question to!

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

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

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

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

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

Rhubarb Leaves Make Great Compost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence, persistence!

Mike Skillin
October 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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

 Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Beautiful Berries on Your Shrubs and Trees for the Fall and Winter Months" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:
"Right now we are all enjoying the beautiful fall foliage but soon the magical colors will disappear and our garden will begin to look a bit drab! planned ahead by planting shrubs and trees that not only flower but make beautiful fruit or berries for the fall and winter months. When most gardeners think of plants with berries, they think of holly--but there is so much more for your garden and there is no better time to learn about these berries than now when they are on the plants. Plants that make berries come in two categories, summer and winter types. Because it's fall, let me tell you about the winter types of berry plants for your garden.

The Awesome Winterberry--Great to Plant Now!

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Colors of the Fall Foliage Around You

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

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

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

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

The Gorgeous Norway Maple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 10, 2011