Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

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

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

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

A few notes on growing cyclamen:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thanks to Paul Parent for this great post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 29, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November Garden To Do's

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November (early November) Garden Talks

Hello again,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More November Gardening Tips to follow soon!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 8, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011


To say good-bye! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
November 3, 2011