Monday, April 30, 2012

Annuals for the Shade

Hello again,

Recently our friends at Horticulture Magazine sent out a very helpful post about Annuals for the Shade.

Author Meghan Shinn lists many shade annuals that are readily available at Skillin's and that of course will grow extremely well in Skillin's Country!

I particularly appreciate the non stop begonias we have available. They grow so well in shade or filtered sun. They are quite trouble free and the colors are second to none!

One of Mike's Must Haves: The Non Stop Begonia for Shade

Fuschias make a great shade annual hanging plant and a couple of times over the years I have grown them in the ground for a different look and have been quite pleased!

Ms. Shinn lists quite a few more plants as well so take the time to check out her post!

Mike Skillin
April 30, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Frost Alert! April 27, 2012

Hello again!
 There is  potential for frost in Skillin's Country especially away from the coast and to the north of the Portland area for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Any low lying areas could also see frost as temperatures in the valleys even along the coast can be many degrees colder than a ridge or higher spot just yards away.  

If temperatures drop lower than the "mid 30's" and we have clear overnight skies with little wind, then frost is very likely to occur. Windy conditions are being predicted for tonight which will help reduce chance for frost in some areas. Keep an eye on those night time temperatures!

Tender material planted in the ground (such as annual plantings) is really the plant material that is at risk. In most cases we do not consider pansies or most perennials at risk. Vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, swiss chard and cabbage will probably be fine UNLESS this is their first night or two out. Bulb plants like daffodils, tulips and hyacinth will be fine and are not at risk. Shrubs and trees will be fine.

If you suspect frost damage is likely to occur on a particular night, try to cover the "at risk" material with a frost blanket (we sell them here at Skillin's). Obviously any at risk material planted in a container can be brought in for the night. Also a bed sheet or light blanket will do the trick. Or give this material a shower of water at dusk and then if frost has occurred give the material another shower to melt off the burning frost just before sunrise occurs. The early morning sun can touch those frost particles and cause the particles to in essence "burn" the plant material.

Let us know if you have any questions about frost damage!
Our store locations and contact information are as follows:
 Skillin's Greenhouses, Brunswick, 422 Bath Road, Brunswick ME 04011 442-8111, 800-339-8111
 Skillin's Greenhouses, Cumberland, 201 Gray Road, Cumberland ME 04021 829-5619, 800-348-8498
 Skillin's Greenhouses, Falmouth, 89 Foreside Road, Falmouth ME 04105 781-3860, 800-244-3860
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 27, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vegetable Gardening--Some Great Reasons for It!

Hello again,

Joanne Taylor of the Philadelphia Exmainer recently wrote a great article listing several reaasons why it is a great idea to grow at least some of our own vegetables.

Impressive Array of Vegetables! Good to Grow! (credit Shutterstock and Philadelphia Exmainer)

She details very good health benefits which should make all of us stop and take notice.

Also as Ms. Taylor points out, the cost of food is rising steadily. Ms. Taylor calculates a packet of tomato seeds with a good yield can give you a return on your investment of 250 to 1. That is good for the heart as well!

Here is the link to her whole article:

Click HERE!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 24, 2012

April (Late April) Garden Talks

Hello again,

Well what a difference a year makes! In my Late April 2011 post I was no longer writing about melting snow (I did that for weeks in Spring 2011) BUT I was talking about cool temperatures and very frequent rains.

Okay....As I write this post and edit the garden comments Skillin's Country has just received a major outpouring of rain. To my chagrin, I just found the Official Skillin's Country Rain Gauge had cracked and therefore had no reading. SO, I will have to rely on the official metorological report.

Let me say without hesitation the days of April 22 and 23, 2012 brought HEAVY amounts of rain to a very dry Skillin's Country. I am sure we had MUCH runoff but I am just as sure our ground is now soaked. That is great--our lawns and plants of all sized will use this rain well. Perennials and shrubs will explode in growth! Trees will leaf out! And our lawns (especially those cared for by the Skillin's Lawn Program) will turn a rich, rich green!

*Our gardens are growing and taking shape. You may be looking at your established layout and decide you want to change some of your design. Now is an excellent time to transplant perennials and many shrubs. Most plant growth is minimal as the roots are just getting started so that means less transplanting shock for the new transplants.

The ground is wet and that will help to hold the soil around the roots better, preventing the small feeder roots from being damaged during the move. When you replant into the new garden, be sure to set plants at the same depth that they were in the garden originally. Be sure to condition the soil before planting with good organic matter like compost or manure. We have the best choices right here at Skillin's!

*Now is the time to apply Corn Gluten to your lawn for weed control. Corn gluten naturally smothers seeds (including weed seed) from germinating. This is very helpful in controlling crabgrass and dandelions as well as other pesky lawn weeds. Corn gluten can be applied to open perennial gardens now for the same reasons. Corn gluten also makes a good organic fertilizer and we sell it here under the label Lawn Booster Plus! For a good overall and EASY to achieve Lawn Program click Skillin's Lawn Program--designed for you!

*Now is a great time to prune deciduous hedge plants like privet and burning bush. These plants do not flower and you will not risk any flowering. Do NOT prune rhododendrons, lilacs and forsythia now. These plants are soon to flower. Flowering shrubs like that are best pruned RIGHT AFTER they flower.

*Now is a great time to fertilize all perennials, shrubs and trees with their Spring feeding. We love Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Plant Tone by Espoma for all plants that drop their leaves during the winter. (also known as deciduous plants!). We love Holly Tone by Espoma for all evergreen plants that love acidity in their soil. Not to be confusing but blueberries and Blue Hydrangeas are also fans of Holly Tone! These plants are starving for a good organic meal after a long winter and it is time to feed them!

*Windy rain storms blow wet rain into our bird feeders. Don't forget to clean the wet food out of your feeders as our feathered friends "turn up their beaks" at the wet food. They like it dry! Also we should be seeing Orioles soon so now is a great time to hang out some orange slices to try and attract them to your yard. We also sell orange Oriole feeders here at Skillin's!

*Now is a great time to sow pea, carrot, beet, radish, spinach and swiss chard seeds right into your garden. We also have for sale various and exciting lettuce, micro greens and cole crops that grow well even in this cool weather. Soon you will be harvesting! Frankly our leaf lettuce can be eaten starting now. Plant in a soil enriched by compost or manure but also throw in a handful of Garden Tone by Espoma.

You CAN now start tomatoes indoors!

*Now is a great time to start an herb garden in a container. We have all kinds of great Skillin Grown herb choices for your palette. There are no better spices than fresh herbs and the plants are fun to grow! Herb plants come in many different growth habits and textures. Click HERE for a link to a past post in the Skillin's Garden Log about gardening with herbs.

*With this warm Spring, I would plant a few gladiola bulbs in the ground. If you have the space and inclination continue to plant a few more every week until early July. This will give your garden and your cut flower vases a constant source of gorgeous glads from mid summer through a good part of the fall!

*Again with the warm Spring consider planting corn. The growing of corn of course goes back to the Pilgrims. It grows well in Skillin's Country and while all freshly picked vegetables taste awesome; freshly picked corn might stand out the most from store bought corn . Years ago, Jim Crockett in Crockett's Victory Garden wrote about growing corn and I think he was right on:

"Corn is a very heavy feeder...(we recommend preparing the corn planting bed with a layer of compost mixed with a quality organic garden fertilizer like Garden Tone by Espoma. The large corn plants will really draw on the mix of compost, garden soil and Garden Tone)....The trick to corn pollination is in the planting of the rows. Corn is pollinated by the wind; the pollen falls from the male tassels onto the female silk. If the corn is planted in just single rows of each variety, the wind is apt to carry the pollen away and the results will be corn cobs not completely filled out. So I always plant at least 4 rows of each variety." Mr. Crockett goes on to suggest several varieties of corn ranging from early season varieties to late season varieties. Also plant 2 seeds or kernels about 1" apart then another cluster of two another 12" away. Push the kernels about 1" into the ground.

I suggest side dressing the young corn plants after about 2 to 3 weeks with Garden Tone and then side dressing them again about 2 to 3 weeks after that. Again those big corn plants are heavy feeders!

*Now corn is a big tall plant and 12 inches between plants can be a lot of available space in your garden! What plants make good companion plants for corn? Edward C. Smith in the acclaimed Vegetable Gardener's Bible lists beets, bush beans, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumber, morning glory (curious about that one), parsley, pumpkin and squash. These plants stay low. Do not grow tomatoes with corn! Tomatoes need space and also tend to grow quite high as well.

*Even if you just have a corner of space in your garden, try planting potatoes. We have seed potatoes and great varieties to choose from! Again prepare your hole about 5" down with some compost and Garden Tone. Potatoes like their food. Cut those seed potatoes into pieces with about 2 to 3 eyes. We have organic Garden Dust by Bonide. Pick some up (this is a good product to have in your inventory) and "shake and bake" your potatoes in the organic Dust. If you have the room give your potatoes about 12" of space. Plant them in a trench about 4 to 5 inches deep. Cover the potatoes that are lying on a mix of soil, compost and Garden Tone with about 3" of soil. As the plants grow--and they will grow!--pull soil in to keep the plants cool. The farmers call this "hilling" or "mounding". When you are hilling your potatoes, you too will be a farmer!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 24, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012


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.

Very recently Paul sent out as part of his weekly newsletter a great post about Snapdragons. Snapdragons are a wonderful annual flower. They do well in Skillin's Country because they do well in cool weather. Here is what he has to say:

"...When planted early, snapdragons will be in bloom in your garden before your warm season annuals like impatiens and marigolds begin flowering. 

Snapdragons do best in a cool climate like the Northeast and west to Oregon and Northern California. They are very tolerant of cold weather and often flower well into early November. Because of their love of cool weather, they will give you great fall color when you plant mums and flowering cabbage to fill in the holes of the fading summer flowers like your impatiens and geraniums. When I lived in southern Massachusetts, I would cover the plants with pine needles in late October, and the following spring more than half would have survived the winter in my garden. (That type of survival rate is probably not going to happen in Skillin's Country but the effort is worth a try in coastal and southern areas!)

Snapdragons were found in southwestern Europe, growing as a wild pink flower in open sunny fields. Over the years, seed companies have developed many new hybrids of this plant and the work continues today to improve the color selection, flower size and flower numbers on the plant. Snapdragons grow 9 inches to 4 feet tall in your garden and will bush out 6 to 12 inches wide or more from spring to fall. If you live near the ocean or a lake where temperatures are always cooler than inland this is a must-have flower for your garden; the plant will also tolerate a bit of late in the day shade.

Snapdragons love a fertile soil so the better you prepare it with animal manure, compost or seaweed kelp, the better the plant will grow for you....

Snapdragons have wonderful dark green foliage that is oval with a slight point on the tip. Leaves grow 1 to 3 inches long and less than 1 inch wide, with a sunken vein running down the center on the leaf. The leaves grow alternately up the stem and almost look like they are growing in a whirl around the flower stem. Unlike most annuals, the foliage of the plant will tolerate frost once the plant has acclimated to the weather, so be sure to harden off your seedlings you're going to plant out in the garden properly before planting.

You can plant snapdragons two ways in the spring, pinched or un-pinched. If you set out the plant without pinching the tip of the plant, it will quickly grow tall and make a single large and tall flower stock filled with flowers in just a few weeks, depending on the age of the plant. When the flower stem fades remove it and the plant will quickly begin to develop many side shoots that in time will all make spikes of flowers and continue flowering all summer long.

Or at the time of planting, you can pinch back the tips of the stems to encourage side shoots to develop early. This will delay flowering by 2 to 3 weeks--but the plants will grow much bushier and produce many more flower stems to give your garden better color. As these flower stems fade, pinch them off and the plant will bush off again and continue to make additional flowers stems all summer long. I always pinch my plants and it really pays off with more flowers during the growing season. (I too recommend pinching snapdragons. Flowering will be postponed but you will get much more vigorous plants!)

Snapdragons love to be fertilized every 2 weeks during the growing season, and this will pay off with large and more flower spikes. (I plant with a healthy dose of Flower Tone by Espoma and then regularly apply a liquid fertilizer like Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed blend). If  you're a busy gardener, apply Osmocote time-release fertilizer when planting and again in late July for endless flowers right up to November. I like to do both and my plants provide me with endless stems for cutting.

Snapdragons can be planted in flowerbeds, in borders and do very well in containers also. Because snapdragons grow vertically, they will help give your garden extra height--and they make a great accent flower for the garden. Each flower spike will last for several weeks in the garden and the flowers bloom from the bottom up and slowly open new flowers on top of the older ones, keeping the top of the flower spike in constant color.

Here are a few of the wonderful varieties to look for at your local garden center or seed packs to purchase:

'Floral Carpet' will grow 8 to 10 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Great for flower borders, window boxes rock gardens and containers. Comes in White, yellow, pink and red colors--and if you continually clean faded stems, the plant will not stop flowering for you all season long. 'Floral Carpet' also looks great when planted on top of a wall or when used as edging along a walkway.

'Sonnet' will grow 18 to 24 inches tall and looks great in mixed borders or large planters like whiskey barrels. Plants come in shades of reddish/pink, yellow/bronze, and white flowers; the plant stays bushy and full growing. Stems can be cut for small vase arrangements. (Skillin's does not offer Sonnet but we do offer very similar options!)

'Bright Butterfly' will grow 2 to 2.5 feet tall and is great for borders, in cut flower gardens, and looks wonderful when added to large perennial flowerbeds to keep color all season long. Flower colors come in shades of red, pink, bronze, yellow and white. The flowers are also more ruffled than the other varieties of snapdragons and look unique. (Skillin's does not offer Bright Butterfly but we do offer very similar options!)

'The Rocket' will grow 2.5 to 3 feet tall--and more if you prepare your soil properly. Plants grow large and full--12 inches or more in diameter--and are very sturdy, but should be sheltered from strong winds because of the height of the flowers. The flowers come in shades of red, pink, bronze, yellow and white. Some of the plants will also have bronze to red stems and foliage for extra character. The best for tall-cutting flower stems. The plants will look wonderful in mixed borders, in perennial flower beds or up against a wall or fence to soften the surface behind them. 'Rockets' are my favorite variety, and I grow them every year in my garden. 

One last thing: insect and disease problems are minimal and the plants are very easy to grow--even for beginners! Enjoy.

Thanks Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 23, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Training!

Terry Skillin checks in with this great outlook about gardening in the Spring of 2012!:

These lighter longer days have been great for getting out doors into the garden and to top it off the weather has been amazing.  You all have heard me talk about Simone our big girl Weimaraner; well we now have a full throttle 1 year old little girl Weimaraner Lucy too.  So how does this lead into some kind of gardening talefor these amazing early spring days? Well here it is!

.  Lucy runs by solar power that starts at the earliest crack of dawn and she runs on mostly high until 8:30-9 at night. So still I’m not getting there but stay with me! Until it got warmer out in the morning I would leave my fuzzy sleepers on and shuffle across the floor and turn on the morning news and often before I found my channel I would catch some group of people working out to the newest song and try to perform what looks like a fast pace game of Twister.  Don’t get me wrong I liked Twister and despite what Mike Skillin says about my age I’m sure I could do some of that stuff they’re all doing. But Simone, Lucy and I are taking a more productive approach to a complete workout.  Of course when we first go outside in the morning there is the usual looking for birds and the explosive chase of one of a dozen waiting gray squirrels.  I never come as close to catching them as the girls do but still I’m proud of the effort I put into the chase, Lucy and leash still in hand.   

Once this is completed we start on a few garden chores.  We have our warm up completed and our routine at this time of the season begins with raking.  Mind you I have only about 20 minutes in the morning to do any gardening and if I miss it I think all day about when I’m going to make up the time. So my raking is to  say the  least quite vigorous.  "They" talk about using all the muscle groups; I have no idea what group they are but the first night after my first spring work out the whole group is complaining!  Shoulders, stomach, arms, waist and legs all the way down to my slippers they all have an opinion about their first workout of the season.  So I tell the group if they will drag me out of bed this one more time we’ll do something different and after a little effort they all agree!   

Pruning is up next.  Little light workout for the shoulder and arms maybe a little for the calf and some good stretching for those higher small branches.  This is all pretty therapeutic after the raking and you know the lawn doesn’t really look that bad so again we switch it up. This time it’s getting after some of those early spring weeds before they become comfortable.  Great twisting, bending, and balancing with Lucy leash in one hand and my hand cultivator in the other.  A twist of the head this way and then that to figure out what Simone is chewing on, while all the time keeping Lucy from taking away whatever Simone is chewing.  We are working on our sharing skills right now.  I would never attempt this while pruning because if I cut myself again my wife  Erlene says she is going to take my pruners away, again. Anyway this is our "Spring Training Camp", outdoors in the yard working up a sweat keeping in shape enjoying everything , getting the cobwebs out of my head and never setting a foot or hand on my Twister game sheet!

Terry Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tomato 101

Great gardener Margaret of A Way to Garden recently collected all of her tomato wisdom in one post called Tomato 101 at her web site.

The different links all make very good and useful reading for us tomato gardeners in Skillin's Country. Very few plants give us the volume of questions that tomatoes do. We love them so, we nurture them but they do not always give us the same level of love back. (In fact they rarely do!) Well maybe my favorite tomato, the Sungold loves us more! But Sungold may be the tomato exception.

Anyway enough about what I have to say! Check out Margaret's well written experiences in growing tomatoes from sowing to harvest!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 18, 2012

Smart Gardening for Mid and Late April 2012!

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.

Very recently Paul sent out as part of his weekly newsletter a great post for Smart Gardening for this time of year. This post is FULL of trmendous gardening nuggets for us in Skillin's Country. So read it carefully! Here is what he has to say:

"This spring has brought us unusual weather with lots of early warmth but a lack of moisture.  Records have been broken in every state with the heat and that has excited all of us gardeners but the lack of rainfall is and could be a major problem in the weeks to come.  Our flowering plants are blooming ahead of schedule and in many cases the bloom time has been affected.  Hot weather shortens the flowering time on plants and if our ever changing weather pattern gives us a couple days of cold some of our flowering plant is damaged by frost.  My magnolias were hit by the frost last week and half the flowers were damaged, how about you?

Here are a few things you can do to help your flowering trees and shrubs to stay in bloom longer this spring.  If you have a plant in bloom right now get out your sprinkler and water them to lengthen the blooming period as a plant in flower requires more water than one not in flower.  When your plants finish flowering they will begin to make the new growth and the foliage for this year.  If the soil is dry like it is right now that new growth will be less.  Less new growth limits the plants ability to repair any winter damage it might have suffered including the snow storm we had this past October.  Less new growth means less fruit or berries on your plants in the garden.  Less new growth affects the plants ability to make energy to fight of disease problems and replace any damaged foliage if insects become a problem.  Get out the hose and start watering right now because every state from Maine to Florida is 5 to 8 inches of rainfall below normal since January, so where are those April showers?

If you have put down a lawn fertilizer or a fertilizer with crabgrass control, it will not be effective unless you water the lawn!  You must change the dry granular fertilizer and crabgrass control product to a liquid so it can create a barrier to kill the crabgrass seed before it germinates and the fertilizer will just sit there on top of the soil and not feed the grass.  You need to water right now or the lawn will not thicken preventing future weed to develop in the lawn and the crabgrass will germinate and begin to grow with this heat. For this to become effective we need at least one inch of water per week during April and May.  If your grass does not get off to a good start in the next few weeks and the weather continues to stay dry your lawn will not be able to develop a deep root system and when July arrives be prepared for a brown and weedy lawn, just a warning get out the hose and water now!

This weather is wonderful for working in the garden and preparing it for planting  all types of perennials, shrubs, trees, roses, groundcovers, vines and some annuals and vegetables but be careful and think before you plant those tender plants.  This past week I made a big effort to visit as many greenhouse, garden centers and The Big Box stores as possible and I am SCARED for you because the Big Box stores are selling you plants that “ARE NOT READY” to be planted yet.  I want you to think before planting this spring it is only April 19 and in the North East there is a very good possibility that we will have a killing frost in the next two or three week.  (We at Skillin's can definitely advise you as to which plants are ready to go out and which are not!)

It is too early to plant most vegetables unless they are considered “cold crops” like Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, onions, lettuce, and some seeds like peas, spinach, and beets.  The only flowers that are safe to plant now are Pansy, Johnny- jump- up and violets.  Geraniums will be killed or stunted so please do not fall into the Box store trap, WAIT until the time is right to plant them!  If you want to purchase a hanging basket they must come inside your home at night, they may not die but you will lose the new flower buds or your plant will be damaged and lose the ability to perform properly for you later, WAIT!  Don’t even think of planting Tomatoes, peppers, vine crops, impatient, marigolds, and herbs like Basil and parsley, it’s too early!

All I can say is shame on you Big Box Stores for taking advantage on the new gardener and some gardeners who should know better.  These gardeners will feel that they have done something wrong, become discourage and never try to grow perennials or roses because they failed with the easy to grow annuals or vegetable.  Customer service at its worst!

What you should be doing now is pruning your roses and fertilizing them to help get them off to a good start when the weather stabilizes.  Clean all your perennial beds, divide those that need to be divided and fertilize them also.  (We love Flower Tone or Plant Tone for fertilizing your roses and perennials). Set up your Peony cages; fasten the vines to the trellises and if any plants need to be moved now is the time to move them unless they are in flower.  It’s also time to fertilize your spring flowering bulbs like tulips, and daffodils and especially those that are not flowering with Bulb –Tone .  When the flowers begin to fade be sure to remove the faded flowers but not the foliage for at least a month after they bloom.

Your Clematis and Lilacs need to be limed or use wood ash from your fireplace or wood stove to help keep the soil sweet and encourage more flowers and strong growth.  Use Fast Acting Lime by Encap to help control and eliminate the moss that is trying to take over your lawn and garden.  Did you know that acid soils, that have moss growing in them, will have more weeds growing in them, because weeds prefer acid soil? Annual and Perennial gardens, vegetable gardens, planters and your flowering shrubs and trees should be limed every other year if you want the most flowers from your plants, acid soil will limit the plants ability to make flowers!

Edge your flower and shrub beds and cover them with 1 to 3 inches of bark mulch or compost to help control weeds and prevent the hot summer sun from drying them out.  Start pruning your privacy hedges right now before the new growth covers the plants to control their size and help keep them nice and thick, “remember pruning stimulates new growth on all plants.”  Non flowering plants like Burning Bush, Privet hedges, Barberry  and evergreens like Hemlock, Arborvitae, holly, Boxwood and yews will look better if pruned before the plants begins to grow because you’re not damaging the foliage and the new foliage that forms will fill in holes in the plant made by the damage of snow and weather.  At this time of the year you can cut back these plants by 25 to 30 % to control their size and when the new growth forms they will look like they were never pruner.

Visit your local nursery and ask for help if you’re not sure what to do as these people are trained and experienced professionals who love to garden and want to share their knowledge with you.  Look at the new shrubs, trees, and plants in their yard and I am sure you will find something that will excite you about gardening this year.  Remember there is “NO” dumb gardening question as we are always learning about the new plants, and garden related products to help them grow and stay insect and disease free. Please, this year think about what you want to do and then ask for help to do it right the first time, not doing this is “Dumb.” (We love ALL gardening questions at Skillin's!)

Thanks Paul Parent for this "spot on" post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 18, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Container Gardening in the Round, Square, Oval, or Other Shape of Your Choosing!

Why gardening in a container?

It’s easy, fun, economical, and, did I say ‘easy’ oh, and I can’t forget ‘fun’. A way to add color and blooms throughout the season. Consider your containers, planters and window boxes the accessories of your landscape wardrobe. Attributes of container gardening?
Possibilities are almost endless; opens up a whole world of new plants since the plants need not adapt to your landscapes soil, lighting and water requirements. You are ‘mother nature’. Let your imagination be your guide.

Not convinced yet?

Other benefits?

No yard, no problem.

Short on space but long on desire-gardens in miniature are the cure. If you want to grow it chances are it will thrive in a container.

Serves as a screen for privacy.


Change seasonally or to match a theme

Easier on the knees and back than traditional beds.

Where to begin?

Which comes first, the container or the plant? Either. Often I have fallen in love with an annual, succulent or even tropical plant that would not work in the planting bed so what better way to showcase than giving it its own space. Other times the shape, color or sheer delightfulness of a container filled my heart so why not return the love by filling it! Think of these gardens in miniature as the Finishing Touches to your landscape design.

Think outside the box. Almost anything can be used as a container.

Tea Kettles; colanders; old shoes, gardening Wellies, or LL Bean boots are often used. Thrift store baskets, old tea cups, vintage Fiesta ware, cigar boxes, wine casks, milk crates. In other words if you can fill it chances are you can plant in it. Some things to consider however



o Containers made of resin and/or fiber glass are the most versatile.

Lighter weight than their look-alike counterpart; poured concrete, ceramics or metal.

Can take the elements that a Maine Winter can offer.


No need to store for the season.


o Cheep plastic may fade or deteriorate from UV rays.

o Terracotta and clay are porous and dry out too quickly

o Wooden containers are susceptible to rot.

o Avoid those treated with creosote, other toxic compounds.

o Ceramic and or Glazed pots will crack and/or if left out in the winter.

Display after and before all threat of a deep freeze has passed.

Other consideration:

Choose containers that complement existing architecture in used in close proximity to structure.

o Take into account size and scale in connection to surroundings

Allow for proper drainage

o Drainage holes at least ½ inch.

o line w/newspaper, coffee filters or old screening to avoid soil loss

o Use Perlite or Vermiculite

Set on brick or ‘pot feet’ to allow for air circulation and avoid staining on wooded decks.

Refrain from using containers that are too narrow or shallow


New Container or using a recycled item:

o Wash with mild bleach solution

o Allow to dry thoroughly

Use Potting Soil or Mixes only

o Do not use soil from your garden

No need to replace all soil each year.

o Reuse ½ of existing potting mix.

o Add organic matter such as ‘worm castings’.

No need to plant directly in container.

o Purchase inexpensive plastic pots sold at all nurseries.

Use as ‘container’ then place within decorative container.

Avoid creating a ‘too heavy’ pot

o Invert plastic pot to take up space

o Line bottom with packing peanuts.

Separate from soil w/material from an old screen.

o Purchase plastic ‘shelves’ designed for containers


Right plant/right place

Combine plants with like light/watering needs.

For drama remember these 3 words:

Thrill, Fill & Spill


Tall plant as focal point.

o Ornamental Grasses

o Snap dragons

o Angelonia

o Heuchera (also serves as fill) shade

o Nicotiana

o Salvias

Many varieties, annuals & perennials

o Persian Shield

o Dracaena

o Cala or Cana lilies

o Guara


Any plant that will surround the focal point

o Lantana

o Heuchera shade

o Petunia (also a spill)

o Million Bells (ditto)

o Alyssum

o Hosta shade

o Geraniums

Look for variegated varieties

For bushier and more interesting foliage pinch off blooms

o Scaevola (also a spill)

o Osteospermum

o Impatiens shade

o New Guinea impatiens shade

o Begonias

o Coleus shade

o Sedum Perfect for hot dry conditions

o Portulaca Perfect for hot dry conditions


Cascading plant.

o Ivy Geranium


o Sweet Potato vine

o Supertunias

o Million Bells

o Nasturtiums

o Lobelia (annual)

Not just for annuals:

Many perennials make excellent container plants.

o Heuchera, small hostas, Astilbe, Dwarf shrubs.

Avoid plants with tap roots other than that use your imagination!

o At the end of the season can be planted in garden.

o Some will over winter in the container:

Sedums, Dianthus, Chives, Day Lilies,

Beyond Color:

Incorporate texture


o Grasses, Perennial Flax, Heuchera (all are ‘thrills’)

Coordinate scale of plant with container

o The size of the ‘Thrill’ to be in balance with the container.

Plants shouldn’t be more than twice the height of the pot or 1 ½ times as wide

o Simple plants show off an ornate pot

o Showy plants will complement a simple pot

Create themes:

o Desert theme using succulents

o Fairy Garden

o Woodland

Use mini hosta, ferns, & moss.

Color Crazy:   See this post for some more illustration of color!

Monochromatic is elegant and soothing

o Lightness or darkness or strength of the color may vary, but only one color is used

Analogous   calming
o Colors closely related to one another (next to each other) on the color wheel

o More dramatic than monochromatic

Complementary  demands attention

o Colors opposite one another on the color wheel

Neutral   makes other colors look deeper and brighter
o Add depth to the composition; divide colors that clash or are too strong; tone down complementary color schemes in daylight; and glow in the dark

o Black, gray, and white

Polychromeworks (most of the time) flowers naturally blend together

o Mixture of many colors



Fill container ¾ full with potting soil mix

Place ‘Thrill’ plant in center of the container

Add more soil around plant

Alternate fill/spill plants and place as close to the inside.

Add & push-in more soil around plants to avoid air pockets

Water in.

Add more soil if needed.


Add whimsy

Include decorative elements


Have fun!


Keep watered & fed

Turn and reposition when possible.

Lazy Susan plant stands

A large dish filled with marbles.

Remove spent blooms.

Change and recreate if necessary or if mood dictates.

So, go ahead, dress up your front walk, steps, entryway or window; give your deck, porch or balcony the feel of a botanical garden. If you miss the taste of homegrown tomatoes, grow some on your patio. Don’t be afraid to put a splash of color in that full shade area or level and plant that sunny slope. The possibilities are truly endless. Just pick an area that you would like to change and get started! Once you get going and discover how easy and fun container gardening is, don’t be surprised to discover that you’re hooked for good.

Think of these gardens in miniature as the
Finishing Touches to your landscape design

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

April 17, 2012