Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skillin's! Daily "Dirt" May 2012

Where we bring you some quick and topical gardening tips for Skillin's Country....

Thursday, May 31, Succession Planting for Your Vegetables

More and more of us are growing our own vegetables in Skillin's Country. And as we experiment and trade information many of us are getting better at it and consequently more excited about trying to extend the vegetable garden season. Well, vegetable gardening just is not a Memorial Day to Labor Day activity any more. Or at least it does not have to be anyway! More and more info is out there that shows many vegetables that we all like can be staggered or "successively planted" by several weeks to really extend the growing season. A few years ago the folks at Johnnys Selected Seeds (our fellow Maine gardening friends) published a Succession Planting Guide that I think could be very helpful to those of you who want to extend their gardening season.

Tuesday, May 29 Plant Chives, A Mike's Must Have Plant

Chives are in bloom right now. Their cute purple blossoms on top of green chive stems show up well in many garden situations. The blossoms last quite a while and I find their color to be pretty pleasant. There are at least 3 other reasons to plant chives in your garden. First, they serve as a wonderful natural deer deterrent. Great gardener (and author) KCB of Finishing Touches tries to utilize the plant in as many landscape plantings as she can for just this purpose. Deer do not like the scent of chives (I never smell the plant. It is not a factor to us). Second, you can harvest chives almost anytime to use as a food crop. Third, they are very hardy. They are almost a sure bet to come back. I find they spread a little but I would hardly call them invasive.

This plant is a Mike's Must Have!

Saturday,  May 26 Container Gardening 101

Gardening friend Margaret of A Way to Garden recently sent out a great post called Container Gardening 101 that has "tons" of interesting pointers about growing outdoor plants in Containers. I highly recommend you taking a few minutes to read this post if you do outdoor container gardening or if you are interested in that pursuit! Margaret talks about a Fafard soil which I am sure is outstanding. We recommend the Bar Harbor Soil Blend by Coast of Maine as a superior mix!

Thursday, May 24 Companion Vegetable Planting

More and more people are vegetable gardening in Skillin's Country and that is a good thing. Daily I speak to new vegetable gardeners who are growing in small and sometimes untraditional spaces. I think is great! As a customer told me today, "I grow vegetables for the food, sure but maybe even more because I am growing something that makes something. That interests me!" Gardening in tight spaces often requires growing plants close together--or "companion vegetable gardening". Click HERE at "The Vegetable Garden" for an easy to follow chart about what vegetable plants co exist well and what plants do not.

Tuesday, May 22: Amsonia, A Mike's Must Have Perennial

We sell a few types of the Blue Star or Amsonia perennial. The plant pictured below is a Texas Blue Star and this picture is from my garden. I planted this old friend over a decade ago and he has come up nice and strong year after year.

The Amsonia is very hardy. I love the blue flowers that last for several weeks. The plant then holds its rich green foliage through the summer and serves as an excellent back drop for summer flowering perennials that are lie in front of this plant. When these plants die back the Blue Star becomes prominent again in the fall with a shimmering green/gold foliage that shows for weeks and weeks in the fall.

This plant is a Mike's Must Have!

Friday, May 18: Poppies and Plant Placement

This Daily Dirt topic is probably worthy of an entire post of many paragraphs but fear not I will keep what I have to say within a medium sized mention! Pictured below is a lovely Oriental Poppy plant that is just breathtaking right now in my yard. The many blossoms will bear jawdropping color (that you can notice from yards away) for many days with our calm weather forecast. But take a look at that picture. All is hardly well in poppy world. In fact much is wrong.  I planted this beauty in a terrible spot. Sun? Oh yes. BUT this is an example of plunking a plant in a poor spot and not asking how it will grow in a few years. I have it in a narrow bed that contains a few other plants. Wrong move in this case! Poppies are "field" plants; they spread by seed they cast and they will crowd out other plants. This plant is crowding out echinacea, clematis and even an older contoneaster. This lovely classic plant works in wide open situations as one of the best options. In "tight" situations it becomes an annoying bully. Ask us about where best to locate plants you fall in love with! We can counsel you so that you and your plant can have a long term loving relationship! Now this summer that poppy will get moved....

Thursday, May 17: Spirea--Very Worthy Plant for Your Landscape

I just came across an excellent article by Karen Chapman who publishes a great newsletter called "Le Jardinet--small garden. Big Impact." The name of her post is "Spirea--the Poor Man's Shrub No More." Karen points out a number of great points about the spirea--it is very hardy, it's growth can be managed well, the spirea of the 2010's comes in a variety of colors and textures (the 70's and 80's Bridal Wreath only is no longer!), beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds and they are deer resistant! Check HERE for our nursery catalog for Spirea choices at Skillin's.

Tuesday, May 15: Companion Planting for Corn

Most people's vegetable gardens will be taking shape over the next few weeks. Many of us do not have a lot of space to work with. In fact, I use containers for most of my vegetable gardening. But we will get to that later! For those gardeners with some space corn is often a popular choice to plant. It is such a traditional plant. I mean who does not like corn--it goes back to the Pilgrims! Corn takes up space; here are some very popular vegetables that can be planted closely with the corn as a companion: Potatoes (although I am a little hesitant with this one!), peas, beans, cukes, melons, pumpkins and squash. Do not plant tomatoes with corn. They are tall, just like corn and will compete!

Sunday, May 13: Stop and Smell  the Lilacs!

I was out getting some very early morning exercise before heading to work. And I ambled by a great hedge of lilacs in bloom. What a wonderful scent of lilacs I had in those early morning moments. So, today, tomorrow or sometime this week whether in your yard, or a friend's space or a park, or on a dare--take time to stop and smell the lilacs. Their fragrance is second to none--so pleasing, such depth. Take the time!

Thursday, May 10: NOW to Prune Forsythia!

Back on May 4 I mentioned Forsythia as a great shrub choice. (See below). Well, in Skillin's Country the bright yellow flowers are fading but being replaced by the green leaves we will have for many months. When to prune a forsythia? NOW is a great time to prune your forsythia aggressively. The goal should be to reshape your forsythia so that the shrub stays "full" and even more compact if you want. The plant will grow back well so prune about 12" below where you would like the bush to be next Spring. NOW is a great time so you can get a better handle on shaping the bush. And if you prune too late in the year it will be too late for growth to "grow back" and that would mean less flowers next Spring. Nobody wants that!

Wednesday, May 9: Planting Leeks

I was speaking to a vegetable gardening customer the other day and he mentioned how much he and his family love leeks--cooked in all kinds of ways too. And he emphasized how easy leeks are to grow. I needed to research this--I will be honest I have not grown leeks. I can tell you they are quietly one of our better sellers. Leeks have a mild onion type flavor but they are not grown as bulbs. You harvest their stems. The longer the white portion of the leek stem, the greater yield you have! The best way to grow those long stems is to transplant seedlings (yes we have seedlings at Skillin's) into a 12" trench so that their initial growth occurs under ground. Fill the first 6" in with a compost (and a generous portion of all natural Garden Tone fertilizer by Espoma). Plant the leek transplants in the compost mix about 6" apart. As they grow, pull extra soil from the sides to fill in the trench, keeping the tip of the growing stem always above the soil level. Always include a little Garden Tone in with the soil that you pull back in. Leeks are very productive: you are sure to get great yields!

Leeks Growing in Trenches

Tuesday, May 8: Rain is Here to Stay for a Day (or 2 or 3)

Well, the weekend and Monday WAS gorgeous in Skillin's Country. Today, Tuesday has been a "soaker". This plentiful rain will save us from having to be concerned with watering any new plantings for a few days especially when Wednesday and Thursday rains are factored in. I don't like this weather but many gardeners I spoke to today were glad to see the rain for their gardens. I can see their point (to a point!). This soaking rain takes the sun away and costs Skillin's some business in the short run but in the long run, more patient people than I know that healthy rains like this benefit us, our gardens and the water supply hugely. Still, I won't be disappointed if "Mr. Sun" intrudes on this grubby gray and cold weather in the next day or two!

 Monday, May 7: Rhododendrons are Hungry!

Looking around at my yard and my 5 or 6 rhododendrons reminds me that they are hungry. I have fed my perennials and much of my foundation plantings. With my work schedule my rhododendrons have had to wait and that is not fair to those guys. I am a big believer in feeding them twice per year with Hollytone by Espoma. Hollytone gives them a great balance of natural nutrients. My rhodys are covered with buds (and that is a good sign) but their color is not a real rich green. Early one of these upcoming mornings, I need to give my rhodys that spring feeding of several cupfuls around the base of the plant. That will help their color in the short term and give them more health to fight off pests and diseases in the future. Oh and one more thing: Most rhodys are covered with flower buds right now. DO NOT PRUNE THEM for shape right now! Wait until just after they flower!

Friday, May 4: Bang for the Buck: Forsythia!

Here in Skillin's Country, the bright yellows of the forsythia are finally on the wane after many weeks. Every April and early May I am annually astounded at how long the colors last on forsythia. The yellow is so warm, so radiant, such a bright beacon for the beginning of the season. Forsythia are easily planted, they are very hardy and reliable and they provide warm, green foliage for the balance of the growing season. The grow quickly and if you give them a haircut pruning right after they flower, then they will stay nice and full and be a great screen or border plant for privacy as well.  This plant definitely gives us great "Bang for the Buck" with its long blossom period and reliability.

Forsythia--The Color Can't Be Beat! Many Other Great Attributes as Well!

Thursday, May 3: Pansies and Violas are GREAT for This Time of Year!

Pansies and Violas make excellent colorful plantings for right now. I plant a nice bed of pansies in front of my rock wall at the front of my house. They provide nice color for the months of April, May and June. By late June or early July a nice canopy of shade trees changes this to a much more shaded area which makes it a great spot to plant impatiens that show awesome color for the balance of the season. For just a few dollars I give this high profile area a couple of different looks for the season!

Pansies I Planted in Front of Rock Wall. (I didn't judge the light exposure well BUT these pansies show up very well from the nearby road. Impatiens will be planted here within 2 months--also bright and cheery)

Your choice of a "later annual" does not have to be impatiens. There are so many choices. Pansies can be kept going through the season but it is tough for them to look good during the heat of summer.

Wednesday, May 2: The Finches and other Birds are Feeding!!

I have several Squirrel Buster feeders set up around my yard. These feeders are terrific. But I am noticing that much more food is being eaten. I am not home too much these days but when I am I do notice that my feeders are constantly covered in the bright yellow of the gold finch. This is great! The Finches and other birds are feeding steadily! So keep those feeders full and your birds will stay loyal. Like us, they have habits too! And, yes, I do feed in the summer. I love to watch my birds whenever I can! We have some great quality foods here at Skillin's that will soon win over many a feathered friend! I use mostly sunflower and add some nyjer (thistle) every time I fill the feeder.

The Gold Finches are Feeding--Keep Them at Your Feeder with Quality Food

Tuesday, May 1: Keep Those Lawns Tall!!

Traveling around Skillin's Country I am noticing that mowing season has begun. And what nice neat short cut lawns I am seeing! This is not the best care for one's lawn! One of the keys to keeping your lawn naturally green AND to naturally fight weeds (most weeds are sun lovers) is to keep your lawn tall. This keeps your lawn roots cooler (lawn roots like that!) and "canopies" or covers prospective lawn weeds and keeps them from prospering. As a general rule of thumb, lawns should be cut to no lower than 2.75" or 3" tall. Now I don't bring my tape measure out to the lawn. (I would lose the tape measure and Mrs. Skillin would not approve!). So in Spring and fall I keep my mower set at the second highest stage and in the warmer summers I put the mower at the highest it can mow. Visually the tall cut takes a little getting used to--but the sight of a greener, more consistent and fuller lawn soon will win you over!

Click HERE for Skillin's Lawn Program for a good year round guide on how YOU can grow a good lawn!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


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.
Recently Paul sent out a great post about growint tomatoes. He brings us some great pointers:

"The tomato is America's favorite plant in the vegetable garden. The reason it is the favorite is flavor! A tomato fresh picked from the garden or purchased from a local farm stand stands out among any tomatoes purchased at the supermarket. The difference in taste, freshness and ripened-on-the vine-flavor cannot be imitated on the truck traveling here on the way from Florida or even Mexico. Other vegetables do also taste different when picked fresh but no others taste as different as the tomato. Today, garden fresh tomatoes come in all shapes, colors, sizes and flavors. Tomatoes are so versatile you can eat them at any meal--cold or hot, they bring flavor to everything we eat from sauces and soups, to salads and even condiments.

When you plant tomatoes, select a location with full sun all day long! Soil quality will determine your success with this vegetable, and the more organic material you mix into the soil the better the plant will grow. Chicken manure is better than cow manure, compost is better than peat moss, and a well-drained soil is better than a clay type soil. The plant will grow anywhere but the results will be the difference. Soils should be near neutral so if moss is growing in the lawn near the garden, lime the soil every spring or use Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal to improve the acidity problem. To check soil acidity, try the new "Soil Stick" from Plumstone Home and Garden Products available at your local Garden Center. Acid soil will cause a black spot called "Blossom End Rot" on the bottom of the fruit, so keep the soil limed and treat the soil--especially in planters--with an organic product developed for the tomato industry in Florida, called "Tomato Maker" that is available at your local garden center. Use it at the time you plant or add it around the plant now.

Now for the real tough part when planting tomatoes--SPACING! The biggest problem gardeners have is trying to grow too many tomatoes in their garden. Tomatoes will grow better, ripen earlier, and have fewer disease and insect problems if spaced properly. The proper spacing is 3 feet by 3 feet in the garden, no closer. If the sun can hit the entire plant, it will grow better and the fruit will ripen sooner. If the air can circulate around the tomato plant better, you will reduce disease and insect problems. Plant fewer tomato plants and get MORE tomatoes from those plants!

 Most important is not to plant in the same area you planted last year and remove any volunteers that develop in the garden, as those plants could be infected with disease from last year and create a problem again this year for you. Also NEVER water the garden at night or late in the day--and try to avoid using overhead sprinklers.
One last tip for you, add a fertilizer that contains Mycorrhizae Fungi (we recommend Tomato or Garden Tone by Espoma or Tomato Maker--all sold right here at Skillin's). when planting this spring. This new technology in gardening will help to develop plants that will out-produce anything you ever had before. The plants will require less fertilizer and water, and will also have fewer disease problems. "

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 30, 2012

A Primer on Peonies

Hello again,

Great gardener Margaret of A Way to Garden brings a great post to her web site called "When the Normally Tough Peony Fails to Blossom". Margaret is a great writer with obvious great gardening experience. She quickly and clearly cites some great peony growing fundamentals which apply very well to our beloved peony plants in our own gardens in Skillin's Country.

If you are growing peonies I highly recommend this post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 30, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quck Gardening Hits for late May 2012!

Hello again,

KCB who can always be described as "out there" (and by that I mean doing much gardening as the owner of Finishing Touches Landscaping Co.) has sent some information for what she is seeing these past few days as she works in many quality gardens in Skillin's Country. There are some great garden tips here!

“ And they're off……” not just for the start of a  horse race any longer. My mind exclaims this phrase as I visit my favorite Family Owned gardening centers this season. People no longer wait until Memorial Day to start the event but celebrate all week with frequent shopping sprees. Now that all is purchased follow this tried and proven hints to assist in your efforts.

·         To avoid leggy plants in the fall, shear back now:

o   Autumn Joy and taller Sedums-cut completely back to about 3 inches. Repeat again before 4th of July. In fact this can be done earlier in May which may result in 3 cut backs/before the 4th!

o   New England Aster- follow the 3 before the 4th rule.

o   Salvias-all tall varieties-My favorite, the Caradonna, offers dark purple stems. Even the seed heads are attractive.  Cut back to next bud for blooming to frost.

o   Veronica-Speedwell Tall Varieties such as Veronica. Also avoid staking using this trick.

o   Garden Phlox- Cut back to about ½ when about 8-12 inches. Cut back at different times to create different heights and bloom times.

o   Nepeta (Catmint) - Shear back to about 3 inches for a more compact growth. If your garden sports several pockets of this prolific perennial, shear back at different times for scattered blooming.  Another hint, shear back the inside of the plant when blooms become spent, then when new growth/blooms appear, shear along the outside. This way you don’t miss the punches of purple while waiting for new growth.  This also works for tickseed coreopsis.

·         Planting Containers:  If using a planting mix vs. potting soil, moisten the dried mixture before filling containers 2/3rds full. Place plants in container then use the dry mixture to fill in the gaps and as top dressing. Water in.  I have found this causes less stress on the soon to be installed plants. Additionally, I check the moisture of my potted plant. If dry to touch, water before removing from pot.  Don’t forget to gently spread the roots.  Top dress with worm castings. Believe me. You will be the envy of your neighbors with such glowing containers.  Unless, they too read the Skillin’s newsletters.

·         What to do with all the empty bags of organic planting mixes & compost?  Remember scraping the bowl of a cake mix or pudding desert after the task was done? I feel the same way about the residual in these bags. I hate wasting a drop of ‘Coast of Maine Penobscot Blend’ or ‘Little River’ compost.  Add a little water to the bag. Grab the top of the bag and ‘shake, shake, shake’…. Use to water in the newly installed plant.  Repeat with the nearly empty bag of Worm Castings.  I let this set for about 24 hours and use as a compost worm tea.

·         Do not forget to water newly installed plants.  Trees and woodies are especially venerable and need tending the first season until established.  Even those sporting a ‘drought tolerant’ tag!

o   Slow & Deep is the key.

o   ¼ inch per half to one hour twice a week. Less often during rainy periods, more often during the dry heat.

§  Drip hoses work best.

§  Do not wrap directly around trunk or base of plants.

·         Think ‘drip line’ which is the canopy of the tree, shrub or plant. This is where you will find the root endings.

Happy Memorial Day.  God Bless America!

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

May 24, 2012

May (Late May) Garden Talks

Hello again,

Late May is here.  What a difference a year makes! I was just reviewing what I wrote last year (2011) and it was all about the cold and wet and how to garden through it! We have had some wet weather this May but the weather has seemed much more typical for May after such a wonderful March and April. We are all "revved up" about gardening!

Our late May tips this year still make references to gardening with wet weather effects. This is some repetition from last year but with the knowledge that wet weather is often a huge factor in the Spring here in Skillin's Country.

*With the exception of our vine crops like cukes, squashes, zucchini and pumpkins; tender flowers like morning glory and nasturtiums as well as basil I say if you want to, go ahead and plant! Just keep an eye on night time temperatures and be wary of high winds that could "burn" greenhouse grown plants. But the forecast over the next few days looks good!

*Cool and wet weather can bring fungus and mildews  to many plants. Use all natural Serenade to protect your plants against many diseases! For further precaution in this potentially plant stressful time, make sure your soil is well packed with organic matter (we sell terrific composts here) and that your plants get a good dose of some all natural fertilizer included with their planting. Use Garden Tone or Plant Tone for your garden plants and Flower Tone or Plant Tone for your flowering plants. The microbial bacteria in these fertilizers will really help the roots of these young plants to develop well and anchor your plants through tough climate times.

*ALSO, give many of your flowering plants a little top pinch as you plant them. Yes, flowering will be postponed for a week or so, BUT you will get more shoots (yes this means more flowers) and this top or terminal pinching will give your roots a little extra boost!

*Click HERE for more tips about what to do with your garden after we get rain!

**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 has many great gardening points for May. I will list just a few of his tips; I highly recommend checking out the entire list of great May gardening tips and here they are.

*This is the time to spread limestone or wood ash around your clematis vines. (We sell great little packages of Magi Cal by Jonathan Green to spread around your clematis vine--as well as other plants like lilacs).

*Peonies are now growing quickly with the heat, and it's now time to place the cages around the plant before the flowers form.

*Your blue hydrangeas need to be fertilized with Holly Tone fertilizer now to keep them a nice hue of blue. (If the flowers have been just a dull blue then also apply all natural Garden Sulfur--sold right here at Skillin's!)

*If you have roses, feed them now (I love to use all natural Rose Tone or Flower Tone by Espoma for this task--or Fish and Seaweed food by Neptune's Harvest for a quicker application of food) and be sure to remove any dead or broken branches on the plant. Check for suckers growing on the plant, as this growth will rob the plant of energy needed to make flowers. Most roses are grafted and the graft looks like your fist, a swollen area at the ground area on the plant. Any growth above the graft will make flowers, anything below is a sucker and will never flower, just rob your plant. This growth will also grow very fast and tall with no side shoots; remove it whenever you see one on your plants.

*Spring-flowering bulbs must be fertilized now if you want flowers next year. (For a faster fertilizer application use Fish and Seaweed Food by Neptune's Harvest for your bulbs right now. The all natural fertilizer will greatly help the cells of your bulb become healthier and your bulb to become bigger--all the more flowers for you next year!) You also must remove the faded flower on the plants, or the plant will use its energy to make seed and not flower buds.

*Now is also the best time to prune back any non-flowering shrub in your yard before the new growth really gets going. All evergreen like yews, arborvitae, juniper, spruce, pines, hemlock, ilex, boxwood, and hollies are best pruned now to control height and size of the plant.

Thanks Paul for these great gardening tips and again check out all his May Garden Tips HERE!

Now more gardening tips:

*Sow bean seeds every two to three weeks for some great succession planting in your garden. Same goes for beets, radishes and even peas!

*Cut your asparagus often for better yield!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 24, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

How to Make a Raised Garden Bed in Six Easy Steps

Hello again,

Gardeners everywhere are opting to learn how to make a raised garden bed over the traditional garden as they begin to realize the great potential for this type of gardening.

If you know how to make a raised garden bed, you know that it is typically a framed or contained garden and it offers more control over the quality of garden soil and moisture, provides greater accessibility to crops, and is easily maintained from year to year with only a new layer of nutrients applied at the beginning of your growing season.

For many reasons, raised beds are considered better environments to grow more vegetables. Raised beds are typically easier to weed, water and fertilize. Raised beds help better define limited space in small yards. There is literally less bending over and much better control over soil quality. Finally the soil heats up faster--always a factor in Skillin's Country!

The folks at offer terrific advice and give 6 easy steps on how to make a raised garden bed. Click HERE to read the entire post!

Thanks to the folks at Raised Garden Beds!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 7, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Preparing the Garden for May!

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.
This week Paul sent out a very timely newsletter that included 7 things we can all do to Prepare the Garden for May. Paul is quoted after this (and I interject a few comments in italics).

"It's May, so keep your eyes open; enjoy the garden but watch out for possible problems. Think prevention this spring; ask questions--NOW--about the problems you had last year before they possibly return. If you're planting something new--and you should--ask about the plant you selected and how to care for it. Things happen fast in your garden, some good and some not so good. Stay on top of things, enjoy the ride, and don't be scared to ask for help. Remember NO gardening question is DUMB! (We LOVE gardening questions at Skillin's!)

#1 This week, I want you to get out the peony cages and get them in place to prevent possible damage, as the flowers develop they will be large and heavy. A good rain and wind could destroy all your hard work and shorten your enjoyment. If you're purchasing your first peony plants, invest in the inexpensive wire hoops to help hold up the flowers; it will be money well spent. When the peonies finish flowering, move the cages to the delphiniums and when the delphiniums are finished, use them on your fall mums or asters. (Yes, the cages can be used on multiple plants through out the season. They ARE inexpensive and we have plenty here at Skillin's!)

Always plant peonies shallow, because they will not flower if you do not. Dig in the soil near the stem of the plant with your finger. You should be able to feel the crown of the plant in the ground at a depth of one knuckle of your finger--anything deeper means no flower. Next, if your flower buds form and turn black and dry up there are two possibilities for this problem. If just the buds dry up, you need the common ant in your garden to eat the soft waxy film that grows on the bud to protect it against the dry wind and sun. As the ants eat the waxy film, the bud expands and grows larger--eventually flowering. To get ants on the flower bud, take a tablespoon of grape jelly, cover the buds with it, and then dump the rest on the ground around the plant. The smell of the grape jelly will draw them to your plant; they will clean the buds for you and flowers will form. Keep all insecticides away from the plant during this process so as not to hurt the ants. If the bud and the first leaf turn black, you have a disease that has hit the plant. Use a good fungicide like copper or Serenade Organic Fungicide as soon as you notice the buds forming on the plant.

#2 Sunday, I started to notices small tents of webbing in the trees, a sure sign that the tent caterpillars are arriving now. If you are able to break the netting with your garden hose water pressure or a long pole, the caterpillars will have nowhere to hide during wet weather and will all die when they get wet and cold. If that does not work, use the new natural insecticide called Spinosad from Fertilome or Captain Jack from Bonide. It will do the trick and will quickly kill them without hurting beneficial insects or the birds; it's also great for all caterpillar insects--even in the vegetable garden. Again. It's all natural and a disease of caterpillar type insects like the old B.T. product--but much more effective, especially on the larger and more mature caterpillars.

#3 Daylilies and hostas are beginning to grow now, and this is a great time to dig them up and divide the large clumps into smaller clumps. If you do it now, it will not affect the flower production of the plant for the summer months, and the new clumps will double their size by the end of the summer. Be sure to plant them at the same depth they were before you dug them and condition the soil with compost or animal manure before planting them in their new home. When you divide perennials or move plants around the garden in the spring, use a new fertilizer called "Thrive." I have been talking about this product with Mycorrhizae in it for the past couple of years. Your root system will double in size in just a month, transplant shock will be little to none and the new roots the plant develops will be incredible, helping your plants quickly get established before the heat of summer arrives. This is new technology at its best, and you will have more flowers on young plants when it's used at the time of planting because of the faster growing root system. (We offer Thrive at Skillin's--great product!) The "Tones" like Plant Tone or Flower Tone by Espoma also contain some beneficial bacteria that enhances root growth.

#4 If you have ornamental grasses it is now time to cut them back to 12 inches from the ground. By removing the old dead growth from last season now, you will encourage the new foliage to develop faster and the new growth will look much nicer with the old growth removed. If the clump of ornamental grass has grown large, this is also the best time of the year to dig it up and divide it into smaller clumps. Dig up the entire clump and get as many roots as possible, shake off as much soil as possible so you can see the roots and then split the clump with a garden spade or hatchet. What you want is a clump about 4 to 6 inches in diameter; the splitting is best done when the clump is laid on its side so you can divide easily with lots of roots. Condition the soil with compost and manure before planting and keep the new plans moist until you start to see the new grass develop. (I agree with the compost thought but also just like in #3, this is a great opportunity to use Thrive, or one of the Tones!)

#5 Hydrangeas can be pruned at this time if the plant has begun to make new growth. (I only prune the dead growth from the blue hydrangea). If your plant grew tall and fell over last summer, you can cut back the individual stems back by as much as 1/3 to 1/2, as long as there are new buds below the cut you will be making. I always leave 3 to 4 sets of buds on each stem to insure flowers for the summer months. All dead stems should be removed and the plant should also be fertilized with Plant-Tone fertilizer for a wonderful 3 to 4 month slow feeding. Your blue hydrangea should also be fertilized with Holly Tone that will improve the color of the flowers and keep them nice and blue during the summer. For pink hydrangeas, be sure to add limestone, wood ash or Fast-Acting Lime to keep the color pink or the acidity in the soil will change the plant color to blue. Add 3 inches of mulch around the plant to hold moisture during summer heat.

#6 Broadleaf weeds are in their glory right now--and no matter how well-kept your lawn the dandelions (these are the king of lawn weeds) will pop up. If you're using a combination fertilizer and broadleaf weed killer, be sure the grass is wet before applying it to the lawn so the product can stick to the foliage and do a better job. Also, be sure that your lawn sprinkler is off and no rain is predicted for at least 24 hours after you apply the product to give the week killer time to move into the plant and destroy it. If you just planted grass seed, this cannot be done until the fall or the weed killer will hurt the new sprouting grass plants. Liquid broadleaf weed killers like Weed Beater Ultra from Bonide can also be applied at this time, but be careful when applying near ground covers. Only apply when the weather is calm and--like the powder type-- when there will be no rain for 24 plus hours. Tough weeds like violets, creeping Charlie and ajuga will need a second application of Weed Beater Ultra in 7 days to destroy these strong weeds completely. (I am bigger advocate of the Weed Beater Ultra than the traditional Weed and Feed products).

#7 Bring out the birdbath and give it a good wash before you fill it up with water. As the birds arrive to your yard, they will appreciate a good drink and wash in their summer home--your yard. Keep the feeders filled with fresh seed and the suet feeder also. If you have a birdhouse, be sure to clean it out to keep the new tenants healthy and problem free. If you have young children, have them cut up some old yarn into 12-inch long pieces and scatter them on the ground near the feeders and birdbath to help the birds make a better nest. Also, bring out the patio furniture so you can enjoy your yard, sit back, and relax for a moment as the yard begins to take shape. It's never too early to start the grill and enjoy a hot dog or burger after a hard day's work in the yard and garden. The winter is over, so enjoy your yard and garden."

Check out Early May Garden Talks for even more gardening tips for this time of year!

Thanks very much Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 5, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May (Early May) Garden Talks

Hello again,

Well April has come to a close. It has mostly been a month of glorious weather! In fact by mid month we had record temperatures and dry soil! Since then we have received some quality rain and the nights have turned cool.

Some of the northern and outlying areas of Skillin's Country have been hit by some frost. Most plants should be fine. Even most magnolias have come through okay--although some saucer magnolias that have had "wide open" flower blossoms are showing some brown effects. Pansies will still thrive as well as perennials.

The cold wind may have scarred some of the young lettuces, broccolis and other cold crops. Wind protection is something we always need to be ready for!

If anyone has planted tender annuals then this past cold weather and windy days has just reinforced the fact that you can plant but you need to be ready with the frost blankets or sheets to keep frost particles and drying winds away from these plants. You can plant but reinforce your plants with some quality natural foods and BE READY to protect!

*These past few weeks have been a good time to get Crabgrass Preventer onto our grassy areas to help keep crabgrass under control. Crabgrass Preventers come in a few forms--with either timed chemicals (for safer and more effective applications than older style chemicals) OR you can use all natural corn gluten (most effective if applied now in the Spring and then in the early fall (really around Labor Day or by mid September).

Crabgrass preventers are granular. They are spread on the lawn and once they become moist will spread a skin or cover over the soil. This cover prevents seed from germinating. Crabgrass is an annual weed that spreads millions of seeds over your existing lawn. The seed is cast in the fall once the crabgrass plants tassel and the seed heads burst. The seeds sprout--some in the fall--and the remainder once the ground starts to warm up in the Spring. So if the crabgrass preventer is put down just when the weather is more consistently warm the timing is often right to discourage much of the seed in the Spring from germinating.

We carry all types of crabgrass preventers at Skillin's--including a newer type that will allow you to put grass seed down and have it germinate despite the presence of the crabgrass preventer. But corn gluten should not be put down if you have put grass seed down on thin areas because the cover it produces will inhibit the grass seed from germinating.

The traditional deadline for applying crabgrass preventers is before the forsythia blossoms drop and we still have about a few days before that time really hits.

*Speaking of forsythia, Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club reminds us that the best time to prune forsythia is just when it is reaching the end of it's flowering. Prune the branches at different lengths to better give the plant a natual more undefined look.

The Time is Soon to best Prune Your Forysthia

Pruning at the end of flowering will encourage much more growth during the coming year. This abundant new growth will be the branches that give us next year's flowers. So....a good pruning at the end of flowering this year means more flowers next year!

If you have not done so, now is a good time to spread some nice natural fertilizer around your forsythia. I would recommend Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Flower Tone by Espoma for the job.

Click HERE for much more information about care for forsythias--they are just an awesome shrub!

*Here is  a "primer" on lime for the lawn and garden:

We much prefer the calcium based limes like  Fast Acting Lime by Encap.

Liming can be done anytime. I apply lime about every other year on my lawn and my garden. But a soil test is a good thing to do periodically. We do sell soil test kits here that work well in measuring pH.

Do not lime around evergreens but do around most deciduous shrubs like lilacs and your perennials.

Our soil will best and most efficiently use the nutrients we provide through our fertilizers with a neutral pH of 7.0 or just below, that is why lime is so often recommended. Plus our soils are often found deficient in calcium and other important minerals that a calcium based lime provides.

Want more easy to follow and effective lawn tips? Go to Lawn Care Program from Skillin's! to see how achievable a good lawn can be for us "average Joes" (although all the Joes I know are way above average)! You CAN grow a nice lawn without a huge investment of time and labor!

**Margaret from A Way to Garden has some good garden pointers for early May:

*Now is a great time to get seed potatoes in the ground!

We Have Seed Potatoes and It is Time to Plant Them! Let us Show You How!

*Once the perennial beds are cleaned up, top dress with a good natural fertilizer like Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Flower Tone by Espoma. Both are great organic fertilizers that will work to improve the soil. Once that is done then apply a layer of a good compost as a mulch around your perennials. I use Fundy Blend by Coast of Maine but there are other good choices as well. If you have a large area to cover it may make sense to purchase some of our organic bulk compost from Skillin's.

Thanks Margaret!!

Also do not "stress" about this job (or any task for your garden). This process of top dressing with a good natural fertilizer and then a layer of compost is a great practice but can certainly done by small areas over a number of weeks if that is what your schedule and body joints permit!

*Speaking of feeding, your trees and shrubs are STARVING for nutrients right now. Rhodys in particular are not a rich green in many cases. Get the Holly Tone by Espoma on the Rhodys! Fruit trees should be on your list too. I recommend using a good garden fertilizer like Pro Gro by North Country Organics or Garden Tone by Espoma for the fruit trees. Take a stake and pound a hole about every 6 feet around the drip line of the tree. Then fill the hole with the fertilizer I just mentioned. Do this now and again in late summer or early fall. Consistent (twice per year) organic feeding around your trees and shrubs will provide a slow but steady source of nutrients for when the plant needs them and will go a long way to improving your garden soil NATURALLY!

This week is a great time to sow carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce and dill directly into the garden. You can do this even if you already have some of these crops already started in your garden. A second sowing is a great way to extend your harvest--as are 3rd, 4th, 5th sowings as the season progresses. Skillin's Plug: We have a GREAT selection of lettuce and other greens as seedlings. They are the perfect size to plant and you will be able to harvest the leaf lettuces, mesclun mix and arugula seedlings that we have within the next few days! When I plant seeds or seedlings I always put a little bit of all natural Garden Tone by Espoma into the soil to help the roots grow a little faster and stronger!

Now is the time in many cases to deadhead Spring Flower Bulbs as blooms fade, but do leave the foliage intact to wither for awhile. Right now your bulbs underground are drawing nutrients from the foliage above ground. Let that happen for bigger bulbs next year! Again your bulbs are hungry and are looking to grow. Now is a good time to help them by poking a few holes around the bulb and pouring down some Bulb Tone or Plant Tone by Espoma. Or give the foliage a liquid feed of all natural Fish and Seaweed Food by Neptune's Harvest. Next Spring you will be glad you did!
The grass is growing green! Remember don't bag or rake your leaf clippings! Let them lie on your lawn; this is a "green" and effective way to return valuable nitrogen to your soil. Also mow your lawn a little taller than you have in the past. A "clean shaven" and short lawn gives more light and air to weeds in the lawn. Conversely a taller lawn "shades" or "canopies" potential weeds and this helps to naturally keep the weed population down.
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
May 1, 2012