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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the spirea info. I have a huge bush in my backyard that I call "Sideshow Bob" because it reminds me of that Simpson's character's hair. Pretty sure this is it.

Karen Chapman said...

Thank you so much for referencing my article on Spirea - I'm so glad you found it helpful. They are my new favorite shrubs for color, easy care and deer resistance!