Monthly Archives

August 2019

On relaxed campsite landscaping

By | Landscaping, Plants | No Comments

I recently took my kids to Adams lake north of Chase, British Columbia. There they got to swim, ride in a motorboat and stay in a camper for the first time. And Daddy got a few days of rest which is critical for landscape professionals.

 

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Adams lake, British Columbia.

 

At the lake front is a collection of campers parked on leased lots. This makes everything safer and more fun. One feature of the community that delighted the kid’s mother was a nearby community washroom and shower building.

Of course, I didn’t stress about my kids showering because they swam in the clear lake every day. I also believe in not scrubbing away protective skin oils daily, unlike my wife, who is an expert on bacterial soaps.

All this leads us to the building mentioned above and its landscaping.

 

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What do you notice about the landscaping?

This bed is as relaxed as the setting. Just shooting the picture wasn’t relaxing because this was the women’s side and I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by taking too many pictures.

The plants look natural. They aren’t sheared into tight shapes they way their cousins are on strata title properties. It’s refreshing to see plants left to grow.

Also note that nobody is stressing about weeding. There are all sorts of wild grasses and weeds in this bed and nobody cares. It fits nicely into its natural setting.

The dwarf spruce and native Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) give us height; and there are small Hostas enjoying shade created by Euonymus alatus.

 

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Euonymus alatus

 

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Alchemilla

 

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Hosta

 

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Native Pacific ninebark

 

It was nice to spend Canada Day weekend with family at a lake and provide my kids with new experiences. But I also enjoyed seeing the relaxed landscaping which perfectly matched the relaxed setting. The plants were allowed to grow and look natural. It was nice to see.

How ISA certified arborists make extra cash

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

I’ve always argued that all landscape professionals should be ISA certified arborists. It allows them to stay busy in winter with tree pruning and it also introduces more variety to their work days. They can also charge arborist rates which are higher than landscape rates.

And the best part? Extra income. Allow me to illustrate with one of my recent experiences. After reading this blog post, you might be tempted to get ISA certified. If that’s the case, contact me and I’ll help you prepare.

Tree babysitter

A friend referred me to a tank removal company. It turns out that municipalities require ISA certified arborists to be on site during excavations where trees are present. In this case there was only one tree which could potentially suffer damage, a giant Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

With DBH at 24 inches, the critical root zone extends 3.6 m away from the trunk. In this case, 3.6 m reached to the edge of a cement car port. The tank was buried under the car port but the mini-excavator worked on the lawn side, at drip-line.

Excavation Amigo

It was almost surreal getting paid to watch two young Mexicans jackhammer cement. The excavator did the rest. After a few hours the young dudes wondered what I was doing there, standing with a hard hat on, watching. Once I explained I was there to make sure nothing happened to the tree behind them, they wanted my job. Of course they did. It was a good gig with a good mission.

Other than watching the excavation, I also had to pick up the city permits in person and write two letters. The first letter lets the city know that a great ISA certified arborist will be on site to monitor the tree; and the final report shows that, in my professional opinion, there was zero impact on the tree.

 

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The tank awaiting excavation. No structural roots were encountered at dripline.

 

Let’s recap: The critical root zone (3.6m from the trunk based on DBH of 24″) was never touched by the workers or machines. Remember, soil compaction silently kills trees; the first pass with an excavator does the most damage. This was news to the company owner.

When you compact a tree’s critical root zone you make it hard for fine surficial roots to collect water and nutrients. It might take several years for the tree to start declining.

Since all of the excavation took place at the edge of the dripline there was no damage. The tree obviously did well with the cement car port in place for many years. Any compaction would be on the lawn beyond the dripline.

I was extremely happy with my first tree babysitting gig. It was a good experience, both professionally and financially. And I’m confident the Douglas fir will easily outlive me.

Get ISA certified and reap the benefits!!

 

How to have fun with the X-Mark 30 walk behind mower

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

How do you cut a flat strata site with several long open lawn sections and some tighter spots? You use X-Mark’s 30 walk behind mower. Standard 21′ mower would be fine but it would require extra passes; and a big ride-on mower can’t access many of the tight spots.

I don’t often get to use the X-Mark 30 walk behind because, as a landscape supervisor, I usually move around different crews; and we often leave mowing to the newer workers.

But once in a while people go missing, especially during the summer months. There are weddings to attend and camp sites to populate. Then I get to help out and everything starts with lawn care.

Why X-Mark 30?

  1. Obviously, the larger deck means you have to make fewer passes which reduces user fatigue. As a landscape professional I’m used to fatigue but new guys get spooked by their own sweat. Fewer passes is a dream for them. It was so much fun cutting long straight stretches of lawn, it inspired this blog post.
  2. Because the mower is bigger, it takes some getting used to. It’s self-propelled and feels like a tank. It will crush any garden gnome that gets in the way.
  3. One drawback is that you will need help to load this beast on and off your truck, unless you have a ramp.
  4. The gas tank is huge so you can cover a huge area before re-fuelling.
  5. One cool feature is that the front wheels get adjusted separately: just lift the pin and the wheel pops out so you can insert it into whatever height you desire, quickly.

 

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Making fewer passes on long straight lawns is a bonus.

 

X-mark tech notes

You can read X-Mark’s notes on their website if you like. All I want you to know from this blog post is that the X-Mark 30 walk behind is surprisingly fun to use. If you have long straight stretches of lawn definitely try this beast.

 

 

 

 

 

Mistakes homeowners make

By | gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

This is yet another blog post inspired by a question posted on Quora.com. As a landscaper, what do you think are common mistakes homeowners make?

There are some mistakes that repeat so let’s take a look at my list.

 

A. Poor watering

People are busy so they take out their garden hose and spray their plants for a few minutes. Unfortunately, some plants, trees especially, require slow soaking which takes more time and attention.

 

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New plantings require slow soaking.

 

Before you water your garden beds, stick your finger in your soil to see how much moisture is in there.

Hanging baskets require heavy soaking. I learned this when I worked at the City of Coquitlam. I had to soak every hanging basket until the water was gushing out on the bottom. It seems crazy but if you have hanging baskets, water them really well. Don’t just spray them.

My boss’s wife dumped her hanging baskets last week because they dried out. I told her to soak next year’s baskets like hell and now, slightly upset, I fear she will start making mistakes on my paycheques.

 

B. Reaching for chemicals

Homeowners are quick to reach for chemicals to solve problems in their gardens. Yes, I know, your local big box store is selling it so it can’t be bad. Right? Don’t do it. Search for better solutions, don’t introduce synthetic chemicals to your garden.

I know people who dump Killex on their lawn weeds every year. Then their kids go out to use the trampoline. I tried to cover the weeds by fertilizing their lawns really well. It didn’t matter. Killex it was.

Incidentally, I object to the cover photo. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are awesome and edible. I frequently drink dandelion root tea. If you hate dandelions, dig them up manually.

 

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Just attach your hose and push the lever to on. Red Seal Vas does NOT recommend this.

 

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Are you sure you want this on your home lawn?

 

C. Client vs customer

Nobody enjoys getting ripped off but, please, get to know your landscape professional and keep him for years. That’s how you become a client and landscapers love clients. Why? Because we can educate clients while we solve their landscape problems. It becomes a good relationship.

I run from customers. Earlier this year, I was referred to a man with pressing landscape problems so I went to see him. His first question was how much? It seems logical to ask about rates but I already know this dude will be a headache.

His mugo pines (Pinus mugo) were covering over half of the public sidewalk and he was afraid of getting fined by the city. I would be more afraid of ladies in motorized wheelchairs raising their middle fingers.

I did the pruning by hand, got paid and left. I hope I never hear from him again.

Now, back to my own mistakes.

Enjoy your summer.

 

Never tolerate death in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

Some months ago I spent a very satisfying morning at one site removing dead plants.  I say satisfying because I hate seeing dead plants on any site. It always looks like the landscapers don’t care.

We removed so much dead plant material, it loaded up our truck. That’s how bad it was; and how long overdue it was.

Two special cases

There are two special cases where removing dead plant material can’t be done. One is where the strata council decides against it for whatever reason. Since they’re the people paying you for your services, all you can do is suggest courses of action.

Two, the site plants may still be under warranty if the site is still new and the strata council hasn’t taken over the site from the developers. You might get to catalogue the dead specimens and hope the developers replant them. It’s usually a bitter fight so don’t make it worse by removing dead plant material. Just wait until everything gets resolved.

Why?

It’s not always possible to find out why some plants died but you should try. With our West Coast summers getting hotter some plants are doing worse than others. For example, Western Red Cedars are suffering.

Sometimes it’s poor installation or malfunctioning irrigation system.

 

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This Rhododendron was smothered by landscape fabric and river rock. Fabric plugs up and doesn’t allow water to penetrate to the root zone.

 

Assuming the plants didn’t die because of your poor maintenance, this is a great opportunity to sell the strata new plants. And that means putting together a quote with labour costs plus mark-up on every plant. In exchange the strata gets a better looking site. Looking at dead plants is depressing.

 

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This dead Thuja plicata hedge looks terrible.

 

Not same old

Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to replace dead cedar hedges (Thuja occidentalis) with more cedars. We’re finding that Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) are doing much better in the landscape and form very nice hedges. You just have to make sure they get established well.

Trees should be treated the same way. Try a different tree species once you’re sure the tree is really dead. If you’re not sure, take your snips and gently scratch a branch. If it’s green underneath there is still life in it; if it’s brown, it’s toast and you should replace it.

 

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This Cornus tree failed the wiggle test but just to make sure, I scratched the branch. Brown means it’s toast so I pulled it out easily.

 

Conclusion

Dead plants look awful in the landscape. We want healthy, beautiful landscapes for people to live in. Try to remove and replace dead plants as soon as you can get approval from your clients.