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Vas Sladek

Vas on grass

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

I love people who fight for new lush lawns. I admire their tenacity and envy their deep pockets. But often they get defeated by the site conditions, like available light, good soil and proper seed.

 

Promise

 

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This is awesome. I found this sign in between two units on a strata complex we have taken over recently. Now that the key beauty strip areas are cleaned-up, we start hitting the low key zones. Like this space between two units.

The sign is full of hope and promise but when you look around, you know it didn’t really work. Why not? Why can’t strata owners plant some grass seed and enjoy a green buffer zone?

 

Assessment

 

 

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Shade

Guaranteed, this is the number one problem here. It looks OK in winter but by spring, as the trees flush out with new growth, they add more shade. The buildings do the rest.

Plants need light and water for photosynthesis. Pruning the trees would help but it wouldn’t be enough. If you remove too many branches, the tree won’t be able to feed itself. Like grass, trees also struggle to reach light so they can manufacture food.

 

Soil

I wonder about the soil depth and quality in a buffer zone like this. In addition, this rectangular patch is a small ecosystem. One idea would be to top-dress the area to help the new shade mix seed. But I am still not convinced that there would be enough light for the grass to thrive. Owners with deep pockets are free to attempt it. Top-dressing is actually a very pleasant landscape job.

Moss

What’s wrong with moss anyway? It’s prized in Japan. I’ve seen it in beautiful Japanese gardens. I would plant moss and let it go. But people love their lawns. It’s an addiction. Until site conditions cure them.

Vents

It’s also possible that the vents on both buildings affect the grass. Assuming the vents are from driers and considering that in my own place they get used daily, it could adversely affect the grass seedlings. We don’t even know if the new seed got watered and if the watering took into account the effect of the drier vents.

 

Conclusion

Always consider your site conditions when your lawn struggles. It could be more than just lack of fertilizer. Shade is always a huge issue and the same goes for soil conditions and proper watering. Seek professional advice. Call Proper Landscaping for professional help.

Winter landscape edits: be brave!

By | Company News | No Comments

Yes, winter weather can be a challenge for West Coast landscapers but I love winter because I have time to take care of details. Once spring hits, the days get longer and busier and all of a sudden it’s hard to stop for minor adjustments.

Landscape editing

Rescued Rhodos

Just this past week as my helper and I were searching for missed corners, I discovered two Rhododendrons under the foliage of Viburnum tinus and Abelia x grandiflora. Now what? You can prune both shrubs to expose the rhododendrons or you can move the rhodos. I chose to move the Rhododendrons because the shrubs will grow back eventually. So be brave and edit your gardens and landscapes as required.

 

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Both Rhododendrons were stuck by the fence in the far right corner. They will have more light in their new location; and we covered up dead space in the landscape.

 

Shuffled entrance plants

 

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This is the after shot so it looks normal. Where the triangle is now, the back Nandina domestica was squeezed in between the Pieris japonica and the Rhodo. So I moved the heavenly bamboo shrub back a little to create much-needed plant separation.

Where the star is now, there were Rhododendron branches covering up the Pieris japonica on the right. So I snipped a few branches off the Rhodendron to create more plant separation. And the Rhododendron still looks normal.

 

Nandina

 

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This Nandina domestica was very leggy, not the bushy little shrub we want. It was also jammed right against a Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) hedge. We already know that Nandina domestica doesn’t regrow from pruning points. It’s best to flush cut it and let it regrow. So we have a little experiment here.

If it regrows, it will match its bushy cousins nearby. And if it doesn’t, well, then the Ilex crenata hedge will thank us. Either way, don’t be afraid to edit your gardens and landscapes.

Many strata complexes look great when they are first installed but over time, as plants mature, we can’t forget about plant separation. Often, complete editing is required. We move what we can. Some plants go missing altogether.

Have some fun with your landscape editing.

Winter is perfect for checking your deciduous trees

By | Company News | No Comments

Winter is perfect for checking your deciduous trees. Since the leaves are gone you can clearly see the branches. Ideally, you can do this work annually, making a few cuts each season. This should leave you with healthy, good-looking trees you know well.

No man’s land

Some strata sites have out-of-the-way semi wild zones that don’t get regular maintenance. Normally the idea is not to discriminate and, instead, attend to all areas equally. But on large complexes that’s not easy to accomplish. So some areas away from the beauty strip get slightly short-changed.

This, then, was my mission. Taking advantage of the slower winter season I got to attack one of these wild zones. I will cover the maintenance work in a future blog post. Here I wish to mention a tree I ran into.

Since time was short, I did the obvious work in just a few minutes:

I removed stubs, dead branches and one crossing and rubbing branch which also reached into the road.

 

Stubs

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These are ugly cuts. Don’t forget to make your cuts at the branch collar so the tree can cover up the wound. Otherwise the stubs eventually die, like the smaller one visible in the back.

 

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Much better, no stub, and the tree can heal itself.

 

 

Dead branches

 

Dead branches are dead so they are to be eliminated as soon as possible. They will most likely break off anyway.

 

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Crossing branches

 

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The branch with the pointer is a good candidate for removal because it crosses through other branches where it rubs; and it’s growing into the street where it’s likely to interfere with delivery trucks.

 

The final product

 

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This is the final product with ugly stubs removed, dead branches gone and one crossing and rubbing branch that interfered with local traffic eliminated. And it took me a few minutes with my Japanese hand saw.

Is the tree perfect? No, far from it but why stress? I will be back in twelve months to do more work on it.

And if you need help with your trees, call Proper Landscaping. You can also learn more about tree maintenance from my inexpensive Kindle e-book. Landscape Tree Miantenance by Vas Sladek. Please leave a review.

 

 

Space considerations on BC strata landscapes

By | Company News, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

There is only so much space available for plants on strata properties. When the complexes are first built they look great but over time, as plants mature, we start to run into problems. This blog post explores some common examples from my work sites.

 

Driveways

Some driveways are way too tight. Of course, this isn’t obvious at first because we landscapers don’t live on site. In the picture below there are two Berberis thunbergii specimens planted in front of boxwood (Buxus). Dead space just gets invaded by weeds and landscapers hate dead space. So we plant it up.

And then the owners come home……There is very little sense in replanting because the owners are bound to reoffend.

 

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Berberis thunbergii crushed by a car.

 

Holly

 

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It’s not clear whether this holly was planted by the owners or just simply invaded the space. Whatever the case, it’s way too close to the building. And that gets insurance companies very excited.

The holly could be pruned but that wouldn’t solve the problem. There simply isn’t enough space for this plant. My suggestion was complete removal and replanting with something smaller. There are many shrubs available that won’t overwhelm this space.

 

Plant separation

 

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I really like this one corner. The Hamamelis mollis shrub is blooming right under a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The only blemish is the Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) shrub that’s growing into the witch hazel and through the fencing. So I gave it a little hand-pruning to achieve a bit of separation.

As the landscape matures, there is more and more of this type of work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to edit out plants completely.

 

Trees

 

The idea that trees need room to grow seems obvious but people often forget to look into the future. Do you know the mature size of your landscape trees? Sure they look beautiful when they’re installed but without room to grow they inevitably get abused. Mainly by harsh pruning.

I have selected two examples from many. The first maple (Acer palmatum) is the saddest maple I know! The other maple is even worse off. So please remember to consider the mature size of your landscape trees. As an arborist I prefer complete removal to annual hacking.

Trees are resilient. They will push out new growth. Except we don’t have the required space for them.

 

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The saddest maple I know. It was planted too close to the unit so it gets hacked up periodically. I would almost prefer complete removal.

 

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This is nuts! A maple tree requires room for growth. Here it’s too close to a narrow pathway. It also shades out the cedars on the right.

 

Space considerations are a big deal on strata title properties. Remember to give plants room to grow and separate them when you can.

What’s so special about Heavenly bamboo?

By | Plant Species Information | No Comments

First visits on new contract sites are exciting because you never know what you will find. Chances are only the big boss has seen them. But as far as plants go, you shouldn’t expect too much because strata complex plants in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland tend to repeat.

So when I recently worked on a new site I was surprised to find many heavenly bamboos (Nandina domestica). And I mean many. I almost feel like the shrubs were on sale when the site was built. Which bring me to a question. What’s so special about Nandinas?

 

Red Berries

Nandina domestica is an upright, suckering evergreen shrub for moist, free-draining soil and full sun in a sheltered position. On strata sites there is definitely sheltering. Except I guess for boulevard corner beds.

Now for the obvious ornamental features: summer white flowers turn into red berries. The plant is grown for its red berries. Also, note the pinnate leaves.

 

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Summer flowers

 

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Red berries

 

Bushiness

Vigorous growth is produced from the base. This explains the suckering that goes on. Newly planted shrubs branch freely and this bushiness should be encouraged.

 

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Freshly planted baby Nandina.

 

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Note the suckering that’s going on to the right of this Nandina.

 

Pruning

Pruning can be done after a harsh winter and for shape. I gently snip the tops to bring the height down and cut out any stems that go side-ways.

Sometimes, long, unbranched stems are also thrown up through the plant. The correct procedure is to cut them down at ground level. If you prune them down they won’t break from your pruning points.

 

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Note the growth at ground level. Cut down the stems there and start over.

 

 

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This pruning doesn’t work. Nandina won’t re-grow from the cut points. I cut these stumps right at ground level hoping they will re-grow from there. We will see in spring.

Nandinas are fairly common shrubs on strata sites. I think the pinnate leaf and red berry combination is nice. But on this particular site the planting was a bit overdone.

Common strata plants

If you’re curious about what grows on your strata site you can purchase my pictorial guide on Amazon.

Common strata plants.

 

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References: “Essential Pruning Techniques” by George E. Brown, Timber Press, 2017, p.231

 

New Stihl toys for professional landscapers

By | machines, Reviews | No Comments

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If you read my blogs regularly you will know that I am not really a machine type dude. But testing new landscape “toys” is always exciting, even for a guy who prefers soft plant material.

Today was one of those days when I got to see a shiny new Kombi engine from Stihl. I always wonder what improvements have been made and how they will help my work in the field. The beauty of the Kombi system is that it allows professional landscapers to operate with one engine and several attachments.

 

KM 91R

 

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KM 91R Kombi engine

 

The new KM 91R Kombi engine weighs 4.4 kg and comes with a suggested retail price of $419.95. It’s always nice to get to know your local dealer so you can get a better deal or at least score some freebies.

Key points:

a) The KM 91R comes with a larger fuel tank which should result in 30% longer running times. Of course, you will pay for this as you shoulder the extra weight but frequent re-fuelling is annoying.

b) Stihl is promising improved handling and control

c) The new stop button must be depressed; one touch!

d) The choke button is also new. It must be depressed and then turned. I wonder how this will work once the engine is subjected to rain and dirt. Only time in the field will tell.

 

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One touch stop!

 

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The new choke. Depress and turn.

 

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All set with these new toys!

 

 

 

Power shear attachment

 

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Ok, so this articulating attachment has been out for a while but since I got to see the set I thought I’d write a few notes about it. I absolutely love the reinforced blades! They might add weight but the stiffness is spectacular. The older attachments would over time start to bend which made it awkward when you tried to cut the top of your cedar hedge straight.

 

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The solid bar on top gives the attachment super stiffness.

 

Sometimes the tip of the shears would start vibrating which was annoying when you stood on top of a ladder trying to get a laser line on top of your cedar hedge. This new stiffer attachment eliminates the vibrations. It’s such a nice feeling! Using the old style attachments feels like punishment.

If you do a lot of shearing during the season, definitely consider upgrading to these new shear attachments. You’ll love it.

There are many dealers in the Lower Mainland so search for one closest to you. One dealer I love is Foreshore Equipment on Byrne Road in Burnaby. Go see their show room and ask the helpful, knowledgeable staff. Tell them Vas sent you. Also, grab some Stihl candy from the counter on your way out.

 

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How to rock the first service day of a new contract

By | landscape maintenance, Strata Maintenance | 2 Comments

It’s always exciting to take on a new strata landscape maintenance contract because the assumption is that your service will improve on the service of whoever did the site before. The fine print in your contract details exactly what will happen during the ten or twelve months to come.

First visit

I love the first visit. You get to walk the entire site and assess the highest priority sections to get hit first. This usually covers main entrances, clubhouses and mailboxes. When the site is especially large, you will have to develop a nice rotation so your service isn’t helter-skelter.

You also get to examine the dirty corners away from the main ‘beauty strip’ areas. Those corners that tend to get skipped or serviced very little. Previous pruning gets examined; and strata member introductions are made. No-go units must also be identified because some home-gardeners don’t want any service in their yards aside from lawn care. This is critical so we can avoid upsetting residents at the very beginning of our contract.

Recent example

Let’s take a look at what I saw on the first day of a new contract in Surrey.

 

Clean-ups

 

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This is an obvious task. Any leafiness from last fall must be cleaned-up. Dead plants are a huge problem so in January we catalogue them so we can deal with them in spring.

 

Plant separation

 

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It would be nice to get some plant separation by shearing both the Prunus laurocerasus and Euonymus alatus.

 

Ivy removal

 

 

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Left unchecked,  ivy (Hedera helix) will overwhelm the Euonymus alatus shrub. So I cut it away from the plant and cleared a circle around it. It will require attention periodically so the ivy doesn’t take too many liberties.

 

Nandina

 

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This doesn’t work because Nandina domestica doesn’t regenerate from pruning cuts. This plant requires a flush cut. It should send out shoots from the base, assuming it’s not dead.

 

Trees

 

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One quick hand saw cut will eliminate this unwanted branch. We don’t really want branches developing this low, except on very young trees where the branches protect new bark from sun rays.

 

No man’s land

 

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This is a classic no man’s land zone between units. It receives less attention so it’s weedy and full of garbage. Unless your landscape maintenance contract spells everything out, you can’t discriminate. You must cover the entire site.

 

Holly

 

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This holly was planted by the owners but long-term it will lead to problems because it’s already touching the building. This gets insurance companies very excited. I suggest complete removal and planting something more appropriate and less prickly.

There you have it. Not a bad first day. This site should be looking great twelve months from now.

 

Winter plant identification

By | landscape maintenance, Plant Species Information, Species | No Comments

January is the slow season in West Coast landscape maintenance but you can still have some fun by noticing landscape plants around you. They may not look their best but it’s great to examine them in winter. I still remember the shock of noticing the black berries on Black Mondo grass. I knew the plant but I never stopped to notice the berries. And that was just last winter, after many seasons of landscaping.

So let’s take a look at some of the plants I noticed on my strata sites.

 

Lonicera nitida sports nice purple berries but they can be hidden so stop and take a longer look. It’s a neat, evergreen shrub. It’s commonly sheared in tight spaces. My task was to remove ivy that was growing through it.

 

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Lonicera nitida

 

Acer griseum. This is one of my favourite trees because of its cinnamon coloured peeling bark. I never get tired of looking at the bark.

 

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Acer griseum

 

Viburnum bodnantense. This Viburnum is a treat in winter. The white and pink flowers are hard to miss on its bare branches.

 

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Viburnum bodnantense

 

Hamamelis mollis. Like the Viburnum above, these yellow flowers are a treat to see in winter. I normally hate spiders but the five spidery-looking petals look awesome.

 

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Hamamelis mollis

 

Cornus mas. If you can identify this tree from the picture below you are doing really well. It’s Cornelian cherry. The edible summer cherries can be turned into jam. I usually just buy jam at Superstore. At this particular site, the residents consider the trees “messy” because people and pets step on the ripe cherries. I would never call a tree “messy”.

 

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Cornus mas

 

Nandina domestica.

 

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Nandina domestica

It’s obviously planted for its ornamental berries (pictured above). The summer white flowers are also nice. This common landscape plant will be featured in the next blog.

 

Ophiopogon planiscapus.

 

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Black plants make me laugh and I’m glad they exist. Black Mondo grass is one of them. It’s a nice clumping border plant with ornamental berries. One fun project is seeing what plant combinations work with it.

 

January isn’t exactly my favourite time of the year to be in the landscape but if you stop to look carefully, you can find some colour. Take pictures and identify the plants you don’t know. Then think of spring.

E-book

To help strata owners and new landscape workers with basic plant identification, I’ve put together an e-book picture guide: Common Strata Plants. The point of the guide is that the plant list comes straight from strata sites. Once you learn the plants, they will repeat over and over on your other strata sites. I’ve done the basic listing for you. You can see my e-book details here.

 

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Holiday landscape clean-ups: my day with Coreopsis

By | Species | No Comments

So you have one last service before the Christmas holiday. Now is a good time to double-check everything, especially the key ‘beauty strip’ zones like clubhouses, front entrances and mail boxes. This is the worst time to start pruning projects. Just make sure the site looks great because residents are bound to receive visitors over the holidays.

Coreopsis

My task on one site was to cut back all remaining spent Coreopsis perennials. Since the foliage was turning brown to black it was time to flush cut all of it and leave it until next year.

Coreopsis has fine foliage and beautiful yellow flowers that are hard to miss. It doesn’t require any maintenance other than some water and end of the season flush cut. That’s it. And for all that we get a great show. Year after year.

Most of the Coreopsis clumps are placed in narrow front entrance beds or so called ‘finger’ beds. They work very well in these locations.

 

Coreopsis spp & cvsed

Coreopsis

 

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Show is over

When the show is over, you can treat Coreopsis like most perennials by flush cutting the spent foliage. This was actually a great task for a frosty December morning. I helped with finesse bedwork but my job for the day was to eliminate spent Coreopsis. I also cut back other perennials like Ligularias and Rudbeckia stems which I considered unsightly. You can read my Rudbeckia cut back blog here.

If you have a small patch of Coreopsis you can do the work with hand snips easily. Just grab a handful and cut it as close to the ground as you can. In my case, I had lots of large patches to take down which required the use of power shears.

Remember to always use good protective equipment and try not to stick your blades into the soil.

 

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Spent Coreopsis in a finger bed.

 

 

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Coreopsis

 

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This one Ligularia also had to get cut back.

 

Corepsis vs. Horsetail trick

Also, Coreopsis can help you cover up areas invaded by Horsetail. Instead of fighting the Horsetail, which is a basty weed, you can plant Coreopsis around it because both plants have similar fine foliage and the yellow Coreopsis flowers naturally draw your eyes in and away from weeds.

You can read my blog about this trick I learned from municipal gardener Tracey Mallinson.

If you don’t have any Coreopsis in your garden then perhaps you can get some for 2018. I find the yellow flowers very warm. And when the show is over, all you have to do is flush cut the spent flowers. Give it a try.

 

 

How to properly cutback spent Rudbeckias

By | gardening, Plant Species Information | No Comments

I love Black-eyed-Susans (Rudbeckias)! There is something mesmerizing about the yellow perennial flowers with black centers, especially when this perennial is mass-planted. But like Japanese cherry blossoms, it’s a bittersweet experience.

Cherry blossoms are beautiful but sadly, they don’t last very long. Just like life. So enjoy the show and be glad you’re alive. Rudbeckias, on the other hand signal the end of summer. Once the flowers start fading you know summer is ending.

 

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Beautiful mass-planted Rudbeckias in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, BC

 

Cowboys

To save time, some landscapers gun down spent Rudbeckia stems with power shears. But since the leaves at the base still look good, the cuts are made high which leaves noticeable spikes. I absolutely detest this practice. And sometimes it gets worse. Landscapers, armed with line edgers, stop at a clump of fading Rudbeckias and proceed to shred the stems. When I witness this on site I openly discourage it. Sometimes I get so excited, I fail to express myself intelligently.

 

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I hate this look. These Rudbeckia stems were sheared in late summer to save time. But once the leaves fade these ‘sticks’ are noticeable. I suggest hand-snipping the spent flower stems so the cuts are hidden inside the greenery. One cut.

 

Therapy

There is a better way and it hardly takes any extra time at all. And even if it did take a few extra minutes, it’s like top class therapy. More about time later.

It feels great to grab sharp Felco snips on a sunny fall day and dive into mass planted Rudbeckias. You can grab a handful of stems or do it one by one. And note the one important difference: the cuts are made inside the green leafy mound so we don’t get any ‘sticks’ poking up. These ‘sticks’ become even more obvious when the green leaves at the base fade.

I had tons of fun doing it. It was like a thank you job to the Rudbeckias for a great summer show. Minus machine noise and air pollution; and no shredding of stem tissues, just sharp cuts.

Time

If you’re like me and the winter look with sticks poking up bothers you, then you fix it. So really, the quick late fall assault didn’t really save much time. It’s much better to make one nice deadheading cut by removing the stems from inside the leaf base. One cut, not two. And you get quiet therapy to boot. I remember those sunny afternoons well. Sun, sharp Felco snips and gorgeous Rudbeckias.

How do you deadhead your Rudbeckias?