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Vas Sladek

Nothing to do on site: how to bust this myth

By | landscape maintenance, weeds | No Comments

This is my favourite myth of all: there is a landscape site or garden with nothing to do on it; it’s that perfect. As an expert in strata (multi-family complex) landscape sites, I find this extremely laughable because landscapes grow and evolve. Depending on the season you’re in, there is always maintenance work to be done.

Two types

I find two types of foremen who confidently assert that there is nothing to do on their sites. One is the outright lazy, disengaged person and the other is too new to know better. Usually, it’s the newly promoted landscape crew leader or foreman who fails to read his landscape.

And this happens more than you think.

Details

Say, it’s July and the site doesn’t want you to mow weekly. Perfect! That means you can take care of details you wouldn’t normally have time for. I love these situations; I embrace them because there is ALWAYS work on site.

Just think details and you’ll start seeing lots of work om site. Below are some examples of what to look for. You will find others in your garden or on your strata site. Learn to read your landscape as you develop what’s called a landscape eye. It takes time so obviously new foremen struggle at first. I often take them on site walks to point out little details and I do it gently. It’s a learning experience. So try it in your garden or on your strata site.

 

Weeds

There are always weeds on site, especially in lower profile corners. The groundcover in the bed below is full of weeds.

 

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Weeds, there are always weeds.

 

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Oh my, invasive Knotweed covered by invasive morning glory.

 

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This shrub is screaming for a small circle well.

 

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This makes it obvious for lawn care people.

 

Knotweed

This border patch of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an obvious candidate for removal. As in top removal because the actual weed is difficult to remove permanently. It’s so bad, some green waste facilities don’t even accept it.

 

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Super invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

 

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Knotweed detail.

 

Missed pruning debris on top of plants is a common problem so hand-pick the dead brown parts now that they are easy to spot.

 

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Dead debris on a yew (Taxus).

 

Watering is for your clients to do but if you have extra time and you see a complete yew hedge struggling then you can spend some time on it. This hedge is clearly struggling so I reconnected the drip line and hand-watered everything. The drip-line should be left on for hours.

 

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A yew hedge with disconnected drip line irrigation line.

 

There is no such thing as perfect landscape without any work in it; it’s a myth. Look for details and you will find them. Acquiring good “landscape eye” skills takes time.

Japanese willow response to drought

By | Landscaping, Species | No Comments

Every time I install new plants on a site I worry about them because I want them to get established and thrive in their new landscape. Usually I won’t see the plants for months but in the case of two Japanese willows (Salix integra) I planted it was different. After my company schedule was re-done in spring, I kept coming back to the same site so I could observe my newly installed plants, including the two willows.

Summer heat

Everything looked fine until summer heat arrived. That’s when I noticed browning in the leaf tips. That’s called necrosis or tissue death as the plant is unable to draw up enough water into the crown. So I immediately did my own weekly watering with a hose that’s literally right next to the bed.

 

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Also note the growth at the bottom of the stem.

 

Sadly, this is very common on strata (multi-family) complexes. People are very busy and when they water, they do it badly. Guaranteed, the owners sprinkle the plants for a few minutes and go back inside. Proper watering requires a gentle soak that lasts for several minutes. I watered in the morning and then again before exiting the property.

 

Bonsai response

Now observe the same plant weeks later. The top is recovering but the stem has significant growth along the stem. This is another classic response to lack of water. Since the top isn’t getting enough water, the plant starts to bonsai itself by pushing out new growth along the stem. I’m leaving it on for now to protect the bark but by fall I will prune it all off.

 

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Note the growth along the stem.

 

For comparison, examine the other Japanese willow (below) planted at the opposite corner. The owners water better and it gets a little bit more shade. I noticed some browning in the leaves but it wasn’t severe enough for the plant to attempt a bonsai move. The stem is clear of any new growth.

 

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Conclusion

Summer heat conditions are harsh for landscape plants so owners need to water properly. And when there are newly installed plants, watering is an even more pressing issue because water allows roots to develop. So check on your plants and don’t forget to water them.

 

How aphids get tulip trees in trouble

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

I don’t normally buy the Vancouver Sun because they discontinued their garden column but a story last Friday caught my eye. The title read “Aphid secretions shower property with sticky goo.” Friday, August 3, 2018 Vancouver Sun.

The problem

I have some experience with this issue so I had fun reading about this East Vancouver case. Every summer aphids descend on tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and feed on their leaves. But since aphids can’t process sugars, they secrete them and the sticky honeydew lands on cars, driveways, etc. The affected couple in the story complained about having to wash their car and their difficulty of moving their baby carriage. The sticky honeydew also attracts wasps which freaks out most new parents.

 

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Tulip tree leaf underside covered in aphids.

 

 

The City of Vancouver allegedly once brought them ladybugs, the aphids’ natural predators. This is what amazed me in 2017 and inspired me to pen a blog post about it: people paying after-tax dollars for ladybugs in the store and releasing them on their trees. One major issue is telling the ladybugs to stay on your tree. Because they move around it’s not an effective tactic.

Solution?

In the past, the couple in the story purchased their own ladybugs “but it made little difference”. So now they want the city to spray or remove the tree. I believe that would be very harsh treatment for this beautiful tree because aside from the many ecosystem services it provides, it also has beautiful flowers.

Luckily, the City of Vancouver knows that removal would cost $1000.00 per tree plus extra costs for replanting. There isn’t enough budget for projects like this which is good news for the tree.

 

Conclusion

While I understand the hassle of sticky honeydew, let’s remember the many ecosystem services trees provide for free. I especially love the tulip tree flowers which come out as the trees leaf out. Complete removal because of aphids would be horrible. Perhaps a picture of one tulip tree flower will distract you from aphids and city help lines.

 

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Liriodendron tulipifera flowers steal the show.

 

Lessons from strata owner meltdown

By | Education, landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

On large strata (multi-family) complexes you can expect to get some negative feedback during the season. Normally it’s addressed as soon as possible and if you’re lucky, the strata unit gets educated. But how do you handle a full-blown meltdown?

Keep it cool

Definitely keep it cool. For me it’s easier now that I am a supervisor of a certain age but it’s never pleasant. So, first, take a look at the picture below. What do you notice?

 

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Obviously, the lawn is dormant because it’s early August on the West Coast and the lawns aren’t irrigated. You will also notice pockets of new soil and seed.

Now, the owner of the unit (remember he owns his house, the lawn belongs to the complex) came out storming about the bad condition of his lawn. So I told him it needed water and that set him off. He told me there was no need to be rude; he was 55 and well-aware that lawns required water! Really?

Here I took a deep breath and insisted that there wasn’t anything rude about my comments. For the lawn to look green during an early August heat-wave and for the seed to germinate he had to water his lawn thoroughly several times a week.

Incidentally, if you’re new to the West Coast, dormant lawns will green up with fall rains.

Still red in the face, the man showed me his broken hose nozzle and insisted one of our workers stepped on it. So I sucked it up and bought a new nozzle for $20, tax-included.

There were some other complaints that don’t need to be listed here. They should have been sent to the strata.

 

Lessons

Obviously, getting through the whole year without any complaints would be ideal but some sites are huge and they’re populated by all sorts of people. So what lessons can we draw from this blog post?

a) There will be some negative feedback no matter how well your season goes. When strata councils change you can expect even more hassles as new members try to put their stamp on things. At this complex the strata council is new.

b) Strata owners should go through their strata councils and management companies. Assaulting landscape workers on site is not the proper way to handle it.

c) Non-irrigated West Coast lawns will most likely go dormant during the hottest parts of summer. Don’t panic because they will recover with fall rains.

d) Keep calm and stay polite because you represent your company. But don’t be afraid to educate your clients. Clearly, the owner knows about lawn watering but he isn’t doing it. His new soil and seed were dry. I watched him water later and it can best be described as a gentle sprinkle. I wasn’t about to show him how to water his lawn properly. He’s 55, he can figure it out. (The lawn requires a nice deep soaking a few times a week; always follow any municipal watering restrictions.)

e) Let it go. I’ve had to learn to let go of things as a supervisor. I answered all questions where I could, I bought a new nozzle, took pictures and notes, and notified my vacationing boss. Writing this blog post is therapy.

Why dead spaces are a problem

By | gardening, Landscaping, weeds | No Comments

Dead spaces in your landscape can be a problem and one example for you to consider is pictured below. What do you see?

 

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This kind of garden bed drives me crazy because there is way too much “dead space”. Without plants and groundcovers the open space gets colonized by weeds which then have to be removed periodically. And that means precious labour man-hours are spent on unnecessary weeding.

Plants shade out and out-compete weeds and they also improve the look of the garden bed. You can even attract beneficial insects with the right plants. All for a small investment of money and time.

Close weeding

Now what? Remember this isn’t your only bed to weed so how do you do it quickly? There are two approaches but I can only recommend one.

Some people prefer hand-weeding without tools where you pick at your weeds and pray that you also removed the roots. I only do this with big weeds.

 

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Big weeds like these are easy to hand-pick.

 

With big weedy beds I find hand weeding too slow and brutal on my fingers. When hand-weeding and debris clean-up were combined on the same day it exposed hand-weeding as too slow. You must stay on your feet, cultivator in hand and press on.

Cultivate!

No, you don’t have to suffer. Just cultivate the bed and rake up the debris. I use Dutch hoes or four-prongers (pictured above) to rip up the weeds and then I gently rake over the area. This approach is much faster and it allows you to stay upright. Also, your fingers won’t bleed.

Cultivation haters point out two problems with cultivation: soil loss and weed seed exposure to sunlight. Both are valid comments but considering the condition of the bed there isn’t much to worry about. The critical factor is speed because we have many other beds to weed.

One huge bonus of cultivation is that the bed looks sharp and fluffy and stays weed-free longer than hand-picked beds. I am absolutely certain that hand-weeding doesn’t always remove the weed roots so the weeds bounce back quicker. Cultivation, on the other hand, up-roots the weeds.

One critical note on pile pick-up: keep your piles in the bed edges, do NOT rake them onto your lawn. Piles on lawn edges leave debris that will have to be blown and could potentially get picked up by trimmer machines, thus creating a hazard.

 

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Correct: keep your debris piles in the bed edges.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Fight dead spaces in your garden beds by planting shrubs or groundcovers. And if you want to weed like a professional use a cultivator.

 

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This used to be dead space until we moved shrubs and perennials in.

Hydrangea horror shows to avoid

By | Pruning, Species | No Comments

Hydrangeas are beautiful workhorses in our West Coast landscapes. Healthy Hydrangeas reward us with lots of beautiful flowers, many of them in big mop heads. I’m so used to seeing them I don’t even take pictures of them every season.

Lately, I’ve been running into Hydrangea horror shows and so I thought this whole thing begged for its own blog post.

 

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Hydrangeas come in all sorts of colours and we love them all.

 

Pruning

 

When it comes to pruning, we can follow the same general rule: prune after flowering. Some people leave the spent flower heads on all winter so they have something to look at. Add a bit of frost and you have a nice show in your winter garden.

Alas, strata landscape bosses like everything tidy so the flowers are deadheaded and the overall size of each shrub is reduced. The key is not removing the old second year canes on which the current year flowers emerge. There are some varieties that flower on all canes but most follow this rule.

If you remove too much of the old second year cane, all you will get next season is greenery. Flowers won’t come until the second season.

This is where problems arise. Homeowners torch their Hydrangeas almost to the ground and when the shrubs fail to flower in the following season, the frustrated owners hack them back. And so it goes until I correct them.

 

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The owner hacked back his Hydrangea and most of the old canes went missing.

 

Landscapers are also guilty of taking too much old wood in their struggle to manage shrub sizes inside strata complexes. Strata unit owners notice when their favourite Hydrangeas fail to flower. I made this mistake early in my landscaping career and I still remember the old lady complaining to my manager about her missing flowers. And I never forgot that lesson.

 

 

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Not much of a show, is it? I’m almost certain these shrubs were cut back too much last year. You can expect flowers next season.

 

I saved the worst example for last. This is a high-profile walkway and the strata complex’s Facebook group lit up with negative comments soon after this pruning job. And for good reason.

The timing is all wrong because these Hydrangeas are flowering nicely. Why remove flowers at their peak?

The other problem is the severity of the pruning job. I would have at least left some green or alternatively, removed entire canes. Looking at severed canes while the rest of the shrub is still intact and flowering is a bit weird.

 

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It would be best to wait until the flowers fade and then remove maybe the top third of each cane, roughly 2-3 buds down. When you do this, you can also select the 1-3 biggest canes and prune them right down at ground level. Otherwise the old wood accumulates; what we want is nice straight canes growing out of last year’s wood.

 

Conclusion

So please remember that Hydrangeas flower from canes growing on second year wood. If you cut back the older canes too hard you will only get green foliage the following season and your clients will wonder what happened to their annual flower show.

Prune your Hydrangeas after flowering and cut back your canes down by 2-3 buds. That should guarantee another flower show next year and that’s why we plant Hydrangeas in our landscapes.

If your Hydrangeas aren’t producing flowers this season then I would be willing to bet that your pruning last year was too harsh.

A perfect mower for small lawns

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

There I was cutting long stretches of lawn on a huge strata site when I hit the corner pictured below with my commercial Honda mower. I took one quick look at the reel mower by the wall and dismissed it as a toy for homeowners. But I’ve been thinking about it and now I feel like reel mowers deserve their own blog post.

 

 

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Lawn size

Lawn size determines the right type of mower to use. Considering the miles of lawn I had to cut on this day, using a reel mower would have been out of the question. But reel mowers are perfect for small lawns. Like this one.

 

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This is a perfect lawn for reel mowers.

 

Reel mower

A reel mower is a mower in which the blades spin vertically (north to south) and use a scissoring action to cut the blades of grass. A reel mower should have between three and seven blades, depending on the model type. Don’t forget to get them sharpened once in a while for a nice, clean cut.

Modern reel mowers are light-weight, easy to maneuver and they start every time! They are quieter and since they don’t burn gasoline they are cleaner. Using a reel mower is a great form of exercise and you don’t have to suck unhealthy exhaust fumes.

You can check out the various reel mower models available here. The owner of the reel mower above sounds perfectly happy with it. He cuts his small lawn between our weekly cuts so his lawn stays nicely cut and he gets his exercise.

And all this happens without generating any kind of pollution. According to the Audubon Society, 800 million gallons of gas are used to power lawn mowers annually in the United States, which produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

So the next time I run into a reel mower parked against the wall, I won’t dismiss it. I just wish I could use it to cut the miles of lawn I have to cut.¬† Sadly, it won’t happen. But if you have a small lawn, don’t even think about buying a gas-powered mower. It would be expensive overkill.

 

Pruning 101: consider shrub peak flowering before pruning

By | Pruning | No Comments

Today I found out about an interesting pruning “mishap” from which we can learn several lessons. It starts out like many other mid-season pruning jobs with extendable power shears and fully flushed out shrubs. The foreman went in and pruned everything, especially off the tops.

But there is a glitch. You can’t treat all of your shrubs the same way because different species grow and flower differently. This is another clear illustration of the importance of plant identification. It’s crucial knowing a little bit about all of your shrubs on site.

And keep in mind the rule: it’s normally best to prune after flowering.

Home gardeners

Home gardeners look out at their gardens all year, season after season and they enjoy their flowering shrubs. When you come in and eliminate their one annual flower show, they get angry. Beware of home gardeners!

So, this blog post covers three shrub species: Callicarpa bodinieri, Philadelphus and Buddleja davidii. Only the Philadelphus was past its flower peak which normally runs from June to July on the West Coast. In this landscape example the shrub was clearly past its flowering peak and therefore a reasonable target for pruning.

 

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Power-sheared Philadelphus

 

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Philadelphus flower example

 

Unfortunately, the other two shrubs were poor pruning targets for July. Buddleja davidii flowers from June to September and clearly the few remaining flowers after pruning are still immature.

 

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Look closely and you will see a few developing flower spikes.

 

So the gardeners know they will miss out on their usual flower show which would have looked something like this.

 

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Buddleja davidii flower spike.

 

The third shrub, Callicarpa bodinieri, was by far the worst choice for July pruning because it reaches its flowering peak from June to August AND the flowers turn into showy purple fruits from September to October. I personally find the fruits much nicer than the flowers but we have to keep the flowers on to get fruit.

Luckily, the Callicarpas aren’t as imposing as the other two shrubs so only their tops went missing. But of course for veteran home gardeners any dimished flower show is apocalypse.

 

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Callicarpa bodinieri flower

 

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Callicarpa bodinieri fall fruits.

 

Clean-up

To make matters worse, the clean-ups were rough and many other plants got trampled during the procedure. We’ve already covered pruning debris clean-up in an earlier blog. Clean-ups must be perfect to match perfect pruning.

 

Conclusion

This was an extremely useful lesson showing how:

a) pruning must be timed for after peak flowering times

b) all shrubs can’t be pruned at the same time as if they were the same species

c) pruning debris clean-up must be perfect just like the pruning work and care must be taken not to destroy other garden plants during clean-up

d) plant identification skills are extremely important, don’t stop learning

European chafer beetle battles: critical June-July

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

This past June as I walked to my car in the morning I noticed a fat European Chafer beetle heading for the nearby lawn. Of course! June is the time the beetles fly into nearby trees to mate and then head back to delicious-looking lawns to deposit their young.

June

The European Chafer beetles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’re stuck with them. I could have stepped on the beetle with my Stihl boots but that would have been a nasty start to my day. So instead of incorporating the beetle into the sidewalk, I observed her. Once she hit the lawn she disappeared very quickly.

 

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This picture sequence should remind you to order nematodes from your local garden centre. More on this later.

 

July 8, 2018

While helping my buddy with his wild backyard I turned over unused garden beds. And in the process I dug up many beetles and a few young grubs. The grubs will mature in lawns and beds before emerging as beetles next summer. And to mature they will feed on grass roots which in turn attracts animals. Crows, birds and raccoons will happily dig up your lawn looking for these juicy grubs.

 

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European chafer beetle larvae 2018.

 

What can you do?

Step one, take better care of your lawn. My buddy is way too busy to “baby” his lawn. He has previous chafer related lawn damage that never got fixed. All three municipalities in the Tri-Cities recommend raking over your damaged lawn and then applying topsoil and over-seeding with deep-rooted grass. Water your lawn daily unless there are watering restrictions in place. Once your lawn is established water 1-2 times per week. Keep your lawn at least 6 cm high and leave clippings on the lawn.

Step two is optional and it involves applying nematodes in the third week of July. The basic idea is for the microscopic nematodes to chase down the grubs and eat them from the inside. You can read my blog about the procedure. There is one catch which makes clients nervous: you will have to apply the nematodes every year.

 

The chafer beetles are here to stay but you can help your lawn by keeping it healthy.

 

 

 

CanWest Hort Show 2018 September 26 & 27

By | Education, Events | No Comments

I make it a point to attend the CanWest Hort Show every year and I’m lucky to have a boss who gives me time off and support. I am convinced that all professional landscapers, horticulture students, career changers and landscape company owners in British Columbia should attend this two-day event.

 

Symposium

 


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I usually attend the full-day Urban Foresters Symposium because it gives me access to excellent tree-related lectures and it gives me CEUs towards recertification. Lunch is included in the hefty $225 fee but the networking you can do is priceless.

This year there are three speakers and two of them are Ph.Ds. Four lectures:

1.Trees on development sites

2. Professional practice: report writing

3. Moisture stress in the landscape

4. New and underutilized street and landscape trees

 

Last year, a gentleman in the lunch line-up recognized my name; he had read many of my blogs! Now I’m a member of his Landscape Horticulturists Facebook group. Easy.

Once the conference is over, there is usually enough time to go over to the plant ID test booth and take the free exam. This year I hope to make it a third 100% score in a row. I also distribute the blank plant list to our employees.

 

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Short courses

There are many shorter seminars offered as well so pick the ones that interest you and learn. Check out the full course line-up at the CanWest Hort Show website.

 

Booths

Walking the trade floor is a lot of fun. You can see stuff on sale, services offered and nurseries have plants set-up in their booths which is perfect for plant ID work. Most booths offer free candy and I usually help myself.

There is also a job board if you need workers or a new job. You can also buy food and drinks. The Tradex in Abbotsford has tons of free parking and it’s easy to find.

See you there!