On the difference between annual and perennial flowers

By | Plants | No Comments

Someone asked this question online: what’s the difference between annual and perennial flowers? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look.


Annual plants complete their life cycle in one season. Once they’re spent they get tossed in our green waste. They’re usually showy. When you go to garden centres in late spring, you will see lots of home gardeners filling their shopping carts with brightly colored annuals.

The retailers love it but, personally, I rarely buy annuals because of the associated cost. In strata maintenance work, it’s a great idea to install annual plants in high-profile areas like entrances and walkways. It gives the site an instant lift and the clients notice it.

I don’t recommend it but some people even install annuals in tree circles.

One advantage of having brightly colored annuals in summer is the fun you can have. Change your bed designs every year. Try new plants and see what you can create.

Dahlias are technically perennials but here we treat them as annuals.


Perennials last for more than one season; they keep on coming back. They might be a bit more expensive but you don’t have to toss them at the end of the season. All you have to do is cut them back at ground level and wait for next season. It’s simple and cost-effective.

Most of the plants on my patio are perennials. For example, Sedums are succulents and their flowers can stay upright all the way through winter. When you flush cut them at ground level, you will see new growth getting ready for the new season.


In landscape maintenance we normally cut back the spent flowers in the fall. I find that it’s a good idea to leave them standing into early winter. This is just in case it’s frosty and you need easy work to do.

In residential gardens it makes sense to let the flower stalks stand and let birds enjoy them. Sometimes when frost covers them, they look awesome. This winter I was too busy to attend to my pots and then I noticed more birds on my patio!

That’s it. That’s the beauty of perennials. Cut them back once a year and enjoy them all year. There’s no need to spend more money. But if you must have bright colors in summer, run down to your nearest garden centre and buy some.

Late winter plants that lift your spirit

By | Plants | No Comments

Last Friday the sun came out and I could finally feel spring approaching. So let’s look at some landscape plants that got me excited. I’m so looking forward to warmer temperatures and more color in the landscape.

Hamamelis mollis

I never get tired of looking at Hamamelis. Some people describe the flowers as spider-like but, since I hate spiders, I ignore that description. I just pretend it’s confetti. This shrub really stands out when nothing is happening in the landscape.

Forsythia x intermedia

It’s a bit early to get excited about Forsythia color but I love this picture because I can see buds. I reduced this shrub by half and took out the biggest canes. It was still winter so I worried a little bit. I need not have. Soon this Forsythia will explode in a yellow riot. Yes, you’ve seen these shrubs erupt in yellow before.


Galanthus works well in municipal pots.

It also works well mass-planted.

Galanthus works really well mass-planted under trees. I’ve seen examples from English gardens and they look awesome. You can see masses of Galanthus under mature trees; so many plants, they look like ground cover. If I had a large garden, I would do the same.

Viburnum bodnantense

This is a surprising Viburnum species because it flowers in winter. It definitely brightens up the Port Moody public park where I took this photo today.

Cryptomaria japonica

This is my favorite evergreen tree. Cryptomaria japonica has beautiful bright green foliage and very cute round cones. I often pick the cones for no obvious reason.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’

This is another beautiful evergreen. It’s potted and sports the original tag so I use it for pronunciation practice. Chamae-cy-paris obtusa. Say that quickly a few times. I dare you.

I’m heading out to do a side-job now that this blog post in finished. That’s what professional landscape bloggers do. They hustle.

Winter lawn care considerations

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

We are still in mid-February so it will be a while before we mow. But here are a few things to consider before the new lawn care season starts.

Plow damage

Snowplow damage.

I see snow plow damage every winter. And every winter I sympathize with the snow dudes, as I fix their mistakes. They usually show up early in the morning when it’s dark, on sites they may not know at all; and they’re rushed and exhausted.

So, watch your language and clean-up the damage. Bring in some soil and overseed in spring when temperatures are high enough for seed to take.

It will happen again next year. Guaranteed.

Deep edging

Winter is a great time to re-establish lawn edges because we have time for it. Once you hit spring you won’t have time for it. So, use an edging shovel and re-establish your edges. It gives you nice definition.

Make sure the shovel hits at ninety degrees and clean up any soil chunks. Remove any weeds and cultivate for a nice, fresh look. Some companies like 2 inch edges but I like them deeper. If you can’t bust your ankle, it’s too shallow. Remember, the edges will fill in over time; and some careless workers crush them with their boots.

Off-set your starting point

Check out the dark green lines in the lawn pictured above. This is a really common mistake in lawn care. People start mowing at the edge, every week, like robots. And over time, we get deep grooves developing in our lawns which detracts from our presentation.

What we want to see is a nice uniform green lawn. Not deep grooves. So, how do we correct this? By off-setting our starting point by a little bit. If the line edger has to do a bit more work, so be it.

Fight deep grooves in your lawns!

Reducing native shrubs by half

By | Pruning | No Comments

It’s common in landscape maintenance to get owner requests. Like the shrub request examined in this blog post. And in this case, I had enough time to do it and it didn’t derail our plans for the day.

When requests are more involved and there is a chance they could derail your plans for the day, politely decline, make a note of them and do them as soon as possible.

Boxed in by Indian plums

The owner saw me working in a dry river bed in front of her unit and cried about being boxed in by her horrible shrubs. She meant Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), a Pacific Northwest native with beautiful flowers and edible plums. (Cerasiformis means cherry-shaped.)

The other two offenders were dogwoods (Cornus) and one willow (Salix).

All three shrubs grow really well, so well, they block the lady’s windows when they flush out with new growth. She wanted them reduced by roughly one half. Considering it was a mild mid-February day, it was OK to do this job. Quickly. I still had a crew to rejoin and lead.


I had brand new Felco4 snips but I would recommend a hand saw and loppers for the willow and Indian plums.

The idea is to reduce the shrubs by one half but it should still look natural. To achieve a natural look, try to stagger the cuts so they’re not all made at the same height. That’s what happens when we use machines.

This is also a good time to take out some of the big dogwood canes. Identify the biggest cane and flush cut it at ground level. You can eliminate the biggest canes over a few seasons. Don’t rush this.

Left: original height, Right: reduced by half.

Reduced by half. Only clean-up remains.


The owner came out to thank me before I even finished the job. People appreciate it when you pay attention to their requests. I told her last week I would attempt this week, and I did. She’s happy and I can move on to other sections on site.

House plants for beginners

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When our house cats died we were all sad, especially the kids. But for me it was a chance to finally purchase some house plants. So, when I walked through Home Depot last fall, I couldn’t resist picking up a few house plants. Cheap, small house plants.

Today, after absentmindedly watering my three house plants for months, I discovered a flower and thorns on one of my plants. Surprised, I finally pulled out the plastic tag and read it. Aha!

Euphorbia milii

Right away I recognized the Spurge family because we have Euphorbias in the landscape and they produce the same poisonous white sap (latex). Now you know why house plants and cats don’t always mix.

Use gloves when handling and pruning the plant. The white latex is a skin irritant and doesn’t belong in your eyes. I’ve pruned Euphorbias in the landscape and the sticky sap was annoying. My skin was fine.

The common name Crown of Thorns makes sense because right below the flower are brown thorns. I tested them gently and it looks like a tight squeeze would hurt. Light touch was fine. I actually like the look. I can see how people would make the association with Jesus.

The flower appears at the end of a stalk and has gentle lobes. I like small, unassuming flowers. Not every flower in your house has to be in your face big. If you re-pot the plant you can expect it to reach 10-50cm. This is my next step, re-potting.

Euphorbia milii is a succulent which, I suspect, is why it’s a perfect house plant for beginners. You can forget to water it and it will still plug away until you remember you owned house plants. I know, life is busy. I’ve tried to get my kids to water our house plants, without success.

Fun, fun, fun

It was fun to learn something new today from a cheap house plant I picked up on the way to the cash register at Home Depot. And while I prefer outdoor plants, it’s still a lot of fun to get some house plants. Try it!

Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns)

Risking arrest to see California’s Eucalypts

By | Events, Trees | No Comments

This past August I found myself in Lake Forest, California because of my son’s soccer tournament. It was yet another sunny morning and it was getting hot. It was too hot for the boys to have a serious soccer practice. So I left the team at the tennis courts and walked across the street.




Private property!

My target was a nearby line of beautiful and huge Eucalyptus trees. It was like Christmas for this arborist. The trees looked awesome and as I took more pictures I drifted onto a church parking lot. There I shot many other landscape plants. I was having a fantastic California morning until a voice woke me up from my plant trance.



I love these Eucalyptus trees.


“Can I help you? This is private property!” Immediately I thought oh, shit, was this an open carry state? Then I mumbled something about visiting California and loving their church landscaping. “We get all kinds here!” was his reply. So I apologized and told the dude I was leaving. No need to call the police. He then wished me a pleasant visit and I wondered what the Sunday sermons were like.



Note the security camera.


Trees in Paradise

I have since learned that Lake Forest used to be an Eucalyptus plantation. Now it’s a master-planned community with beautiful landscaping. I was blown away by the landscaping so much, I walked into the nearest bookstore desperate for some sort of plant guide. And I found a door stopper gem there called Trees in Paradise by Jared Farmer. (I will review this excellent book in a future blog.)

Farmer devotes a one hundred page chapter to Eucalypts and it’s a wild ride. The trees were imported from Australia and became very popular in California. And then it all swung the other way. Eucalyptus plantations in San Francisco were abandoned and the trees were allowed to go wild.

One glitch stands out from this book chapter. Californians wanted to reproduce the success Aussies had with their fast-growing Eucalypts. But what they didn’t notice was that the Aussies were processing old growth Eucalypts.

The new growth Eucalypts in California were extremely difficult to process because the young trees behave badly when they’re run through saw mills. Farmer does a great job of explaining this. Basically the trees break apart at the saw mill so it’s hard to get the nice straight lumber saw mills wanted. Bummer.

I think the Eucalypts I saw in Los Angeles looked great. I can’t wait to see them again in August 2020 but I will be more mindful of private property lines. “Canadian pro blogger dead in California” would be an unfortunate headline.



Go deep when edging

By | Edging | No Comments

Deep edging beds is a perfect landscape task for the fall. Many bed edges are worn out or completely obliterated by November and they look awful. And now that we are no longer mowing and edging there is plenty of time for this work.

Also, if your garden never had any edges, you can easily establish them by following the same procedure outlined below. You will be rewarded for your efforts with nicely defined edges.

Step 1

Use a good edging shovel-flat on the bottom- and drive it into your edge at precisely ninety degrees. Don’t fake it. Go for perfect ninety degrees. A few inches deep should suffice but, personally, I love deep ankle busters. And I pay for it when crews call the boss to complain about their supervisor creating hazardous edges.



A) is the tired old edge, B) is the new edge and the white arrow shows the correct shovel angle.


Step 2

After you drive the shovel into your edge, place your foot behind the shovel before you dislodge the soil. You have to do this to prevent the edge from getting rounded off. Remember, the best looking deep edge is ninety degrees.

Step 3

Your deep edging will generate soil and turf chunks. Don’t leave them in your bed. Beat them up with your cultivator and remove any grass chunks. Keep the soil and rake it in for a nice, even finish.

Obviously, if you’re establishing new edges you will generate more waste. In this example, I only touched up existing edges so my clean-up was minimal. Whatever the case, never leave the soil chunks in the bed. They look bad.

Step 4

When you do your clean-up blow, gently blow off any soil off your grass edges. Just do it gently so you don’t blast out soil from your beds.

Then step back and enjoy the view of your new deep edges. They should last until mowing resumes in spring and beyond.



All done! Note the sharp edge, no sign of chunks and the grass is clean.

Low-idle advice for mechanically-challenged landscapers

By | Landscaping Equipment | No Comments

I use small engine machines almost every day in the field, mainly Stihl models. I use them but I don’t pretend to understand them. My favourite tasks are almost always related to plants; machines I barely tolerate. When something breaks down the machines go straight to the dealer for repair.

This simple blog post covers low idle problems and it’s intended for mechanically-challenged people.

The problem

Once in a while a problem pops up and I know there must be a simple explanation. Take this recent example from the field.

Power shearing cedar hedges is a common fall task in our West Coast landscapes. Usually there are miles of hedging to shear and time is short. Now imagine my frustration when I let go of my machine to move the ladder along and the engine dies. Once I’m ready to continue the engine starts and functions properly as long as I keep my finger on the trigger.

I also had the same problem with my backpack blower. As soon as I eased up on the trigger, the unit would shut off. Moving the blower off and on my back and restarting it is extremely annoying.

The fix

At it turns out, this low-idle problem has an easy fix which is great news for this mechanically-challenged landscape professional. The fix is so easy, I had to write a blog post about it. Slowly, very slowly, I learn about the machines I use every day and you can too.

Step 1

Grab a small screw driver provided by Stihl or any other model. Until now I’ve been only using it to execute blade changes on blade edgers.




Step 2

Find the circular port hole labelled LA on the back of your blower or small engine. That’s where the screw driver goes.




Step 3

For this step you should consider using a mask because the unit has to be turned on and sucking exhaust isn’t safe. With the unit running, stick the screw driver in and move it until you hear the engine speed up. It took me a while to do this but eventually I let go and let the blower idle. Once it stayed on without shutting off I was back in business. It was an easy fix. I had no idea.





Let’s review. If your blower or small engine shuts off instead of idling, you can easily fix it with a small screw driver. Doing the repair yourself in the field will save you time and needless frustrations with repeated restarting.


Take this step before challenging the Red Seal exam

By | Education, Events | No Comments

Hort Education BC is putting on a preparation course on Saturday, November 23, 2019 at the UBC Botanical Gardens. If you have 7, 920 documented hours in the horticulture industry (roughly four seasons) you can challenge the Red Seal exam. This preparation course is an excellent way to increase your chances of passing. Here is why.

Egan Davis

Egan Davis, the instructor, teaches at the UBC Botanical Gardens and he is super experienced and knowledgeable. He is a plant geek. You can ask him lots of questions but not about actual exam questions. Those are kept secret. You have to earn the Red Seal qualification; there are no short-cuts. The exam tests your knowledge and experience.

Egan sports a booming voice and excellent delivery. I doubt you will forget spending a day with him. He helped me pass in 2014 and I will forever be grateful to him.


When I took this course in 2014 I was in a rush because up-coming municipal jobs required Red Seal papers. And the preparation course was very new and evolving which is why it was free. Now it will cost you $90 but trust me, it is money well spent.

I took the full day course, studied for a few weeks and took comfort in the words of my municipal gardener boss. She told me I would do well based on listening to my comments in the field. This definitely encouraged me. The rest was all work experience from fifteen seasons in the field and landscape industry certified studies.

I did not smash the test but I passed! Now the ITA Red Seal diploma hangs on my wall and I am proud of it.

The key

All attendees received a thick manual which focused on areas where people struggle most. See, I told you, money well spent. I have no idea if attendees still receive manuals or what is in them but I bet it is something similar.

If you have any questions, call or e-mail Bill Hardy, he will help you: bhardy@horteducationbc.com or 604-430-0422.

Red Seal Landscape Horticulturist qualification is a nice trade paper to have. It identifies you as an experienced professional and should, in theory, lead to better pay. It also allows you to take on new apprentices.

If you are thinking about challenging the Red Seal exam in landscape horticulture take the preparation course first. Ninety dollars is a steal. Trust me.

Good luck!


Remembrance Day

By | Events, Trees | No Comments

Today is Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom today. Unfortunately, I had to work today but I did stop at 11 a.m. to remember those who made their ultimate sacrifice.

A new bed

In 2014, while working for the City of Coquitlam as a park labourer, we created a new bed for Remembrance Day at Blue Mountain Park. And now I drive by the park weekly so I remember fallen soldiers all year.

In subsequent years the municipality redesigned the front planted bed but the plants in the back remain. And I’m glad they do because I planted them with my city gardener boss. We planted yews (Taxus), Astilbes, maples (Acer) and one dogwood (Cornus).



I planted all of the back plants in 2014 with my city gardener boss. They all look fine.


First bare-root planting

The dogwood planting was very special because it was my first bare-root planting. Bare-root planting is recommended because when you wash off the root ball you can clearly see the tree roots. This then allows you to arrange them so they look like spokes on a wheel before planting. We want all roots to run out and get established, not keep running in circles. Feel free to prune out any rebel roots.

When you wash off the root ball, hold on to the mud you create. You will use it to plant the tree after your roots are nicely arranged like spokes on a wheel. The mud anchors the bare-root tree in the hole. At the time I didn’t know this. Keeping mud in the back of the truck seemed crazy.

The procedure is to install the muddy soil in phases: soil and water go in and then you wait for it to settle, and repeat the procedure until the hole is filled. The mud cements the tree in the hole.

When we did the planting in 2014 the lawn and soil were wet so I got very muddy but it didn’t bother me. I loved the new experience of bare-root planting.


Now, five years later in 2019, I finally stopped by to take a picture of the dogwood and it looks healthy. I gave it a quick wiggle test by moving the trunk back and forth. The base felt solid which means the tree is established. Yay! Success. The other plants look fine as well.



The dogwood in the middle was planted bare-root in 2014.


It feels good to know that my work will be on display for many years to come. I have since done one solo bare-root planting project and I hope to do many more. You should try it next time, too.

I hope you had a great Remembrance Day!