Water your new installs for success

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

It drives me crazy when I see my landscape installs neglected and suffering from lack of water. It must be the biophilia effect because I feel responsible for the suffering plants. An yet, I can’t do much about it because it’s up to the owners to water their plants. I water them in on install day.

Water for success

This is your main take-away from this blog post: new plants require copious amounts of water to properly establish. As water goes in, roots chase it down and extend. And on it goes but not without water.

 

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Disappointing.

 

This is the worst case because I did everything myself. I removed the dead cedars, dug the holes, bought and delivered the new cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘), planted them and watered them in. Months later I took this picture with some disgust. Directly behind me was a perfectly functioning garden hose. It just takes time to properly soak the cedars once in a while. Cedars are very thirsty in their first year.

 

Magnolia

 

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Because of our summer drought this Magnolia tree exhibited early leaf senescence. With some watering from me it bounced back by pushing out new foliage. The cedars behind the tree weren’t so lucky. To be fair, shading from the Magnolia becomes permanent over time but I suspect lack of water was also a major contributor to this carnage.

Note the garden hose in the picture. I have no idea why it can’t be turned on and left to soak the area for twenty minutes. Again, it’s up to the owners to water.

 

Success!

Luckily, some owners get it. This unit has two little kids and the owners water. Plus they installed a soaker hose so their new cedar hedge would establish. This space used to be bare with only two stumps to look at and I, literally, paid for this install with my blood. Because the nearby creek breeds a lot of summer mosquitos this project was an adventure. My next blog post will be on my intimate knowledge of insect repellents.

 

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These owners get a gold start for watering.

 

As we ease into fall, there will be more landscape installs. It’s absolutely critical that owners water their new plants. Good plant establishment can only happen with good watering.

How professionals handle low-profile corners

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

I don’t believe in discrimination. Every part of the landscape should receive attention. Unfortunately, landscape companies are busy and often low-profile areas get less attention or worse, they get ignored. But that’s not my style.

 

Commercial site corner

 

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Before.

 

This ugly corner was on my list for weeks and I finally got to it. The most obvious blemish is the dead dogwood in the middle. The last thing you want on your site is dead plants. So I did the most economical thing available; I flush cut it as low as I could.

The entire bed was overrun with prickly bramble (Rubus armeniacus) which just spreads so I cut it at ground level knowing that this will be a fight until I actually dig it up.

Next came light hand pruning of the Pieris japonica shrub followed by raking and weeding.

 

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After.

 

It’s not exactly a beautiful garden spot that would inspire young lovers but the whole corner looks much better and I could take it off my mind.

 

Strata site corner

 

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This is the finished product. A crew came through and they pruned the Euonymus alatus shrub on the left. Great. If you like average, that is. So what would a landscape professional do? What would you do?

One, there is still debris on top of the shrub and, unless it’s removed, it will turn brown and make the whole shrub look unsightly. Always check plant tops when pruning.

Two, there is a dead shrub in the corner and no wonder. It’s planted under a double under hang so it doesn’t get much water. So why keep it? Remove it.

Three, the shrub on the right has lots of dead in it so I pruned out most of it. I probably should have power sheared it.

Four, there are obvious weeds like snapweed (Cardamine oligosperma) which snap when they are mature and shoot out seeds everywhere. It’s a bad idea to let weeds produce seeds. The corner should have been weeded right away after pruning.

 

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After.

 

The photo above shows the finished product. There are two spikes still visible on top of the right shrub but overall it is much cleaner. Unfortunately, it took two service visits to get it to this condition. As the workers gain experience they too will be able to read the landscape better and give all corners the attention they deserve.

Mow like a pro: basic mistakes to avoid

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

When new workers come on board it’s always fun to see them mow for the first time. Then the fun ends and mistakes must be gently corrected. Stay patient as the new workers get used to new sites. They mow like pros and you train them like a pro.

Let’s take a look at some examples from last week.

 

Missed lawns

It happens even when the yards are connected together but it can’t wait until next week because the unit owner will call to complain. Point out the miss and send the worker back. Easy.

 

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A completely missed lawn.

 

Tarp management

Workers are responsible for their tarps and must haul them out for collection to the road. Otherwise they get left behind and the office gets more unnecessary phone calls. The blower at the end of the day is the final check but it’s always a good idea to check on new workers.

 

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All tarps must be pulled out to the road for collection.

 

Mohawks

Mohawks happen when the mower doesn’t overlap properly. And they look awful one week later. Check your lawn before leaving to make sure it looks great.

 

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This mohawk will look worse a week from now.

 

Diligence!

Let’s not get sloppy, the gate must be moved, if necessary. The entire lawn gets mowed. No excuses. Kick the gate and go.

 

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Don’t cross your lines

 

So, your lawn is completed and you’re moving on. Do you take the shortest route to the gate? It would be the fastest route but it would ruin all of your beautiful laser lines. Don’t do it. Follow the edge and leave the lines intact. Never cross your finished laser lines!

 

 

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Learn to exit properly without cutting across your laser lines.

 

Mowing like a pro isn’t difficult. It just takes some time and patience. Practice, practice, practice!

Summer dangers in the landscape

By | health and safety, landscape maintenance | No Comments

There I was raking out a bed and to get under a rhododendron I had to bend down and use my hands. Seconds later my left thumb was in excruciating pain. Then I quickly clued in: my hand had just passed over a ground nest full of wasps. So I hosed off  my thumb for several minutes, finished the day and left for home in a foul mood. My left hand was swelling up with every passing hour.

There are many dangers facing landscapers in the field and in summer, insects are danger number one. Still, this was my only sting all season. And as long as I can do my job, I ignore all wasps. It’s usually the residents that panic.

One week later I ran into a tree nest full of wasps which is much easier to detect when the wasps are flying in and out. And I was ready, too! I had my spray can ready so I gave it a nice shake and aimed it at the opening. Out came a lot of white foam.

 

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This is much easier to spot than….

 

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…a ground nest.

 

Here is the key point of this blog post: when you buy a spray can for wasps and hornets, buy the gluey stream type not foam.

The foam coated the opening and the entire part of the nest facing me. Some wasps even escaped from the opening. Two weeks later I found live wasps still inside the nest. This doesn’t happen with the glue type spray can. The toxic glue comes out in a steady stream and plugs up the nest opening. Case closed.

Hint: use goggles and pray that the wind is blowing away from you.

I waited for two weeks before removing the nest. When I examined it, I found two wasps still alive inside. Hours later the pest control technician found some nest leftovers and questioned me about it. Most likely I had just prevented him from generating a fat invoice. Safety first!

Late summer wasp problems are common in landscaping so be careful. And if you buy a spray can to control the insects, do NOT buy the foam version.

 

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Buy this type of spray, NOT foam.

 

Why I find vertical line edging disturbing

By | Edging | No Comments

How do you handle your edging at home or at work? When I started out in landscaping in 2000, I wasn’t allowed to vertical edge. We always used a blade edger and that became my habit until I switched companies. My previous employers referred to people who practiced vertical line edging as “clowns”.

Now, once in a while I give vertical edging a go, especially in lower profile areas. Vertical edging refers to a line edger with string positioned so the head spins vertically north to south. Regular line edging runs horizontally along the grass and matches the height of the mower.

So why do I find it disturbing? There are several reasons detailed below. Feel free to comment on this post and let me know how you edge. I’d love to know.

 

Erosion

 

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This is an actual client complaint. As vertical edging happens weekly the lawn edge erodes so the bed actually extends farther into the lawn. This is because the line doesn’t hit the edge at the recommended 90 degrees, the way a blade edger would. The owner here is planning to install permanent plastic edging.

 

Ditches

Blade edgers use a sharp blade which creates a beautiful discreet ninety degree edge.

 

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My favourite edging attachment.

 

Vertical edging creates massive gaps that aren’t anywhere near 90 degrees.

 

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Interruptions

 

This is by far my biggest problem with vertical edging. Blade edgers have a guard so you can easily sneak under border plants without shredding them. This is very hard to pull off with a spinning line.

 

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Now what? Clearly the Hosta pictured above is getting shredded weekly and to complete the entire edge you will also have to behead the Acer palmatum dissectum. I have trouble doing that.

 

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Pictured above is the strata president’s Coreopsis. I wasn’t brave enough to shred it so I skipped the edging. A blade edger can sneak under easily. It’s these interruptions that I find disturbing. I like to edge on autopilot.

 

How do YOU edge? Leave comments.

Is peeling bark on mature Zelkova serrata trees a cause for panic?

By | Trees | No Comments

While working on one strata site recently, one of my tasks was to examine a row of Zelkova serrata trees because the strata council was concerned about two specimens with cracked bark. In the past they had to remove two specimens and now they needed a certified arborist to take a look.

Zelkova serrata

My first encounter with these trees was on the West Coast of Japan in Niigata City, Niigata prefecture. Now I was examining a full row inside a strata complex.

Zelkova serrata is a good street and shade tree with attractive bark and great fall colours. It tolerates pollution and it’s adaptable: it can handle heat, little water, various pH soil levels and nutrient poor soils. That’s not a bad list for an urban tree.

It grows to around 30m high with a short trunk which divides into many upright stems forming a round-topped head.

 

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Zelkova serrata

 

Leaves

The leaves are alternate and serrated thus the specific epithet serrata.

 

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Bark

But what about the bark cracking on mature trees? It looks like the tree is falling apart and possibly diseased. And I had to look this up because I had no clue.

 

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The red bark below is attractive but you can see how residents could easily panic when they come home to trees with cracked bark. It turns out Zelkova serrata trees do this as they mature but I don’t recall seeing it in Japan. Probably because I was paying attention to where I was going on my bike.

On one specimen the orange bark seems to be missing, exposing the wood below. I have yet to figure out what the cause may be. It may be purely academic anyway because the strata council is asking for replacements. They are asking for trees that reach smaller mature height.

 

How to please Block Watch with your pruning

By | Pruning, Security, Trees | No Comments

It’s always a good idea to ask yourself why you are pruning. In this blog post we’ll examine pruning ordered by Block Watch.

I’m not completely familiar with Block Watch but I know that volunteers keep their eyes open in their neighbourhood for any suspicious activities. And that includes overgrown trees and shrubs where they cause obstruction issues, block lights at night and could potentially provide cover for criminals and perverts.

So that’s how I ended up pruning two frequently used staircase areas.

 

Dogwoods

 

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Before.

 

This isn’t anything shocking at mid-season. The shrubby dogwood (Cornus) is encroaching into the walkway so I simply power-sheared it back into submission. Now all passersby can get through unmolested by vegetation and any criminals lurking in the shrubbery should be easy to spot. There are also several daylilies (Hemerocallis) that now have some room like the one visible in the bottom left corner.

Since it’s a bad idea to put power-shears in the ground, use hand snips to fix any missed and protruding branches. The same goes for any ugly, shredded stems. Proper raking and weeding should be done before a courtesy blow.

 

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After shot before clean-up blow.

 

Sumac

 

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Before.

 

Again, this doesn’t look so bad unless you use this staircase at night. The sumac tree (Rhus typhina) blocks light from reaching the stairs.

So I pruned branches away from the light pole and from above the stairs. But there was a lot more to do here.

Sumac likes to send suckers up so I had to hunt them down and remove them because the last thing we need here is more mature sumac trees. I also removed dead branches.

Then I snipped roses and Rhododendrons, plus I pinched off the old spent flowers for a cleaner look. It’s a time consuming activity but it can be done on smaller specimens to achieve a cleaner look. Just make sure you don’t pinch off the new buds.

Weeds and cultivation were the last things on my list before end of the day clean-up blow.

 

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After shot. The lamp is clearly visible.

 

 

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Rhus typhina distinctive flower spike.

 

Always ask yourself WHY you are pruning. This blog post shows the importance of clear high-profile staircases and night time light penetration.

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.