The biggest NO-NO in lawn care

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Somebody on Quora.com posed this question and it took me just seconds to decide what the biggest no-no in lawn care is. I hate lawn scalping so much, I call it the ultimate sin. Just remember that new workers have to gain experience and are likely to make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world but they must be aware of it. Careless mowing shouldn’t be tolerated.

Here’s what scalping is and why it’s a sin.

Scalping

Scalping happens when your mower slips off the edge of your lawn and the blades cut into it. This leaves a nasty brown spot in your lawn. New lawn care workers are warned not to get too close to the edges because line trimmers are coming along to take care of the danger zones.

Note that line edgers can also slip and scalp lawns so be careful. The machine is different but the effect is the same ugly brown lawn patches. Or worse, patches.

 

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This is a line edger scalp. Always line trim at the same height as your lawn.

 

Why it’s a sin

So, what’s the big deal? If you scalp your lawn doesn’t the grass just regrow? Not so fast.

It’s ugly

First of all, the scalp looks ugly. This is especially serious close to high-profile lawn areas. And also in late fall just before the lawn cutting season ends. Obviously, late season scalps will not cover over and will remain ugly all winter.

I witnessed this once when a ride-on mower dude made several mistakes on the very last cut of the season. My then-boss drove by and freaked out. If the dude wasn’t a perfect ride-on mower drone, he would have been fired. Remember, lawns should look great all season. Don’t scalp them.

 

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A classic lawn scalp where the mower slipped off the edge. The brown part is where the blade took out healthy grass. It’s ugly.

 

Meristems

Grass blades grow from meristems. These are growth points located roughly in the lower third of each grass blade. So, when you cut below this point, the grass doesn’t regrow. The ugly patch gets covered over eventually as neighbouring grass spreads out. That’s if you’re lucky.

Scalp first aid

Smart lawn care workers quickly throw grass clippings over the scalp to make it look green, not brown. They also use line edgers to even out the green grass around the scalp to make it blend in more. Then pray to God your foreman doesn’t discover the mistake. By next week you could potentially blame someone else.

I’m kidding, of course. Mistakes happen. Just mow better next time. Mastery takes time.

Conclusion

Don’t scalp your lawns. It’s the ultimate sin in lawn care.

 

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Never run your mower through tree wells. It’s a bad habit. Just look at the wheel marks and the ugly brown scalp.

Can you handle landscape requests?

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

When you work on multi-family strata complex landscapes all week you are bound to get a few requests. Can you handle that? Of course you can. This is how it’s done.

Plan

Don’t let owner requests derail your plan for the day. Yes, I know, sometimes the owners make it sound like the world is ending; and they leave you thinking that their medication ran out. So just note the request details, unit number and name.

If it’s something really simple then do it right away. Today, for example, we had a shrub sticking out of the ground so we got a shovel and replanted it. Easy fix.

If the request is more time consuming, make a note of it and do it as soon as you can.

 

One example

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Plant separation required here.

 

The owner freaked out about this Spirea japonica and Sarcococca marriage. I took several deep breaths and assured her that I would fix it as soon as I could. But not today because we had too much to do. Since I know this unit well, I didn’t have to write anything down.

I like plant separation but this is hardly a disaster. If anything, it’s a good sign because both plants are doing well. The Sarcococca will push out fragrant flowers in February when nothing much is happening in the landscape. Spirea japonica is a summer shrub and it has decent fall colour as well.

The fix

It took only a few minutes for me to hand snip the Spirea down by half. Don’t worry, I’ve done it before. It will push out again in spring. I also pulled out any Sarcococca runners that were too close to the Spirea.

 

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All done!

 

Don’t worry about client requests. Instead, be happy you can interact with your clients. Write down the details and do it as soon as you can. If it’s small, do it right away because your speed and attention will impress them.

Why I never miss the CanWest Hort Expo

By | Education, Events | No Comments

I write this blog post every year because I firmly believe that all landscape professionals in British Columbia should make time for the CanWest Hort Expo. I’m luckier than most in that my employer sponsors my CanWest visits by covering both my work time and the expo fees. But, whatever your circumstances may be, make time and budget to attend the 2019 expo.

Why CanWest?

Urban Forestry Symposium

What’s so special about CanWest? Well, let’s see. I attend the event because I want to learn new things, collect CEUs (education credits) and pump out blog posts out of it. I usually spend the entire Wednesday learning at the Urban Forestry Symposium which leaves me a little bit of time to check out the trade booths.

The symposium covers three to four lectures and many times the speakers are Ph.D. experts in their field. I fill up my notebook with notes and marvel at how articulate the presenters are. There is always a gem, one big idea or aha moment in every lecture. It’s money well spent.

Lunch is included so try to mingle and network. I often steal extra pens and notepads. Take extra handout copies for your employees. And sign the CEU sheet for credit from the ISA.

 

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Short courses

Last year I attended three short seminars which is all I could squeeze into my Thursday. You can pick whatever seminar topics interest you and go to those. There are usually several concurrent seminars going on and they all give you CEUs.

Plant ID contest

This is the best booth at CanWest. Yes, you can put your passing score paper in for a draw prize but I do it for the challenge. Usually it comes down to the last two specimens. So, visit this booth and take the test. You could win a prize. Check out my blog about last year’s plant ID booth.

Trade booths

Walk the floor and see what’s available for sale from tools and machines to nursery plants. This is another great opportunity to talk to people and network. Last year I ran into my ex-municipal foreman boss which was fun; and into some former co-workers. Always stay in touch with industry people. You never know.

Fun

You can eat and drink alcohol at CanWest and there is live entertainment. I don’t normally care about this aspect of the show but some people get excited about tailgate parties.

Jobs

If you need workers or a job, there is a huge job board at the expo so stop by. The industry always needs good workers.

The 2019 CanWest Hort Expo is on September 24 and 25. Don’t miss it. See you there!

 

Company wellness plan: trail race edition

By | Events | No Comments

Companies don’t need costly, formal wellness plans for their employees. It can be done informally. One good example is a trail race from November 2018. The company boss ran his first trail race with one of our fastest foremen. It was a gruelling off-road half marathon and also in the field were the famous- now retired- Vancouver Canucks Sedin twins.

 

Short course 12.5km

 

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Not a bad race course!

 

The boss generously sponsored six other employees in the short 12.5 km course race. And the game was on because I was the oldest in the group and they were all gunning for their supervisor. Fools.

The North Shore morning sun was extremely pleasant but it was still cool in the shade. I was careful not to over-dress and I was the only runner in our group to warm-up. Remember, you should get to the starting line sweaty.

One of the runners in our group, let’s give him a fake name like Stan, took off fast but we stayed close to him. Once he started walking in the first 3km, I knew I’d take him; and I did. Stan would later pollute the forest trails with his vomit. Four times!

I felt surprisingly well, well enough to notice the morning mist spilling out of the forest and on to the open trail. It was an amazing effect, as if the forest was breathing.

Once I passed Stan, nobody would come close to me and I crossed the finish line two full minutes ahead of one foreman. He considered it a success but I noted to myself that I’m old enough to be his father. The others finished well behind me but they finished!

We took a team photo before I had to run off. Later at home I checked the results and I was ecstatic with my number one placing in age category. I still got it, I thought, but then I scrolled up and noticed that my boss had entered me in the 60-69 age group. Very funny.

 

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Landscape pro Vas (949) competing in the Gunner Shaw XC on December 1, 2018. This time I was sponsored by my Phoenix running club.

 

Success

With a small investment my boss got seven employees to run a trail race in the woods on a sunny November morning. All of us finished and there was some team bonding happening. The boss even took them out for lunch.

Next is the 2019 Sun Run, Canada’s largest 10 km race, which we will enter as a team in the corporate division. I think we’ll do fine.

All companies can design informal wellness plans for their employees. It’s good for the company and for the workers.

 

Landscape install fails from 2018

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

I love soft landscape installations with soil and plants because this kind of work breaks up my usual maintenance routine. Normally, everything goes well but this blog post examines two fails from 2018.

When I do all of the work I feel responsible for it. So when,  months later, I find out that things didn’t work out I need to know why. Let’s take a look.

 

Racetrack Dahlias

I remember this awesome morning well because my job was to plant Dahlias at a horse racetrack. First, I had to remove the dead plants in the planters.

 

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Preparations for new flowers in the winner’s circle.

 

Second, I installed new Dahlias; long-stemmed on top and short-stemmed on the bottom.

 

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All Dahlias are planted; only watering and clean-up remain.

 

Everything fit nicely and I had more than enough plants so I also planted some Dahlias into pots. As I worked, many of the female trainers commented on how nice it was to get some colour this close to the racetrack. Of course it was!

 

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What worried me was the large truck which came by periodically, spraying the racetrack with a liquid I assumed was water to keep the dust down. I suspect it wasn’t straight water.

Once the plants were installed, I top-dressed everything with new soil to give the planters a nice dark look; and to give the plants a little kick because the existing soil looked spent.

The last step involved watering. I found a long hose but I had to track down the building maintenance dude to get a water key. Once I watered the planters, I also hosed off the concrete. This is consistent with good landscape maintenance: always leave your work area clean so the clients don’t even notice your presence.

 

Fail!

Sadly, several weeks later, the live Dahlias had to be replaced with plastic flowers. Like most plants, they needed regular watering. I also suspect that the original soil in the planters was weak. And the racetrack dust also can’t be good for the plants. I didn’t ask but I suspect that the racetrack spraying isn’t done with normal water. There might be additives that help keep the dust down.

 

Water

Like people, plants require water to function properly. The second fail involved a cedar hedge request. Here the case is 99% clear, the owners didn’t water the new cedars, even though a hose was available by the door.

I bought the plants, installed them and watered them in. The rest was up to the owner.

Months later I arrived on site and I was crushed because only a few specimens were still green. And while I am not responsible for watering, I did consider this project a waste of money and effort. New cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) are very thirsty.

 

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I have no idea what will replace these dead cedars. I can’t imagine the owners would request more of them.

 

Conclusion

You always do your absolute best with landscape installation projects but there will be a few fails. Overall, 2018 was a great season for new installs. These two fails bothered me for a while but instead of dwelling on them, I wrote a blog post about them. That’s cheaper than therapy.

Plants require water just like people so always water-in your newly installed plants.

 

City of Port Coquitlam wants more trees!

By | Trees | No Comments

I openly admit to quickly scanning my weekly issues of Tri City News and moving on. But, in late January I noticed a great headline. “PoCo wants big boost in trees” , TriCityNews  (Thursday, January 24, 2019, section A9). More trees is like music to my ears.

The Port Coquitlam city council wants to plant 350 trees every year until 2060. This would increase the city’s tree canopy from 23.8% to 25% in 41 years.

But Councillor Laura Dupont doesn’t think the targets above are ambitious enough. She wants to see a 30% canopy cover by 2035. I love it. If I lived in Port Coquitlam I would vote for Laura Dupont and nominate her for some sort of community award.

Money

The problem with Dupont’s target is lack of money. Planting trees is expensive. To raise funds the city will collect $100 from homeowners who cut down trees on their properties. And illegal cutting will trigger larger fines.

Why more trees?

The article doesn’t mention why we need more trees. Perhaps it’s too obvious. So, why do we need more trees and a larger city canopy cover?

Trees provide numerous ecosystem services for free. A larger city canopy cover would cool down the city in summer which may be critical on a planet affected by Global Warming. Paved cities act as heat islands and green spaces provide cooling.

Last year there were reports from India about a big city suffering, I mean really suffering, through heat waves. Then somebody noticed the complete lack of green spaces. It’s a huge mistake to eliminate green spaces from cities.

Trees also remove air pollutants and they produce oxygen. And who doesn’t like free oxygen?

Trees also look great. Many tree species are beautiful and they provide food and habitat for animals.

Green spaces also make people happier and safer.

 

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Conclusion

The Port Coquitlam city council’s plan to plant more trees every year until 2060 is a brilliant idea. Trees provide numerous ecosystem services for free. I can’t wait to see what tree species they plant.

Aralia cordata: my plant ID nightmare

By | gardening, Species | No Comments

 



 

Picture landscape pro Vas in a meeting, standing with his boss in the garden liaison’s garden. She’s looking at one of her pots and mentions that she would like to get more of these plants on her site. Sure, what are they? She had no clue so the boss turned to me. Come on, Red Seal Journeyman star!

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And I had no clue what it was. There were green heart-shaped leaves in a pot. This is one of those nightmare scenarios because you’re trying to look super knowledgeable and your brain goes blank.

It got worse in the forest buffer zone when I couldn’t recall the native shrub Sambucus racemosa. Oh, well, you just have to laugh it off. I could only recall the beautiful S. nigra.

Sun King

 

Do you know this plant?

 

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I failed the patio quiz but now I know one more plant. No big deal. This is Aralia cordata Sun King (Japanese spikenard).

It’s evident that this garden liaison had done her homework. Aralia cordata is perfect for pots in partly shaded patios or entryways. This is exactly where this plant is. It’s in a pot just as you walk in through the gate onto her patio. Trees above provide lots of shade.

The leaves are bright gold colour in summer which brightens up this gate area nicely.

Flowers come in mid-spring are followed by black ornamental berries. Expect the foliage to die back to the ground in winter. Clean it up nicely and wait for spring to bring the Sun King back.

This potted Sun King is in a woodland, Japanese-style garden and near-by are ferns, sedges and Hydrangeas. The Sun King works well with woodland perennials and hostas, all of which like shade.

In the end we managed to find and install a few specimens of Aralia cordata Sun King on this site. I doubt I will forget this plant again.

Keep working on your plant ID skills.

 



 

How landscapers make money in the off-season

By | Seasonal | No Comments

The landscape off-season deserves its own blog post. How do landscapers make money in the off-season? It’s a good question. I’ve been asked on Quora.com and on the sidelines at soccer matches.

Young lay-offs

Just today one of our younger workers mentioned that he was counting down to his lay-off. Great! He will do some travelling with his friends which is a good plan for a young dude. Many young workers still live at home so their unemployment benefits are adequate. And they escape the worst weather. This is the easiest off-season ride I know.

Veteran pros

But what about veteran professionals with kids to feed? On the West Coast there is no off-season, assuming the weather holds. With Global Warming this isn’t always clear. I use vacation time to cover any missed days due to snow. I hate snow because it causes down time.

Normally we go all the way, except for one week off over Christmas. Yes, the weather sucks but it’s better than taking your kids to a food bank.

Normally we do lots of pruning and we hit semi-wild zones that don’t get regular servicing. We also re-establish bed edges.

 

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Deep edging redefines bed edges nicely and is a perfect winter activity.

 

I should add that employers want their veteran workers in the field working so they don’t disappear before spring hits. My boss knows that I need to work.

ISA advantage

It helps to have your ISA arborist certification because there is lots of tree pruning to do in winter. When you’re certified you’re more likely to score this kind of work when others are struggling to find work on frosty days.

I firmly believe that all landscapers should be ISA certified arborists.

 

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Post winter storm tree work.

 

Pro blogger

Personally, as a pro blogger, I publish blog posts all year but I find that there is more time for writing and reflection at the end of the season. I make money by selling my blog posts to landscape companies.

The off-season is also great for collecting my best blog posts and publishing them in eBook format. I use the very excellent Designrr software to create eBooks in minutes. The magic is that the software takes the blog post URL and copies the text over without any other website junk like headers and footers. You can literally create a new eBook in minutes. I love it so much, I’ve signed up for the Designrr affiliate program.

 

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This is one of my self-published eBooks.

 

Jobs

Some landscapers find jobs in unrelated fields to get through the off-season. I know of some young dudes working in bars. It depends on how desperate things get.

 

Planning

There is no-off season on the West Coast when the weather holds. With a bit of planning landscapers can make money in winter. I find that with ISA certification landscapers have more options and opportunities.

 

 



Red Seal fail

By | Education, Landscaping | No Comments

The Red Seal exam for landscape horticulture isn’t easy and it shouldn’t be because it gives you journeyman status. It’s a tough exam so some people fail. I know a foreman who finished all four apprenticeship levels and then sat the exam unsuccessfully. It happens.

Since the exam fee includes a re-write, she took the test again. No luck. Now what? Luckily her boss is giving her a chance to float among crews and do different things so she can gain more experience.

Experience!

Red Seal candidates must realize that the Landscape Horticulture exam is experience based. The questions are worded so they test the candidate’s experience, not just straight book knowledge. For example, you might be asked about a specific plant. Is it planted for summer foliage or fall berries? If you’ve never seen the plant in the field, you’re stuck guessing.

The best learning moments come in the field. This was in my head last week as I was digging up an old, dog urine soaked lawn. Yes, the smell was probably detectable by NASA but this Red Seal had a job to do. And I welcomed the chance to practice installing new sod. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done very many sod install jobs.

Do it all!

This is my best advice for future Red Seal journeyman horticulturists. Do it all in the field. Use every tool and machine. Install new landscapes, keep plant tags and get very dirty. Like I did, digging up dog urine soaked soil so I could install new sod. This is how you become Red Seal. Do it all with a smile and collect your experience.

 

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Keys to sod install

  1. level everything off, roll it with a pin and apply starter fertilizer
  2. stagger the sod pieces and fit them tightly together
  3. water everything! Don’t skip this step.

 

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Levelled and rolled.

 

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Stagger the sod pieces to eliminate any long seams.

 

 

Happy ending

When you know you’re struggling in one specific area then face your fears. I failed two modules on my ISA arborist test and studied hard to pass them. It helps if you’re stubborn like me. I also had to do the “Planting and staking” station three times to become Landscape Industry Certified. No big deal. I studied and practiced and got my happy ending.

I’m convinced our foreman from this blog post will eventually pass the exam. But I think she’ll need to face her fears and get help with calculations. In the meantime she’s busy doing it in the field. The way it should be.

 

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All done! All of the sod pieces are tight and the new lawn is watered.