Landscaper in the hole

By | Landscaping | No Comments

I love it when I get to detour from regular landscape maintenance duties and work on a different project. For example, just last week I got to patch up a sinking hole in the lawn. There was a depression in the lawn and nobody was sure why. So, we fixed it in a few hours.

Access

How do you move several yards of lawn and garden mix soil into an area with lousy wheelbarrow access? Well, you make a phone call and you get the soil blown in. And that’s what happened.

We took advantage of a hole in the fence and ran the soil hoses through there. Fortunately, it was on a Monday morning and the worshippers were long gone. I’m not even sure if the new coronavirus allowed them to meet on Sunday.

Brutal access.
Blowing in soil.

Rolling it!

Now, it was important to roll the new soil as it was blown in so I danced with the operators. While I rolled the left side, they blew in soil on the right. Then we switched sides. And so on.

Yes, landscaping is a physical job; rolling a pin full of water to flatten soil is heavy labour. I was sweating under my toque and smiled about the very real possibility of weight loss.

It feels good to empty the rolling pin at the end.

Ginkgo

It wasn’t my idea to move a Ginkgo tree into the middle of the new depression-free lawn. I would prefer to re-plant it into native site soil, not into brand new lawn and garden mix.

So, we preserved as much of the root ball as we could and we plugged it in. Of course, this is a shock for the tree so it’s important to water it in gently with a slow soak.

Last step

Once temperatures go up high enough for grass seed to germinate, this lawn area will get hydroseeded. Hydro seeding is a faster and cheaper alternative to sod install. And it works well. Soon we’ll have a new lawn area to mow and it will be easier to maintain without the freaky depression.

The lesson here is that you can get around lousy site access by blowing soil in and hydroseeding. You will have to supply some labour.

All set for hydro seeding with male Ginkgo biloba.

Blade edger freaks

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

As I scrolled through my group newsfeed on Facebook, I noticed a lawn care post about blade edging. Finally, I found a brother in the United States who appreciates good blade edging. Here’s why you, too, should become a blade edger freak.

No lines

This picture isn’t very inspiring, is it. Left untouched, the grass will creep over and cover up the stepping stones. And that will defeat the purpose of having them installed in the first place.

To keep the grass creep in check, most landscapers will buzz down the edges. It’s not pretty but it arrests the creeping grass.

Also, note that line edgers are too weak to re-establish the hard edges. So, what do we do? I’m glad you asked!

Sharp lines

This is much better. To accomplish this work, we use a blade edger. Hit the engine, use the spinning metal blade to locate the hard edge, sink it in and follow the line. That’s it.

If you’re new to this work, kick the grass until you see the hard edge. Then rev the engine and sink the blade in.

If you encounter resistance, don’t be afraid to step back and hit the line again. Note how the sharp lines guide your eyes straight to the house. I find this extremely pleasing.

Final step

The final step involves blowing the stepping stones along both edges so the lines are nice and clear. Always pick up any grass chunks this work creates. Nicely re-established, these sharp lines should hold for a long time. Touch them up when required.

In online lawn care forums, many lawn care dudes use blade edgers to re-establish lawn edges but all subsequent touch-ups are done with line-edgers.

I don’t recommend this approach because the line edger isn’t as precise as the blade. One exception would be a day when your blade edger isn’t available. You decide.

If you love blade edging, embrace it because it’s normal.

Fall in love with your hand snips!

By | Pruning | No Comments

This is a great day for posting a new blog because it’s sunny outside and it’s a great day to believe in spring on this rare February 29th. So, let’s do an easy one about hand-pruning.

Euonymus

The request

The shrub above looks perfectly fine but the strata garden representative wanted a more formal mounded shape. Of course she did! It’s a common thing on strata properties, where there isn’t always sufficient space for plants to grow, to control everything with super-tight pruning.

Time-stressed landscapers often rush in with power shears, fire them up and shred the shrub into a ball. But, there is no need, especially if you have time; and in this case I did. (The boss was safely tucked away at a meeting.)

So, instead of creating air and noise pollution, I reached for my new Felco 4s hand snips and went to work for a few minutes.

Pro tip: always carry hand snips with you on your hip safely in a sheath. There is always something to correct and improve in your garden.

First, a huge advantage of hand snipping is that your cuts are precise and the plant tissues don’t get shredded. Your sharp snips make clean, precise cuts. Power shear have a tendency to shear plant tissues.

Second, another huge advantage is that hand snipping allows you to gently stagger your cuts. This way you still achieve your mounded shrub objective but with a softer look. In addition, it’s a quiet, relaxing job. I had fun doing it and it didn’t take me very long.

Pro tip: take care of small requests right away to impress your clients.

All done!

This is the after shot: we have a mounded shrub, as requested, made with precise hand snip cuts. It was a quick, relaxing task and it didn’t create any air or noise pollution. And the boss will never know!

Pro tip: always make sure your clean-up matches your pruning. Do it well.

I hope that this blog post will inspire you to fall in love with your hand snips. Not everything has to be power-sheared. Reach for your snips and enjoy!

Hydrangea deadheading

By | landscape maintenance, Plants, Pruning | No Comments

Do you cut off dead flowers from Hydrangeas? This is another burning question online so let’s examine it.

Bad habit

In commercial landscape maintenance workers tend to rush deadheading Hydrangeas and it’s a hard habit to break. There is absolutely no need to rush this task. Why?

The spent flowers can protect the new buds below from low temperatures and, when frost hits, the old flowers look brilliant. Once you cut them off, the show is over until summer. All you get to see is canes.

Recently, I had a client tell me to leave her spent Hydrangea flowers alone because birds like to hide in them. Ok. Done!

I think landscapers enjoy this deadheading task because it’s easy. It’s much easier than weeding and cultivating beds or worse, re-establishing deep-edges. I prefer to have something to look at in winter.

Careful!

If you must deadhead your Hydrangeas, do it carefully. Don’t cut lower than 2 to 3 buds. Since most Hydrangea plants flower on old wood, cutting too low risks removing flowers for next season.

This is where training comes in. It’s important to train all workers on proper pruning techniques. It happens every year. One unhappy client asks me to remove her Hydrangea because it never flowers. It just produces green canes. What a disappointment.

So, yet again, I have to beg her to stop pruning it. Green canes without flowers means that the pruning was too severe. Now all we can do is wait for next year because the flowers appear on last season’s wood.

I used to deadhead everything on my patio and in the landscape but not this past winter. I let the birds enjoy my perennials and I made some of my co-workers angry by insisting that we leave ornamental grasses standing. And the world didn’t end. So try it. Maybe you’ll form a new habit that will help birds in winter.

How to ruin someone’s garden!

By | gardening | No Comments

Disclaimer: this is a tongue-in-cheek blog post. Never ruin someone’s garden.

If you hang out online long enough, you will run into some crazy questions. Like this one: how do you ruin someone’s garden? Aha. Let’s have some fun.

Chemicals

Contact liquids

For sure the quickest way to ruin someone’s garden is to cover it in copious amounts of weed killer. I don’t want to name any one specific product but there are many available, they’re cheap and they work. If you soak everything thoroughly, you’re guaranteed success. Usually in a matter of hours.

Warning: cosmetic pesticide use isn’t allowed in British Columbia. Of course, this is a tongue-in-cheek blog post. I’m not expecting anyone to actually run out and ruin a garden but if you do, do it under cover of darkness.

Pre-emergent granular

You might also consider applying a pre-emergent granular product that forms a barrier on top of the soil. It will sterilize your garden soil and affect the most important part of garden soil: the life in the soil.

The discussion used to be about soil content. How much organic matter is in the soil, etc. But now we’re finding out that the life in your soil is crucial to success. You can quickly ruin a garden by affecting the life in its soil.

Grass seed

Dumping fast-germinating grass seed onto someone’s garden would also be a nightmare because you’d have to weed it out. And that’s not fun.

This is actually a thing in the landscaping industry. When company A loses a maintenance contract to company B, they dump a lot of expensive grass seed into beds just to mess with the new landscapers moving in. It’s hard to believe, I know.

Stop weeding

You can also ruin a garden by not weeding. Allow all weedy plants to flower and produce seeds. Since weeds are opportunistic colonizers they usually produce lots of seeds. So let them produce their seeds. They will accumulate in the soil and cause headaches for years to come.

There you have it. I hope that whoever asked the question online was kidding because need healthy gardens. One book I recommend is Dr. David Goulson’s The Garden Jungle. He wants you to stop worrying about global climate emergencies. Start with your own garden.

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.

Annuals

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

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.

Sedums.

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

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.

Pruning

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.

Rescued!

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

By | Plants | No Comments

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)