This is how Red Seal Vas rocks bedwork

By | gardening, Strata Maintenance, weeds | No Comments

Great bedwork gives your garden and landscape a beautiful edge but it’s not a popular task. So let me show you how it’s done properly.

Struggle

Busy with pruning, I could only observe a new employee performing finesse work with her hands and a rake. Since she wasn’t given any time parameters it took her a long while to complete a small bed area. She raked and hand picked weeds as best as she could. Then she finally moved on, leaving a nearby weedy tree well untouched.

And I don’t blame her. She wasn’t set up to win. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bedwork is simple. You just need to bring a good attitude to it. Let’s get sweaty.

No more struggles

Unless you’re hand picking huge trophy weeds, stop using your fingers for weeding. Professionals use tools and they stay on their feet. Sit down to enjoy your break, not to weed.

(Warning: if your company insists on hand weeding, use a small hand tool to save your fingers from abuse. )

Cultivate

Use a cultivator to uproot the weeds and fluff-up the soil. Concentrate on edges because that’s where weed seeds get blown; and where people miss them.

 

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Run your cultivator along the edge and uproot all of the weeds. Don’t hand pick tiny weeds.

 

The cultivator uproots the weeds and then we rake them up. Hand-picking many tiny weeds is time consuming and it’s unlikely you’ll pick the entire weed. This is why weedy hand-picked beds quickly return to weedy mess.

I also find that my fingers hurt after hours of slow weeding by hand. Don’t do it, unless you’re picking big trophy weeds.

Rake up

Next, gently rake up the mess you just made and be careful not to remove too much soil. If you do remove some soil-and you will!-remember the time you just saved. Your hand-picking colleagues are probably still hand-picking tiny weeds somewhere.

Place your debris into a tarp.

Remember to always keep your debris piles in bed edges, not outside on pavement or lawn. This eliminates unnecessary blowing later on.

 

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Note that the debris pile is raked to the edge, not on the stones.

 

Final step

The real final step is a clean-up blow but that’s done at the end of the day. Before you move on, rake any soil away from the edges.

 

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Note that I raked soil away from the bed edge to keep it sharp looking.

 

Bonus effect

One huge bonus is that cultivation leaves your beds fluffy and fresh looking. Hand-weeded beds still look tired afterwards. Shame. So what if it costs you a bit of sweat. Your beds will look great longer.

Bedwork is a critical component of landscape maintenance and yet it’s often labelled as “bitch work”. This is wrong. Follow my steps outlined in this blog post and you’ll be a gold star in no time.

On relaxed campsite landscaping

By | Landscaping, Plants | No Comments

I recently took my kids to Adams lake north of Chase, British Columbia. There they got to swim, ride in a motorboat and stay in a camper for the first time. And Daddy got a few days of rest which is critical for landscape professionals.

 

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Adams lake, British Columbia.

 

At the lake front is a collection of campers parked on leased lots. This makes everything safer and more fun. One feature of the community that delighted the kid’s mother was a nearby community washroom and shower building.

Of course, I didn’t stress about my kids showering because they swam in the clear lake every day. I also believe in not scrubbing away protective skin oils daily, unlike my wife, who is an expert on bacterial soaps.

All this leads us to the building mentioned above and its landscaping.

 

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What do you notice about the landscaping?

This bed is as relaxed as the setting. Just shooting the picture wasn’t relaxing because this was the women’s side and I didn’t want to arouse suspicion by taking too many pictures.

The plants look natural. They aren’t sheared into tight shapes they way their cousins are on strata title properties. It’s refreshing to see plants left to grow.

Also note that nobody is stressing about weeding. There are all sorts of wild grasses and weeds in this bed and nobody cares. It fits nicely into its natural setting.

The dwarf spruce and native Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) give us height; and there are small Hostas enjoying shade created by Euonymus alatus.

 

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Euonymus alatus

 

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Alchemilla

 

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Hosta

 

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Native Pacific ninebark

 

It was nice to spend Canada Day weekend with family at a lake and provide my kids with new experiences. But I also enjoyed seeing the relaxed landscaping which perfectly matched the relaxed setting. The plants were allowed to grow and look natural. It was nice to see.

How ISA certified arborists make extra cash

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

I’ve always argued that all landscape professionals should be ISA certified arborists. It allows them to stay busy in winter with tree pruning and it also introduces more variety to their work days. They can also charge arborist rates which are higher than landscape rates.

And the best part? Extra income. Allow me to illustrate with one of my recent experiences. After reading this blog post, you might be tempted to get ISA certified. If that’s the case, contact me and I’ll help you prepare.

Tree babysitter

A friend referred me to a tank removal company. It turns out that municipalities require ISA certified arborists to be on site during excavations where trees are present. In this case there was only one tree which could potentially suffer damage, a giant Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

With DBH at 24 inches, the critical root zone extends 3.6 m away from the trunk. In this case, 3.6 m reached to the edge of a cement car port. The tank was buried under the car port but the mini-excavator worked on the lawn side, at drip-line.

Excavation Amigo

It was almost surreal getting paid to watch two young Mexicans jackhammer cement. The excavator did the rest. After a few hours the young dudes wondered what I was doing there, standing with a hard hat on, watching. Once I explained I was there to make sure nothing happened to the tree behind them, they wanted my job. Of course they did. It was a good gig with a good mission.

Other than watching the excavation, I also had to pick up the city permits in person and write two letters. The first letter lets the city know that a great ISA certified arborist will be on site to monitor the tree; and the final report shows that, in my professional opinion, there was zero impact on the tree.

 

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The tank awaiting excavation. No structural roots were encountered at dripline.

 

Let’s recap: The critical root zone (3.6m from the trunk based on DBH of 24″) was never touched by the workers or machines. Remember, soil compaction silently kills trees; the first pass with an excavator does the most damage. This was news to the company owner.

When you compact a tree’s critical root zone you make it hard for fine surficial roots to collect water and nutrients. It might take several years for the tree to start declining.

Since all of the excavation took place at the edge of the dripline there was no damage. The tree obviously did well with the cement car port in place for many years. Any compaction would be on the lawn beyond the dripline.

I was extremely happy with my first tree babysitting gig. It was a good experience, both professionally and financially. And I’m confident the Douglas fir will easily outlive me.

Get ISA certified and reap the benefits!!

 

How to have fun with the X-Mark 30 walk behind mower

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

How do you cut a flat strata site with several long open lawn sections and some tighter spots? You use X-Mark’s 30 walk behind mower. Standard 21′ mower would be fine but it would require extra passes; and a big ride-on mower can’t access many of the tight spots.

I don’t often get to use the X-Mark 30 walk behind because, as a landscape supervisor, I usually move around different crews; and we often leave mowing to the newer workers.

But once in a while people go missing, especially during the summer months. There are weddings to attend and camp sites to populate. Then I get to help out and everything starts with lawn care.

Why X-Mark 30?

  1. Obviously, the larger deck means you have to make fewer passes which reduces user fatigue. As a landscape professional I’m used to fatigue but new guys get spooked by their own sweat. Fewer passes is a dream for them. It was so much fun cutting long straight stretches of lawn, it inspired this blog post.
  2. Because the mower is bigger, it takes some getting used to. It’s self-propelled and feels like a tank. It will crush any garden gnome that gets in the way.
  3. One drawback is that you will need help to load this beast on and off your truck, unless you have a ramp.
  4. The gas tank is huge so you can cover a huge area before re-fuelling.
  5. One cool feature is that the front wheels get adjusted separately: just lift the pin and the wheel pops out so you can insert it into whatever height you desire, quickly.

 

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Making fewer passes on long straight lawns is a bonus.

 

X-mark tech notes

You can read X-Mark’s notes on their website if you like. All I want you to know from this blog post is that the X-Mark 30 walk behind is surprisingly fun to use. If you have long straight stretches of lawn definitely try this beast.

 

 

 

 

 

Mistakes homeowners make

By | gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

This is yet another blog post inspired by a question posted on Quora.com. As a landscaper, what do you think are common mistakes homeowners make?

There are some mistakes that repeat so let’s take a look at my list.

 

A. Poor watering

People are busy so they take out their garden hose and spray their plants for a few minutes. Unfortunately, some plants, trees especially, require slow soaking which takes more time and attention.

 

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New plantings require slow soaking.

 

Before you water your garden beds, stick your finger in your soil to see how much moisture is in there.

Hanging baskets require heavy soaking. I learned this when I worked at the City of Coquitlam. I had to soak every hanging basket until the water was gushing out on the bottom. It seems crazy but if you have hanging baskets, water them really well. Don’t just spray them.

My boss’s wife dumped her hanging baskets last week because they dried out. I told her to soak next year’s baskets like hell and now, slightly upset, I fear she will start making mistakes on my paycheques.

 

B. Reaching for chemicals

Homeowners are quick to reach for chemicals to solve problems in their gardens. Yes, I know, your local big box store is selling it so it can’t be bad. Right? Don’t do it. Search for better solutions, don’t introduce synthetic chemicals to your garden.

I know people who dump Killex on their lawn weeds every year. Then their kids go out to use the trampoline. I tried to cover the weeds by fertilizing their lawns really well. It didn’t matter. Killex it was.

Incidentally, I object to the cover photo. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are awesome and edible. I frequently drink dandelion root tea. If you hate dandelions, dig them up manually.

 

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Just attach your hose and push the lever to on. Red Seal Vas does NOT recommend this.

 

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Are you sure you want this on your home lawn?

 

C. Client vs customer

Nobody enjoys getting ripped off but, please, get to know your landscape professional and keep him for years. That’s how you become a client and landscapers love clients. Why? Because we can educate clients while we solve their landscape problems. It becomes a good relationship.

I run from customers. Earlier this year, I was referred to a man with pressing landscape problems so I went to see him. His first question was how much? It seems logical to ask about rates but I already know this dude will be a headache.

His mugo pines (Pinus mugo) were covering over half of the public sidewalk and he was afraid of getting fined by the city. I would be more afraid of ladies in motorized wheelchairs raising their middle fingers.

I did the pruning by hand, got paid and left. I hope I never hear from him again.

Now, back to my own mistakes.

Enjoy your summer.

 

Never tolerate death in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

Some months ago I spent a very satisfying morning at one site removing dead plants.  I say satisfying because I hate seeing dead plants on any site. It always looks like the landscapers don’t care.

We removed so much dead plant material, it loaded up our truck. That’s how bad it was; and how long overdue it was.

Two special cases

There are two special cases where removing dead plant material can’t be done. One is where the strata council decides against it for whatever reason. Since they’re the people paying you for your services, all you can do is suggest courses of action.

Two, the site plants may still be under warranty if the site is still new and the strata council hasn’t taken over the site from the developers. You might get to catalogue the dead specimens and hope the developers replant them. It’s usually a bitter fight so don’t make it worse by removing dead plant material. Just wait until everything gets resolved.

Why?

It’s not always possible to find out why some plants died but you should try. With our West Coast summers getting hotter some plants are doing worse than others. For example, Western Red Cedars are suffering.

Sometimes it’s poor installation or malfunctioning irrigation system.

 

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This Rhododendron was smothered by landscape fabric and river rock. Fabric plugs up and doesn’t allow water to penetrate to the root zone.

 

Assuming the plants didn’t die because of your poor maintenance, this is a great opportunity to sell the strata new plants. And that means putting together a quote with labour costs plus mark-up on every plant. In exchange the strata gets a better looking site. Looking at dead plants is depressing.

 

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This dead Thuja plicata hedge looks terrible.

 

Not same old

Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to replace dead cedar hedges (Thuja occidentalis) with more cedars. We’re finding that Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) are doing much better in the landscape and form very nice hedges. You just have to make sure they get established well.

Trees should be treated the same way. Try a different tree species once you’re sure the tree is really dead. If you’re not sure, take your snips and gently scratch a branch. If it’s green underneath there is still life in it; if it’s brown, it’s toast and you should replace it.

 

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This Cornus tree failed the wiggle test but just to make sure, I scratched the branch. Brown means it’s toast so I pulled it out easily.

 

Conclusion

Dead plants look awful in the landscape. We want healthy, beautiful landscapes for people to live in. Try to remove and replace dead plants as soon as you can get approval from your clients.

 

One bad week

By | health and safety | No Comments

Life is never perfect. It will throw you some curves once in a while. I was thinking about this last week while planting fastigiate cherry laurels at a beautiful city site.

It was a perfect sunny morning and the site was nicely flushed out in new green foliage. One added bonus was that I had eight specimens of Prunus laurocerasus Genolia to plant. I had never planted this fastigiate species.

Broken body

And yet my body was slightly broken. It was almost comical. My right arm was swollen from a wasp sting earlier in the week; my left upper arm was swollen from a tetanus shot and my right shin still had stitches in it from a mid-week pruning accident.  I was extremely happy to take my son to his Friday night soccer tournament, buy coffee at Starbucks and just watch.

Stinging insects

It’s almost impossible to avoid stinging insects when you spend your whole day in the landscape. I was raking up debris after pruning shrubs and, since the leaves were stuck in rocks, I had to use my hands for the final step. And that’s when a nasty wasp sting alerted me to a nest inside wooden steps. That was on Monday.

By Wednesday my arm was nicely swollen and itchy.

 

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Shot soon after the sting, before swelling.

 

And that’s when I started pruning in tight backyards. The only way to access the shrubs was to step on metal grates which separate the houses from the shrubs.

Now, I have some field experience so I visually inspected the grates before stepping on them. Then I got cocky and fully concentrated on pruning.

Bam, the metal grate slipped out from the house side and I plummeted 3-4′ straight down. Luckily, the extendable shears kept the blades away from me.

Unfortunately, as I went straight down my shin hit the edge and created a nasty puncture wound. So, I drove myself to emergency and now I’m recovering. The gash is healing but the shin is sore so planting cherry laurels wasn’t as much fun as it usually is. Planting requires dropping to my knees and using a shovel. I managed.

 

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The new cherry laurel screen is in the back. Prunus laurocerasus Genolia.

 

It’s a long season in the field for landscape professionals. You can expect to work in all kinds of weather and don’t be surprised if one of your weeks goes sideways. But I’m sure you’ll manage.

Don’t miss CanWest 2019

By | Education, Events | No Comments

Don’t miss CanWest 2019 Horticulture Expo, Western Canada’s Premiere Horticulture Trade Show. If you read this blog frequently-and I hope you do!-you will know that I harp on this every year. The show runs from September 25-26, 2019.

 

Why I attend

 

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Landscape pro Vas planning his CanWest lecture line-up.

 

Yes, thanks to the generous support of my company, I get two paid days off to hang out at a trade show. But it’s not about escaping from work. It’s about learning and collecting education credits. And this year looks very promising.

As an ISA certified arborist I attend the full day Urban Foresters Symposium on Wednesday; and this year two lectures look interesting: tree planting and installation; and tree diseases affecting Pacific Northwest trees. There is usually enough time after the symposium to take the plant ID test on the trade floor.

Then, on Thursday, there are short courses available. This is my proposed list.

  1. Renovation pruning of an Old Garden, 8:30-10am
  2. Garden zombies: horticultural myths, 10:30-12:00, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott
  3. Pruning fruit trees, 1:15-2:45

CanWest rock star!

Note that the second course is taught by my online mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from the University of Washington. I have most of her books and I bought her Great Course. All of them are great resources. Not only is there science behind Linda’s work, she’s also local. If you’re not familiar with Linda, now is your chance to correct that frightening omission. Thank me later.

 

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Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, don’t miss her lectures and learn from her work.

 

Lots happening

There is lots more happening at CanWest than lectures. The trade floor is covered by booths, there is a job board, arborist demo zone, bug zone and pest ID challenge, and truck and trailer safety.

You can also reconnect with old co-workers and meet new people to build your network. This trade show is awesome for a professional landscape blogger like me. And some of my work will appear on this Proper Landscaping blog.

Don’t miss this year’s CanWest. If you see me there, please say Hello and give me feedback on this blog.

Learn. Connect. Grow.

Butterflies and cherry laurels: Why collecting new firsts is a lot of fun

By | gardening, Landscaping, Plants | No Comments

I really enjoy collecting new firsts. It makes my working life more exciting and, because I’m doing something for the first time, it becomes a good learning experience. Let’s examine two of my firsts from yesterday.

Butterflies

Yesterday, I was rushing my end of the day clean-up blow because my son had a soccer tournament to get to. Then I stopped to admire a Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). It flowers from June to September and clearly the flower panicles weren’t fully formed yet.

And then a butterfly showed up, attracted by the flowers and totally oblivious to my presence and the loud blower on my back. Finally I had my own picture of a Buddleia davidii with a butterfly, confirming the common name.

Now considered invasive, Buddleia davidii provides summer interest. Then when it starts to get out of control, we hack it up.

 

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Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) with a butterfly; my first photo confirming the common name.

 

Prunus hedges

I’ve seen and worked with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) before but the Genolia variety is new to me. This fastigiate cherry laurel (Prunus is in the cherry family) is perfect for privacy screens because it has a more upright habit (fastigiate). It also handles partial shade.

The upright habit and shade tolerance were critical factors in my project area.

 

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I had just taken out four dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘) from under a Styrax japonica tree. Obviously, replanting with the same cedars would be suspicious so in went the fastigiate cherry laurel. It can handle full sun, partial sun and shade; in this location it will get some sun and lots of shade.

The upright habit will help the homeowner create a privacy screen between his unit and the walkway. Plus the glossy green leaves are very attractive. The cherry laurel will also flower.

I watered the laurels in nicely and checked the planting depth afterwards. I got my first ever Prunus laurocerasus Genolia planting done; and the owner was extremely happy to get his dead cedars replaced. I can’t wait to check on the hedge later in the season.

 

Mid-season pruning in bear country

By | Pruning | No Comments

June and July are prime pruning months in the landscape. As we hit mid-season, most trees and shrubs are happily outgrowing their spaces and they must be pruned back. If you missed the mid-season pruning start in your garden, you can still catch up. On large strata-multi-family-complexes, getting off to a slow start can be problematic.

This is why I was sent to do some pruning in bear country. The strata site I worked on gets frequent visits from a mother bear and her two cubs. Luckily, the noise we make with power shears keeps the hungry bears far away.

The pruning on this site was also slightly behind schedule. Take a look at the picture below and identify the problems.

 

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How many problems do you see?

 

This is a classic mid-season area full of targets.

  1. The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) isn’t completely visible which bothers the residents.
  2.  The roses are sending shoots right through the Viburnum davidii shrubsI had to cut the roses down by hand with snips which was slow but necessary.
  3. All shrubs in the background require pruning.
  4. There are weeds in the bed edges.
  5. Trees have low hanging branches.

 

So, let’s grab sharp power shears, goggles and ear protection; and let’s get to work.

 

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Better?

 

  • The Japanese maple is now visible and the debris at its base is now gone.
  • The Viburnum davidii also look better without rose spikes sticking out of them. Note that I don’t like to power shear Viburnum davidii because it inevitably shreds the stems. If you have time, hand snip out any obvious spikes without making holes in the shrubs. Rake out whatever leafy debris you can but don’t stress out. It’s hard to get everything from inside multi-stemmed shrubs.
  • The rounded snowberry shrubs (Symphoricarpos albus) in the background are now under control.
  • Weeds are now gone from the edges and the bed edges are cultivated. This makes a good impression on people walking by or parking their cars. Note that the main task for the day was pruning so we weeded only the worst areas. I think the split would be something like 85% pruning-15% weeding. This is where new landscape foremen can falter: it’s critical to get your mid-season pruning done. If the finesse work suffers for  few weeks, so be it.
  • My tree work was limited to obstruction: low branches covering shrubs or interfering with parked cars. Summer isn’t the best time to prune trees. Wait for the fall when the leaves are gone and the crown structure is nicely visible. But don’t be afraid to prune your trees if there are obstruction issues.

 

When you hit June on the West Coast you should be thinking about mid-season pruning. And if you aren’t, chances are your clients will remind you with their requests.