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.

Summer versus winter tree pruning

By | Seasonal, Trees | No Comments

Now that our deciduous landscape trees have lost their leaves we can clearly see the branch structures. And as I recently removed one broken branch I had a flashback to summer. And a blog post was born. So let’s consider the basic differences between summer and winter tree pruning.

 

Summer tree pruning

As trees flush out in spring strata property residents freak out about encroaching branches. That’s when I get called in.

Summer tree pruning is light because sunny days are already stressful enough for our landscape trees. Trees also store food in branches so removing too many could pose a problem for the trees. Remember, under drought conditions trees shut down their leaf openings to prevent moisture loss; this also means that they can’t produce food and must rely on reserves.

Most of the pruning requests revolve around crown shape and branch encroachment. Since the branch structure is hidden under foliage it’s best not to make too many radical cuts.

In the first example below you can see what the strata council wants: all birch crowns are to be tightened up. Nothing radical.

 

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In the second example below, the owners want this Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) lightly shaped so it’s off the building. Again, nothing radical. The lady loves the finished look.

 

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Winter tree pruning

 

Now consider winter tree pruning. Since the leaves are gone we can see branch structures well. And all of a sudden I’m finding broken branches in crowns that were until recently covered up by leaves.

 

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Broken branches must be removed (see white arrow).

 

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Green arrow: broken branch Orange arrow: branch pointing down Red arrow: location of my cut

 

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After shot.

 

Horror show

Not all winter tree pruning is enjoyable. Some strata complexes have their trees topped and, of course, the trees notice it. Then they produce extra sprouts from the cuts and we have to remove them annually. And so the cycle begins.

 

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All done! I’ll be back in 12 months.

 

Conclusion

Leave harsher tree pruning for the winter when the trees are dormant and their branch structures are clearly visible. If you must prune trees in summer, do it lightly.

 

Simple landscape projects: tripping hazards

By | Landscaping | No Comments

I always welcome breaks from regular maintenance work and this little project was a strata request. One of the residents often tripped on tree roots in the back of her unit and she also wanted a small area where she could plant something. So I went in and fixed it in a few hours.

Step 1

 

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This is the before picture with roots and one sad Hydrangea.

 

Step one involved marking the area and eliminating small surface roots. I laughed to myself because I like to run off-road and tree roots provide me with technical trail running fun. I love tree roots. But here the lady lived in fear of the small roots so I took out the smallest ones. The bigger ones got buried by soil amender.

 

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Only the smallest roots were removed from the new pathway.

 

Step 2

Step 2 involved moving in rocks to anchor the soil from moving down the slope. I had to borrow helpers for this step because two-man rocks require two men. Two strong men. Some of the smaller rocks we borrowed from a near-by stream bed.

 

Step 3

Since I was asked to remove a Skimmia shrub from a neighbouring patio bed I dug up the struggling Hydrangea and placed the Skimmia there. This is a common theme in strata landscape maintenance. We don’t want anything dead, diseased or obviously struggling. The one Hydrangea in the corner was at best marginal.

 

Step 4

 

 

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Two yards of soil amender.

 

 

This was the best step because I got to move two yards of soil amender. The soil is nice and fluffy and smells great. Note that since my truck was parked at an angle I didn’t lift the back to dump out the soil. I handled everything with my shovel because raising the back up on an angle could potentially flip the truck over on its side.

 

Step 5

The last step before a clean-up blow was lightly top dressing the pathway and over seeding it with good quality seed.

 

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The new pathway is on the right: root-free and over seeded.

 

I hope the lady likes her new bed and safer pathway. We’ll see what she plants in there.

 

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All done: new soil, rock anchors and a transplanted Skimmia.

The last service before Christmas

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

The last week of service before the Christmas break requires focus. Most people have holidays on their minds but it’s very important to leave your landscapes looking sharp. This is how you do it.

Simple

Keep it simple. This is a bad time for major projects and heavy pruning. This type of work should be written down in your notebook for January. So what do we do? We check all high-profile entrances and walkways; and inside roadways.

Today I raked out the top boulevard of my site, including leafy debris behind the hedges. Since residents, neighbours and holiday visitors use and drive-by the boulevard, it should look sharp. And today it did.

I did a little bit of hand snipping on the tops of Pieris japonica shrubs. Very lightly, just to take out the spiky growth. Unless you live in the complex, you can’t tell the shrubs were topped.

 

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Before: note the spikes on top.

 

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After: it still looks natural after pruning.

 

Backpack blow

Once my raking was done, I blew the entire site. This is a perfect time for a good, detailed blow. I normally hurry to get this noisy task out of the way but not today. Today everything got blown: the inside roadways, patios and lawns. I also blew the forest buffer zone where leafiness tends to accumulate.

After pile pick-up I hit a few weedy patches and touched up some deep edges.

The hardest part of the day was cleaning up the garden liaison’s garden. She has a Japanese-style garden and does her own maintenance but I had to clean-up cedar clippings from a few weeks ago. Cedar pruning always generates secondary drop and here I had to hand pick the clippings from inside her Hellebores. Carefully.

Note that this sort of work shouldn’t be delegated to your helpers unless they’re experienced and follow directions well. The previous company pruned the liaison’s cedar hedges too hard; and they’re no longer under contract with this strata!

Final check

I walked the small site at the end of the day to double-check everything. I also noted work tasks for the new year. When I pulled out from the site I was satisfied that it was clean for Christmas.

Happy holidays!!

 

 

Another classic residential pruning job

By | Company News, landscape maintenance | No Comments

The title of this blog post says ‘classic’ because the home owner was on a budget and had clearly let her hedges go wild. And now she was desperate to reclaim some space and light from her Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica).

This is common with homeowners. They start out with huge ambitions but a few years later they get overwhelmed and call in professionals. Then you don’t hear from them again for several seasons which is a mistake. Good, regular maintenance is best. I could tell from the garden weeds that not much happens around the patio other than smoking.

 

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The list

Luckily, the lady was still home when I arrived so we could talk about the work and her expectations. This is extremely important so you avoid any nasty misunderstandings.

The list was easy for an experienced landscaper:

  1. Prune large fence line hedge (Prunus lusitanica) but only “tickle” the tops so neighbours aren’t visible from the patio
  2. Prune the globe hard, especially off the gutters
  3. Clean up the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) by the window
  4. Remove one dead cedar (Thuja occidentalis) by the patio stairs
  5. Blow the leaves off the front lawn and from under the large hedge

 

Pruning

The pruning is easy when you have sharp shears; and the laurel is fairly soft, too. The only glitch was the slick wooden patio in the back. There was no way to anchor the ladder peg. Luckily I found a cement block under the hedge.

 

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Safety first!

 

Clean-ups

If you read my blogs regularly -and you should!- you will know that I harp on doing great clean-ups that match the pruning effort. Poor clean ups detract from your pruning work. Always clean up well.

Final courtesy blow is a given. I left the residence feeling happy with my effort. I just wonder how many seasons they will let it go before calling me back. Regular maintenance is best! I can’t stress that enough.

 

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