Can your beds have too much colour?

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

 

Before we get to the title question, let me set this up. Some weeks ago I walked into a local store looking for summer fertilizer. No luck. But I did find several specimens of Orange New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea) marked for clearance at $2. Two dollars? That’s right, just two dollars for a sedge with attractive foliage. And you don’t have to touch it all year. I bought one for each hand and walked out with a smile.

Now, why wouldn’t a sedge fly off the shelves? Because it doesn’t sport any bright colours!

Beauty or chaos?

 

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Can your beds have too much colour? When I see beds like the one pictured above I feel chaos because my eyes don’t know where to focus. I need calm and tranquility. And of course, this is all super subjective. I’m sure the owner is super happy about her garden.

I’m not judging anybody. I’m happy people have time to garden because it’s good for them, both physically and mentally.

Also, I’m not a garden designer. If I was, I would know the technical terms for too much colour. I just know my feeling of unease. So I had to write a blog post about it so I can let it go.

 

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Once again, this is too much colour for me. When I walk by, this bed does nothing for me because my eyes can’t rest.

 

Tranquility

 

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This is what I like. And you had to expect it from a dude who considers a $2 sedge a bargain. The flowering Thyme attracts lots of bees and it’s nicely bordered by Corral bells (Heuchera). Heucheras produce nice white flowers but they’re not super showy. It’s their deep purple foliage that rocks.

The yuccas add more white colour and height to the presentation. Best of all, my eyes aren’t pulled in many different directions. I can enjoy the view in peace. There, I said it, and now I can let it go.

Enjoy your garden this summer!

Learn to love your new Oakleaf Hydrangea

By | Plants | No Comments

This blog post is about oakleaf hydrangeas but I have to set it up a bit. It will make sense shortly.

Professional landscapers are more likely to hear a complaint than “thank you”. Sadly, that’s how it is. But there are exceptions. For example, one beautiful and large site treats its landscapers to a monthly lunch. Nice! In July it was a barbecue.

Smoke and fire!

Walking back to refuel my power shears, I noticed smoke between shrubs and assumed the barbecue was already on. I was wrong. A rebel worker was breaking WCB regulations by smoking on the job so I explained it to him in stronger language that doesn’t belong on this blog.

At lunch both crews assembled for the barbecue and minutes later one owner burst through the gate yelling “fire”. That would have been strange: ten people sitting around a table making small talk while a fire rages on.

What? No flowers?

The barbecue hosts eventually ran out of small talk and asked me why their new Oak leaf hydrangea wasn’t flowering. Well, like most hydrangeas they flower on the prior year’s wood. Since this was a new plant without flowers I told them to stay patient and wait for next season.

The owner replied that at 66 years of age, she didn’t have much time to wait for flowers. She has no choice.

 

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Brand new Oakleaf hydrangea. It will flower next season on the wood from this season, assuming the owners don’t prune it.

 

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This specimen was planted last year so the flowers are growing on last year’s wood. This is a common hydrangea habit.

 

LOVE IT!

 

Oak leaf hydrangeas are beautiful. I find the oak shaped leaves a nice break from regular hydrangea leaves. If you want some change, get one Oak leaf hydrangea for your garden. And if it doesn’t have any flowers, stay patient and don’t prune it.

Your street trees need water too

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

I normally ignore ads in local newspapers but my eye caught a nice ad from City of Surrey. It’s reminding us that street trees need water just like our own trees and gardens. Especially trees under five metres tall. Older more established trees can handle a few weeks of dry weather because they have well-established roots.

How to water street trees

I like to use a standard garden hose without a nozzle and slow-soak the trees along the drip-line. Drip line means the ground directly below the tip of the furthest reaching branches. I see many people spray their trees and shrubs with the same sprays used for flowers.

Yes, it takes more time but slow-soaking trees is the best way to water them.

City recommendations

This is what the City of Surrey recommends:

  1. use a hose equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle
  2. water twice per week for 15 minutes with a steady stream of water (about 20L)
  3. water at the drip-line

The City of Surrey will also provide you with watering bags if you have young trees on your street.

Plant stress

Water stressed trees can drop their leaves prematurely and be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Recently I had residents point out problems with their plants and all of them were clearly water stressed. It starts with adequate watering. Pests appear when the plants are weak and stressed.

 

Early summer photo essay

By | Species | No Comments

Every winter I dream about writing blog posts like this, highlighting¬† colours in the landscape; as I reluctantly put on extra layers before heading out into the landscape, suffering from a mild case of seasonal depression. Then I arrive at early summer and life is good. So let’s see.

 

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Cosmos

 

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

 

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Columbine

 

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Oakleaf hydrangea

 

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Monarda

 

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Escallonia

 

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Mahonia

 

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Lilly

 

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Hypericum St. John’s wort, an awesome groundcover

 

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Hemerocallis

 

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Rudbeckia

 

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Echinacea

 

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Astilbe

 

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Arbutus unedo

 

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Papaver Poppy

 

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Shrubby rose

 

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Coreopsis

 

What’s growing in your garden?

Enjoy your summer!!

Aphids from hell

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

Aphids are soft-bodied, sucking insects and they have a well-known association with tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). As they suck on the leaves they exude sticky honeydew because they can’t process sugars. The trees aren’t harmed and beneficial insects arrive to feast on the sugars and on the aphids. That’s the basic biology.

 

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Tulip tree leaf covered in aphids and sticky honeydew because aphids can’t process sugars.

 

One desperate owner

Every summer the same desperate patio owner approaches me asking if I could take out more branches off the tulip trees. And it turns out I can’t. I would need a bucket truck.

Whenever there is a clash between people and trees, I normally favour the trees because we need them. Trees provide many, many, free ecosystem services; and lately tree planting is suggested as one way to fight climate change.

And yet, I really feel for this lady. Imagine her sitting out on her back patio, drinking wine with her husband as her little kids play at their feet. Then she looks up and sees aphid honeydew falling down all over her yard. That’s messed up. Aphids from hell!

 

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Untouchable city trees on the left and honeydew covered patio. An unfortunate choice of tree species for this setting.

 

City trees

Since the boulevard trees technically belong to the City of Maple Ridge, they are protected and very unlikely to get removed. Poor lady.

I’ve taken out a few lower branches but taking out any more with a bucket truck would probably attract the attention of bylaw officers. And I don’t even have access to a bucket truck. Plus the trees wouldn’t look like normal trees.

And so the lady suffers every summer, sitting on sticky patio furniture and probably cursing her real estate agent.

She isn’t the only one. I have written a blog post after reading about another desperate home owner in Vancouver.

Still, we need trees in our cities and sticky honeydew can’t be enough to condemn them.

 

Why autopilot pruning is a bad idea

By | Pruning | No Comments

June and early July is mid-season pruning time on the West Coast. As plants flush out people start panicking and out come hand snips and power shears. This is especially true on strata (multi-family) sites where there is limited space and nature must be harshly controlled.

Autopilot?

Successful pruning requires good knowledge of plants and an intimate knowledge of your clients’ sites. Autopilot pruning can lead to disaster. We can’t just take a run at the landscape. Why not? Because different plants have different flowering times and specific requirements. For example, I power shear Philadelphus x virginalis but not Rhododendrons.

 

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Power sheared Rhododendrons look ugly.

 

 

Owners also have their specific requirements which is why it’s important to keep detailed site notes and inform all new employees.

 

Weeping owner

 

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This weeping lilac is nicely pruned but the worker went a bit too far. You have to disconnect your autopilot and think about the plant’s growth habit. It’s OK to keep any weeping branches from touching the ground but it’s a mistake to eliminate the weeping habit.

When the owner came home, her lilac wasn’t weeping anymore but she was. And the worker learned a good lesson.

 

Mind the gap

 

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Last year I was sent to this site to help with pruning. How would you prune this area?

Incorrectly thinking the small Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken‘ in the middle had to be rescued, I expertly shaved both Prunus lusitanica hedges. Minutes later I got a lecture from the owner: he was hoping the two Portuguese laurels would become one. I had no idea. One year later they’re getting closer but I still think the small laurel in the middle is thinking….WTH?

 

Conclusion

Successful pruning requires good plant and site knowledge. When owners have weird habits and requests make note of them and inform any new staff. If you learn a good lesson the hard way then learn from it and move on. The shrubs will grow back.

 

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble?

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

I hate vertical edging but sometimes I have to do it because blade attachments aren’t available. Then, when I finish I’m close to developing a rash that will only go away after I complete blog posts like this one.

Why vertical?

Why do we vertical? Why flip a machine on its side and shred your edges? Because it’s convenient. You’re already there, your flat edging is completed and now you just burn out the edges and bail. There is no need to walk back to the truck to change attachments or change blades. And you don’t have to train workers on a new machine.

Personally, I think vertical edging is too much trouble. Let’s examine some of its limitations below.

Vertical limitations

Let’s consider many of the limitations of vertical edging. And before we get into it, note that some big companies don’t allow you to vertical. This is mainly because it gives your site or home an inconsistent look; and it also increases the chances of worker injury and site damage.

 

Shredding plants

This is my biggest problem with vertical edging. As you go along the edge, inevitably you will encounter plants growing over the edge. So you either skip the edge or you shred the plants. Most workers just shred the plants. Either way your site look suffers.

By contrast, the blade edger has a metal cover which discreetly slips under the plant and allows for edging without injury to the plant.

 

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Damage isn’t limited to plants. This pot is missing a lot of plastic already.

Injury risk

Since there is no cover over the line edger you’re bound to eat a few rocks and other debris. Definitely wear goggles every time and close your mouth; and kiss your baby skin goodbye. To avoid getting hit workers angle the edger from the recommended 90 degrees which nicely leads us to the next point.

By contrast, the blade edger blade is covered with a shield and a rubber flap on the bottom.

Erosion

When you shred the edges at 45 degrees every week you eventually get erosion. Think of the UK coastline. This can lead to client complaints as the owners’ lawn edges retreat. Also, anything short of 90 degrees is ugly. If your edge can’t break your ankles, it’s not done right.

Reestablishment

Sometimes you fall behind on boulevard edging and when you finally get to it, you have no hope of re-establishing the edge. The plastic line is too weak.

By contrast, the blade edger digs in with a new blade and easily re-establishes the edge. This is also true for soft edges where the edge is gone.

Hard edges also look inconsistent and it’s slow work because as the plastic line shreds I have to constantly reload it by tapping the attachment head.

 

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While blade edgers can be kicked off course by sidewalk blemishes, vertical edging is much less consistent.

 

By contrast, the blade edger just digs into the hard edge and flies away. This is the best place to start training new workers.

 

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The top edge is my blade edger work; the bottom is a private landscaping company with line edgers. No contest!

Tight edges

My blade edger blade can nicely start and finish the lines by fitting tightly against the hard edge/soft bed zone. Vertical lines struggle here so the beginning and end of many edges stay shaggy.

Tree wells

I can blade edge around a tree well in seconds and leave it looking sharp. Vertical edging around tree wells is a pain.

Sucking exhaust

Vertical edging requires you to lift the engine higher which means the exhaust is much closer to your head. If you start getting dizzy, it’s the exhaust. This blog post assumes that you or your employer aren’t paying big dollars for the much cleaner Aspen fuel. Burning regular gasoline mixed with oil in a small engine isn’t very ecological. I want the engine down by my waist with the exhaust pointing back.

 

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Only blade edgers can nicely sharpen up stepping stones.

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble? I don’t think so. Do you? Please leave comments.

 

Chafer beetle battles: time for nematodes

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

This week is the third week of July and that means it’s time to buy nematodes to your lawn, if it’s suffering from European Chafer Beetle damage. Chafers are invasive insect pests and the larvae feed on the roots of grasses which causes serious damage to lawns.

 

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Animals looking for grubs can destroy your lawn overnight.

 

 

Then later we get animals digging up lawns looking for juicy grubs and lawns are destroyed overnight.

Chafer beetles are here to stay, too. But we can take the fight to them.

 

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Juicy grub from this spring.

 

Nematodes

If you failed to pre-order nematodes earlier in the season then just go down to your favourite garden store and ask if they have any in stock. Nematodes are tiny worms that live in the soil. If you apply them correctly they will chase down Chafers in your lawn. Do this in late July.  You might want to read my previously published blog to see how I did it.

Chafer cycle

Chafer beetles emerge out of lawns and soil in June and fly into trees to mate. Then they go back into lawns to lay their young.

 

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A very pregnant Chafer beetle heading for the lawn.

 

This is why the late July nematode application is critical. Once the grubs get too big the nematodes aren’t effective.

So, let’s review: buy nematodes in the third week of July and apply them in late July.

Follow the directions carefully. Your lawn should be soaked before nematode application and after. Also, remember that nematodes are photo-sensitive. Direct sunlight will kill them so apply them early in the morning or evening.

This is my blog post about my residential application. It might help you.

Lawn care

According to municipal handouts, healthy lawns should only need an hour of watering a week. Keep your grass at least 6cm high and leave the clippings on your lawn. The clippings serve as free fertilizer.

 

Conclusion

Keep your lawn healthy. If you have Chafer damage buy nematodes now and apply them at the end of July. Follow the directions. And pray!

 

 

Eliminating early summer obstructions in landscapes

By | Pruning | No Comments

I love the early summer season. The weather is nice and the landscape is lush green. But with the new lush green growth come issues. People start panicking and assaulting their busy green workers with requests.

And often the requests turn out to be minor issues, easily solved with a bit pruning. For any bigger requests, write them down and do them on your next visit.

Let’s take a look at some recent examples.

 

Mailbox crisis

Last week I was approached by an elderly gentleman who clearly wasn’t impressed by the mailbox Clematis. The vine interfered with the pick up of his junk mail so he asked me to take care of it. Sure. The whole operation, not counting clean-up blow, took me about ten minutes.

 

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To an elderly resident this is a crisis.

 

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This should do.

 

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Not a bad show for a mailbox kiosk.

 

Gate

 

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Again, this is hardly a disaster. Plus, the Hydrangea is blooming nicely. But to the lady living in this unit this is a major annoyance because she has to push the gate open. And as she does so the gate bounces off the plant and back into her body.

Luckily, I was on site helping out and took care of it right away. Always do this if it doesn’t interfere with your day plan. Of course, I did warn her that she would lose some of her flowers. No big deal. She didn’t care.

 

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All done! Problem solved.

 

Signs

 

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Signs are posted for a good reason; to warn or inform, not for fun. And again, this was a quick fix with my hand snips. The dogwood shrub (Cornus) can also be power sheared but I prefer nice precise cuts.

 

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This was an easy two-minute fix.

 

As plants push out new growth in early summer you can expect to get some interference. Usually it’s not the disaster people make it out to be. So take care of it right away if possible. All of the examples above were quick fixes and the residents appreciated it. Always make your clients happy!

 

Making the case for attention to detail in landscape maintenance

By | gardening, landscape maintenance | No Comments

Details matter a great deal. I was recently called to a residential garden with lawn care and pruning clearly completed well. But what about the details? Many details remained and taken together, they detract from the overall presentation. So, I got to work.

Details

Blackberry and salmon berry shoots protruding from the cedar hedge and shrubs were by far the biggest blemishes. So, I cut them down which sounds easy until you see the wild zone at the back of the cedar hedge. The school board never maintains the wild zone so of course it allows all kinds of undesirables to encroach on the neighbouring landscape.

 

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Blackberry and Salmon berry invasion in progress.

 

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After my intervention.

 

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Much better!

 

Ferns

I also found two ferns on the side of the patio and cut them back. They are native sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and only require one annual cutback after new fronds push out.

 

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Much better and we’re good for another twelve months.

 

Weeds

Nobody likes picking weeds but the side of the house was starting to “burn”. The rock layer isn’t deep enough to deprive the weeds of sunlight so they poke out of the landscape fabric.

 

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These weeds had to go.

 

Tree branches

 

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It’s a small detail but one dead branch pointing down (see white arrow) is unsightly and it presents an obstacle for lawn care people. So grab a sharp hand saw and make it disappear.