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Education

Take this step before challenging the Red Seal exam

By | Education, Events | No Comments

Hort Education BC is putting on a preparation course on Saturday, November 23, 2019 at the UBC Botanical Gardens. If you have 7, 920 documented hours in the horticulture industry (roughly four seasons) you can challenge the Red Seal exam. This preparation course is an excellent way to increase your chances of passing. Here is why.

Egan Davis

Egan Davis, the instructor, teaches at the UBC Botanical Gardens and he is super experienced and knowledgeable. He is a plant geek. You can ask him lots of questions but not about actual exam questions. Those are kept secret. You have to earn the Red Seal qualification; there are no short-cuts. The exam tests your knowledge and experience.

Egan sports a booming voice and excellent delivery. I doubt you will forget spending a day with him. He helped me pass in 2014 and I will forever be grateful to him.

2014

When I took this course in 2014 I was in a rush because up-coming municipal jobs required Red Seal papers. And the preparation course was very new and evolving which is why it was free. Now it will cost you $90 but trust me, it is money well spent.

I took the full day course, studied for a few weeks and took comfort in the words of my municipal gardener boss. She told me I would do well based on listening to my comments in the field. This definitely encouraged me. The rest was all work experience from fifteen seasons in the field and landscape industry certified studies.

I did not smash the test but I passed! Now the ITA Red Seal diploma hangs on my wall and I am proud of it.

The key

All attendees received a thick manual which focused on areas where people struggle most. See, I told you, money well spent. I have no idea if attendees still receive manuals or what is in them but I bet it is something similar.

If you have any questions, call or e-mail Bill Hardy, he will help you: bhardy@horteducationbc.com or 604-430-0422.

Red Seal Landscape Horticulturist qualification is a nice trade paper to have. It identifies you as an experienced professional and should, in theory, lead to better pay. It also allows you to take on new apprentices.

If you are thinking about challenging the Red Seal exam in landscape horticulture take the preparation course first. Ninety dollars is a steal. Trust me.

Good luck!

 

Best training for a landscaper

By | Education, Landscape Industry | No Comments

Once in a while I see an interesting question on Quora.com which I think deserves its own blog. This blog covers the following question: What’s the best training for a landscaper?

Face your fears

By far the best training for a landscaper is working in the field under an experienced foreman who is willing to train you well. Ask about this in your interview.

Yes, you can mow grass all season but it’s better to learn everything. You can learn to use all lawn care machines and then move on to pruning with power shears and bedwork.

It’s important to face your fears. Like I did today. I had to use a brush cutter, a pole chainsaw and a wood chipper.

School

If you think landscaping is still your dream gig, then take landscape horticulture courses. You can do it online, full time in school or as an apprentice aiming for Red Seal status after four seasons. Schooling increases your knowledge and your value to your company.

I also recommend getting Landscape Industry Certified. This used to involve written and practical exams but the practical exams are getting eliminated in the United States. In Canada, the practical testing will stay but there will be changes from 2020.

And don’t forget about trees. Take the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) exam and learn about trees. This will increase the value you provide to your company. It also allows you to work year-round because tree pruning is done in the off-season.

Some clients are also touchy about their trees. Non-arborist landscapers aren’t always trusted with tree work. Get ISA certified. I’ve done it. Trust me.

Reading

Read the best books, magazines and journals and attend conferences. Training never ends! I regularly attend evening courses, for example, at Van Dusen Botanic gardens in Vancouver. I’ve also been to client education days put on by Bartlett Tree Services.

And I never miss the premier landscape horticulture trade show, CanWest.

 

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Best for last

You can get the best education for new landscapers by following my blogs, here on the Proper Landscaping site and at West Coast Landscape Professional. My eBooks are available at Amazon for spare change. Search for Vas Sladek on Amazon. Don’t forget to leave reviews.

 

Landscaping can be extremely rewarding if you work and study hard under a professional foreman who is invested in your development. Good luck!

 

 

ISA certified arborist as landscape judge

By | Arborist Insights, Education, Trees | No Comments

Proper tree planting is extremely important so when I got a chance to judge a tree planting and staking practical station, I jumped at it.

The landscape industry certified practical tests run twice a year, in June and October but there will be major changes from 2020. Stay tuned.

Planting and staking

Incredibly, I had to do this section three times. My ISA certified arborist status didn’t help me because I failed to follow the specifications. And while I can’t comment in detail on any of my seven candidates, I can say that a few of them didn’t follow the written specifications.

The second time I failed this station was because I totally forgot to put on a headset during stake pounding. Safety is also super important. If you fail to use the provided personal protection equipment, you will most likely get a few deductions.

 

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My historic third attempt, finally done correctly, and giving me the prized Landscape Industry Certified technician status.

 

Planting depth

As a judge, I can’t give away the station’s secrets but let’s just say that planting the test specimen too deep is a major problem. And rightly so because landscape trees planted too deep suffer. They suffer because their roots can’t get enough oxygen. Then, when they decline and die we have to replace them which is costly. Let’s do it right the first time.

Mulch

This is another serious issue. My blog post from September 10, 2019, covered the mulch volcano epidemic. Luckily, my candidates have clear specifications to follow. The key is that there must be a few inches of soil clear between the tree trunk and the mulch. This eliminates any chance of mulch volcanoes.

And if you haven’t read my September 10, 2019 blog then go back and review the problems associated with tree mulch volcanoes.

Staking

Some newly planted trees must be stakes; and staked correctly. Once you follow the specifications, all you have to know is that the stakes shouldn’t stay on for more than one season.

 

Conclusion

Not all of the candidates I judged passed but I had a great time judging the tree planting and staking stations. I had a manual to follow and the other veteran judges helped me.

Incorrectly planted landscape trees suffer, decline and die. Then we lose their free ecosystem services at a time when more trees are required to fight Global Warming.

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!!

 

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.

The Plant Messiah

By | Books, Education | No Comments

The Plant Messiah” book by Carlos Magdalena was a massive treat to listen to at work. It will appeal to all plant lovers, gardeners, landscapers and horticulturists. The audio version is eight hours long and it could have been longer.

 

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The beginning

The background story is fascinating. Magdalena was born in Spain and eventually made his way to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. There he was eventually accepted into Kew’s training program which only accepts something like twenty students a year. It was a dream come true for Magdalena. He was so good, he stayed on to work on endangered plant species. Thus the label “the plant messiah.”

The Kew training period is described in some detail and I felt a bit jealous when I listened to it. When I go to England next, I will visit Kew.

Water lilies

Magdalena is an expert on water lilies and he describes many overseas research trips. This is fun to listen to and reminds me of the old plant explorers who would travel the globe and then send specimens to Kew.

Magdalena’s love of plants is infectious. He’s a professional and it shows.

 

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Google image: I don’t own this picture.

 

Serious stuff

Because this book is about plants, Magdalena correctly reminds us that plants are extremely important for humans. I think it’s true that people often fail to appreciate plants. Without them we wouldn’t last long. This is Magdalena’s one serious message in an otherwise fun book.

Just consider that we eat plants, we burn them for fuel, we derive pleasure and medicines from them, and we also build with them things like shelter and boats. Many people also consume them as a hobby; and they’re also used in religious rituals. Many drug lords got rich thanks to plants.

Can you think of other uses?

Rating

I thoroughly enjoyed the eight hour audio version of this book from Kobo. I can’t find any faults with it. It inspired me to study more about plants and to appreciate them more. And Magdalena’s enthusiasm is infectious. Five stars. Easily.

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!

 

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.

Six stunning books for green professionals

By | Books, Education | No Comments

This past weekend I opened up the New York Times and saw a huge spread about the best books from 2018. But there was nothing for green professionals so let’s correct that omission here. I present to you six books well-worth reading with brief notes. I would say they’re all “must read” books. Who knows, they might inspire you to give someone a great gift this Christmas.

 

1. Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown

This is a very important book because Gabe Brown took his conventionally farmed land and regenerated its soils. He did it without tilling, with cover crops and eventually without all fertilizer and chemical use on his North Dakota ranch. He also diversified his operation.

So, YES, you can have great, healthy soil and make great money as a farmer in North America WITHOUT chemical inputs. Read the details in the book. It’s fascinating. The key is encouraging the life in your soil. You can search “regenerative agriculture” for more.

 

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Photo courtesy of http://brownsranch.us/

 

 

2. A soil owner’s manual by Jon Stika

Stika is a soil scientist but it took him years to realize that his training wasn’t the best. Eventually he comes to understand that soil biology is crucial for healthy soils. It’s not just the soil components that matter, the life in the soil is critical.

 

3. The One-Straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka was a “do-nothing” farming revolutionary in Japan. He showed that you CAN have great rice yields without tilling the soil and using costly fertilizers and chemicals. Do-nothing is a bit misleading because farming is a lot of work but the soil wasn’t tilled and cover crops were used. The details are amazing.

It’s possible that Fukuoka’s work inspired Gabe Brown above.

 

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A practice rice field at a Niigata-City, Japan public school.

 

4. Braiding sweet grass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This is THE book on native American plant use. I often hear about indigenous wisdom and this book spells it out in detail. Kimmerer did a fantastic job with this book; she opened my eyes. You will learn lots about plants. I also purchased her new book on Mosses.

 

5. The plant messiah by Carlos Magdalena

Two key points: One, Magdalena goes from Spain to study at the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (I’m jealous) and becomes a plant researcher there. Then he travels the world studying plants and clearly his native Spanish helped. His love of plants is infectious.

Two, at the beginning of the book he shows the reader why plants are important. Our very survival depends on plants. We derive food and medicines from plants plus much more. After reading this book you will appreciate plants much more.

 

6. Whitewash: the story of a weed killer, cancer and the corruption of science by Carey Gillam

My geography professor at the University of Saskatchewan openly discouraged me from using sources written by journalists. But in the case of Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate and other chemicals it can’t be done because many scientists have been bought by industry. I know that this debate is polarizing and the book isn’t full of good news. It’s the hardest book to read on this list.

Before you dismiss this book, recall that Health Canada is re-evaluating its recommendations; it now concedes that many of the studies the government agency relied on were sponsored by the chemical industry.

It’s much worse in the United States and the details will make your head spin. I think this book is very important.

 

Summary

Here are the key ideas.

Yes, you can make good money as a farmer without fertilizers and chemicals; stop tilling and use cover crops; and diversify your operation.

The life in your soil is the key to healthy soil.

We depend on plants for our survival. They’re also amazing.

Indigenous plant knowledge is fantastic and now we have a great book showing us the details.

Scientists can be bought so be careful when you read scientific studies. Carefully check who sponsored them.

 

Plant ID eBook dream

By | Education, Plant Species Information | No Comments

One of my earlier blogs showcased my plant ID picture book specifically targeting strata landscape plants. New workers would come on and they would ask me the same plant identification questions over and over. Now, as a landscape supervisor, I’m paid well to help out as much as I can. But it does get repetitive. So I self-published an eBook on Amazon’s KDP with 100+ of the most common strata landscape plants.

Practice

It took a while but the whole thing finally clicked with a new worker last week. She stared at a Viburnum davidii shrub and asked me if it was a Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). No, it wasn’t. Then she sighed and expressed her frustration with plant identification.

And I was ready! Why get frustrated when I put together an eBook for people like her. It’s nothing special. It’s just a simple picture collection of the most common plants we see on our strata (multi-family) sites. For the price of one regular Starbucks coffee you get a list of plants you’re guaranteed to see on your work sites. No tropical plants or vegetables, no fluff to waste your time.

Once you cover the basic 100+ plants, you should be good to go. Yes, the plants don’t repeat completely but I can handle questions about beautiful Ligularias. Viburnum davidii are fairly common.

 

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Viburnum davidii

Amazon

So the girl went home and bought a copy of my eBook. It’s a simple process and it’s extremely cheap. And every sale boosts my Amazon ranking, which is updated hourly. That’s why my Facebook post was called “#1 for an hour”.

 

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Why plant ID?

Plant ID is a critical skill for landscapers. Knowing plants speeds things up on site and avoids many embarrassing mistakes. It’s also something bosses expect you to have. After all, this worker wants to be in a foreman position next year which will lead to better pay. I will help her as much as I can, now that she’s my “client”.

I’m really happy that this whole thing worked out the way I envisioned it.