Category

gardening

How I became a top 10 landscape writer on Quora.com

By | Education, gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

Quora.com is a fun site where you submit any question you want and wait for someone to answer it. As you read the answers, you are asked to upvote the one you really like which in turn helps the writer.

Lately, I’ve been hanging out on the site answering basic landscape questions. Then, recently I received a notification from the site. I was now officially a top 10 landscape writer. I had no idea they kept track.

So let’s take a look at some question examples and my answers. If you have a burning question, you can ask on Quora.com or message me through this blog.

 

1. What is an interesting book about flowers or plants?

The Hidden life of Trees is the best book about trees right now. It will blow your mind. You will never look at trees the same way.

Braiding sweetgrass is the best book I’ve read on native use of plants in the US and Canada. Absolutely amazing.

Lab girl is a great book by a Ph.D. researcher; chapters alternate between plants and personal life. Also a great look at women in academia and what a struggle it is. First time I read about “resurrection plants”.

The triumph of seeds is also amazing. How do seeds survive for hundreds of years and then, one day, decide to go for it?

2. Why is tree trimming important?

Tree trimming is an amateur phrase, I’m sorry. Always say tree pruning. Trimming sounds suspicious and it usually is. I prune trees.

Most trees know what to do but in our cities and multi-family complexes with limited space, pruning is often required because of obstruction issues. Say, a resident has to duck to get out of her apartment on her way to Starbucks.

Pruning is also important for young trees so they can be trained to look great in the future.

Pruning is also required when we find diseased, dead, damaged or crossing branches.

My e-book on Tree maintenance is available on Amazon for less than a cup of coffee, just search by title or by name: Vas Sladek.

3. How do I maintain a lawn mower for perfect lawn mowing?

Check your oil levels weekly, change spark plugs and change blades often for a great cut. Sharp blades are critical. Otherwise you are shredding grass blades.

Check your wheels so they don’t wobble. Tighten as required. Anything else, visit your nearest dealer.

If you can, use Aspen fuel, which is allegedly gentler on machines. It is also 99% hydro-carbon free which means you don’t pollute your home with poisons. See www.aspen.se

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4. It’s been raining for two days right after my lawn got aeration. Do I have to aerate the lawn again?

No! The point of lawn aeration is to allow more water and oxygen into the root zone so rain after aeration is perfect. You should only have to aerate once a year although some companies also do fall aeration.

5. What exactly does the choke setting “do” when I start the cold motor of a riding mower?

When your small engine is cold, the choke restricts air flow so the engine is getting a richer gas mixture and therefore starts easier. Once your engine is on, you should take the choke off.

Warm engines will start again easily without a choke.

There you go. If you have a burning question, go to Quora.com and ask away. You can also share your knowledge by answering some questions.

How aphids get tulip trees in trouble

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

I don’t normally buy the Vancouver Sun because they discontinued their garden column but a story last Friday caught my eye. The title read “Aphid secretions shower property with sticky goo.” Friday, August 3, 2018 Vancouver Sun.

The problem

I have some experience with this issue so I had fun reading about this East Vancouver case. Every summer aphids descend on tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and feed on their leaves. But since aphids can’t process sugars, they secrete them and the sticky honeydew lands on cars, driveways, etc. The affected couple in the story complained about having to wash their car and their difficulty of moving their baby carriage. The sticky honeydew also attracts wasps which freaks out most new parents.

 

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Tulip tree leaf underside covered in aphids.

 

 

The City of Vancouver allegedly once brought them ladybugs, the aphids’ natural predators. This is what amazed me in 2017 and inspired me to pen a blog post about it: people paying after-tax dollars for ladybugs in the store and releasing them on their trees. One major issue is telling the ladybugs to stay on your tree. Because they move around it’s not an effective tactic.

Solution?

In the past, the couple in the story purchased their own ladybugs “but it made little difference”. So now they want the city to spray or remove the tree. I believe that would be very harsh treatment for this beautiful tree because aside from the many ecosystem services it provides, it also has beautiful flowers.

Luckily, the City of Vancouver knows that removal would cost $1000.00 per tree plus extra costs for replanting. There isn’t enough budget for projects like this which is good news for the tree.

 

Conclusion

While I understand the hassle of sticky honeydew, let’s remember the many ecosystem services trees provide for free. I especially love the tulip tree flowers which come out as the trees leaf out. Complete removal because of aphids would be horrible. Perhaps a picture of one tulip tree flower will distract you from aphids and city help lines.

 

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Liriodendron tulipifera flowers steal the show.

 

Why dead spaces are a problem

By | gardening, Landscaping, weeds | No Comments

Dead spaces in your landscape can be a problem and one example for you to consider is pictured below. What do you see?

 

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This kind of garden bed drives me crazy because there is way too much “dead space”. Without plants and groundcovers the open space gets colonized by weeds which then have to be removed periodically. And that means precious labour man-hours are spent on unnecessary weeding.

Plants shade out and out-compete weeds and they also improve the look of the garden bed. You can even attract beneficial insects with the right plants. All for a small investment of money and time.

Close weeding

Now what? Remember this isn’t your only bed to weed so how do you do it quickly? There are two approaches but I can only recommend one.

Some people prefer hand-weeding without tools where you pick at your weeds and pray that you also removed the roots. I only do this with big weeds.

 

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Big weeds like these are easy to hand-pick.

 

With big weedy beds I find hand weeding too slow and brutal on my fingers. When hand-weeding and debris clean-up were combined on the same day it exposed hand-weeding as too slow. You must stay on your feet, cultivator in hand and press on.

Cultivate!

No, you don’t have to suffer. Just cultivate the bed and rake up the debris. I use Dutch hoes or four-prongers (pictured above) to rip up the weeds and then I gently rake over the area. This approach is much faster and it allows you to stay upright. Also, your fingers won’t bleed.

Cultivation haters point out two problems with cultivation: soil loss and weed seed exposure to sunlight. Both are valid comments but considering the condition of the bed there isn’t much to worry about. The critical factor is speed because we have many other beds to weed.

One huge bonus of cultivation is that the bed looks sharp and fluffy and stays weed-free longer than hand-picked beds. I am absolutely certain that hand-weeding doesn’t always remove the weed roots so the weeds bounce back quicker. Cultivation, on the other hand, up-roots the weeds.

One critical note on pile pick-up: keep your piles in the bed edges, do NOT rake them onto your lawn. Piles on lawn edges leave debris that will have to be blown and could potentially get picked up by trimmer machines, thus creating a hazard.

 

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Correct: keep your debris piles in the bed edges.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Fight dead spaces in your garden beds by planting shrubs or groundcovers. And if you want to weed like a professional use a cultivator.

 

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This used to be dead space until we moved shrubs and perennials in.

How I spent an afternoon with dandelions

By | gardening, Landscaping, Species | No Comments

Dandelions (Taraxacum offcinale) didn’t become unwanted weeds until the twentieth century, probably just as green lawns became the norm for detached houses. Ted Steinberg shows us how the whole quest for perfect lawns happened in his book “American green.” This blog post will show you that you can actually have some fun pulling dandelions from your lawn.

 

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Taraxacum offinale

 

Strata setting

Stratas or multi-family complexes also demand lush green lawns so that’s why I got to pull dandelions one afternoon from high-profile front lawns. And after mowing for four hours straight, it was a welcomed cool-down task.

The yellow dandelions stick out too much and kill the green monoculture look so they have to go. And I had a great, sunny afternoon at work pulling them out.

Fiskars tool

This was also my first time using and testing Fiskar’s weeding tool which promises easy weeding without bending over. Great. The tool worked perfectly fine but allegedly some of the other units fell apart quickly.

Step 1

The unit has a plastic orange slider which gets the tool ready like a one-shot gun. Pull it up and get ready to aim.

Step 2

Aim the tool right over the dandelion leaf rosette and plunge it in. You need good aim and decent soil. Our lawns were fine so forcing the tool in was relatively easy. My aim took a bit of time, especially when the plant was smaller. I still had to bend over to pick up leftovers and pull out very stubborn specimens.

Step 3

Step on the black plastic bar. This tilts the tool and pulls up your dandelion, assuming your aim was good. No bending over required.

 

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Step on the black bar to pull out the weed without bending over.

Step 4

Move the plastic orange bar down to release the captured weed. This step reminds me of removing a spent gun shell. Definitely use a tarp for your weeds unless you’re mowing the lawn right after. I brought a wheelbarrow with me.

 

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Slide the orange bar down to eject the captured weed.

 

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Cool plant

According to Wikipedia, in the past gardeners used to weed grass from around dandelions. How things have changed. I remember playing with dandelions as a kid but now as a landscape professional I’m not allowed to tolerate them in the landscape.

I knew you could make tea from dandelion roots because once I bought a box and actually drank the tea. And you can eat every part of the plant. The roots are best consumed in late fall or winter when they’re not as bitter. Both flower buds and leaf rosettes can be eaten.

I don’t want to list all of the health benefits here but let’s just say dandelions contain a lot of good stuff. I think they’re amazing plants.

 

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The entire plant is edible!

 

Bad news for people who enjoyed Garden Making magazine

By | Education, gardening, Magazines | No Comments

All good things must come to an end. Sadly. One example is the Canadian garden magazine Garden Making. I received the bad news from Garden Making magazine last year. Because of declining advertising revenues, lack of subscribers, and the high cost of hiring good writers and photographers, the magazine didn’t make sense financially. So the beautifully produced print edition had to go. Great! Not what I wanted to hear.

 

The last No. 32

 

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The last print edition of Garden Making magazine.

 

 

So imagine my surprise in late March when I discovered Garden Making magazine issue no.32 in my mailbox. Yay! Did they find new money to continue? No. This was just one last issue called Garden Solutions. Which made me wonder if there was a solution to problems with publishing print copies of a garden magazine in the internet age.

The editors called their magazine a labour of love. And it really was. They hired good writers and photographers and every issue was a learning experience. Now all that remains is the online version. And I’m back to buying copies of Fine Gardening (USA) and Horticulture (USA). Sadly, there is nothing in printed form left in Canada.

Digital format

Maybe I’m overreacting because I subscribe to Horticulture magazine in digital format. Not because digital is better necessarily but because it is much, much cheaper. Viewed on my iPad, it’s totally acceptable and there is nothing to recycle. I just have to print any interesting articles for my files instead of cutting them out like I used to.

So now if you want to enjoy the Garden Making magazine you have to go online. I have to get used to it. It was just hard to let go of a beautifully designed garden magazine full of helpful information.

What publications do you read?

On transforming tired landscapes

By | gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

It’s always fun to see tired landscapes rejuvenated. It just takes some strata council resolve and a bit of budget. And assuming you use perennials, your new landscape should be fine for years. Check out the example below and see what you think.

 

Tired landscape

 

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There isn’t much to look at. The lawn is mossy, tiny and lacking deep edge definition. There are three dead Pieris japonicas, and one still functioning native kinnikinnick groundcover plant (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). This whole corner bed is ripe for re-editing.

 

Step 1 Preparation

Start over and toss everything out! Bring in new plants and lay them out before planting. Note that all new plants are perennials. They should live for many seasons, assuming they are watered enough so they can get established in their new home.

 

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Step 2 Planting!

 

This is the fun part. Once the layout is approved you can plant. Only the green Sedums by the curb were tricky. They are succulents and easily break off.  The back corner plant is Berberis thunbergii, the reddish clumps are Spirea japonicas, the two light plants are fountain grasses (Pennisetum) and there is one sedge (Carex) on each end. The focal plant is Japanese willow (Salix).

 

 

 

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Step 3 River rock

The strata asked for and received 1-3″ river rock. Again, this step had to be done carefully. The Sedums would break off if they were hit by river rocks so care had to be taken to place the rocks around the plants. If you can, hose off the river rock so it looks better. This also helps the plants. A final clean-up blow completes the project.

 

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Now go back to the before picture and compare. I think this new version is much better. And all it took was a few brave strata council members and a bit of budget.

Landscapes aren’t static. They change and evolve. It’s OK to be the agent of change. Try new things and experiment. It doesn’t always cost a lot of money.

Lady Di: Grandiflora Rose

By | gardening, Landscaping, Species | No Comments

I don’t get to work with nice roses very often. Most of the time I have to cut back Rosa rugosa specimens because they are suckering and spreading out of control. Usually it’s raining so my rain gear gets all torn up by its rough thorns.

Lady Di

Recently I got to install Grandiflora rose called Lady Di. That’s more like it. Finally some class!

The potted roses displayed wax on their canes and I had no idea why. That’s how little I work with roses. So I googled it and found out that wax on roses is used to prevent them from drying out during transportation or while they sit on the shelf. No action is required because the wax will eventually fall off.

 

Rose details

 

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Grandiflora rose showing wax on its canes.

According to the tag, this rose variety produces bouquets of perfectly formed soft coral pink flowers. Great. I can’t wait to see them. The glossy green foliage is allegedly also spectacular.

The Grandiflora rose is expected to reach the height of 3-4′ and I hope there is enough room in the skinny front beds where we planted them. Since the rose has strong fragrance it should keep the owners happy.

 

Planting

Our small front beds have trees in them so I expected some push-back from tree roots but overall we managed fine. The one interesting twist is planting depth. To properly plant this rose, you have to make sure the branch union (the big fist-like base from which the canes shoot out) is planted slightly below ground level.

We are also advised to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Spacing between roses should be 60cm or 24″. Plant Lady Di in full or partial sun, not in shade.

 

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Ready for planting.

 

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Planted. Note how the branch union is covered by soil. The wax will fall off eventually. Now we just keep it watered and wait for the flowers and fragrance.

Can you let your winter garden go wild?

By | gardening, landscape maintenance | No Comments

I enjoyed reading Margaret Renkl’s opinion piece in this past weekend’s New York Times (The New York Times, Sunday, February 11, 2018, p.8 Sunday Review). In the past Renkl used to put her garden to bed for the winter. She cut back her perennials, composted the remains of annuals and picked the weeds she had ignored all year. She also installed a thick layer of mulch to keep everything safe from the cold. Yeah, well done!

Wild

Now she doesn’t worry about her garden as much. Her one discovery this year was that robins enjoyed eating dry berries from her monkey grasses. I had to Google monkey grass because common names in Nashville may not refer to the same plant on the West Coast. I imagine she is referring to Liriope muscari which is a good groundcover plant on our strata sites. It forms nice mounds and produces flowers in summer.

So not cutting back the flower stalks in fall was good for the robins. Renkl also enjoys seeing birds pluck out seeds from her summer flowers so she doesn’t cut them when they’re spent. She also suggests that beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps spend winter in the hollow stems of old flowers.

New strata contract

This past week I performed the very first contract service on a new strata site. As is customary, I walked the entire site and as I did I wondered if the entire site was populated by Margaret Renkls. There were thick layers of leaves piled up in many corners, weedy spots, tree debris piles, and many perennials were never cut back.

Alas, strata (multi-family) complexes are different from private gardens. They can’t be left to go wild. We fight nature to make it all nice and neat, crisp and healthy. And yet, I wonder. Is it a big deal to leave some leaves over the winter to protect bulbs and beneficial insects? Now when I see Hydrangeas with flowers still on I no longer reach for my snips. They can be snipped anytime. Perhaps birds can derive some benefit from perennials left standing all winter. We can get to it in spring.

 

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Does this winter look stress you out or calm you down?

 

Not so fast

Then, my dream quickly evaporated as my boss showed up, eager to put our company stamp on the site and bring it up to proper standards. Yes sir! Leaves were blown into piles and removed and any weeds along the way were picked up. We also deep-edged the worst beds; and we got to meet the strata garden contact person.

Meeting strata garden liaisons is a critical activity because it’s important to establish a good working relationship. This person reports to strata council and makes budget requests.

Next we will shear cedar hedges and cut back perennials. Weeds will be a priority and then more deep edges.

What’s happening in your own winter garden? Is it wild or well-groomed?

How to properly cutback spent Rudbeckias

By | gardening, Plant Species Information | No Comments

I love Black-eyed-Susans (Rudbeckias)! There is something mesmerizing about the yellow perennial flowers with black centers, especially when this perennial is mass-planted. But like Japanese cherry blossoms, it’s a bittersweet experience.

Cherry blossoms are beautiful but sadly, they don’t last very long. Just like life. So enjoy the show and be glad you’re alive. Rudbeckias, on the other hand signal the end of summer. Once the flowers start fading you know summer is ending.

 

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Beautiful mass-planted Rudbeckias in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, BC

 

Cowboys

To save time, some landscapers gun down spent Rudbeckia stems with power shears. But since the leaves at the base still look good, the cuts are made high which leaves noticeable spikes. I absolutely detest this practice. And sometimes it gets worse. Landscapers, armed with line edgers, stop at a clump of fading Rudbeckias and proceed to shred the stems. When I witness this on site I openly discourage it. Sometimes I get so excited, I fail to express myself intelligently.

 

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I hate this look. These Rudbeckia stems were sheared in late summer to save time. But once the leaves fade these ‘sticks’ are noticeable. I suggest hand-snipping the spent flower stems so the cuts are hidden inside the greenery. One cut.

 

Therapy

There is a better way and it hardly takes any extra time at all. And even if it did take a few extra minutes, it’s like top class therapy. More about time later.

It feels great to grab sharp Felco snips on a sunny fall day and dive into mass planted Rudbeckias. You can grab a handful of stems or do it one by one. And note the one important difference: the cuts are made inside the green leafy mound so we don’t get any ‘sticks’ poking up. These ‘sticks’ become even more obvious when the green leaves at the base fade.

I had tons of fun doing it. It was like a thank you job to the Rudbeckias for a great summer show. Minus machine noise and air pollution; and no shredding of stem tissues, just sharp cuts.

Time

If you’re like me and the winter look with sticks poking up bothers you, then you fix it. So really, the quick late fall assault didn’t really save much time. It’s much better to make one nice deadheading cut by removing the stems from inside the leaf base. One cut, not two. And you get quiet therapy to boot. I remember those sunny afternoons well. Sun, sharp Felco snips and gorgeous Rudbeckias.

How do you deadhead your Rudbeckias?

Improve your site appeal with fall planted bed changeover

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Species | No Comments

Fall is here and chances are if your planted beds are still full of annuals, they don’t look their best. And if they still do, think about changing them over soon. At one site, a strata council lady wanted us to plant winter annuals in amongst the old summer annuals; AND move some of the summer annuals around the complex. No way is that a good idea. Give it one cold day and summer annuals like begonias will turn to mush.

Time to switch

The simplest switch involves pulling your old summer annuals. And do it well. Dig up every single plant and rake out all broken flowers parts. Try not to remove too much soil as you do this.

If you have access to a rototiller, this is a good time to use it. Yes, tilling destroys soil structure but it’s Ok. Remember we’re not growing crops. The idea is to prepare your beds for easy planting. The softer the soil is for planting, the better it is for your wrists. When I worked at the City of Coquitlam our beds were so fluffy we didn’t need trowels!

If you don’t have a rototiller then just cultivate your bed nicely. That’s what I had to do last week and it was fine because I only had to work with six flats.

 

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Pulled summer annuals and cleaned up beds.

 

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Lay it out nicely to make sure the bed looks decent.

 

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Before you plant, remove the weak leaves at the base. Ornamental kale.

 

 

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Winter pansy.

 

 

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All done!

 

Don’t forget the critical last step: a courtesy blow. I had to remind my crew members to blow along the curb gently. Otherwise you risk getting debris blown in thereby ruining the show.

One extra twist

If you were planting spring bulbs, they would go in first. Obviously. Then the annuals would go on top. In spring, when the bulbs pop up, you remove the winter annuals. Then you sit back and enjoy your spring display. That’s called delayed gratification and after months of waiting, you deserve it.

 

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Final shot. Notice the courtesy blow. Always leave your work area as clean as possible. After all, this is a high-profile main entrance.