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gardening

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.

Garden Making magazine scaling back

By | gardening, Magazines | No Comments

Garden Making magazine is the best garden magazine in Canada. It’s beautifully designed and full of interesting articles. So it was a bit distressing to read that the magazine’s publishing schedule is changing. Welcome to our digital age.

The magazine will not be published this fall. The next issue will come out in February 2018. You almost have to ask what the point is of publishing a magazine just twice a year. I will still buy it because I find consuming electronic garden magazines difficult. My Horticulture subscription is electronic by necessity, not by choice. I find the foreign print subscription charges way too high. So I get it delivered to my iPad.

Market realities

According to a letter from the publisher fewer people are subscribing to magazines and advertisers are diverting their spending to digital media. Those are the market realities. So I am encouraged to visit gardenmaking.com. And maybe I will.

But I also make frequent visits to my local Chapter’s and it’s obvious that magazines aren’t dead yet. Fine Gardening is my favourite US-based magazine and highly recommended.

I think Garden Making can do quite well in the digital landscape. They have a nice list of subscribers. And they also follow others in offering free e-books and tips in exchange for people’s e-mails. Then comes the digital format magazine and plenty of upsell. I know it. Get ready for it.

Electronic magazine publishing must be a breeze compared to print. The publisher and editor both admit in their editorial that publishing the print magazine is more about labour of love than profits. I believe them.

Clippings

I love to save clippings of interesting articles and plants. And as the files accumulate my wife tells me frequently what she thinks of this habit. Now it looks as though I will have to start making new folders on my laptop. Perhaps some change is good.

Still, the magazine’s new reduced publishing schedule is not what I wanted to hear. I really looked forward to receiving my quarterly issues. I would have loved to see bi-monthly issues.

What do YOU read? Leave comments, if you can.

 

 

Still purchasing lady beetles for your garden?

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

A few years ago I met a home owner at one of our sites and she told me about her annual lady beetle buy and release events. I smiled politely and privately thought she was insane and had way too much disposable income. She paid $16.95 retail plus tax for a bag of lady beetles. As we learn from the fact sheet below this biocontrol business is extremely lucrative.

 

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Now, a few seasons later,  there is a new Fact Sheet from the University of Washington Extension that clarifies the issue and it happens to be co-authored by my favourite horticulture scientist Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott.

As it turns out many gardeners buy lady beetles for their gardens and landscapes. And the fact sheet concludes that “release to open gardens and landscapes is unlikely to be successful.” Now my burning question is answered.

Control

Adult and larval beetles control aphids and scale insects, mites, beetle larvae and immature bugs.

 

Aphid problem

The site mentioned above has lots of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) which are known to attract aphids. The aphids suck on the new leaves but otherwise don’t harm the trees. Incidentally, don’t miss tulip tree flowers. They are spectacular.

Since aphids can’t process sugars, they excrete them. That’s why honeydew drops on leaves, cars and sidewalks. Then lady beetle sales go up. The lady swore that her lady beetle releases are effective. OK.

But perhaps you don’t have to spend your after-tax dollars on lady beetles. What if you can attract them naturally? Grasses and wildflowers will attract them to your gardens. Lawns not so much.

As we learn from the fact sheet, lady beetles eat fungus, fruit and occasionally vegetation. Adults look for sugar sources such as nectar or honeydew. These energy-rich supplemental foods improve lady beetle reproduction and survival over winter.

Take it easy on insecticides because they kill the target pests and natural predators.

Good or bad idea?

There are some negative aspects to this whole biocontrol business. First, we are removing populations from their natural ecosystems which may not be a good idea.

Second, native beneficial insects may suffer when we introduce non-natives. And third, introducing lady beetles may transport parasites.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I must say that the lady gets a gold star for spending $16.95 plus tax on a bag of lady beetles; and for inspiring this blog post. As we know from the new fact sheet, these lady beetle releases are unlikely to be effective. And yet, she swears by them. Perhaps the tulip tree honeydew attracts the lady beetles naturally.

I say, try to attract lady beetles naturally and save your money. Perhaps you can donate some cash to the University of Washington Extension so they can produce more science-based fact sheets.

‘Common strata plants’ e-book for new landscapers released

By | Books, Education, gardening | No Comments

Common Strata Plants: A Guide for West Coast Landscapers

I finally realized one of my dream projects: to self-publish an e-book for new landscapers. Since the internet has revolutionized publishing this is a great time to put your stuff out into the world. Are you not convinced yet? Then read James Altucher’s blog on self-publishing.

Why?

Why publish an e-book with common strata plants? Because it’s part of my job to train new landscapers in the field. And plant identification skills are one big part of that training. After answering the same plant questions over and over, I had an idea. I realized that we could tweak it by putting the most common plant species we see on our strata complexes into one picture file. And then publishing it in electronic e-book format and making it available for download online.

Two key ideas

  1. Repetition: Plants on our strata complexes tend to repeat and that works in our favour. Once the new worker learns to recognize shrubs like Viburnum davidii he will see them on other sites.
  2. The list: The plant list I put together comes from strata sites and represents, what I believe, is a good starting point. So just take the list and learn it. There’s no need to consult thick reference manuals or spend time making your own list.

Testing!

This was an important first run test because I have other projects in mind. So stay tuned by checking this blog. To read how I self-published the e-book, click here. Of course, the trick is to get new landscapers to download and flip through the e-book. I think employer incentives might help.

New workers are usually busy enough with machines and bedwork.  Plant knowledge comes later with experience. But let’s consider why plant ID is important.

a) Bedwork or finesse work can be completed faster when you can easily distinguish between plants and unwanted weeds. I’ve seen many new landscapers paralyzed in gardens because they weren’t sure what was what. If you’re not sure, don’t pull it. Don’t panic, just get better.

b) Landscape design requires exceptional plant knowledge. One day the new landscape worker might move up and pursue design work.

c) Nurseries only use botanical names so if you know your plants you can easily place orders and check them for accuracy. Always keep plant tags and study them.

d) Gardening, like design, depends on exceptional plant ID skills. I found this out when I apprenticed under my city gardener boss. Her plant ID knowledge was unbelievable. Eventually I found out where city gardeners make their money: in annual bed displays. The kicker is that when they meet they order new plants for next year by grouping their plant orders. You need knowledge and experience for this task. I respect all city gardeners for this.

e) Clients will stop you to ask questions and if you’re ready, you will impress them with your knowledge. As Red Seal journeyman on site I inevitable get called over by workers who are happy to deflect client questions to me. Great! I always take the heat.

f) One day your boss or client will take you for a site walk and ask for ideas. There won’t be time for Google searches. You have to suggest plants right there, on the spot. That can be stressful but not if you know some plants.

Conclusion

The plant picture book can be used by new landscapers as a starting point; and also by strata managers and strata unit owners who may wonder what’s growing on their sites. Knowing plant names makes communication with landscapers easier.

 

Common strata plants: A guide for West Coast Landscapers by Vas Sladek

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“Caring for plants” Korean short story

By | gardening, Magazines, Reviews | No Comments

As I was browsing through the magazine section of my local public library I noticed a short story in the New Yorker magazine (July 10 & 17, 2017). Caring for plants, by Hye-young Pyun, translated from Korean. Sure, why not.

It all starts with our protagonist in hospital, badly crippled. There was a car accident and, sadly, we learn that the wife didn’t make it. This is where gardening comes in. The wife loved her garden. She cared for her flowers and shrubs but now the garden looked rough and abandoned.

I have some experience with abandoned gardens. One of my earlier blogs deals with a true story from Japan. The wife commits suicide and her husband lasts barely a year or two. Their little front garden is still there but it no longer gives anyone pleasure. It is sad to see the weeds and over-grown plants.

Our protagonist eventually gets well enough to go home but he’s still in rough shape. His first caregiver is a riot and by far the best character in the story. Then she gets fired. And the mother-in-law enters the picture. We know she is sad and mad. She never liked the cripple.

When she isn’t helping her son-in-law, she is out in the garden. She knows that this was her daughter’s favourite spot so she does what she can to keep it up. Then she starts digging holes in the far corner of the garden.

Our protagonist is slowly recovering and still has to crawl to make it to the washroom. Then he mentions to his physiotherapist that she has been feeding him extra pills. Wasn’t that unusual? Perhaps. The physiotherapist, too, gets axed.

Now the mother-in-law starts talking about money and budgets. The son finds it odd and then discovers that his resignation at work had been submitted without his prior knowledge.

Then one day, he crawls to the window and sees his mother-in-law planting new plants in the holes she had dug. But wait. Is that an extra large hole in the far corner of the garden? Here we get to exercise our imagination. Perhaps tomorrow there will be a large tree delivered? Or is it meant for our crippled son-in-law. It’s up to you to decide how he ends up there. An overdose looks imminent. I think.

If you have some extra time at night or on the weekend, read this short story and let me know how you think the story ends.

 

Lace bug infested rhododendrons

By | gardening, landscape maintenance | No Comments

As frequently happens, I get interrupted from my tasks to attend to strata owners’ requests. Today was a statutory holiday in British Columbia so we hit the site with a California-style mow-blow-go service. Of course, this also meant that residents who would normally be at work were home.

And off we went to see the lady’s front entrance rhododendron. The owner said it’s been suffering with white flies for five seasons. She gives it fertilizer and prunes it twice a year to keep the height in check. It doesn’t flower much. Aha, I could feel a blog post brewing in my head.

Bugs on leaf undersides

I examined the leaf undersides but found lace bugs instead of white flies. Since both bugs are sucking insects I knew sprays are usually employed to control them. So I snapped a few photos and made a note to do some research when I got home. I’m also fortunate to have great contacts to reach out to when I need help. One is municipal gardener Tracey Mallinson and another is Dr. Linda A. Gilkeson.

 

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The lace bugs are clearly visible.

 

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Clearly the work of sucking insects.

 

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Rhodo

 

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Let’s examine the rhododendron. It appears to be in too-sunny a location. Rhododendrons in shadier spots don’t suffer as many infestations. This goes for Azaleas and Pieris japonicas.

The shrubs looks OK from distance but the insect damage is obvious up close. Flipping the leaves upside down, it was easy to spot the lace bugs. The Pieris japonica on the left is also affected.

I have no idea how much rhododendron fertilizer the plant gets but I’m assuming the owner follows the label. Another suggestion online was to keep the roots moist.

The owner prunes the rhodo twice a year to keep its height in check. She enjoys the privacy she gets but doesn’t want to be overwhelmed. This made me think of Japanese gardeners who refuse to prune trees and shrubs that show signs of weakness. Instead they ask the owner to nurse the plant back to health.

 

Solutions

Best course of action in July would be direct forceful blasts of water on the underside of leaves. I’m sure there are commercial insecticidal sprays but once you go the chemical route you’re stuck. Dr. Gilkeson states that the sprays must be repeated 10-14 days later and there is some danger that the sprays could burn the leaves. We don’t have that problem with water; water is also considerably cheaper.

The best solution would be for natural predators to arrive and feast on the lace bugs. Patience!

 

 

Kuno garden

By | gardening | No Comments

When I arrived at Garry Point Park in Richmond last year, I was there for a 10km MEC race. I had no idea Garry Point Park was a large 75 acre waterfront park. Since I got there early, I went for a walk to check out the park and to take a few pictures.

 

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Early morning rainbow.

 

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Kuno garden

Imagine my surprise when, during my pressing search for a public washroom, I discovered a Japanese garden! No way. Ignoring my bladder, I shot a number of pictures. Kuno garden is tucked nicely into a corner. It commemorates the centennial year of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to Canada. Many people don’t realize that pre-WWII Japan was fairly poor. Fishermen emigrating to Canada had it easy compared to the “karayukisan” girls. They were the spare mouths to feed in small towns so they were sent to points in Asia to earn money with their bodies.

 

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The garden isn’t huge. It sports many pine trees pruned Japanese style; and the usual elements like bridges and lanterns. The plant material is local. Nothing exotic. I thought the garden was in decent shape.

 

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Large rock, a lantern and tightly pruned pines.

 

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More stones and a bridge.

 

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Nothing shocking here: Japanese maples, Azaleas, rhododendrons, mugo pines.

 

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Garry oak

 

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Surprise discovery number two. To reach the public washroom I had to pass under Garry oaks from which the park obviously derives its name. Quercus garryana has round spreading crowns and thick, grooved, scaly greyish-black bark. It grows up to 20m tall.

Acorns are small with shallow scaly cups. Leave are deeply lobed and bright green above; paler with red to yellow hairs underneath.

As for my race, it went OK. I will always remember it for the farmer who closed the trail in front of us so she could shepherd her shaggy cows across. This pregnant pause confused my Suunto heart rate monitor. The cows were in no rush.

If you drive to historic Steveston, it might be worth your while to drive a bit more and check out this park. It was a pleasant discovery for me. Who knows, it might be the same for you.

 

Source: BC government.

 

Abandoned Japanese garden

By | gardening | One Comment

What happens to private gardens when the owners pass on and they get abandoned? I was thinking about this on my vacation this past August. The Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) at the house next door to my in-laws in Niigata City, Japan, was sticking out into the lane. So I took my mother-in-law’s ancient pruning tool and removed all shoots poking out into the lane.

I still remember the couple who lived in the house. They would sit in their kotatsu and look out into the lane through their garden. I lived next door for five years in the 1990s. Eventually the shock wore off as they got used to seeing a white gaijin. I recall only brief small-talk exchanges. I never learned their names.

Then one day, six years ago, I got a phone call from my wife who happened to be visiting at home with our little kids. The man from next door knocked on the sliding door with some urgency. Would my wife help him cut down his wife? Huh? She was still hanging on the side of the house, having committed suicide. To this day, I’m not sure why. Illness leading to money issues? Old age? Panicked and home alone with little kids, my wife sent him to the family construction office. Two office ladies helped him with his unpleasant task. My wife eventually calmed down.

Sadly, the man next door survived his wife by barely a year or two. And as he declined, so did the garden. The family now visits the house periodically but the garden stays untouched.

The Wisteria floribunda is growing through the Acer palmatum. The driveway is weedy. Inside the gate, there is Lavender that requires pruning; the weeds are very tall. Give me one hour or two and it will be good as new. But I wouldn’t even dare step inside the gate. The lady ended her life just around the corner. I think the space between the wall and house was used for drying clothes. The vibe isn’t good. May they both rest in peace.

 

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Wild Wisteria floribunda; I cut it back off the lane, the only work I did in two weeks off

 

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Abandoned garden!

 

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Massive weeds; note the sad Aucuba japonica on the right. The poor lady ended her life around the corner.

 

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Allright ladder fun

By | gardening, Landscaping Equipment, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Tripod ladders rule

Japanese-style tripod ladders are excellent landscape and garden tools! Out in the field helping one of our strata maintenance crews with pruning, I took my lunch and opened up the Vancouver Sun. There, on page B3 was an article on ladders by Steve Whysall. Happy coincidence!

Let’s get to the best part right away. The single peg on the ladder is brilliant because you can position it almost anywhere. It will fit through hedges and you can punch it into your soil for stability. The most common size is ten feet. Since I was pruning small hedges in tight entrances, the small six foot ladder was perfect. It’s light to carry and maneuver and it got me just high enough to perform my cedar shearing. Lifting the extendable shears above my shoulders is tiring and leads to needless exhaust sucking. Why do that? Always position yourself for maximum output and comfort.

 

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6 ft ladder is easy to maneuver in tight entrances and gets you just high enough to shear the cedars nicely

 

Safety

Obviously, the bigger the ladder and the higher you are, the bigger the dangers. Always think about safety. Don’t rush. My only serious injury in seventeen seasons of landscaping happened while I was descending one of the bigger ladders. It was a 12 or 14 foot “widow-maker”. I started descending before my power shears were completely stopped. Yeah, I know, this was early in my career. Then my thumb met the steel blades. If it hadn’t been for my nail, the top of my thumb would have been missing. I still recall my helper down below, horrified by my blood dripping on her.

Incidentally, this was also the first- and I hope only- time when I jumped the line at a walk-in medical clinic. I remember an older gentleman probably waiting for his cough syrup, objecting to my line jump. I couldn’t care less.

The Allright Ladder Company is based in Vancouver and it is the oldest ladder company in Canada. They’ve been making them since 1921. Visit their website for safety information or read the Vancouver Sun article sidebar.

As the fall and winter pruning seasons come, I will use these Japanese-style tripod pruning ladders often. Consider getting one for your garden. Most landscape companies have them on their trucks.

 

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6 ft is the smallest available ladder from Allright