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gardening

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.

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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