Category

gardening

Mistakes homeowners make

By | gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

This is yet another blog post inspired by a question posted on Quora.com. As a landscaper, what do you think are common mistakes homeowners make?

There are some mistakes that repeat so let’s take a look at my list.

 

A. Poor watering

People are busy so they take out their garden hose and spray their plants for a few minutes. Unfortunately, some plants, trees especially, require slow soaking which takes more time and attention.

 

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New plantings require slow soaking.

 

Before you water your garden beds, stick your finger in your soil to see how much moisture is in there.

Hanging baskets require heavy soaking. I learned this when I worked at the City of Coquitlam. I had to soak every hanging basket until the water was gushing out on the bottom. It seems crazy but if you have hanging baskets, water them really well. Don’t just spray them.

My boss’s wife dumped her hanging baskets last week because they dried out. I told her to soak next year’s baskets like hell and now, slightly upset, I fear she will start making mistakes on my paycheques.

 

B. Reaching for chemicals

Homeowners are quick to reach for chemicals to solve problems in their gardens. Yes, I know, your local big box store is selling it so it can’t be bad. Right? Don’t do it. Search for better solutions, don’t introduce synthetic chemicals to your garden.

I know people who dump Killex on their lawn weeds every year. Then their kids go out to use the trampoline. I tried to cover the weeds by fertilizing their lawns really well. It didn’t matter. Killex it was.

Incidentally, I object to the cover photo. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are awesome and edible. I frequently drink dandelion root tea. If you hate dandelions, dig them up manually.

 

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Just attach your hose and push the lever to on. Red Seal Vas does NOT recommend this.

 

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Are you sure you want this on your home lawn?

 

C. Client vs customer

Nobody enjoys getting ripped off but, please, get to know your landscape professional and keep him for years. That’s how you become a client and landscapers love clients. Why? Because we can educate clients while we solve their landscape problems. It becomes a good relationship.

I run from customers. Earlier this year, I was referred to a man with pressing landscape problems so I went to see him. His first question was how much? It seems logical to ask about rates but I already know this dude will be a headache.

His mugo pines (Pinus mugo) were covering over half of the public sidewalk and he was afraid of getting fined by the city. I would be more afraid of ladies in motorized wheelchairs raising their middle fingers.

I did the pruning by hand, got paid and left. I hope I never hear from him again.

Now, back to my own mistakes.

Enjoy your summer.

 

Butterflies and cherry laurels: Why collecting new firsts is a lot of fun

By | gardening, Landscaping, Plants | No Comments

I really enjoy collecting new firsts. It makes my working life more exciting and, because I’m doing something for the first time, it becomes a good learning experience. Let’s examine two of my firsts from yesterday.

Butterflies

Yesterday, I was rushing my end of the day clean-up blow because my son had a soccer tournament to get to. Then I stopped to admire a Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). It flowers from June to September and clearly the flower panicles weren’t fully formed yet.

And then a butterfly showed up, attracted by the flowers and totally oblivious to my presence and the loud blower on my back. Finally I had my own picture of a Buddleia davidii with a butterfly, confirming the common name.

Now considered invasive, Buddleia davidii provides summer interest. Then when it starts to get out of control, we hack it up.

 

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Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) with a butterfly; my first photo confirming the common name.

 

Prunus hedges

I’ve seen and worked with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) before but the Genolia variety is new to me. This fastigiate cherry laurel (Prunus is in the cherry family) is perfect for privacy screens because it has a more upright habit (fastigiate). It also handles partial shade.

The upright habit and shade tolerance were critical factors in my project area.

 

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I had just taken out four dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘) from under a Styrax japonica tree. Obviously, replanting with the same cedars would be suspicious so in went the fastigiate cherry laurel. It can handle full sun, partial sun and shade; in this location it will get some sun and lots of shade.

The upright habit will help the homeowner create a privacy screen between his unit and the walkway. Plus the glossy green leaves are very attractive. The cherry laurel will also flower.

I watered the laurels in nicely and checked the planting depth afterwards. I got my first ever Prunus laurocerasus Genolia planting done; and the owner was extremely happy to get his dead cedars replaced. I can’t wait to check on the hedge later in the season.

 

Can your beds have too much colour?

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

 

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

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

Beauty or chaos?

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tranquility

 

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

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

Enjoy your garden this summer!

Making the case for attention to detail in landscape maintenance

By | gardening, landscape maintenance | No Comments

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

Details

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

 

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Blackberry and Salmon berry invasion in progress.

 

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After my intervention.

 

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Much better!

 

Ferns

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

 

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

 

Weeds

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

 

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These weeds had to go.

 

Tree branches

 

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

How I discovered Kelowna’s Japanese garden

By | gardening, Reviews | No Comments

It makes me smile every time I make a pleasant garden discovery. My last discovery happened thanks to my wife, a snow country girl from the West Coast of Japan. She checked tourist information sites for Kelowna because my son had fall league soccer matches there all weekend. And bang, there was a Japanese garden tucked behind Kelowna’s city hall. It was something like a five minute drive from our hotel and it was free! The sunny fall weather helped, too.

 

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Japanese gardens

Two important things about Japanese gardens. One, the Japanese love nature and it’s reflected in their gardens. Forget religion and various Zen trinkets. It’s just that they live on a small, crowded mountainous island so large private gardens are reserved for the rich.

Two, there is lots of room left for your imagination. It’s not like Western gardens where there is so much stuffed into the garden your eyes don’t know where to look first. I love this about Japanese gardens. They can do so much with some Azaleas, moss and stone. Spaces between plants are extremely important.

Kasugai

Kasugai is Kelowna’s sister city and it’s from that relationship that this garden developed. The garden is small; my kids burned through it in no time because they were thinking about lunch. I took a bit longer because I had research to do for my blog.

I noted the common Japanese garden features: gazebo to sit in, rock garden, lantern, bridge, pond and stream with koi carp fish.

 

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My favourite trees

As soon as walked into the garden, I noticed a specimen of my favourite tree, Albizia julibrissin. Unfortunately, in October the beautiful fragrant flowers are long gone. When you get up close the flowers tickle your nose. The fragrance must be experienced because I can’t describe fragrances.

The garden also sports another tree species I love. Davidia involucrata. In summer, when the round fruit is partially covered by the involucre, you understand the common names given to this tree. Ghost or handkerchief tree. I prefer ghost because the first time I looked up into this tree in a Vancouver daycare, the fruits covered in long white involucres looked like ghosts. I wonder if the kids ever noticed.

Stop by

If you have some time to kill in Kelowna, definitely stop by this free Japanese garden. It’s well worth the visit.

 

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Pro blogger Vas researching…..

Aralia cordata: my plant ID nightmare

By | gardening, Species | No Comments

 



 

Picture landscape pro Vas in a meeting, standing with his boss in the garden liaison’s garden. She’s looking at one of her pots and mentions that she would like to get more of these plants on her site. Sure, what are they? She had no clue so the boss turned to me. Come on, Red Seal Journeyman star!

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And I had no clue what it was. There were green heart-shaped leaves in a pot. This is one of those nightmare scenarios because you’re trying to look super knowledgeable and your brain goes blank.

It got worse in the forest buffer zone when I couldn’t recall the native shrub Sambucus racemosa. Oh, well, you just have to laugh it off. I could only recall the beautiful S. nigra.

Sun King

 

Do you know this plant?

 

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I failed the patio quiz but now I know one more plant. No big deal. This is Aralia cordata Sun King (Japanese spikenard).

It’s evident that this garden liaison had done her homework. Aralia cordata is perfect for pots in partly shaded patios or entryways. This is exactly where this plant is. It’s in a pot just as you walk in through the gate onto her patio. Trees above provide lots of shade.

The leaves are bright gold colour in summer which brightens up this gate area nicely.

Flowers come in mid-spring are followed by black ornamental berries. Expect the foliage to die back to the ground in winter. Clean it up nicely and wait for spring to bring the Sun King back.

This potted Sun King is in a woodland, Japanese-style garden and near-by are ferns, sedges and Hydrangeas. The Sun King works well with woodland perennials and hostas, all of which like shade.

In the end we managed to find and install a few specimens of Aralia cordata Sun King on this site. I doubt I will forget this plant again.

Keep working on your plant ID skills.

 



 

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!