health and safety

Summer dangers in the landscape

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There I was raking out a bed and to get under a rhododendron I had to bend down and use my hands. Seconds later my left thumb was in excruciating pain. Then I quickly clued in: my hand had just passed over a ground nest full of wasps. So I hosed off  my thumb for several minutes, finished the day and left for home in a foul mood. My left hand was swelling up with every passing hour.

There are many dangers facing landscapers in the field and in summer, insects are danger number one. Still, this was my only sting all season. And as long as I can do my job, I ignore all wasps. It’s usually the residents that panic.

One week later I ran into a tree nest full of wasps which is much easier to detect when the wasps are flying in and out. And I was ready, too! I had my spray can ready so I gave it a nice shake and aimed it at the opening. Out came a lot of white foam.



This is much easier to spot than….



…a ground nest.


Here is the key point of this blog post: when you buy a spray can for wasps and hornets, buy the gluey stream type not foam.

The foam coated the opening and the entire part of the nest facing me. Some wasps even escaped from the opening. Two weeks later I found live wasps still inside the nest. This doesn’t happen with the glue type spray can. The toxic glue comes out in a steady stream and plugs up the nest opening. Case closed.

Hint: use goggles and pray that the wind is blowing away from you.

I waited for two weeks before removing the nest. When I examined it, I found two wasps still alive inside. Hours later the pest control technician found some nest leftovers and questioned me about it. Most likely I had just prevented him from generating a fat invoice. Safety first!

Late summer wasp problems are common in landscaping so be careful. And if you buy a spray can to control the insects, do NOT buy the foam version.



Buy this type of spray, NOT foam.


Notes on leaf blower wars

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As a member of various Facebook lawn care and landscaping groups, I often run into interesting discussions. But recently I read about an outright war in Newton, Massachusetts. A local resident named Karen Bray is working on banning leaf blowers from Newton.

I don’t want to repeat the entire fight in this blog post. You can easily Google it. So let’s just say that Karen Bray hates leaf blowers; and local landscapers don’t care for her opinions. The rest is fun tabloid stuff.

The key argument is that leaf blowers emit fine particulate matter that lodges in the lungs of kids and blower operators. I’m not a doctor but this could definitely be true. For this reason I prefer to blow solo. When 2-3 workers blow at the same time it’s a mess.

Since leaf blowers come up once in a while, it might be good to share my personal thoughts.



It would take significantly longer to clean up leaves on this site without blowers.


Strata leaf blowing

Large strata properties would be difficult to maintain in the fall without leaf blowers. Sometimes there are three workers blowing together which wouldn’t make Karen Bray very happy. But the fastest way to clean-up leaf avalanches is to blow them into piles. And for every Karen Bray, I know a strata owner who wants every single leaf cleaned-out. The same goes for building maintenance workers. They love leaf blowers because without them debris would get dragged inside their buildings.

Without leaf blowers strata landscape maintenance costs would either go up or service standards would go down. It just isn’t practical to send five workers out with brooms and rakes. Usually there is a lot of work to be done in a day and the crews are under pressure.

There are some strata sites that demand a later start. So instead of starting machines at 8am, we start at 9am. This allows the crew to perform other tasks such as bedwork; and the residents with night shift jobs get an extra uninterrupted hour of sleep. No big deal. No fights on Facebook.

Residential leaf blowing

Because most residences are smaller, there are things you can do when you encounter opposition from the neighbourhood. You can start your blower at a normal time and you can use the smallest backpack blower for noise sensitive environments.

I use one because I couldn’t afford to pay for a big $700+ machine. And it’s worked out fine. It handles fall clean-up just fine. Obviously, the extra power would be nice when I have to clean-up pine needles, for example.

Leaf blowers have been successfully pushed out of Vancouver’s West End but I don’t know how that affected the neighbourhood and their landscapers.

We also have silent gardeners offering services for people like Karen Bray. I’m sure their clients have to pay more and chances are they are happy to do it. It’s probably a good niche.

Blower-free 2014

I personally don’t care for leaf blowers. It’s a necessary evil. I find the noise annoying when I’m not personally blowing. When I blow, I just notice the work. In 2014 I worked under a municipal gardener who barely used a blower all season. And I confess, it was glorious. Whatever mess we made we swept up with brooms. But again, this was gardening NOT strata maintenance. So we mostly covered planted beds. Grass crews covered work that required heavy blower use.


In conclusion, I believe that the leaf blower wars are over-the-top. Yes, the noise is annoying. All landscape companies should do their best to blow at decent hours of the day and just long enough to get their work done. Smaller backpack blowers for noise sensitive environments are available. Some mess could be raked out and broomed.

Strata complexes tend to be larger in scale and, considering the amount of work to be completed, it isn’t practical to use rakes and brooms. There is often great pressure to complete a lot of work quickly.

I’m certain that any leaf blower bans would lead to either higher maintenance costs or worse looking neighbourhoods.

Five hernias, really!

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Five hernias! That was the news an experienced landscaper delivered to his boss. That’s not good. Experienced, senior workers are expected to do a lot in the field. When they go down, production can suffer. Sometimes hernias require surgeries and rehab. They definitely lead to light duties for affected workers. For months.

I’m not a medical doctor, nor is this blog about diseases and ailments. But we must note that hernias happen when abdominal muscles fall out of place. There are many types of hernias. Not one of them is fun.

Key issue: you can get a hernia by lifting heavy objects improperly. That definitely applies to landscaping.

The worker above is incredibly stubborn and set in his ways. By examining his mistakes we can educate future landscape workers and thus avoid future medical issues.


  1. Don’t make tarp “bombs”! If your company uses tarps to collect green debris do a simple pull test once in a while. Can you still pull your tarp along? If it’s becoming difficult, tie it up using slipknots and get a new tarp. This is especially important when you work in hard to access corners of your landscape.
  2. Don’t be a hero! If you or your team mates made a tarp “bomb”, get help lifting it. You won’t look soft. You definitely won’t be a hero in a doctor’s office. Get help with heavy tarps. Big bombs can happen when you are short on tarps, for example. Whatever. Just try not to make them.
  3. Don’t be a tarp slave! Move your work truck closer to your tarps or use a good commercial wheelbarrow. Do not be a tarp slave. It destroys your back and can give you a hernia. It’s also inefficient. Consider my favourite story: working on a boulevard with my crew, weeding and cultivating, I looked up and saw four workers walking away. Each worker had a tarp on his back and I didn’t see them for another 15 minutes or more. That was extremely upsetting since we had a wheelbarrow 15 meters up the boulevard from me. One worker could have done the trip to the truck, maybe two. Not four.



Vas as tarp slave, only do this for short distances



Note slipknots for easy release; if it’s too heavy, get help