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Landscaping

Client signs in landscape maintenance

By | Landscaping | No Comments

Since most clients have jobs and don’t get to see their landscape maintenance workers, they put up sings. And now that the pictures are accumulating, I thought it might be fun to share some of them in a blog post.

Warning

Sometimes not seeing strata clients can be a good thing. Once, many seasons ago, I was sent to a nasty site to save it. It was obvious that the regular crew wasn’t managing the site properly. First, I took two helpers and cut the large site by lunch, not over two days like the regulars. Of course, this completely soaked my work shirt with sweat. I find that many new workers aren’t ready to suffer this much, worried as they are about their pay rates.

Second, we picked the weediest beds and attacked them in logical sections as a team. If you split up and approach your site in helter-skelter manner, you will be doomed. Always work as a team and methodically.

Third, a terrible idea came to me. I decided to stay longer and fight the weeds after letting the crew go home. Except, the home owners started coming home and they were mad! People came out to ask me about the horrific state of their units and I had very little to tell them. Afraid for my life, I packed it up and left. My then-employer lost the maintenance contract shortly after that.

 

Fun with signs

 

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This is a good sign. We can move on to other pressing tasks. No problem.

 

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This happens a lot. Extra short, extra long, or not at all. We adjust mower heights and cut. Just remember to put your wheels back to their original height.

 

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We are lucky to have a proper washroom on this site. It’s not always the case. On some sites we have workers driving off to answer their nature calls.

Getting young dudes covered in grass clippings to clean up and shed their boots isn’t always easy.

 

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These people had recently made the switch from grass to artificial turf and left a reminder for our young guys. As European chafer beetles attack, heat waves hit and dogs urinate, owners like these happily invest money and switch. It means less maintenance work but the soil underneath is doomed.

 

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Directly in front of this sign is a decapitated lily and I feel for the lady. It means the crew leader has more training to do with his line trimmers. Zero damage is the goal. I find that middle-aged women especially are attached to their plants. Destroying their plants isn’t good landscape maintenance. Be careful. You are the guest on site.

 

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The owner of this clematis is pro-active so the vine is still intact. I just hope the line trimmer dude slows down enough to notice the sign. To be fair, the dudes are asked to perform their tasks quickly and perfectly. It’s easy to forget to look ahead.

 

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This sign must be included because dog waste problems are horrific in landscape maintenance. This couple neglected their grass so badly that all of our mowers ignored it. Then the owner got upset, made phone calls using expletives and shouted obscenities at our workers. Now, finally, they pick-up like they were supposed to from day one. I was filling in for a girl on vacation last week and mowed this place without incident.

When trees and artificial turf are incompatible

By | Arborist Insights, landscape maintenance, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

My friend who specializes in artificial turf installs told me recently that he was killing it. Great. I was happy for him. He went through his apprenticeship by installing NFL turf and deserves his success.

However, there are some cases where installing artificial turf is a bad idea. Take for example the case below from the United States.

 

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Picture used with permission.

 

Unhappy owner

The owner was unhappy with his lawn and approached his landscape company about replacing it with artificial turf. His landscaper was worried-correctly!-about removing four inches of turf and not adversely affecting the tree. Then she posted this picture in a Facebook group and asked people for their opinions.

Incidentally, I recommend joining a few Facebook lawn care groups. Many of the groups have thousands of members and interesting things pop us almost daily.

Let’s see

This is an interesting case so let’s see.

A) I presume that the tree shades out the grass when it pushes leaves out. You could prune the tree to allow for more light penetration. Another possibility is top-dressing with a light layer of soil and over-seeding with shade grass mix. Baby the lawn a little bit. Aerate it and fertilize it.

B) To install artificial turf you have to remove the top four inches of soil and install rock. You can read my blog about my friend’s project which shows the steps involved in installing artificial turf.

Since trees rely on surficial roots for water and nutrient collection this step would no doubt affect the tree. I also notice large roots that would make it impossible to install the turf perfectly flat.

And to prepare the rock for turf install, it gets compacted with a machine. We know soil compaction kills trees by limiting air and water uptake by surficial roots. Installing four inches of rock and compacting it all around the tree would have serious consequences for the tree.

C) I understand that most artificial turf models allow water to penetrate but I still think it wouldn’t be the same deal for the tree. Then there is the issue of heat. Natural grass produces oxygen and cools down our properties and cities. It’s the opposite with artificial turf. Once it’s installed it heats up and the soil underneath dies. I think the turf would simply “cook” the tree roots.

D) I believe the tree has to go before artificial turf can be installed. Imagine the full effect from grass cooling and tree shade to open artificial turf which absorbs heat and zero shade. Remember, artificial soccer fields should be watered down to protect the players on hot summer days.

E) Then there is the issue of cost. Artificial turf isn’t cheap but it’s easier to maintain than natural grass. I personally dislike anything artificial in my landscapes. Anything that kills soil is bad in my books.

Conclusion

The owners of this property have to find another solution to their grass problems. Artificial turf install is totally incompatible with the tree in their front yard. They can prune the tree and baby the grass. Or they can remove the tree to make way for artificial turf. Of course, this step loses the many ecosystem services provided free of charge by the tree and leads to soil death. I would personally avoid this second idea at all costs.

 

Hedge uses in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance, Landscaping | No Comments

Hedging is a common landscape element in gardens. On our strata sites it’s a similar story and as I found out, there are several different hedge uses.

Deterrent

 

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Around the corner is a school and this prickly Pyracantha coccinea deters young people from hopping the fence. The plant lives up to its common name, fire thorn. Once you get it stuck in your body, get ready for swelling and pain. Rumour has it the youths still risk it to complete their illegal substance deals.

 

Car lights

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This was a new idea. The laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’) behind the ladder is to be kept at the same height. It turns out that the units in the distance are bothered by car lights! Who knew? This sort of information has to be passed on before any pruning happens.

 

Privacy

 

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Privacy is a natural hedge use. Here there used to be a cedar hedge (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) but without help it died in one of our summer droughts. The yews (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) are considered more resilient. Sadly, the last I heard on this hedge is that they too were struggling. Since I planted them personally, I find it distressing.

The residents were obviously glad to get their bedroom windows protected from passersby and windows from across the courtyard.

 

Site lines

 

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The residents here are looking at a power station in the distance and its various towers and cables. Therefore, they asked us to plant more stuff in the wild zone. Obvious gaps were plugged up with cedar trees (Thuja plicata). Since this line of Pieris japonicas is the biggest we could find, the residents will have to wait for a bit before they grow up.

 

Cover

 

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This is another common ploy. Green hedges are used to cover unsightly areas like this recycling box. Unfortunately, cedar hedges (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) are affected by shading from the box. Note the brown holes. Any shading over six months usually results in permanent browning.

 

Fun!

 

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Let’s not forget fun. Some people like to have fun with their hedges. While I’m not a fan, I don’t mind if the residents prune their hedges at angles that please them. Here future snow accumulations shouldn’t be an issue. This is Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica).

Hedges serve many functions in our landscapes. I always prefer green barriers to structures like fences.

Helpers landscapers love to see

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

While working yesterday, I ran into a worker every landscaper loves to see. Hired by the strata council he was on dog drop duty. Great. That really helps. I wish these dog waste companies were hired more often.

 

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Yes, most of the dogs you see on site are adorable and many of their female owners are, too. But let’s be honest, some backyards are totally disgusting. So disgusting I actually have to include warnings in my training.

I’ve seen new lawn care dudes totally paralyzed when the next yard they have to cut is completely covered in dog waste. So, if you can, mow around the piles. As the grass gets tall around the pile there is a chance the owner will get the hint.

Angry owner

Several years ago I was confronted by the strata owner of a small patch of what used to be a lawn. He was angry because now he had a meadow. Obviously, as the strata landscaper I had to stay polite so I gently pointed out the massive piles of dog waste by now hidden in the tall grass. Nobody on the crew wanted to mow that yard.

Incidentally, when grasses are allowed to mature, they can reproduce sexually. I doubt this even entered the owner’s mind.

Now, he was really angry telling me there wasn’t anything buried in his lawn. And as he was saying this to me, he side-stepped along the wall, never actually stepping in his own meadow. Aha, case closed.

Doggy bags

If you have a weak stomach, skip this paragraph. Mower decks covered in dog waste are bad but nothing beats line trimming accidents. I openly admit to once slicing through an old improperly disposed of doggy bag. I have no idea how to describe the contents of an old doggy bag in language I can print. It’s a sick accident. No wonder I get excited when I see dog waste removal dudes.

Procedures

We mow around dog waste piles if possible. We skip totally covered yards. Some owners get notices; some get letters from strata council. All new workers are trained to line trim with goggles and their mouths closed. All workers have the right to refuse maintenance work in disgusting yards.

If you have a problem on site, definitely call a dog waste removal company. Your landscapers will love you for it.

 

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Stihl LawnGrips Pro 6 boots: the landscape tool for your feet

By | Landscaping, Reviews | No Comments

After destroying my Stihl LawnGrip Pro shoes in the field, it was time to upgrade. I finally found some time to visit my favourite dealer, Tri-City Power Equipment in Coquitlam. I had a pair of the NEW Stihl LawnGrips Pro 6 boots put away. They are designed specifically for landscape professionals and they look good.

 

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First impressions

These boots feel more like hiking boots compared to the previous LawnGrips Pro shoes and the shoelaces feel much stronger. On the previous model the laces would snap at the worst possible moment or they would come undone.

The outsole is the same and I know from experience that it does offer great traction on fresh-cut or wet turf.

Stihl also added four reflective bars on the side for extra visibility.

 

Stihl notes

  • 3-D ring closure pairs for better fit and easy boot entry
  • moisture wicking 300g Dri Tec lining
  • patented Grip-N-Go outsole engineered for superior traction on fresh-cut or wet turf
  • cushioned polyurethane midsole for all-day comfort and support on the job
  • steel shank and composite diffusion plate provides protection and stability
  • multi-directional, angled cleats are designed to keep you from slipping
  • steel toe complies with ANSI and ASTM standards
  • CSA Green Patch certified
  • constructed with naturally water-repellant leather (use of waterproofing products recommended

 

Why Vas loves these shoes

  • They are made specifically for landscape professionals!
  • Comply with safety standards; steel toe boots are mandatory
  • The outsole really prevents slips on freshly-cut or wet grass; this is important when you are pushing a mower
  • Decent retails cost. At $129.95 retail it’s still a good deal compared to other work boots; and other boots aren’t designed specifically for landscape professionals. If you get to know your dealer, you won’t have to pay exact retail. So get to know your dealer.
  • Stihl has great products, from machines to clothes.

 

If your work boots are getting old and you work in landscaping, give these new boots a try.

 

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(Disclaimer: I am not associated in any way with Stihl Canada or Tri-City Power Equipment. This review is my personal take on these shoes.)

 

 

The hardest day of 2016

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

The plan for our sunny summer day was fairly simple. Remove a circle of astro turf and turn the area into a grass field. Fine. Working with your boss is what I always recommend to our workers. I had no idea this day would almost kill me. A day before my vacation flight to Japan no less. It was easily my hardest day of 2016.

Step 1: remove astro turf

The turf peeled off quite nicely and the rolls we created were nice and neat; if slightly ambitious. For as we soon found out, the turf was brutally heavy sitting as it was on sand. This would be the hardest part of the job. The chunks were heavy and had to be moved by wheelbarrow to a nearby truck.

As the removal progressed, the rolls got smaller and uglier. By the end of it, we couldn’t even call them rolls. Both wheelbarrows were on their last legs. We loaded and dumped three truck loads for a total of 8,500kg. Where were the young guys which my boss insists the landscape industry is built for?

 

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All rolled up, and the brutality begins. There was no easy access for our truck.

 

Sep 1 completed, and my body was completely exhausted

 

Step 2: blow in some soil

This was a joke compared to step one. A company showed up and blew in the required amount of soil on top of the sand base. This used to be a putting green when the two residential towers were built. Massively underused, the strata finally decided to make changes. Grass field it was.

 

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Step 3: hydroseeding

So you want grass on what used to be a putting green. Now what? You have a few options to consider.

Hand seeding may result in a patchy lawn and it may take longer to establish.

Sod is expensive and the installation is time consuming. Also consider the headache of sodding a circular putting green. Sodded lawns also have lines and there could be transplant issues because the sod is laid on soil the grass wasn’t grown in.

Hydroseeding is a fast and easy alternative. It uses a slurry of seed and mulch and produces beautiful lawns in just weeks, at a fraction of the cost! This was my first direct experience with hydroseeding and looking at the pictures, I’m convinced it works well.

 

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I won’t soon forget this brutal day. I thoroughly deserved my long visits to Japanese hot spring baths.

 

 

 

Grinding through winter landscapes

By | Landscaping, Seasonal, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Last year came to a close with unusually cold temperatures and lots of snow in the Lower Mainland. As I write this blog post in early February, 2017, the cold weather continues. While working in cold weather with frosty landscapes can get very old and annoying, there is work. If you look closely. Some of it is obvious; some of it requires imagination. Consider yourself lucky if your employer let’s you work. In winter seasons past I used to get my work hours cut just because it happened to be foggy outside. Foggy!

 

The obvious

Snow clearing from walks and roads. The obvious and back-breaking task. Dress well and have some spare snow shovels ready. Just in case. Hydrate properly. Clear off high-profile walkways and car ramps.

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Brushing snow of plants. Gently take the load off. This will prevent damage. The Nandina domestica below must feel better.

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Surveying for damage. There will be branches to prune off and shrubs to stake or tie back.

Tree pruning. Assuming it’s not extremely cold outside, tree pruning is a perfect winter activity. The crown structure is clearly visible. Identify broken, crossing and rubbing branches; and anything dead or diseased. Identify every single tree species on your site using scientific names.

Cedars. Unless it’s extremely cold outside and positioning your ladder looks sketchy, cedar hedges can be sheared. Don’t forget you can warm up your hands on the gear case of your power shears. Just make sure the shear blades are stopped! No, it’s not very safe but what do you do with frost bitten hands?

Perennial and grass cutback. Some perennials get missed in fall or they are left to provide some winter interest. For example, Sedums and ornamental grasses. If you see snow damage it’s OK to cut them back.

 

The less obvious

River rock install. This was unexpected but it made perfect sense. Imagine a deserted landscape supply store on a cold morning. Loading my truck was quick and easy. No waiting. The client needed to cover up plastic that was protruding from her patio rocks. So we buried it with 2-6″ rover rock. As she came out to inspect the work and point out the protruding plastic, we enjoyed the heat escaping from her unit!

Drains. It’s critical to expose all snow covered drains. Before the surrounding areas flood. This step often gets skipped because it’s assumed municipalities are responsible for it. They are but they’re also busy. Be glad you have some work to do.

Exploring new sites. As new sites come on, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with your new work areas. Walk every inch, make notes, written and mental. Take pictures. Survey. You’ll be glad you did when the weather improves. This includes site clubhouses with washrooms and heat. Consider a brief safety meeting as you defrost. Just don’t make a mess.

Tree stake removal. Check to see how long the tree stakes have been on the trees. Anything over one year should be removed. Unless it’s a special case like downhill leaning pines that would collapse instantly. Staked trees fail to form reaction wood which is formed when wind events run though. It makes trees stronger.

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Tree training. Now is a good time to take a new arboriculture apprentice and point out weak, crossing and damaged branches.

Blowing snow. I hate blowers and the noise they make but there are cases when blowing snow makes a lot of sense. We exposed the light top layer and shovelled the remainder, thus saving ourselves a lot of time and back-breaking labour. Ice can also be blown away if you’re patient enough to let air build up under the ice. This can actually be a fun activity.

 

Conclusion

There is winter work to be done even when the weather does not cooperate. Just do it safely. Dress properly. I spent money today on a new, warmer toque, $1.99 on a neck warmer, and new, what I hope will be much warmer gloves. Test day tomorrow. There will be food on the table for my kids. That thought always warms me up!

It’s also a good idea to enjoy the frosty landscape views. Kids make cute snowmen; the mountains look great covered in white. Make the best of it.

 

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Tree topping requests

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

Tree topping requests never go away. Never. Case in point. A strata owner in Maple Ridge walks up saying it’s time to “trim” his trees. (I prefer the term prune; trimming sounds suspicious.) So off we go to check it out. Outside his backyard fence -all of it belonging to strata- stand two perfectly healthy trees: Acer rubrum and Liquidambar styraciflua.

The key issue

The owner is upset because Mt. Baker is no longer clearly visible from his back balcony. He wants the trees “trimmed” to the level of his deck. Roughly 30% off the top, which means topping. He invites me to his house to see for myself. I decline. Since I signed ISA’s code of conduct, I am obligated to inform him that topping trees is a horrific idea. He doesn’t care. This is about his view.

Why is tree topping bad? (Get a complete pdf file here.)

  1. The trees produce weakly attached pseudo-branches from the top cuts which gets insurance companies very excited. Weakly attached branches tend to fail.
  2. It leads to decay.
  3. It leads to sunburn.
  4. It stresses the tree.
  5. It’s ugly.
  6. It’s expensive.

 

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The owner of the corner unit wants both trees “trimmed” to the level of his patio….

 

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The City of Maple Ridge is unlikely to allow a massive crown reduction on two perfectly healthy trees.

 

Strata letter

One week later the same gentleman produced a letter from his strata council stating that it was OK to trim his trees at his landscaper’s discretion. The future health of both trees had to be accounted for. As it turns out, the City of Maple Ridge has new tree bylaws from January 2016. Topping is clearly prohibited. Of course! Tree can be removed if they are deemed dangerous or in poor health, after city inspections to confirm this is really the case. There are fees to pay and replacements to install.

Compromise

The best we can do as landscape maintenance professionals responsible for the site is thinning of the tree crowns. It would not hurt the trees and it would partially recover the owner’s view of Mt. Baker. Perhaps he will invite us in for tea?


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Landscape maintenance in Japanese Alps

By | Edging, Landscaping | No Comments

Yuzawa

This past August we made a trip to Western Japan to celebrate my father-in-law’s medal. He received his Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor for his contribution to Japanese construction industry. That required a formal party and full family attendance. Thus the two week visit.

The one trip we made out of town was to Yuzawa kogen, a ski area in the alps. It used to be a huge playground for people in Tokyo looking for some weekend skiing fun. Then, a new bullet train line was built to Nagano and people stopped coming. The snow is better in Nagano! Ouch.

Unlike Vancouver, you can buy an apartment in Yuzawa for $20,000. Some people from Tokyo jumped on it. Fathers commute to Tokyo by bullet train and the family lives mortgage-free.

A quick seven-minute gondola ride took us up into the alpine area. As you walk out, you notice a huge beech tree (Fagus) to your left. It turns out, at 350 years old, it’s on the Japanese top 100 oldest trees.

Alpine area landscape maintenance

As my kids enjoyed free play and overpriced ice cream, I stopped Kosuke from line edging the walkway in the alpine botanical garden. I introduced myself and asked him what he did in winter. Skiing, of course. Note the protective apron and shield. His machine says Kioritz, which is one of three names manufactured by Yamabiko Corporation. In BC, we know the other two names well. Echo and Shindaiwa. I personally own Echo machines and couldn’t be happier. My company uses Stihl.

On the other side, to my left, his older work mates were taking a break in the shade. It was late August and temperatures were approaching 30 degrees Celsius. Their job was to clean up and weed between plants after the line edger had gone through. This technique totally works in this setting. In BC you will see landscape companies fall behind on finesse work and then, in desperation, the line edger will enter planted beds. Beds it wasn’t designed for. Then you get the usual plant carnage.

Once we got back down the hill, we enjoyed hot spring baths at our hotel. The swimming pool was extra charge (major fail). No tattoos allowed! Now you know.

 

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7 minute ride, cabin attendants were cute

 

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Kosuke, note protective apron and shield

 

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Alpine botanical garden

 

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Busy at work, in the shade; clean up after line edging

 

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Break time!

 

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Best farmer trucks in the world!

 

If you ever take the super-express bullet train from Tokyo to Niigata, stop at Yuzawa.

Winter failure of co-dominant stems on maples

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

It was yet another snow day. Just before Christmas.  En route to a snow clearing session, we got a call to check out a damaged tree. So we turned around. Only the one damaged tree turned out to be eighteen. Mostly maples (Acer). It was shocking to see the trees fall apart after snowfall, overnight freezing and morning rain. The damage was recent and branches were snapping as we spoke to the garden liaison. She was clearly distressed and eager to speak to an arborist. I didn’t have good news for her.

Let’s examine the Acers on site. They clearly had lots of co-dominant stems with included bark. Why is that so bad?

  1. C0-dominant stems are not proper branches. Proper branches have several layers of overlapping wood a their junction points. Some of this wood is produced by the trunk and some of it by the branch. This means that the point of attachment is very strong!
  2. Included bark is a problem. Imagine two stems growing as if they were the leaders. They grow by producing bark, cambium, phloem and xylem. As the two stems grow bigger, some of their bark gets buried inside the junction. This only weakens the junction point and increases the chance of failure.
  3. Normal branches have bark protection zones. These are areas inside the wood, near the branch-trunk junction. They are rich in protective chemicals that help to prevent pathogens from reaching inside the trunk. So, when kids snap a branch on the way from school, the protection zone does its job of sealing the trunk from pathogens. Co-dominant stems lack these protection areas so diseases can travel down to the trunk. This also makes it difficult to remove one stem because the wound won’t get help with keeping disease out. Normally it would be good if you could prune one of the co-dominant stems right out.
  4. Trees with damaged co-dominant stems often die. The wounds are horrific and because they lack bark protection zones, pathogens, fungi and pests get in.

It turns out, maples are known for co-dominant stems. The site we were on looks very different after the costly removal of eighteen trees. What can you do? Port Moody hasn’t seen this much snow in a long time.

Day of failure pictures

 

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Two co-dominant stems. One is gone. The wound is large. The tree got removed.

 

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There is no comeback from this wound, even if you had a bark protection zone.

 

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Always consider safety! This Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) branch came down five minutes after we arrived.

 

Post-removal picture

 

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