Category

Landscaping

Some landscape installs come with challenges: yew privacy screen install

By | Landscaping, Species | No Comments

We already know from my recent blog posts that fall is a great time for landscape installation projects. Cooler temperatures and moisture in the fall are good for plants; and the fall is a bit slower once we get over the maximum leaf drop on our sites and in our gardens.

Privacy screen

Privacy is a common problem. New owners move into their unit just as we remove dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘). Now their windows are exposed just above a walkway and we have a problem. The husband is a nice guy but the wife can compose letters to strata that would make a construction worker blush.

So a quote is submitted to strata council and approved quickly so the problem goes away. I was the lucky installer on a sunny fall day. It just so happened that the site was a challenge.

 

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It’s not perfect cover for windows yet but give it some time.

 

Cedars vs Yews

The heat waves our landscapes have been subjected to in recent summers have been hard on our cedar hedges. Most strata owners are too busy to water their plants and regular weekly landscape work visits don’t allow for watering.

Thus, the switch to yews (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) which are considered hardier. They make nice hedges and sport red berries. But they are more expensive than cedars so it’s a strain on strata budgets when many cedars die.

Access

I got a bit sweaty walking the thirteen potted specimens up the back walkway and I loved it. It served as training. Access is another common hassle. Same for soil conditions. Since the soil closest to the edge was mostly clay, I was forced to off-set the yew row just a bit. Not that it’s a huge problem.

The soil was very wet and I had to be careful with irrigation pipes. Another challenge was soil volume. As soon as stuck my shovel in, I hit landscape fabric. Not good. I had to make adjustments.

Planting

 

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Not the best conditions: soggy soil, clay edge, ledge and low soil volume.

 

One adjustment involved removing the yews from their pots and cleaning off soil from the bottom of the root balls. This allowed me to plant the yews in their somewhat shallow planting holes. Also, don’t forget to rough-up the roots before planting so they stop circling.

The second adjustment involved moving in some soil. There were at least two specimens with exposed root balls so the extra soil levelled everything off nicely. Remember, when backfilling your planting holes, always use the existing soil. A very common mistake is backfilling planting holes with new soil. It looks great but water will find it easier to move into the new soil. It will then cause soil saturation and your yew will turn into a joystick. Who knows which way it will fall?

Remember the soil we cleaned off from the bottom of the root balls? I saved it and used it to top-dress the finished yew line. It gave it a nicer look.

One last step: blow off the muddy ledge below the yews. Always clean-up as best as you can. Weekend rain will water the yews in nicely. I wish them well. I always feel responsible for the health of my plantings.

 

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This is a nice change from brown cedars. I hope all of these yews survive and thrive.

Fall landscape projects part 3: switching plants

By | Landscaping, Mulch, Plant Species Information | No Comments

Sometimes owners get tired of the plants around their strata units and demand changes. With strata approval, of course. This blog post covers one such case. The owner was upset with Rosa rugosa spreading into his lawn. OK, no problem. We can do some editing. I love plant editing in the landscape. And as luck would have it, the morning storm passed and the sun came out just as I got to this project.

Rosa rugosa

I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. It sports decent enough rose flowers. It’s a rose so it’s prickly and it does spread. Since the planted area was situated under a red maple (Acer rubrum) the digging was awful.  I had to cut away some of the maple roots just so I could extricate the rose.

 

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Rosa rugose, unwanted and despised for spreading.

 

Cornus stolonifera

Since there was a patch of yellow twig dogwood already, it made sense to plant more of it. So we brought in six new specimens of Cornus stolonifera. I normally prefer the red twig dogwoods but here we had no choice. Yellow twig it was.

The plants don’t require any pruning but the potted plants had to be cleaned-up a bit. I removed some of the dead and anything low at the base.

 

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The dogwood on the right has been cleaned-up.

 

Once the plants were laid out, the planting was fairly easy. Just remember to rough up the roots before you stick the plant in the ground. Since the roots are circling in the pots, I make north to south cuts with my Felco2 snips. Don’t worry, the roots can handle it.

 

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The two smallest specimens were planted closest to the maple where the digging was the worst.

 

Plant details

Cornus stolonifera is a densely branched shrub with creamy white flowers; and creamy white fruit. It’s best mass planted. In this case we already had the same yellow twig dogwood on the right.

The yellow twig dogwood grows 6-8′ tall and likes full sun or partial shade. It will get plenty of sun in this location. No pruning is necessary but since this is a busy strata unit corner, I know it will get sheared, eventually.

All done

 

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All done!

 

It’s always a good idea to top dress new installs with soil. Here we installed half a yard of mulch for an instant sharp look. And lastly, a courtesy blow finishes the install. Always leave your work area clean.

Making the case for lighter pruning

By | landscape maintenance, Landscaping | No Comments

Pruning on strata properties sometimes feels too harsh. Because of space and time constraints many shrubs get pruned into balls and boxes. Plants must be kept away from buildings and walkways; and from each other.

Additionally, power shearing shrubs is much faster than hand pruning them. And that makes every landscape maintenance boss very happy. This is why maple trees get sheared into balls because it would take much longer for someone to hand snip all of the shoots. And so it goes every season.

Home gardeners have the luxury of space and time. Normally. I recall the late Cass Turnbull giving a lecture and saying how Abelias should only be lightly hand snipped. Yes, maybe in someone’s garden but not on a strata property. As soon as the shrub sends out spikes, strata people freak and power shears come out.

Osmanthus case

There are exceptions, of course. On one strata site we have an Osmanthus shrub which got balled regularly until new owners moved in. Now they want it more natural looking. And why not? The backyard will look just fine with an Osmanthus shrub that isn’t forced into looking like a ball. It will just require some careful pruning and it might take a bit longer.

 

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The owners don’t want their Osmanthus pruned into a harsh ball again this fall.

 

Commercial fun

Another exception is my commercial property. Since I’m in charge of my time and (usually) work, I elected to hand snip my plants. It may seem slow but consider this: since I hand snip the spikes, they stay in my hand. This then eliminates the need for clean-up raking. Additionally, it gives the plants a more natural look. You can still see the shape but it’s not as harsh as it would be after power shearing.

And one extra bonus is the lack of noise and air pollution. I totally enjoyed myself in the Sunday afternoon sun. However, considering leafiness and the mess I made while weeding, I did blow the site because commercial properties should look good on Monday morning. As I blew the site I also made mental notes about tree pruning, chafer beetle damage on the lawns and finesse work.

 

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The idea is to remove the spikes. Normally these plants get power sheared.

 

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After hand pruning which was slower but it eliminated clean-ups. You can still see the original shape but it’s much softer compared to power shearing.

 

 

So remember, not every plant has to be sheared into a harsh shape. There is a solid case to be made for softer hand pruning. Please share your pruning pictures in the comments below. I would love to see how you handle your garden plants.

What happens when you join lawn care Facebook groups

By | Edging, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

To be honest my free time for Facebook is limited but joining lawn care groups has been the best experience ever. It gives you a nice look into issues facing lawn care and landscape operators. And most of the members reside in the United States.

If you can get past the bad spelling, bad language and the occasional gun and ammo picture, you can get rewarded with some gems.

Blowing in the streets

This is one horrible habit where the landscaper blows debris into the street so he doesn’t have to pick it up. Some municipalities have bylaws against it but that doesn’t matter. It’s a bad habit. Don’t do it. It’s best to blow any debris into piles, rake it up and put into your truck. Don’t mess up the roadways or neighbouring properties.

But there is one exception. Windy days. When the winds are howling and you can’t control the blowing then I can look the other way. As long as my workers don’t step into roadways which is extremely unsafe. Of course, the workers remember this exception and then it’s windy every day…..

 

Line edger vs. trees conflicts

This was from a very frustrated company owner who had received phone calls from angry clients. Why were the young trees slashed up and missing bark? Again. See picture below.

I’ve experienced this with young co-workers at a municipality. We were at a public park and my co-worker started line edging around the closest tree. And he was very aggressive. So aggressive I almost got hit with bits of bark.

So what do you do? I have already published a blog post on this epidemic and you can read it here. But let’s just recap, shall we?

The recommendations are to remove grass from tree stem areas, workers are to be held accountable and trained until they understand it. For there are implications when you slash up live trees with line edgers.

As we know, trees are resilient but repeated slashing of the bark stresses the tree. The poor plant now has to expend precious energy into repairs and will likely not grow as vigorously. Repeated hits can kill the tree. So please don’t do this to your trees. Read my blog and never slash up trees with landscape machines ever again.

 

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You can see why the owner of this young tree wasn’t happy. The line trimmer string probably wrapped around the trunk and stripped the protective bark layer. Install a plastic guard, build a tree well around the tree or just remove any grass from the base of the tree. Train all workers well and hold them accountable.

 

Garden grinding

This term came with a disturbing video in which the operator of a line edger buzzed weedy beds down to dirt patches. It looks ridiculous and unsafe. Your line edger should be used for edging only. Bedwork is a completely different task.

I worry about rocks flying into windows or the worker “eating” rocks. The weeds will probably come back anyway. It’s best to use garden tools for bedwork. Period.

 

Are you in?

Spending some free time (NOT work time!) in Facebook groups can be rewarding. Sometimes there are decent discussions about estimating, machines and worker attendance. Not every group is fantastic so look around and enjoy. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Leave group recommendations in the comment below.

 

 

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 | 2 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.