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Landscaping

Lady Di: Grandiflora Rose

By | gardening, Landscaping, Species | No Comments

I don’t get to work with nice roses very often. Most of the time I have to cut back Rosa rugosa specimens because they are suckering and spreading out of control. Usually it’s raining so my rain gear gets all torn up by its rough thorns.

Lady Di

Recently I got to install Grandiflora rose called Lady Di. That’s more like it. Finally some class!

The potted roses displayed wax on their canes and I had no idea why. That’s how little I work with roses. So I googled it and found out that wax on roses is used to prevent them from drying out during transportation or while they sit on the shelf. No action is required because the wax will eventually fall off.

 

Rose details

 

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Grandiflora rose showing wax on its canes.

According to the tag, this rose variety produces bouquets of perfectly formed soft coral pink flowers. Great. I can’t wait to see them. The glossy green foliage is allegedly also spectacular.

The Grandiflora rose is expected to reach the height of 3-4′ and I hope there is enough room in the skinny front beds where we planted them. Since the rose has strong fragrance it should keep the owners happy.

 

Planting

Our small front beds have trees in them so I expected some push-back from tree roots but overall we managed fine. The one interesting twist is planting depth. To properly plant this rose, you have to make sure the branch union (the big fist-like base from which the canes shoot out) is planted slightly below ground level.

We are also advised to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Spacing between roses should be 60cm or 24″. Plant Lady Di in full or partial sun, not in shade.

 

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Ready for planting.

 

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Planted. Note how the branch union is covered by soil. The wax will fall off eventually. Now we just keep it watered and wait for the flowers and fragrance.

Why landscape professionals lose sleep

By | Landscaping, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Sometimes I see craziness in the landscape and it stays on my mind for so long, I lose sleep. Below are some examples of cases which could have been prevented by a bit of extra care. Yes, I know, the world didn’t end but still I want to see beautiful, healthy landscapes that have the ability to uplift people.

 

Spring show

 

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Not much of a show, is it? This is a recently taken over site and a high-profile access spot. Considering the poor tulip show I am almost certain this bulb install is more than one season old. If it isn’t then the bulbs must have been planted at varying depths which would cause them to come up at different times.

Unlike daffodils, which come back every year nicely and can therefore be naturalized, tulips aren’t as reliable after one season. It’s best to pull them and re-do the design. That’s my plan for this fall.

 

Sidewalk edging

 

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This is horrific lawn care work. Obviously, this boulevard hasn’t been bladed in a long time and I wonder why. All it takes is one machine and a new blade to fix. This is a high-profile boulevard and the edging should be sharp. Perhaps the contractor considered it to be city responsibility. Pictures like this transform into nightmares while I sleep.

 

Watering

 

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Whenever I install new plants I feel responsible for their well-being. Here, I installed Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) as replacement for cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’). The owners were advised to water frequently so the shrubs could establish well. Overall they are doing well but this poor specimen isn’t.

 

Butchered trees

 

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Many landscape maintenance contracts run twelve months but some only ten. When the contractor is gone for two months some owners take liberties with strata property. We found this stump when our maintenance contract resumed.

This is very wrong. The cuts are so severe the tree is bound to notice and send out many shoots to compensate, assuming it has enough resources to do it. Also, cuts over 4″ in diameter heal badly and are likely to invite diseases into the tree. Lastly, this sort of ‘pruning’ destroys the tree’s natural shape and beauty.

You can either prune it properly or remove it completely. This work is horrendous.

 

Poor drainage

 

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Lots of clay.

 

Our West Coast soils have lots of clay in them which means they drain poorly. I know of one site which is very bad for drainage. The strata council spent thousands on French drains and sand top-dressing.

But as I learned at a recent VanDusen Botanical Garden seminar, sand just sits on top of the clay. It has no effect on it. Much better approach would be to top-dress the lawns with organic material which could potentially break up or loosen the clay. I’m hoping next year this is what the strata council tries instead of more sand.

Top dressing with sand is expensive, labour intensive and it doesn’t work.

 

There you have it. I’m hoping that by posting this blog I will be able to let go and thus sleep better at night. I want to dream about spring and all of its glory.

 

 

Installing a 4′ cedar hedge is a breeze

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

Putting up a quick cedar hedge barrier can be a breeze. I did it last week in between two yards where one side needs to keep a dog in check. The dog is fine, it’s the owner that fails to pick up after it. But this blog post is about planting a quick cedar hedge, not about suspicious dog owners.

Size

Small size is key because a four foot cedar can be easily purchased at your local Home Depot for $18. Anything larger will require a longer trip to a nursery and higher costs. So let’s assume four foot cedars (Thuja occidentalis) are fine.

Now, when you go to your local Home Depot bring your patience with you. It took me forever to order and pay for 13 4′ cedars. The cashier didn’t have the code so she sent a young dude outside to get one. I could have memorized the entire sales flyer in the time it took him to get back.

Outside, another young dude had trouble counting to 13. He loaded up more than I had paid for and then hopped around the back of my truck recounting and off-loading. So of course, I had to recount everything myself.

Planting

The cedars looked a bit dry. It’s always nice if you can soak the pot before planting. For my project I had a T-formation with 6 and 7 cedars. Normally, people dig a hole and then place their tree inside and so on. But when you plant a full line, it’s best to dig up the entire trench. You can then place the trees in and assess. Is your spacing OK and line straight? If not, it’s easy to adjust the plants without any extra digging.

 

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Before.

 

 

When you remove the tree from its pot, don’t be afraid to rough up the root ball. Gently massage the roots with your fingers. If fingers don’t help, use your snips and cut top to bottom to loosen up the roots. It looks a bit rough but trust me, do it.

Once your cedars are set as a new hedge, backfill the trench with the same soil. If you must bring in new fresh soil, only use it to top-dress at the end.

Watering after install is always a good idea and so is removing any tags from the cedars. New baby cedars are thirsty so keep checking on them. They have to get established and high summer temperatures are coming soon. Don’t neglect this step.

Clean-up

Clean-up is also critical. Now that you have a nice new cedar hedge let’s not spoil the show. Collect all plant tags and plastic pots. Recycle everything if possible. Then blow or rake up any excess soil from surrounding lawn or whatever is nearby.

I also used a small rake to even out the soil and to obliterate my boot prints.

 

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After.

 

Conclusion

Planting a new 4 foot cedar hedge can be a breeze. Just follow the steps above and don’t forget to keep watering the plants as temperatures shoot up in spring and summer. Young cedars are very thirsty.

 

 

Oak tree versus artificial turf

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

It pays to join green Facebook groups because once in a while you run into interesting landscaping cases. Like the case of an oak tree versus artificial turf.

While I am not a fan of plastic grass I will show in a future blog that there are some legitimate cases where artificial turf makes sense. More on that later. For now all we need to know is that the artificial turf install was done well. It was done in Europe in an English-speaking country obsessed with royals. See the picture below.

Poor oak

I understand the landscape installer tried to get a tree removal permit but the local authorities wouldn’t have it. So the oak stayed (yes!) but the artificial turf still went all around it.

I’m convinced that trees and artificial turf don’t mix well. Here’s why.

a) Trees rely on surficial roots to obtain water and nutrients and this root network often extends far beyond the drip line. The oak in this example was left with a small square at its base, the rest of the area got artificial turf. This will make it extremely difficult for the tree to obtain all of its required resources.

b) Artificial turf usually involves the use of compactor machines and soil compaction around tree bases is deadly. Once the soil gets compacted it’s difficult for the tree roots to obtain resources. Water will just run off instead of penetrating into the soil. Soil compaction is a silent tree killer.

This install didn’t use any stone crush base and it’s not completely clear if the soil was compacted with a machine. Any landscape work around the tree base is detrimental. The bare soil must have been graded before turf install.

c) Artificial turf heats up! I know this because my son plays soccer. If the turf can heat up my son’s modern plastic cleats, imagine what it does to the soil below. Soils under artificial turf die. My poor son suffered during his match because the host soccer club failed to water the turf. Who will help the poor oak?

 

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Conclusion

It takes time for trees to decline and die. I don’t like this oak tree’s chances. I’m convinced that landscape trees and artificial turf don’t mix well. You can have one or the other but not both.

 

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.