Category

Lawn Care

It’s easy to love your self-propelled mower

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

New landscapers usually start by mowing lawns with push mowers. They’re simple machines with one pull cord and they’re light. Then, as the worker progresses, he gets to use a self-propelled mower.

As the name suggests, the mower is self-propelled which means you don’t have to push it as much. This comes in handy when you mow long or sloping sections. I absolutely love seeing the faces of my new workers light up as they discover the mower’s pull.

One important detail

After you gas up your mower with straight gas, you have two more steps to complete. Use the pull cord to start the mower and then, in step two we engage the blades. Normally there is a small button on a bar which we must depress. Obviously, different machines have different set-ups.

Once your machine is on, engage your blade. This should be easy to spot as the machine gets louder and your mower bag gets all puffy. Make sure your blade is engaged.

 

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The yellow button on the bottom engages the blades.

 

True stories

Nothing gets your boss more excited than having a worker mow the front of a high-profile club house for 25 minutes without actually cutting a single blade of grass. This is a true story and the crew leader heard about it from his boss. Make sure your blades are engaged. Ask if you’re not sure. This is basic training you should receive from your superiors.

Glitches

What if you’re trained and your blades still won’t engage? This happened to me recently when I was filling in for a sick worker. I gassed up my mower, picked up my green waste tarps and left. Except my blades wouldn’t engage. What now?

Frustrated, I stopped the engine and tipped the mower on its side. Incredibly, there was a plastic pot stuck between the blades and deck. Was it a freak accident or the crew having some fun with their senior supervisor? I laughed it off and mowed all morning.

 

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Very funny! A plastic pot jammed between the blades and deck. No wonder the blades wouldn’t engage.

 

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.

 

Courtesy blow in landscaping

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Courtesy blow in landscape maintenance refers to final clean up with a backpack blower. It’s assumed that this will take place because, after all, your clients deserve it. It gives their place a nice finished look.

As landscape supervisor and trainer, I train all workers on the importance of a proper clean up blow. But as I found out this past weekend, not all landscapers understand this basic lesson. So please look at the pictures below from Pennsylvania, USA and identify some of the common deficiencies. What bothers you about these picture?

 

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Lawn care basics

Well, what’s on your list? Incredibly, this is the finished product. I believe the elderly home owner was charged $75US for the job when the going rates are something like 50% of that amount.

One obvious defect is the mess of clippings left on the sidewalk. Again, courtesy clean-up blow is a rule in landscape maintenance. The site must be cleaned up and left as if you were never there. This is hardly the case.

Another defect is the shaggy lawn around the power pole. Perhaps line trimming wasn’t part of the deal but for $75US it should have been. By next week it will be even more obvious. And remember another landscape maintenance rule: the line trimming should match the height of your mower setting. Any decent lawn care professional should be able to match his trimming height to his mower.

Blade edging rules!

Lastly, the whole street hasn’t been blade edged in a long time. This is a mistake. Once the lawn starts creeping over into the sidewalk it makes edge re-establishment time consuming.

Take a minute to examine my work pictured below from a city park in Coquitlam, British Columbia. I blade edged the city side; the shaggy edge in front is on a private site. The landscapers there don’t use blade edgers. They vertical their edges with string trimmers.

The aesthetic difference is huge. I love sharp edges. The Pennsylvania street pictured above deserves a nice sharp blade edge. And yes, a final courtesy clean-up is mandatory. Follow the edge with your blower to make sure it’s nice and sharp.

 

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Conclusion

Never leave your lawn care site without performing a courtesy clean-up blow. Line trim all edges at the same height as your mower. And periodically check your hard edges and re-establish them when necessary for a sharp, clean look.

Finally, consider getting Landscape Industry Certified so you can separate yourself from people who perform shoddy work.

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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How to change your lawn mower oil in the field

By | Lawn Care, Tips | No Comments

Spring is here and weekly lawn care is part of our routine. Our commercial machines see daily use and work extremely hard for us as we deliver great looking lawn care.  On some days the mowers will run all day. Five days a week all the way to November.

Key changes

To keep the machines running well all year there are a few key things we can do them. We have to change oil, air filter, blades and pull cords. Luckily most of these tasks can be done in the field on the fly. Some landscape companies employ small engine mechanics, some take the machines back to their shops for maintenance. But to save time, it makes sense to make easy adjustments in the field.

 

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I love this light, simple commercial Honda mower.

 

I openly confess to struggling with machines. I prefer handling plant material. But again, my advice to all landscapers is to become total professionals by knowing everything. That includes machines. So I took notes today when our guys were changing oil in the field.

Oil change in the field

Let’s take a look at a simple commercial Honda push mower.

  1. Locate the oil tank.

 

 

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2. Now we need to extract the used oil. It might help to run the mower briefly so the oil flows better. We used a fluid evacuator. Simply stick the hose into your oil tank and start pumping until the oil is out.  Never pollute. Put the used oil into your empty oil container and recycle it at a proper facility.

 

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3. Replenish your oil with the proper formulation. Check the owner’s manual. We used 10W-30 Lucas oil. The Honda push mower requires 250mL of new oil. The exact amount will depend on the model of your lawn mower.

Frequency of oil changes will depend on actual use. Our machines work hard all season so we change the oil every two weeks. One oil change for every twenty to fifty hours of use is a general guide.

My old Honda mower sees limited action so I change the oil once a year. However, that might be a mistake. I think seasonal oil changes would be better: spring, summer and fall.

 

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A funnel and measuring cup

 

In conclusion, it’s obvious that your mower will run better and last longer with regular oil changes. It definitely pays to stop during your busy week to do this quick change. Schedule it into your week and do it.

 

 

 

How to give your lawn a facelift with power rake and soil

By | Lawn Care, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Yes, it’s finally spring on the West Coast, so why not give your lawn a facelift? Perhaps you have bare spots showing in your lawns. Let’s add a light layer of top soil and over seed it. Or there is too much thatch and moss in your lawn. In that case, we can bring out a power rake and comb out the offenders from your lawn.

With moisture and higher temperatures your lawn should perk up very soon.

I did some of this work last week so let’s recap the steps so you can do it for your own lawn. Or you can hire a good landscape company that will do it for you Properly.

 

Power raking 101

The power rake doesn’t look like much but it packs a punch, if you let it punch. The key issue is the height level of your tines. If you drop them low, the machine will rip up your lawn. So be ready for some bare brown spots that will need an application of good, weed-free top soil and over seeding.

If you set the machine high, you will just tickle your lawn. So experiment and adjust the height depending on the condition of your lawn.

The key number two is clean up time. Don’t underestimate your clean up times. If you hit your lawn hard, expect to rake up a lot of debris. Budget your time accordingly.

If your lawn is fine

If your lawn only suffers from some bare spots, then skip the power raking step and move on to top dressing. We need good quality top soil, most likely turf blend. Turf blend contains a higher percentage of sand. It should also come from a good source and be weed-free. There is nothing worse than saving a few dollars per yard only to introduce weeds into your landscape.

 

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The rule for top-dressing is to rake the soil in nicely so that your bare spots are covered but the rest of your grass isn’t smothered. Rake the soil nicely into your existing grass. It should still be visible.

Over seeding is also very easy. Just beware of wind. Apply seed carefully around bed edges so you don’t create a headache for later. Monitor your lawn for seed germination and re-apply as required. With some moisture and higher temperatures everything should be fine.

 

step 1 power rake

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step 2 rake up

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step 3 top dress with soil

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step 4 rake in the soil

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step 5 over seed

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Your lawn will thank you for your hard work!

Lawn aeration: start with why

By | landscape maintenance, Landscaping Equipment, Lawn Care | No Comments

My introduction to lawn aeration wasn’t the best. My employer at the time, a prominent Lower Mainland landscape maintenance company, forced me to aerate roughly one half of their many strata properties. Incredibly, nobody even told me why we were putting holes into lawns. And the days were so busy I forgot to ask. I was that new to landscaping. It usually took two crews three weeks to aerate all of the properties.

Start with why

Now, many years later, I get to train new workers in the field. Before they even got to touch the lawn aerators, I made sure they knew why they were doing it. Armed with this knowledge, their physical punishment is easier to take. It also limits corner cutting. Once the dudes get tired, the number of holes and their depth decline. Don’t let up. Push on.

The one best thing

If you don’t do anything to your lawn all year, definitely aerate it in spring. Aeration allows air and water to reach the grass root zone which improves growth. Leave the cores on the lawn. They will disappear in no time.

Home owners without regular landscape service will probably get a knock on the door from a young guy with a pamphlet and machine in the driveway. Most strata landscape maintenance contracts include this service automatically with lime application.

 

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Aerated lawn. leave cores in place

 

Hands vs machine

If you have a smaller lawn you can easily hand-punch it with a hand core aerator. I love the Fiskars model because it’s larger and doesn’t get blocked with debris like smaller models. I use it on smaller client lawns where renting a machine wouldn’t make sense.

 

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Fiskars core aerator for small lawns and inaccessible corners

 

If you have larger lawns, you will need a machine unless you have a teenager at home with energy to burn. It’s fairly simple to operate. Just remember to slow down as you approach pavement and fencing. The big hog needs a second to slow down.

The machine comes with weights so use them to get nice deep cores. Skip the extra weights if your lawn is soft. Remove them when loading and unloading the machine!

 

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Conclusion

Let’s review. Lawn aeration allows water and air to reach the grass root zone and should result in a healthier lawn. If you don’t do anything to your lawn all year, at least aerate it. It’s worth the effort. Your lawn will thank you for it.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Perfect lawn: “American Green” book review

By | Books, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

This is a true story about green lawns and how they came to dominate in the United States. Ted Steinberg’s “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” is an excellent book.

 

Steinberg is an environmental historian and it shows. Landscapers, gardeners, and people who love or hate lawns should definitely read it. As a landscape professional I found it fascinating on my second reading.

The book isn’t new. It was published in 2006. I read it and my copy ended up in storage until now. My second reading was better. I recommend buying the softcover edition for your own library.

Steinberg takes you from the Origins, through the Dark Side and into the Future. With global warming and severe droughts in California, the Future chapters would look different if the second edition were to be published now in 2016.

Some things haven’t changed. People still die in ride-on mower accidents and Latinos still dominate the workforce in places like California. The excerpts from Spanish Phrases for Landscaping Professionals alone are worth the book cost. For example, Nosostros no ofrecemos seguro de salud (we don’t offer health insurance.)

In the Origins you will meet the key characters that shaped the landscape industry and made the lawn a key feature. It really is a fascinating question: why should the lawn dominate so much? A huge industry developed around it as landscape turned into landscaping. A father and son would share the lawn care work around their home but eventually a new industry rose up to do the work for them. Fertilizer and pesticide use went up and soon a debate started. Lawn lovers versus detractors.

 

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This client loves his lawns….

 

The case for brown lawns now makes a lot of sense. With water restrictions in the US and Canada, it makes sense to let  lawns go dormant in summer. Unless you are rich and living in a place where brown can’t happen. But that will be the subject of a future blog post based on a recent Harper’s magazine story from California.

You can dive deep into this subject if you follow Steinberg’s notes. I looked up an interesting story from 1983. It was a case where a wife in Massachusetts wanted to surprise her husband with a beautiful lawn. She hired a company but managed to catch a worker urinating on her property. When she confronted him, he assaulted her, choked and strangled her and eventually crushed her skull with pieces from a retaining wall.

Defence lawyers argued that repeated exposure to chemicals made the 23 year old worker unable to decide between right and wrong. The jury disagreed. First degree murder charge carried an automatic life sentence for the recent college graduate. A sad and bizarre story.

If you work in the green industry, this is one must-read book. Likewise if you love or hate lawns. Five stars out of five.

 

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Vas now understands how landscape turned into landscaping

A note on landscape bathroom breaks

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Landscape bathroom breaks

At first glance, this may seem like an off-putting blog post topic. You’re right. But read on because it gets better. Landscapers spend long seasons in the field dealing with rain, extreme heat, machine noise, and sometimes unkind clients and harsh bosses. Lack of proper bathrooms on work sites is the final indignity.

If you’re lucky, your strata complex has a fob key and you have access to proper bathrooms. This is especially important for female workers. Driving off-site to use proper bathrooms is an unfortunate loss of time. Guys have it easier. Sometimes you can find a pee break site with benefits. In one case, it was ready access to ripe native salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis).

 

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One of the best pee break spots with ripe salmon berries

 

David Garabedian

 

Now consider the bizarre March 29, 1983 case of Dave Garabedian, a 23-year-old lawn care worker. Dave was a recent college graduate and worked for the Old Fox Lawn Company in Chelmsford, MA, USA. One day he URINATED on his client’s lawn. The client, 34-year-old Eileen Muldoon confronted Dave about his indiscretion. An argument ensued and it turned into assault as Dave used his hand to choke and strangle the woman. He then removed a drawstring from his uniform and strangled the woman a second time. Skull-crushing rocks followed at the end, taken from a retaining wall.

The prosecution said “it began with an argument, it escalated into an assault and it ended with an execution.” And what about the defense? The defense built a case around the chemical dursban. It argued that Dave’s repeated exposure to dursban in the two weeks prior to the incident made him unable to distinguish between right or wrong. The six man jury deliberated and disagreed. First-degree murder convictions in Massachusetts carry automatic life sentences.

All the woman wanted was to give her husband a gift of a beautiful lawn. Sad. And bizarre.

 

Sources: UPI.com archives; “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” by Ted Steinberg