The title of this blog post says ‘classic’ because the home owner was on a budget and had clearly let her hedges go wild. And now she was desperate to reclaim some space and light from her Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica).
This is common with homeowners. They start out with huge ambitions but a few years later they get overwhelmed and call in professionals. Then you don’t hear from them again for several seasons which is a mistake. Good, regular maintenance is best. I could tell from the garden weeds that not much happens around the patio other than smoking.
Luckily, the lady was still home when I arrived so we could talk about the work and her expectations. This is extremely important so you avoid any nasty misunderstandings.
The list was easy for an experienced landscaper:
- Prune large fence line hedge (Prunus lusitanica) but only “tickle” the tops so neighbours aren’t visible from the patio
- Prune the globe hard, especially off the gutters
- Clean up the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) by the window
- Remove one dead cedar (Thuja occidentalis) by the patio stairs
- Blow the leaves off the front lawn and from under the large hedge
The pruning is easy when you have sharp shears; and the laurel is fairly soft, too. The only glitch was the slick wooden patio in the back. There was no way to anchor the ladder peg. Luckily I found a cement block under the hedge.
If you read my blogs regularly -and you should!- you will know that I harp on doing great clean-ups that match the pruning effort. Poor clean ups detract from your pruning work. Always clean up well.
Final courtesy blow is a given. I left the residence feeling happy with my effort. I just wonder how many seasons they will let it go before calling me back. Regular maintenance is best! I can’t stress that enough.
I have an uneasy relationship with machines but I’m not afraid of them. Years ago when I was a candidate in the Landscape Industry Certified program at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University I was literally shaking when I hit the chainsaw practical station. The attendant noticed and asked me if I wanted to walk away. No, never!
I did everything correctly but I forgot to put a log in place which made it difficult to cut anything. Oops. Luckily it wasn’t a deduction. I found a log and passed the station. Walk away, don’t make me laugh.
Now, fast forward to 2018 and read about a perfectly good day I had with an old warrior chainsaw. The chainsaw is very old but a new chain made it usable. The bonus was that I got to change the chain myself which was extremely therapeutic.
It’s hard for an ISA certified arborist to admit that in my nightmares my chains always break and fly off. So putting a new chain on correctly made me relax. After all, I installed it myself.
The other bonus was that I was flying solo and allowed to practice. There was nobody watching.
My task was fairly easy: take down six dead birches (Betula papyrifera).
Yes, winter weather can be a challenge for West Coast landscapers but I love winter because I have time to take care of details. Once spring hits, the days get longer and busier and all of a sudden it’s hard to stop for minor adjustments.
Just this past week as my helper and I were searching for missed corners, I discovered two Rhododendrons under the foliage of Viburnum tinus and Abelia x grandiflora. Now what? You can prune both shrubs to expose the rhododendrons or you can move the rhodos. I chose to move the Rhododendrons because the shrubs will grow back eventually. So be brave and edit your gardens and landscapes as required.
Both Rhododendrons were stuck by the fence in the far right corner. They will have more light in their new location; and we covered up dead space in the landscape.
Shuffled entrance plants
This is the after shot so it looks normal. Where the triangle is now, the back Nandina domestica was squeezed in between the Pieris japonica and the Rhodo. So I moved the heavenly bamboo shrub back a little to create much-needed plant separation.
Where the star is now, there were Rhododendron branches covering up the Pieris japonica on the right. So I snipped a few branches off the Rhodendron to create more plant separation. And the Rhododendron still looks normal.
This Nandina domestica was very leggy, not the bushy little shrub we want. It was also jammed right against a Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) hedge. We already know that Nandina domestica doesn’t regrow from pruning points. It’s best to flush cut it and let it regrow. So we have a little experiment here.
If it regrows, it will match its bushy cousins nearby. And if it doesn’t, well, then the Ilex crenata hedge will thank us. Either way, don’t be afraid to edit your gardens and landscapes.
Many strata complexes look great when they are first installed but over time, as plants mature, we can’t forget about plant separation. Often, complete editing is required. We move what we can. Some plants go missing altogether.
Have some fun with your landscape editing.
Winter is perfect for checking your deciduous trees. Since the leaves are gone you can clearly see the branches. Ideally, you can do this work annually, making a few cuts each season. This should leave you with healthy, good-looking trees you know well.
No man’s land
Some strata sites have out-of-the-way semi wild zones that don’t get regular maintenance. Normally the idea is not to discriminate and, instead, attend to all areas equally. But on large complexes that’s not easy to accomplish. So some areas away from the beauty strip get slightly short-changed.
This, then, was my mission. Taking advantage of the slower winter season I got to attack one of these wild zones. I will cover the maintenance work in a future blog post. Here I wish to mention a tree I ran into.
Since time was short, I did the obvious work in just a few minutes:
I removed stubs, dead branches and one crossing and rubbing branch which also reached into the road.
These are ugly cuts. Don’t forget to make your cuts at the branch collar so the tree can cover up the wound. Otherwise the stubs eventually die, like the smaller one visible in the back.
Dead branches are dead so they are to be eliminated as soon as possible. They will most likely break off anyway.
The branch with the pointer is a good candidate for removal because it crosses through other branches where it rubs; and it’s growing into the street where it’s likely to interfere with delivery trucks.
The final product
This is the final product with ugly stubs removed, dead branches gone and one crossing and rubbing branch that interfered with local traffic eliminated. And it took me a few minutes with my Japanese hand saw.
Is the tree perfect? No, far from it but why stress? I will be back in twelve months to do more work on it.
And if you need help with your trees, call Proper Landscaping. You can also learn more about tree maintenance from my inexpensive Kindle e-book. Landscape Tree Miantenance by Vas Sladek. Please leave a review.
There is only so much space available for plants on strata properties. When the complexes are first built they look great but over time, as plants mature, we start to run into problems. This blog post explores some common examples from my work sites.
Some driveways are way too tight. Of course, this isn’t obvious at first because we landscapers don’t live on site. In the picture below there are two Berberis thunbergii specimens planted in front of boxwood (Buxus). Dead space just gets invaded by weeds and landscapers hate dead space. So we plant it up.
And then the owners come home……There is very little sense in replanting because the owners are bound to reoffend.
It’s not clear whether this holly was planted by the owners or just simply invaded the space. Whatever the case, it’s way too close to the building. And that gets insurance companies very excited.
The holly could be pruned but that wouldn’t solve the problem. There simply isn’t enough space for this plant. My suggestion was complete removal and replanting with something smaller. There are many shrubs available that won’t overwhelm this space.
I really like this one corner. The Hamamelis mollis shrub is blooming right under a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The only blemish is the Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) shrub that’s growing into the witch hazel and through the fencing. So I gave it a little hand-pruning to achieve a bit of separation.
As the landscape matures, there is more and more of this type of work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to edit out plants completely.
The idea that trees need room to grow seems obvious but people often forget to look into the future. Do you know the mature size of your landscape trees? Sure they look beautiful when they’re installed but without room to grow they inevitably get abused. Mainly by harsh pruning.
I have selected two examples from many. The first maple (Acer palmatum) is the saddest maple I know! The other maple is even worse off. So please remember to consider the mature size of your landscape trees. As an arborist I prefer complete removal to annual hacking.
Trees are resilient. They will push out new growth. Except we don’t have the required space for them.
Space considerations are a big deal on strata title properties. Remember to give plants room to grow and separate them when you can.
Fall is a perfect time for landscape projects like soil and river rock installs. Take today for example. My whole day just flew by and it was nice and sunny. I remember these days when snow starts falling in winter. Let’s take a look at my day.
This was actually round two for river rock installs at this particular strata complex. Round one involved removing a weak lawn. It was basically a dog patch and the smell in summer was overwhelming. So I removed it and installed river rock.
Round two involved removing Vinca major (periwinkle), which is now considered invasive, and replacing it with 2″-6″ river rock. I like these permanent solutions. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year there will be round three.
Once the periwinkle was removed I dug deeper and cut a few selected roots off the two poplars. Since the soil was fine I disposed of it on site in the back wild zone.
Since efficiency is important, I moved my truck as close as I could to the bed and went at it. The entire load was 1.5 yards of 2″-6″ river rock; tax included $78.
There is one important step you have to take before you pack it in. Find a hose and wash off the river rock. Leaving it all sandy would detract from your finished look. I had to find hoses and outlets which was annoying but well worth the effort. Also hose off the curb.
Aged mulch install
Next I moved to the front entrance. The main strip bed has newly planted trees and shrubs but the soil didn’t look great. So I installed two yards of aged mulch at $80 tax included. It gives this high-profile bed an instant new look. It will settle eventually but I love the fluffy look. It’s money well spent.
I wasn’t done yet. My end of the day ‘cool down’ involved one unwanted Thuja plicata tree. I hate removing perfectly healthy trees but I had to complete all work listed in the strata quote. That way the boss can send out his invoice.
Some days click perfectly and the hours fly by. This was one of those days. And I hope there are many more.
Fall is a great time for landscape projects like soil and river rock installs. What can you change about your property?
I don’t recommend it but it’s possible to fake your new turf installation. I got to see it last week but it definitely wasn’t my first time. It happens from time to time with home owners. If professional landscapers worked like this they wouldn’t be professionals.
Let me start by saying that I give people full marks for taking action and trying things out even though they aren’t professionals; and don’t want to pay for professional help or fight with their strata council. This example comes from Langley. The mother-daughter pair looked very happy with their project. They evidently googled it.
The idea is very simple. When you get tired of looking at your weak, beat up and dog urine soaked lawn you simply purchase new turf chunks and plop them on top of the existing grass. There. Done.
Normally you would use a turf cutter to remove the existing turf and rototiller to work the soil. Obviously, this would make the project much harder for busy home owners working outside in the middle of a heat wave. I repeat, I give them full marks for trying and for their enthusiasm but we’ll see how well the new sod does.
Does it work?
I think they’re pushing their luck and here’s why?
a) The soil should be nicely prepared ahead of time. All existing turf should be removed and the soil nicely turned over with a rototiller. Then, we rake it over and roll it flat with a roller.
Since we’re in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave, the soil should be well watered-in days before any sod installation happens.
Sod roots poorly on poor soil. It requires porous, moist and cool conditions. This project didn’t any of the three criteria. How does the sod root into existing turf below? It can’t be easy. I wouldn’t call it porous. Remember, most of the sod roots have been shaved off so now it will be a struggle to absorb water efficiently.
b) The mother and, I must point out, very cute daughter underestimated the amount of sod they would require. But unlike time-stressed landscape contractors they cheerily drove off to get more. You can go online and use sod calculators. All you need to know is the length and width of your yard. Hint: always order a few extra pieces to allow for mistakes and mishaps, theft, etc.
c) I feel like the ladies rushed the install, thereby leaving huge gaps. Ideally, the sod pieces should fit together nicely. In this yard you are inviting weeds to sprout in the gaps. They should also consider the application of turf starter fertilizer.
On the way home we reminded them about watering the new sod religiously and wished them well. Since we maintain this site weekly, I’m hoping to have follow up pictures. It makes for an interesting case study. Can you fake a new turf install?
Crazy about gardening
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes. Walking back to my car after returning bottles for deposit, I noticed a used bookshop sign. Closing, Final day, 70% off all used books. Aha. A very pleasant detour on my way to discovering Des Kennedy.
Half an hour later I walked out with the BC garden writer’s book. At $1.30 it was a steal. Kennedy is an award-winning writer and it shows. “Crazy about gardening” is a funny book. It’s subtitled “Reflections on the sweet seductions of a garden“. So we know this isn’t a technical manual. The lessons are subtle, mixed in with jokes and stories. If you let him, Kennedy has plenty to teach you.
There were also many spots where I almost reached for my dictionary. I also enjoyed the odd poem:
Life’s a short summer, man a flower.
He dies-alas! how soon he dies.
Obviously, just like stand-up comedy, your enjoyment is directly related to your age and experience. If you are an experienced gardener, you will definitely be entertained. If you are new to gardening, read and learn. Your vocabulary will also improve.
Kennedy hires a water diviner to find water on his property. A water witch. I find this fascinating because my own grandfather did this with outrageous accuracy just outside Prague. As a little city kid, visiting the country, I found it amazing. Grandpa would pick a branch, slice one end in half, grab one end with each hand and walk. Once he hit water, the top uncut end of the branch would dip down towards the ground. Success. Grandpa also made money by digging wells. The hard way.
Dog days droop. Kennedy makes fun of the late summer period when what was beautiful is all of a sudden dreary and desiccated. Pests multiply. April energy is long gone. The gardener temporarily loses grip.
Lawns. We know they use water, fertilizers, herbicides, and require time and effort to maintain. It’s a bizarre fetish. Once the lawn is nicely cut Kennedy admits to feeling a “bizarre little thrill of satisfaction, of emotional well-being.” I concur. There is something to this.
At $1.30 this book was a steal. Des Kennedy is worth whatever Amazon charges for his books. Give him a try.
This Honda mower is incredible! It deserves its own blog post. Every spring it starts without fail. That first puff of exhaust signalling our reunion for yet another season. It always blows me away, considering how little maintenance I perform on it. It must be the combination of shed storage and mild West Coast winters.
When one of my former employers decided to change his entire mower fleet to Lawn boys, I scored this well-used mower for $120. It was well worth it. I use it bi-weekly during the season for side work. It’s a simple machine. It has a choke/speed lever and a pull cord. Dual blade system. No bells or whistles. My trusted friend. Bravo Honda.
Yes, it’s showing its age. The front wheels will have to get replaced; the bag has a slight tear, and one of the pins holding the bag in place tends to come off periodically. The deck below sports blemishes.
I change the air filter, add oil, and stock new pull cords. Both blades get changed at least once a month. I have two sets. They have seen better days but they will do for now. Sharp blades are critical! Dull blades tear up grass blades. What we want is one clear cut. Always change your blades. Do it carefully by first unplugging your spark plug.
Eventually, I will upgrade to a newer model. I know it. But for now, we work together to satisfy clients and keep my kids fed. It’s a good partnership.
This Honda mower is incredibly reliable. You can not go wrong by purchasing a Honda mower. I would. I might.
(Disclaimer: I am not sponsored, paid or otherwise compensated by Honda. This blog post is my personal review and opinion.)