Plant Species Information

Fall landscape projects part 3: switching plants

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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.



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.



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.



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



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.

Winter tree plant ID quiz: advanced edition

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As I write this blog post, the Lower Mainland is experiencing the harshest winter in thirty years! Last week some of our days were shorter so I used the time to study and to create blog posts. I think this might be a good time to look back at the 2016 season and review some tree names.

This tree ID quiz features lots of seeds and plant parts. It will challenge new landscapers. Do your best. Veterans should be able to ace it. Find the botanical names. Common names are fine but get used to learning botanical names.

Ten questions. Why not challenge your co-workers and friends. Check your answers below. 10 botanical names= 10 points; take 1/2 points if you only know the common name.

Plant identification skills are critical to our success as landscape professionals. Getting to know plants can be hard work but it’s also fun to know what populates your landscapes. Once you know what you have you can maintain it properly. You can also educate your clients and your new co-workers.


































10/10: ask for a raise! You might be ISA or landscape certified

7+: veteran landscaper

5+: not bad!

1-5: review the whole list and ace my next quiz



  1. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree flower parts; the tree flowers AND leafs out at the same time which is why people often miss the flowers)
  2. Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum-common landscape tree and beautiful alternative to maples)
  3. Styrax japonica (common landscape tree with beautiful snowbell flowers)
  4. Alnus rubra (native alder)
  5. Robinia pseudoacacia (long seed pods are hard to miss in the fall)
  6. Quercus robur (English oak, nice change from pin oaks Quercus palustris)
  7. Carpinus betulus (prominent seed catkins, another great street tree)
  8. Rhus typhina (huge staghorn sumac fruit cluster)
  9. Metasequoia glyptostroboides (one of the few evergreens that loses its needles; sports gorgeous tree bark)
  10. Fagus sylvatica (four seeds fit nicely into each pod, once they dried out at home they popped their seeds)


Believe in Bergenia cordifolia

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First contact

My first encounter with Bergenia cordifolia was several years ago with my manager. She bent down and furiously started rubbing the leaves to demonstrate how the plant got its common name ‘pigsqueak’. And so we all rubbed the leaves to learn our lesson. Some no doubt turned their thoughts to bacon.


Fast forward to 2016. Out on a site walk with my boss and the garden liaison, I was shocked when the lady asked us about removing a huge clump of Bergenia. What? Really? One person decides on a large landscape edit? They obviously had not flowered yet and they were in a perfect location close to a sidewalk. Bergenia form nice clumps but don’t spread quickly. Luckily the lady got side-tracked with other projects.

Then, at home one day in summer, seeking happiness by de-cluttering, I ran into a clipping from March 2008. It was a Garden West magazine article by Carol Hall. In it she correctly defends Bergenias. Finally, one person that made sense. Let the pigs squeak. Forever.

Plant details

Siberia and Himalayas native, this early-blooming perennial is tough as nails. Once it is established, it requires very little maintenance. I remove any brown leaves before liaisons get upset; and I remove spent flower stalks. That’s it.

Hall thinks that Bergenia’s lack of popularity stems from being stuck in 4 inch nursery containers. To fully appreciate the plant you have to see it established in your garden. I believe she is right. See my pictures below.

Other than situated by sidewalks, Bergenias are also good for front border definition and as year-round accents in mixed landscaping. You can also mass them under deciduous trees.



A salvaged specimen on my patio. Not much of a show but I love the leathery leaves.



A lonely single plant with flowers




Much better in a clump. Note the only real maintenance: snip out spent flower stalks and remove any brown leaves.



A high-profile church location with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ above


Give Bergenia cordifolia a chance in your garden.

July colors rule!

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Summer color

Summer colors rule! It’s a lot of fun working in July landscapes. These are the days I dream of on cold November days. Those dark wet days when I have miles of cedar hedges to prune and the only source of heat is the gear case on my shears.

Mass-planted Rudbeckias are very warm and hard to miss; lilies are everywhere; and Liatris spicata demand attention. My favorite silk tree, Alibizia julibrissen, smells so great I get close enough for its silky flowers to tickle my nose. I even snipped off a few flowers, sealed them in a bag and brought them home so my kids could enjoy the scent.

Below are plants I encountered while working in the landscape. The Hosta flower picture is my first ever. Until now I never photographed an individual Hosta flower.

Plant identification

Summer is the best time for plant identification work. As you move through your gardens and landscapes look around. Can you name some or all of the species? When you encounter your favorite plant, look it up. Most plants have their own stories and interesting details.

Can’t name some? Take a picture and research them. Better yet, buy some plants and plant them in your garden. That’s the best way to remember them.

Plant tag thief

When I install plants I always keep the tags. When I find discarded plant tags, I keep them. I also take pictures of tags in clients’ gardens. I try to stay away from garden centres because, inevitably, some tags of plants I didn’t know will end up in my pocket. That’s when teenage garden centre assistants roll their eyes and search for the manager. Lesson is over. I head for the exit.

What are your summer favourites?









Liatris spicata












Asclepias tuberosa



Yucca filamentosa






Lobelia x speciosa



Eupatorium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye weed)



Lilium (Tiger lily)




Love note for tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

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It’s early May and tulip trees are hard to miss on one of my Maple Ridge strata sites. Liriodendron tulipifera (family Magnoliaceae) are eastern USA natives. In landscapes they are used as shade or lawn trees. They are large trees and therefore need ample space. Always consider your tree’s mature size. They are fast-growing trees but weak-wooded. This may be part of the reason why tulip trees are not recommended for street tree use. Then there is the size issue.

A little twist

Tulip trees bloom from May to June but there is an interesting twist. Trees usually flower and then leaf out. Cherries, for example, put on a great show, fade and then green foliage appears. Show is over. Tulip trees flower as they leaf out and since the cup-shaped tulip-like flowers are borne high in the trees, they are easy to miss. Not for me. Armed with this knowledge I was able to shoot my own flower pictures for this blog.





Tulip tree leaves also have an interesting tulip-like appearance. Together with the tulip-like flowers, it makes it easy to remember the common name. But remember it’s best to learn botanical names. You will be glad you did. Sometimes I find it amusing how both leaves and flowers are tulip-like. The actual leaf-out mechanism is  interesting but difficult to describe.






Tulip trees like full sun and tolerate moderate drought conditions. In dry weather interior leaves turn yellow and fall off. This is a response to weather, not a disease.

One problem

One annoyance with tulip trees is aphids. When aphid infestations are large lots of honeydew secretions appear on the leaves. These provide the growing medium for sooty mold fungus. Usually there is little permanent damage to the tree but it is annoying. Mrs. Tushman goes out to get her latte and the family Porsche is covered in sticky secretions. Then the world is close to ending.





Tulip trees are gorgeous trees. Spot them in your neighborhoods. Plant them if you are lucky enough to have the required big spaces for it.

Creeping jenny: rampant and aggressive!

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Creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is an attractive perennial groundcover. But first, allow me to begin this  blog with a story. Years ago I used to maintain a Westwood Plateau site in Coquitlam, BC  with a roundabout which had  creeping jenny planted around the edges. One of the managers, a no-nonsense polished business guy, fussed about it almost weekly. Do we need more? Is it flowing over the curb edge too much; not enough? Don’t hurt it with your cultivators. Did the delivery dudes run it over again?

Then one day I got a phone call from my boss saying the manager collapsed in his office and died. He was barely into his 40s. Brain aneurism. That was it. Gone in a flash. Now the nearly indestructible Lysimachia nummularia always reminds me of him.



hard to miss yellow flowers coming in summer


Lysimachia nummularia is a low-growing ground hugger, rampant, and evergreen. In summer it produces cup-shaped, bright yellow flowers. That’s when you really notice the plant. Bees will thank you for planting it in your garden. I find yellows very warm, happy colors. I have also seen creeping jenny planted in containers where it nicely spills over the edges. My own salvaged plants are doing fine in pots on the patio. Other uses include hanging baskets and border edging; just watch the spreading habit.



weekly mowing doesn’t stop jenny from creeping into the lawn



labeled rampant and aggressive and this proves it. Lysimachia invading a lawn from its border location


Unlike many other types of groundcovers, it can handle damper soil; it can also handle limited foot traffic. It survived numerous run-ins with delivery trucks in the above-mentioned roundabout.

It prefers full sun or partial shade. Obviously, full sun will give you better looking flowers. If your garden is shady, this will be a colorful groundcover plant. There are no serious diseases or insect problems to report.



In combination with yellow-flowered Coreopsis



As spiller in a pot


Pictures: Vas Sladek

Tree Born to be a Landscape Specimen

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While blowing a strata site on a recent sunny December afternoon, I almost tripped on a huge cone. Intrigued, I smuggled it home past my wife in a lunch bag.

Using my trusted Sibley guide to trees by David Allen Sibley and Google, I found out it was a female Cedrus deodara cone. Deodar cedar is a Himalayas native. According to the Arbor Day Foundation website,, this tree was born to be a landscape specimen. It has elegant pendulous branches, attractive coloring, pleasing shape and interesting branching patterns.

Tree guru Michael Dirr calls the deodar cedar “the most graceful cedar”. It tolerates drought but it’s not really suited for cold zones. The needles are bluish-green or silvery with sharp tips usually borne in clusters, smaller toward twig tips. The needles are shed in spring as new growth appears.

The cones are upright like in firs (Abies) but stouter and they disintegrate over winter, leaving an upright central spike.

photo 2 (2)

Needles in clusters

photo 3 (2)

Female cone, upright

World Record Weed Pull!

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As soon as I found about this project, I knew I had to be there. World record attempt for the most people involved in invasive plant removal sounded interesting. This was a good chance to give back to the community and improve my green resume. I used to run at Mundy Park in Coquitlam with the Phoenix Running Club so why not remove some invasive plants and make it better.

On October 4, 2015, my group went through orientation with City of Coquitlam staff and then we picked up paper bags for green waste and gloves for safety. Water was also provided. I opted to join the group heading deeper into the woods. I love trees and hiking; and collisions with dog waste are less likely deep in the woods.
After a short hike we reached our work zone. It was a patch of ivy (Hedera helix). At your house the plant can be contained in a bed but in the woods it can do as it pleases. I am happy to report that my group attacked the ivy with great passion. All green waste was hauled out to the trail to be taken away by an ATV. Snacks and drinks were provided at the baseball diamond afterwards.

As the Tri-City News reported recently (Friday December 18, 2015, A34) the record was officially set for the most people involved in an invasive plant removal.
Over 800 people participated. If you are interested in becoming a Mundy Park Champion or a Park Spark volunteer visit, email or call 604-927-6334


Learn about these Bad Seeds


Orientation with City of Coquitlam staff


Work zone: Hedera helix Ivy about to be removed


Vas in his element


Green waste


Pterocarya stenoptera (Chinese Wingnut Tree)

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The Chinese wingnut tree is a 40-70 foot deciduous tree from the walnut family: Juglandaceae. I first encountered this tree species by the City of Coquitlam animal shelter off Mariner Way. What immediately struck me were the seed clusters, green strings of winged seeds suspended below the branches. Then there was the scientific name which required a lot of memory work.
This is a fast-growing tree which tolerates drought. It has no fall color; the winged seeds turn brown and fall. The two specimens I know well are both used for shade. Since the trees have aggressive roots they are not well suited for lawns or gardens.

photo 4 (1)

Winged Seeds


Seed Clusters

Right Plant, Right Place….

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photo 1 (1)
Take a look at the planting by the sidewalk. The client had asked me to take down the four tall Calamagrostis grasses, thereby eliminating its ornamental flower heads.
It turns out the client went shopping and bought the grasses without realizing their mature height. Oooops. The grasses obscured the boxwoods (Buxus)- they should be placed behind the Buxus; they also interfered with driveway sight lines and invited complaints from the neighbor. Clearly, this was a case of wrong plant in a wrong place.

Design step: what would you replace the grasses with? Feel free to submit your ideas in the comments space.

Two potential replacements for spring 2016.

Green/lime Mondo grass Ophiopogon japonicus


Blue oat grass Helictotrichon sempervirens

helictotrichon sempervirens -sapphire-