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Tips

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.

 

 

 

When landscapers decorate their house walls

By | Species, Tips | No Comments

You can easily decorate your house walls on a budget. I like to decorate my apartment walls with pressed plants put into cheap wooden frames. I started this when I collected samples of my favorite tree, Albizia julibrissin (silk tree). I wanted to keep it but I didn’t have the money for nice picture frames. It was the same with pressed tree leaves I collected in Western Japan.

Pressing plants

It is unlikely that you have proper plant presses at home. Not to worry. You can use older, heavier books. Put your collected leaf and flower parts into the pages of your book. Do it gently. Also make sure they aren’t wet. Do your collecting on sunny days. Once it’s all in, stack other books on top and leave it for a few days.

While you wait, visit your nearest Dollarama store and pick up cheap wooden frames. Mine cost $2-3 each.

After a few days, check on your pressed samples. Install them in your wooden frames. I like to label mine but it’s optional. I also find it useful to tape the samples into place so they don’t move when I put the glass on top. That’s it. You’re done. You can decorate your study, your hallway or your garage. All on a budget.

Past collections

This project reminds me of my undergraduate years at the University of Saskatchewan. My plant systematics professor issued proper plant presses to all of his students. He gave us the task of collecting plants and bringing them to class in September. Great! Now what? I had visions of Charles Darwin hopping on a ship expedition and disappearing for years. My story is much, much humbler.

Since I also needed cash, I took a low-paying motel job in a southern Saskatchewan town called Eastend. Town is a flattering description. I remember the people as friendly if slightly freaked out by my East European accent. Years later, someone would discover dinosaur bones in the area and tourism would improve. I have no desire to ever return there.

The collecting didn’t go well at first. The landscape was dry, sporting only grasses and cactuses. Pressing succulent cactuses is a bad idea. I was so inexperienced, I actually tried it.

Then I got a lucky break when I met a local teacher. He was very happy to take me to a nearby coulee. The place was predictably nice and green and my presses filled up fast. Thanks to this kind teacher, several of my samples were accepted into the university’s herbarium collection. They bear my name for future plant students to see.

Cruising

While my samples were drying I hung out with my employer’s kids. That’s when I experienced small town cruising where young people drive up and down the main street in town. This is what happens when you travel properly. Not like a tourist but like an embedded person. It was a bizarre way to spend an evening. But it was authentic. Sadly that was my first and last cruising experience.

Results

 

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Allright ladder fun

By | gardening, Landscaping Equipment, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Tripod ladders rule

Japanese-style tripod ladders are excellent landscape and garden tools! Out in the field helping one of our strata maintenance crews with pruning, I took my lunch and opened up the Vancouver Sun. There, on page B3 was an article on ladders by Steve Whysall. Happy coincidence!

Let’s get to the best part right away. The single peg on the ladder is brilliant because you can position it almost anywhere. It will fit through hedges and you can punch it into your soil for stability. The most common size is ten feet. Since I was pruning small hedges in tight entrances, the small six foot ladder was perfect. It’s light to carry and maneuver and it got me just high enough to perform my cedar shearing. Lifting the extendable shears above my shoulders is tiring and leads to needless exhaust sucking. Why do that? Always position yourself for maximum output and comfort.

 

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6 ft ladder is easy to maneuver in tight entrances and gets you just high enough to shear the cedars nicely

 

Safety

Obviously, the bigger the ladder and the higher you are, the bigger the dangers. Always think about safety. Don’t rush. My only serious injury in seventeen seasons of landscaping happened while I was descending one of the bigger ladders. It was a 12 or 14 foot “widow-maker”. I started descending before my power shears were completely stopped. Yeah, I know, this was early in my career. Then my thumb met the steel blades. If it hadn’t been for my nail, the top of my thumb would have been missing. I still recall my helper down below, horrified by my blood dripping on her.

Incidentally, this was also the first- and I hope only- time when I jumped the line at a walk-in medical clinic. I remember an older gentleman probably waiting for his cough syrup, objecting to my line jump. I couldn’t care less.

The Allright Ladder Company is based in Vancouver and it is the oldest ladder company in Canada. They’ve been making them since 1921. Visit their website for safety information or read the Vancouver Sun article sidebar.

As the fall and winter pruning seasons come, I will use these Japanese-style tripod pruning ladders often. Consider getting one for your garden. Most landscape companies have them on their trucks.

 

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6 ft is the smallest available ladder from Allright

Sales and 10x life: Meet Grant Cardone

By | Landscaping, Tips | No Comments

Like most landscape professionals, I have a few private clients. Just as I finished my lawn care duties on my bi-weekly run on the Westwood Plateau, I noticed the house next door was for sale. Open house scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The landscaping looked awful. The owners had clearly moved out.

This is where Grant Cardone comes in. He is a millionaire sales professional, speaker, author and real estate investor in the USA. I have several of his books on audio. I took away two key ideas from his writings.

A) We are all selling

You may not be in sales but it’s guaranteed you are selling daily. If not goods, then ideas and projects to your partner, family, friends, co-workers, etc. I had always considered sales people to be high-pressure hustlers. A bit sleazy. Some are. But I’ve changed. I’m selling my services and ideas all the time.

B) 10x your life

The second powerful idea is to 10x your life. Whatever you are doing, do it ten times better. For example, my side-hustle landscaping income. My study of the landscaping industry.

Back to Westwood Plateau. The home for sale clearly needed some attention. List price: $1.12 million. So I called the selling realtor. A rare cold call for me! She agreed that the landscaping could use attention. Could I cut it on Friday? Of course. She cut me a cheque and left it on the front porch. Done deal. Double what the lady next door pays me!

I cut and edged the front lawns. Blade edging clearly had not been done for months so I re-established all hard edges. Courtesy blow closed out the session. Then the buying agent showed up. His Porsche driving clients wondered if I came with the house. Very funny.

 

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Grass cut, edges re-established, crack weeds buzzed down.

 

Action steps

Get to know Grant Cardone and improve your sales. Take your life and 10x everything. See what happens.

If you see me hustling on the Westwood Plateau, say Hi.

 

 

Abiotic tree injuries: girdling

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Tree girdling

As landscape supervisor and arborist I reported for duty one fine spring day in White Rock. The request was to check on a dead Acer palmatum tree. Great, let’s see. What I found was a classic example of abiotic tree injury: girdling. In this case it was caused by an overzealous bird lover. The bird feeder string was left in place too long. Once the tree grows and “swallows” the string, there is nothing we can do. Nothing.

Tree girdling leads to two huge problems:

a) It restricts the flow of water and nutrients up the tree. The branch above the constriction eventually starves and dies. See the pictures below.

b) Trees fail at the point of constriction.

 

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This tree owner is a bird feeder fanatic. Top area is clearly dead.

 

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The only life is below the girdling zone where water and nutrients can reach.

 

Forgotten pines

 

Sadly, it got worse. An adjacent property has a long wild zone fence line. Hidden in the vegetation are staked pines. Staked and forgotten. The result is the same as above or worse, where the whole pine expired. I presume the pines started leaning and someone staked them with ArborTie. This material replaces wire and hose, it’s cheaper, safe, soft and simple to use.

But in the case below the arbortie was incorrectly tied with knots and left. Since the pines were leaning, there was no “play” on the arbortie. It should be checked periodically. Remember this is a low-profile wild zone between homes and a city park.

 

 

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This pine was one of many; staked and forgotten.

 

Action steps

What can we do? Nothing against birds but tree owners should be discouraged from installing bird feeders on their trees. But if they must, then let’s at least use appropriate materials and check on the install periodically to prevent girdling. We can’t reverse girdling.

 

 

Facing your hardscape fears

By | Landscaping, Landscaping Equipment, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Hardscape shock

2014, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Sitting in my Red Seal challenge preparation course I was shocked to find out that landscape horticulture involved a lot of hardscape construction. One third of the exam, to be exact. And I wasn’t alone. Many of the other candidates also expected questions on plant families and specific plant species. Clearly, we were about to face our fears.

Fast forward to August, 2016. My boss needed help fixing a hazardous spot at the top of a walkway. Uh-uh. Here we go. No more textbooks. This was real life. Plus consider that I prefer working with live plants. I find hardscape materials too cold.

This is what I learned as I faced my fears.

Basics of paving stone repair

A) Taking notes and pictures as you dismantle everything is very important. It makes it easier later when the stones go back in. Stack everything intelligently.

B) Install mason sand (finely crushed sand) to build up the low spots. Park as close as you can to your work area. Our access was limited which meant bucket work. And lots of sweat.

C) Use tamper tool to flatten the sand and even it out.

D) Re-install bricks and use rubber mallets to beat them into place. Pray they all fit.

E) Cover the stones with mason sand and broom them into gaps.

Mission accomplished. Sort of. The big hole was gone but since there was still a small tripping hazard, we will have to go back and dismantle a larger area. Maybe I will call in sick. Or go and face my fears.

 

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A nasty wash-out at the top of a staircase

 

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Keep track of dismantled stones; install mason sand and use tamper tool

 

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Stones go back in, pray it all fits, use rubber mallets

 

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brush mason sand into gaps

 

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fine mason sand

 

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Tools you will need

Rhododendron pruning 101: rejuvenation

By | Education, gardening, Landscaping, Tips | One Comment

Three pruning actions on rhododendrons

There are three pruning actions associated with rhododendrons. One is the removal of spent flowers (trusses) and any diseased or dead wood. Most rhodos produce seeds and you can get your rhodo to concentrate on growth by removing the spent flowers. Do this soon after flowering before the new buds get big and set. I prefer hand pinching. Just be careful so you don’t injure the buds below. Use hand snips if you are worried.

 

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Trusses still on

 

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Trusses pinched off

 

The second pruning action is for shape. Just follow the branch down to the last whorl of leaves you want to keep and cut just above those leaves. This is what I recommend to clients who wish to keep their rhododendrons from getting too big.

But what if your rhodo is too big? Now what? In this case we employ pruning action three: rejuvenation, which sounds better than renovation. This involves bravely making large cuts and significantly reducing the plant size. This works because rhodos are special. Examine their bark and look for tiny pink dots. Those are latent buds. Always aim to cut above these buds. Best case: cut above a cluster of latent buds. Then watch.

One example

Here is one example from my work site. This rejuvenation pruning was done at a corner unit where there was a problem with vehicle sight lines. Drivers couldn’t see properly when turning. So out came the saw as soon as the request was made. This was the result.

 

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Not much to look at right after pruning. Reduced to 30%.

 

A few weeks later…..

 

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Latent buds popping

 

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Latent buds in action, a cluster of four buds below the cut

 

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Much better after a few weeks

 

 

 

 

 

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September 2016

 

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September 2016

 

 

Rhododendrons are forgiving plants. Pinch off flower clusters (trusses) soon after flowering and prune for size. Bravely make big cuts if rejuvenation is required.

 

References: Fine Gardening, issue 86.

Develop your landscape eye

By | gardening, Landscaping, Tips | No Comments

Landscape eye

Developing your landscape eye is a critical skill. It takes time to develop but your landscape, bosses and clients will thank you for it. Basically, landscape eye refers to your ability to read a landscape and figure out what’s missing, totally wrong or just slightly off. This usually comes with experience once workers are fully proficient on all equipment.

I started landscaping at a prominent Lower Mainland landscape maintenance corporation we don’t need to name. There, the in-house seminar on “Developing your landscape eye” was delivered by the company owner. Not managers. The owner. That was no accident. Workers with good landscape eye can make corrections which leads to sharper and healthier landscapes. This seminar was a platform for the company owner to train his workers to see the landscape the way he does.

Some obvious examples are weeds, shrub spikes, walkway obstruction, flower deadheading, broken tree branches, tree branches touching buildings, missed blade edging, lawns that don’t look lush, dead plants, garbage, debris, cedar pruning lines, shoddy clean ups, etc.

Examples

 

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Obvious weed problem

 

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Ask yourself: how were these weeds allowed to get this big?

 

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A broken Acer circinatum branch: remove ASAP

 

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Pinus mugo half way across sidewalk: prune back

 

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A broken branch on Liquidambar styraciflua in a high-profile location

 

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Dead cedars

 

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Yucca flower spike can be removed

 

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Mulch volcano: we can’t cover with mulch anything above the root flare or the tree suffers

 

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Very poor tree cuts: the cut below was correct

 

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Hardscape hazards

 

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Tree collisions: to stay on the curb, mowers collide with this tree weekly. Put up a tree guard and instruct workers to avoid all collisions. Repeated abuse kills trees.

 

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The deep edge is fine (90 degrees!) but we can’t leave the chunks. Very poor clean up.

 

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This is common: tree branches touch the building

 

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Remove low branches on trees; we can’t have branches develop this low

 

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Remove suckers off tree trunk (above) and ivy (Hedera helix) below

 

As you move and work through your gardens and landscapes, pause to take a good look. Does it all makes sense? Is it all healthy and beautiful? Work on developing your landscape eye.

Common landscape maintenance mistakes, vol. 2

By | Education, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Tips | No Comments

To Continue with our examination of common landscape maintenance mistakes we consider volume 2. Learning from other people’s mistakes is much better than on your own. The hard way. It’s time to work like pros.

 

A) Lawn hazards

Check your assigned mow areas for hazards like rocks, garbage and toys. Collisions with foreign objects can cause damage and injury. Get familiar with lawns you are about to cut for the first time. It’s time well spent.

 

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B) Don’t mow around piles

I know this is a pain. Owner-generated piles on our lawns delay our progress but it’s horrible to ignore them. Don’t mow around them. Stop the mower and tarp the piles. Then continue. The owner will be happy and the grass will thank you for it.

 

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C) No tree stubs

ISA certification is optional but good cuts are not. Never leave stubs. The tree can’t cover up the wound, the stub dies and could serve as an entry point for diseases. Look for the branch collar and make a nice cut. Don’t cut into the collar. That’s where protective cells live.

 

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wrong

 

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correct

 

D) Tree bondage

Discourage tree owners from hanging things on their trees. Wires and ropes are forgotten until it’s too late. The ropes get embedded in the tree and can’t be extracted. Two problems: 1)  girdling eventually starves the upper portion of water and nutrients and leads to death; and 2) breakage occurs at the point of constriction.

 

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A good illustration: everything above the point of constriction is dead, deprived of water and nutrients; life below the point of constriction; This tree owner loves bird feeders.

 

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Clearly there is life below the constriction point; death above it

 

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A dead Pinus contorta, strangled with arbor tie; this was clearly an attempt at staking a leaning tree

Keep these points in mind as you maintain your landscapes. Your boss and clients will thank you for it.

Common landscape maintenance mistakes, vol. 1

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

There are many mistakes made in landscape maintenance. I’m hoping that by publishing the common ones, new landscapers can learn from other people’s mistakes. Not the hard way. Here we go.

A) Damage

Line trimmers, blade edgers and mowers have spinning parts and can cause a lot of damage. Get familiar with your work areas and identify any potential hazards. Companies have to pay for damages. Don’t be surprised if your boss has a go-to window guy on speed dial. It happens, so be careful.

 

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Don’t assume these covers are tightened when you mow

 

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line trimmer damage; one little corner full of pebbles, first time line edging here

 

B) Scalping

This is the biggest lawn care sin. Why? Because grass regenerates from meristems located about a third of the way up a blade of grass. Not from roots. When you scalp the lawn you get a bald spot. Even worse is scalping in November when the grass doesn’t grow much anymore. Don’t scalp. Remember to stay away from edges; the line trimmer is coming by to cover the edges. Your mow should be easy and stress-free. The same goes for line edging.

 

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the mower was too close to the edge and slipped off

 

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extremely harsh line edging

 

C) Line crossing

Yes, I know, speed is critical to your success in mowing. But when you finish putting in your laser lines don’t ruin your presentation. No line crossing. Take the long way if you have to or follow existing lines. Always. This is especially noticeable around towers where residents look down on their lawns.

 

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Don’t cross over your lines! Use existing lines or take the long way out.

 

D) Don’t mow through tree wells  

This is my favorite example because we get to review. 1) the space is too narrow for the mower deck, which leads to 2) scalping (brown spot), 3) soil compaction in the root zone (wheel marks) and 4) it crushes our deep edges. Let the line edger take care of the narrow spot. Mowers don’t belong in tree wells.

 

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Learn from other people’s landscape maintenance mistakes and work like a pro. Good luck!