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The best gift you can give to a landscaper

By | Landscaping Equipment, Reviews | No Comments

There is one gift every landscaper loves to receive: a nice new set of Felco snips! I got one recently for my birthday from my boss and it felt better than Christmas. Here’s why. When they are securely placed in a sheath on your belt you look professional, they make excellent cuts and they’re always handy.

Swiss quality

My favourite Swiss-made Felco 2 snips feel great in my large hands and they cut perfectly. There are many models to choose from but the 2s are perfect for fit and price. There are also many other brands on the market but when it comes to snips, Felco rules.

 

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The sheath

Most landscape professionals keep their snips handy on their hips, nicely parked in a leather sheath. The sheath is absolutely crucial. Snips nicely nestled in a sheath are always available. When I put my work pants on in the morning, there follows my belt and sheath. That way I know my snips are ready if I need them and it also minimizes my chances of losing them.

Keeping sharp snips in your pockets is awkward and dangerous. I find that without a sheath I inevitably leave my pricey trusted snips sitting on a post or fence. A few seasons back I did some weekend work for another landscaping company and I left my Felcos in one of their trucks. I have yet to get them back.

Yes, leather sheaths will cost you around $20 but it’s worth it. You look more professional and you lower the chances of losing your snips.

One tip: don’t forget to clean out your sheath. I recently discovered a lot of soil in my sheath. Enough to sustain a small plant.

 

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Parts

The spare parts kit includes a new blade and a new spring. You can expect the spring to blow up first. It usually gets old and one day it just falls out.

The blade can also be replaced but you have to time it like you do your car’s oil changes. Otherwise, the bolts gets so dirty they are almost impossible to loosen. This happens to me all the time. When I notice that my blade should be changed, I can’t loosen the bolts holding it in place.

The Felco handles are almost indestructible.

 

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This pair needs some love: a new spring, a new blade and the screws need cleaning.

 

 

Always ready

It happens to me all the time. Out in the landscape I notice a broken branch and out come my snips. Every time I need to cut line edger line, I use my snips. When the boss takes me for a walk and he notices a blemish, it’s important to have snips at the ready. Or when I apply lime and fertilizer, the snips easily penetrate the plastic covers when I have to reload my spreader.

Having a pair of quality snips on your hips also makes you look more professional.

 

Conclusion

I absolutely love my Felco 2 snips. They’re sharp, they last and they feel great in my hands. I always have them on my hip in a leather sheath. I also feel like a professional with a nice pair of quality snips.

Felco snips are the best gift you can give to a landscaper!

Product testing in the field

By | Landscaping Equipment, Reviews | No Comments

I love testing new products in the field. It’s easy to get sucked into using the same tools and machines every season. But what if there is a new product that performs better and is cheaper? Field testing products myself is fun and it’s the real deal. It’s not just sales talk.

Did you notice how when you go to the doctor there always seems to be a new drug the doctor pushes on you? That’s because sales reps give the doctor perks for pushing their own drugs. Here you go, take this…..

Well, landscape company owners also get approached by sales people who happily provide samples for them to try in the field. Sure, let’s do it. And that’s how I got to test a new kind of tarp.

 

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The new tarp: stronger, easy to fold and waterproof.

 

 

New tarp

Recently we got to try out a new kind of tarp made of military grade material. Think waterproof military backpack material. It’s supposed to be tougher, easier to fold and waterproof. That’s a nice list.

So we tried a little experiment. We packed several chunks of firewood and dragged it along the pavement and over a speed bump. This put several holes into it. Bummer. Another failed test. Or was it?

We don’t normally drag sharp pieces of wood in our tarps. We usually haul leaves and weeds with, hopefully, not too much soil. Also, note if the holes actually get bigger.

So far, our crews like the new tarps. They fold easily, they are waterproof and they appear to be tougher.

 

Old tarps

 

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The old green tarp on the bottom is slightly bigger.

 

 

The old tarps we use are more like camping cover type plastic tarps. They are slightly bigger than the new ones but they don’t fold as easily. Also, it takes very little dragging to put holes in them and this drives the boss nuts. Dragging tarps is discouraged because it leads to unnecessary expenses.

The new tarps cost $1.25 more than the old ones but if they last longer, it’s a win! So far the reviews are good. I hope to report more on this as the grass cutting season starts.

Conclusion

Always be open to testing new machines, tools and materials. You could save money and improve your company performance. You could also have some extra fun.

 

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The new tarps are easier to twist and look better.

New Stihl toys for professional landscapers

By | machines, Reviews | No Comments

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If you read my blogs regularly you will know that I am not really a machine type dude. But testing new landscape “toys” is always exciting, even for a guy who prefers soft plant material.

Today was one of those days when I got to see a shiny new Kombi engine from Stihl. I always wonder what improvements have been made and how they will help my work in the field. The beauty of the Kombi system is that it allows professional landscapers to operate with one engine and several attachments.

 

KM 91R

 

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KM 91R Kombi engine

 

The new KM 91R Kombi engine weighs 4.4 kg and comes with a suggested retail price of $419.95. It’s always nice to get to know your local dealer so you can get a better deal or at least score some freebies.

Key points:

a) The KM 91R comes with a larger fuel tank which should result in 30% longer running times. Of course, you will pay for this as you shoulder the extra weight but frequent re-fuelling is annoying.

b) Stihl is promising improved handling and control

c) The new stop button must be depressed; one touch!

d) The choke button is also new. It must be depressed and then turned. I wonder how this will work once the engine is subjected to rain and dirt. Only time in the field will tell.

 

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One touch stop!

 

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The new choke. Depress and turn.

 

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All set with these new toys!

 

 

 

Power shear attachment

 

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Ok, so this articulating attachment has been out for a while but since I got to see the set I thought I’d write a few notes about it. I absolutely love the reinforced blades! They might add weight but the stiffness is spectacular. The older attachments would over time start to bend which made it awkward when you tried to cut the top of your cedar hedge straight.

 

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The solid bar on top gives the attachment super stiffness.

 

Sometimes the tip of the shears would start vibrating which was annoying when you stood on top of a ladder trying to get a laser line on top of your cedar hedge. This new stiffer attachment eliminates the vibrations. It’s such a nice feeling! Using the old style attachments feels like punishment.

If you do a lot of shearing during the season, definitely consider upgrading to these new shear attachments. You’ll love it.

There are many dealers in the Lower Mainland so search for one closest to you. One dealer I love is Foreshore Equipment on Byrne Road in Burnaby. Go see their show room and ask the helpful, knowledgeable staff. Tell them Vas sent you. Also, grab some Stihl candy from the counter on your way out.

 

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Help your trees with watering bags

By | Arborist Insights, Reviews, Trees | No Comments

It’s very hot in our July British Columbia landscapes and plants need help. Trees are plants so let’s help them with some supplemental water. One great invention is the Gator watering bag.

 

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A Gator watering bag in action. They work best when they are filled with water. Full marks to this dedicated home owner.

 

 

Installation and benefits

You don’t need any tools to install the bag. Just put the bag around your tree and zip it up. Then add water. The slit is located under the label tag. Once, when I was working for the City of Coquitlam, an elderly couple walked by and wondered how we get water into the bags. Just lift the tag.

The Gator website states that new plantings require a refill every 5-7 days. The average watering time is 5-9 hours. And the benefits? No run-off and limited evaporation.

You can use the bags to protect young trees which should limit losses and labour costs associated with tree planting. That said, some young trees still don’t survive. Perhaps they weren’t planted properly or came from inferior nursery stock.

Not so fast

It would be great if this was the end of the story. Bags go around the tree trunk and deliver much needed water boost to thirsty trees. Not so fast. Just last week I visited my favourite blog called the garden professors. It’s a special blog because people try to use good science to answer questions.

One post that appeared on the blog site was about Gator bags. The author noticed two problems:

a) Many watering bags were empty!? Since the bags were designed to deliver water to trees they should be filled with water. Obviously.

b) A bigger problem was unzipping the bags and discovering bark rot. As the full bags press against the tree trunk they create moist and dark environment and, over time, this can lead to bark rot. Rotting bark then invites diseases and pests.

So I did my own survey on a large site we maintain. I found one tree with a moist bark section; some had bugs hiding under the zipper.

 

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All clear. The bark was dry and, alas, so was the bag.

 

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Same as above.

 

Think of the Gator watering bags as a temporary solution. Install them, fill them up and check on the condition of the bark periodically by unzipping the bag. I hope your trees get through the summer heat without injury.

“Caring for plants” Korean short story

By | gardening, Magazines, Reviews | No Comments

As I was browsing through the magazine section of my local public library I noticed a short story in the New Yorker magazine (July 10 & 17, 2017). Caring for plants, by Hye-young Pyun, translated from Korean. Sure, why not.

It all starts with our protagonist in hospital, badly crippled. There was a car accident and, sadly, we learn that the wife didn’t make it. This is where gardening comes in. The wife loved her garden. She cared for her flowers and shrubs but now the garden looked rough and abandoned.

I have some experience with abandoned gardens. One of my earlier blogs deals with a true story from Japan. The wife commits suicide and her husband lasts barely a year or two. Their little front garden is still there but it no longer gives anyone pleasure. It is sad to see the weeds and over-grown plants.

Our protagonist eventually gets well enough to go home but he’s still in rough shape. His first caregiver is a riot and by far the best character in the story. Then she gets fired. And the mother-in-law enters the picture. We know she is sad and mad. She never liked the cripple.

When she isn’t helping her son-in-law, she is out in the garden. She knows that this was her daughter’s favourite spot so she does what she can to keep it up. Then she starts digging holes in the far corner of the garden.

Our protagonist is slowly recovering and still has to crawl to make it to the washroom. Then he mentions to his physiotherapist that she has been feeding him extra pills. Wasn’t that unusual? Perhaps. The physiotherapist, too, gets axed.

Now the mother-in-law starts talking about money and budgets. The son finds it odd and then discovers that his resignation at work had been submitted without his prior knowledge.

Then one day, he crawls to the window and sees his mother-in-law planting new plants in the holes she had dug. But wait. Is that an extra large hole in the far corner of the garden? Here we get to exercise our imagination. Perhaps tomorrow there will be a large tree delivered? Or is it meant for our crippled son-in-law. It’s up to you to decide how he ends up there. An overdose looks imminent. I think.

If you have some extra time at night or on the weekend, read this short story and let me know how you think the story ends.

 

Product testing SA CO face shield

By | Reviews | No Comments

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Testing new products is fun! I got to try a new face shield at work today thanks to my boss who happened to see SA CO’s face shield ads on Facebook. Boom, and a blog post is born.

The face shield

This moisture wicking face shield feels fine on my skin. It’s breathable and elastic so it stays on your face but it doesn’t feel plastic like a mask. It’s in our company’s orange colour. It retails at $24.99US.

If you have great hair you will be interested in all of the different head covering permutations. What hair I have is gray and I don’t worry about it. I just use ball caps.

I use the face shield as neck gaiter, wristband and face shield.

 

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In company colour.

 

Protection

The package shows the face shield as protection from:

  • sun
  • wind
  • insects
  • cold
  • particles
  • moisture wicking

Landscape application

This is a great product for landscape professionals. Take summer backpack blowing. It’s a dusty activity and having a face shield available at all times around my neck is very handy. Speaking of my neck, having an extra protective layer around my neck is important. Even with sunscreen my neck turns brown every season.

 

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My summer neck, version 2017. It’s nice to have the face shield for sun protection.

 

 

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Extra protection from particles while backpack blowing. My neck is protected as well. The face shield stays in place and feels fine on my skin.

 

Moisture wicking is another useful use of this product. It keeps your neck dry or you can wipe away your sweat anytime when you wear it as a wristband.

Winter

If this year’s winter is anything close to 2016, it will be nice to have an extra layer around my neck. I hate it when my neck is exposed. Up until now I have been using a Buff product made popular by trail runners. I will gladly keep it exclusively for the trails and switch to the face shield at work. I’m hoping this winter will be mild. Fingers crossed.

 

In conclusion, this face shield product is excellent. It has many applications in landscaping work. I’m glad my boss invested in the face shields. I believe other companies should do the same.

 

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Dream hedge trimmers for demanding professionals

By | Landscaping Equipment, Reviews | No Comments

Last week I had to do some power shearing and the boss handed me a new unit to try out. Great! It’s always nice to test out new models.

(Disclaimer: we use Stihl equipment at work; I am in no way associated with Stihl. Any review blog posts are just that, my personal reviews.)

The new unit was Stihl’s hedge trimmer HS 82R with a 24″ cutting bar.

 

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Stihl HS 82R

 

Notes from Stihl

“This professional unit replaces the HS 81 R with the latest in STIHL technology. Equipped with stratified scavenging engine technology that reduces fuel consumption by 20% and fulfils all emission regulations, long life air filter for prolonged engine protection, double-sided, sharpened cutting blades for a high quality cut, adjustable multi-function handle and a tool-less fuel cap. This hedge trimmer is an innovative unit designed with the demanding professional in mind. “

 

What I noticed right away

As you shear you notice a certain softness, kind of like riding a full suspension mountain bike after riding a hard tail for ages. I noticed it because this was my first experience with anti-vibration technology. And I loved it.

The Stihl website states that “intense vibration at the handles of power tools can lead to long-term effects on blood vessels in the hands and arms. STIHL has therefore developed an effective anti-vibration system whereby the oscillations from the machine’s engine are dampened which significantly reduces vibrations at the handles.”

This feature alone is worth the retail price of $669.95. Again, get to know your dealer and score some well-deserved discounts. The manufacturer suggested retail price is just that, suggested.

 

 

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Notes four springs. The anti-vibration system rules!

 

One problem

Given the 24″ cutting bar, this unit isn’t exactly light. I used a ladder for my shearing work so I wouldn’t have to raise the shears above my shoulders. The cheaper Stihl hedge trimmers are lighter. But hey, if you’re like me, you will welcome the workout for your muscles.

I was blown away by the anti-vibration technology feature. This unit is designed for demanding professionals and it delivers.

Stihl LawnGrips Pro 6 boots: the landscape tool for your feet

By | Landscaping, Reviews | 2 Comments

After destroying my Stihl LawnGrip Pro shoes in the field, it was time to upgrade. I finally found some time to visit my favourite dealer, Tri-City Power Equipment in Coquitlam. I had a pair of the NEW Stihl LawnGrips Pro 6 boots put away. They are designed specifically for landscape professionals and they look good.

 

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First impressions

These boots feel more like hiking boots compared to the previous LawnGrips Pro shoes and the shoelaces feel much stronger. On the previous model the laces would snap at the worst possible moment or they would come undone.

The outsole is the same and I know from experience that it does offer great traction on fresh-cut or wet turf.

Stihl also added four reflective bars on the side for extra visibility.

 

Stihl notes

  • 3-D ring closure pairs for better fit and easy boot entry
  • moisture wicking 300g Dri Tec lining
  • patented Grip-N-Go outsole engineered for superior traction on fresh-cut or wet turf
  • cushioned polyurethane midsole for all-day comfort and support on the job
  • steel shank and composite diffusion plate provides protection and stability
  • multi-directional, angled cleats are designed to keep you from slipping
  • steel toe complies with ANSI and ASTM standards
  • CSA Green Patch certified
  • constructed with naturally water-repellant leather (use of waterproofing products recommended

 

Why Vas loves these shoes

  • They are made specifically for landscape professionals!
  • Comply with safety standards; steel toe boots are mandatory
  • The outsole really prevents slips on freshly-cut or wet grass; this is important when you are pushing a mower
  • Decent retails cost. At $129.95 retail it’s still a good deal compared to other work boots; and other boots aren’t designed specifically for landscape professionals. If you get to know your dealer, you won’t have to pay exact retail. So get to know your dealer.
  • Stihl has great products, from machines to clothes.

 

If your work boots are getting old and you work in landscaping, give these new boots a try.

 

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(Disclaimer: I am not associated in any way with Stihl Canada or Tri-City Power Equipment. This review is my personal take on these shoes.)

 

 

Leafout in a changing climate

By | Reviews, Seasonal, Species | No Comments

Once in a while I find a good article to read when I browse through my favourite Chapter’s Indigo store. Last spring I picked up a copy of American Scientist, volume 104 (March-April 2016). I was totally intrigued by a story titled “Spring budburst in a changing climate“.

Budburst

Budburst isn’t as extensively studied as flowering times. We  know that trees respond to spring temperatures. As it warms up leaves emerge out of tree and shrub winter buds. What isn’t as well known is that man-made climate warming is affecting when leaves appear on trees and shrub and when they drop to the ground. Even less known is how budburst timing affects birds and insects, entire ecosystems and humans.

Leaf functions

Leaves play a critical role in photosynthesis. They absorb lots of carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to carbohydrates through photosynthesis, which are then transferred into wood and roots.

As new leaves emerge in spring and start photosynthesizing, global CO2 levels decline. Leaves also release water during this process which affects local climate and rainfall patterns.

Leaves also provide food for caterpillars, deer and other herbivores and they provide cover for birds and other wildlife.

Thoreau’s Concord

It was in Concord in 1850s that Henry David Thoreau observed local plants and it was at Walden Pond that he wrote his classic Walden work. What I didn’t know was that Thoreau kept a record of leaf-out times for 43 woody plant species. So the study authors did their own research to compare the leaf-out times now to 1850s. And as expected, the mean date of leaf emergence has shifted from May 8 in Thoreau’s time to April 20 in recent years.

No big deal?

Eighteen days may not seem like a huge difference but it actually is. Consider the caterpillar which is used to eating young tender leaves. Now when he emerges, ready to eat he may be encountering older, tougher leaves. This could affect caterpillar populations and consequently, bird populations as birds arrive and look for caterpillars to eat.

Species differences

Since different species use different cues for budburst, a warming climate will affect each species differently. In some cases, warmer climate could help invasive species proliferate. One example is Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) which has minimal or no winter-chilling and day-length requirements for leafing out. It will push out new leaves after a week of warm weather. It forms thick stands that compete with native trees.

If native trees wait until late spring to leaf out, some invasive shrubs could increase their competitive advantage.

Late frosts

Another potential problem could be late frosts. As trees and shrubs push out their leaves earlier than usual they could be damaged by late frosts. Back to the Japanese barberry. This invasive species in North America combines early leafing out with a high degree of frost tolerance.

This article is worth studying in its entirety. The potential mismatches between tree and shrub leaf out and insect and bird feeding could create huge ecosystem problems. And it’s already happening.

 

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Budburst in our native Sambucus.

Vancouver Tree Book

By | Arborist Insights, Books, Reviews | No Comments

Vancouver Tree Book by David Tracey is now available in bookstores. Normally I would wait for Amazon to ship the book but I didn’t want to wait. Not for a new tree book. I picked it up from Chapter’s for $21, tax included. Not bad.

It’s pocket-sized and features 100 trees. It will easily slip into your backpack. One nice touch is that we are given actual City of Vancouver spots where the trees can be seen. There is also a list of 10 treasured trees in the city.

The illustrations are very nice. Since this is a pocket guide, only basic information is presented. After scanning the guide, it’s clear I still have some work left to do on my tree identification skills. Not to worry. I will get there. I’m an arborist just like Tracey.

Having discovered Acer campestre in Langley and nowhere else, I was relieved to find out that there are plenty of specimens in Vancouver. My favorite tree, Albizia julibrissin is also in the guide, which means the guide automatically gets a passing grade.

The guide makes references to an earlier book on Vancouver Trees. Trees of Vancouver by Gerald B. Straley we learn is now out of print (I have a copy!) . Sadly, the author has passed away. That makes my copy that much more precious.

Unlike Tracey’s pocket guide, this is a bigger book that covers over 470 trees and includes leaf drawings. In the middle are 86 beautiful color photographs. Location information is also given which makes it easy for you to locate your favorite species. Tracey obviously copied this handy approach.

 

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New and pocket-sized, 100 trees

 

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Information on 470 trees, now out of print

Summary

This is a handy guide for all green professionals. It’s well worth $21. I will now go through it and scan it for the species I don’t yet know well. I hope you do the same.