Category

Seasonal

Summer versus winter tree pruning

By | Seasonal, Trees | No Comments

Now that our deciduous landscape trees have lost their leaves we can clearly see the branch structures. And as I recently removed one broken branch I had a flashback to summer. And a blog post was born. So let’s consider the basic differences between summer and winter tree pruning.

 

Summer tree pruning

As trees flush out in spring strata property residents freak out about encroaching branches. That’s when I get called in.

Summer tree pruning is light because sunny days are already stressful enough for our landscape trees. Trees also store food in branches so removing too many could pose a problem for the trees. Remember, under drought conditions trees shut down their leaf openings to prevent moisture loss; this also means that they can’t produce food and must rely on reserves.

Most of the pruning requests revolve around crown shape and branch encroachment. Since the branch structure is hidden under foliage it’s best not to make too many radical cuts.

In the first example below you can see what the strata council wants: all birch crowns are to be tightened up. Nothing radical.

 

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In the second example below, the owners want this Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) lightly shaped so it’s off the building. Again, nothing radical. The lady loves the finished look.

 

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Winter tree pruning

 

Now consider winter tree pruning. Since the leaves are gone we can see branch structures well. And all of a sudden I’m finding broken branches in crowns that were until recently covered up by leaves.

 

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Broken branches must be removed (see white arrow).

 

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Green arrow: broken branch Orange arrow: branch pointing down Red arrow: location of my cut

 

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After shot.

 

Horror show

Not all winter tree pruning is enjoyable. Some strata complexes have their trees topped and, of course, the trees notice it. Then they produce extra sprouts from the cuts and we have to remove them annually. And so the cycle begins.

 

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All done! I’ll be back in 12 months.

 

Conclusion

Leave harsher tree pruning for the winter when the trees are dormant and their branch structures are clearly visible. If you must prune trees in summer, do it lightly.

 

The last service before Christmas

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

The last week of service before the Christmas break requires focus. Most people have holidays on their minds but it’s very important to leave your landscapes looking sharp. This is how you do it.

Simple

Keep it simple. This is a bad time for major projects and heavy pruning. This type of work should be written down in your notebook for January. So what do we do? We check all high-profile entrances and walkways; and inside roadways.

Today I raked out the top boulevard of my site, including leafy debris behind the hedges. Since residents, neighbours and holiday visitors use and drive-by the boulevard, it should look sharp. And today it did.

I did a little bit of hand snipping on the tops of Pieris japonica shrubs. Very lightly, just to take out the spiky growth. Unless you live in the complex, you can’t tell the shrubs were topped.

 

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Before: note the spikes on top.

 

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After: it still looks natural after pruning.

 

Backpack blow

Once my raking was done, I blew the entire site. This is a perfect time for a good, detailed blow. I normally hurry to get this noisy task out of the way but not today. Today everything got blown: the inside roadways, patios and lawns. I also blew the forest buffer zone where leafiness tends to accumulate.

After pile pick-up I hit a few weedy patches and touched up some deep edges.

The hardest part of the day was cleaning up the garden liaison’s garden. She has a Japanese-style garden and does her own maintenance but I had to clean-up cedar clippings from a few weeks ago. Cedar pruning always generates secondary drop and here I had to hand pick the clippings from inside her Hellebores. Carefully.

Note that this sort of work shouldn’t be delegated to your helpers unless they’re experienced and follow directions well. The previous company pruned the liaison’s cedar hedges too hard; and they’re no longer under contract with this strata!

Final check

I walked the small site at the end of the day to double-check everything. I also noted work tasks for the new year. When I pulled out from the site I was satisfied that it was clean for Christmas.

Happy holidays!!

 

 

How landscapers crush winter

By | Landscaping, Mulch, Seasonal | No Comments

I’m often asked what landscapers do exactly in winter. So let’s take a look at one example from today. Incidentally, today was a beautiful sunny December day and I’m hoping it stays like this until Christmas.

Materials

First, I had to dump green waste because I didn’t get to it on Friday. Normally it’s a routine task but since temperatures dipped over the weekend, I was worried about my green waste load freezing to the truck deck. Luckily it went well.

Second, I picked up three yards of 3/4 crush rock. Yes, installing rock is a great winter task because it can be done on colder days when soils aren’t really workable; and pruning brittle plants could ruin them.

 

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3/4 crush.

 

Community garden

The goal was easy: replenish pathways in a community garden. The pathways did look tired and there were some big weeds so I spent some time on weeding.

 

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Note the weeds and depleted crush levels.

 

Then I wheelbarrowed the crush in. Simple work.

 

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All done, for now. There will be more crush brought in here this week to make sure we have an adequate layer of crush. This should help to keep weeds down.

 

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This looks much better.

 

Preparations continued

Pathway preparation isn’t super exciting to read about but I want to point out that not all landscape tasks are sexy. Sadly, some workers attempt to “cherry-pick” their tasks, preferring to do easier stuff. I personally hate this approach. As a landscape supervisor I do everything, without any “cherry-picking” and I’m hoping it will rub off on our employees.

I recommend to all of our apprentices that they do all tasks and do them well. That’s the best preparation for their Red Seal exams.

 

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Scuffling weeds out of pathways is a lot of labour but it has to get done.

 

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All prepared for new crush install.

 

Conclusion

West Coast winter landscaping can be a challenge but there are tasks that can be done in lower temperatures. Installing crush and weeding pathways are two decent winter landscape tasks.

Ornamental grass cutback: time it right

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal, Species | No Comments

I was on a large strata site last week planting winter pansies and testing out a new Stihl brush cutter. Finished for the day, I descended down the long private road that winds through the complex. And what really struck me was the beauty of the ornamental grasses. They were gently moving in the late afternoon sun and they put on a great show. They were ornamental for sure.

 

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Pressure

Unfortunately, the beautiful Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ were coming down. So you have to ask yourself why this is happening just as the grasses start to look their best. It comes down to pressure because this particular strata site is huge. It takes four weeks to make one full maintenance rotation. And the fear is that before the grass area is due for service, rain and wind will have destroyed them. That’s too bad because the show they put on along with their cousin grass species totally warmed me up. Now all that was left was a grassy stump to look at until next spring. This totally defeats the point of planting these grasses when they’re not allowed to be ornamental.

Note that there is always the possibility of rot in the centre when the grass is cut back too early.

 

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This is it until next spring. Rot in the middle is always a danger.

 

 

Cut back timing

Ornamental grasses flower in the fall and when everything else in the landscape fades, they give us something to look at. Personally, I cut them back only when they’re all broken up on the ground.

If you can let your ornamental grasses stand into winter, you might get rewarded with a beautiful frosty look. And birds also feed on the flower spikes in winter when there isn’t much else to eat.

If you can, let your grasses be ornamental and enjoy them well into spring. If you must cut them back, do it when they’re flopped over and hugging the ground.

Adding some winter colour is easy

By | Seasonal | No Comments

By early fall most summer annuals start to look suspicious so we remove them and clean up the beds. Now what? What do we do with bare beds all winter?

Don’t worry, there is an easy way to add some winter color to your planted beds. And it won’t blow up your budget. Consider using ornamental kale which adds nice, bright whites and purples to your beds. Brian Minter, writing in Tri-City News, (October 10, 2018 A24) reports that ornamental kales should be fine in winter unless it’s -10 degrees Celsius for long stretches.

It’s nice to plant ornamental kale with good companions. We used pansies but Dusty Millers are also good. Planting around evergreen Carex species is also good.

Key tips

Brian Minter offers two key tips. One is to plant ornamental kales in groups so the bright colors really stand out. This is obvious. The other tip isn’t. Plant ornamental kale deep so they look like they are popping out of the ground. Since I read Minter’s article half-way through our winter planting, I adjusted my planting afterwards.

A third tip involves peeling off the bottom leaves that look brown or yellow before planting your kale. It cleans up the plant nicely.

 

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Remove the yellow foliage before planting.

 

 

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Much better; and ready for planting.

 

Examples

Let’s look at some actual examples. First comes bed preparation. Remove all annuals and rake and cultivate your beds so they are clean. Cultivation fluffs up the soil and makes planting easier.

 

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My directions were to plant kale and then alternate with yellow and blue pansy lines. At your house you can experiment and arrange everything to your liking.

 

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This driveway corner looks much better now and hopefully the plants survive the winter. Remember to do your clean-up blow gently so you don’t blast out the plants.

 

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This is another high-profile boulevard corner and it looks fine for now.

 

If you haven’t tried winter planting with ornamental kale and pansies, give it a go. You can also do your garden pots. It will add fresh colour to your garden just as the days get shorter, darker and colder. Group the ornamental kales and plant them deep. Then pray for a mild West Coast winter.

Lessons from strata owner meltdown

By | Education, landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

On large strata (multi-family) complexes you can expect to get some negative feedback during the season. Normally it’s addressed as soon as possible and if you’re lucky, the strata unit gets educated. But how do you handle a full-blown meltdown?

Keep it cool

Definitely keep it cool. For me it’s easier now that I am a supervisor of a certain age but it’s never pleasant. So, first, take a look at the picture below. What do you notice?

 

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Obviously, the lawn is dormant because it’s early August on the West Coast and the lawns aren’t irrigated. You will also notice pockets of new soil and seed.

Now, the owner of the unit (remember he owns his house, the lawn belongs to the complex) came out storming about the bad condition of his lawn. So I told him it needed water and that set him off. He told me there was no need to be rude; he was 55 and well-aware that lawns required water! Really?

Here I took a deep breath and insisted that there wasn’t anything rude about my comments. For the lawn to look green during an early August heat-wave and for the seed to germinate he had to water his lawn thoroughly several times a week.

Incidentally, if you’re new to the West Coast, dormant lawns will green up with fall rains.

Still red in the face, the man showed me his broken hose nozzle and insisted one of our workers stepped on it. So I sucked it up and bought a new nozzle for $20, tax-included.

There were some other complaints that don’t need to be listed here. They should have been sent to the strata.

 

Lessons

Obviously, getting through the whole year without any complaints would be ideal but some sites are huge and they’re populated by all sorts of people. So what lessons can we draw from this blog post?

a) There will be some negative feedback no matter how well your season goes. When strata councils change you can expect even more hassles as new members try to put their stamp on things. At this complex the strata council is new.

b) Strata owners should go through their strata councils and management companies. Assaulting landscape workers on site is not the proper way to handle it.

c) Non-irrigated West Coast lawns will most likely go dormant during the hottest parts of summer. Don’t panic because they will recover with fall rains.

d) Keep calm and stay polite because you represent your company. But don’t be afraid to educate your clients. Clearly, the owner knows about lawn watering but he isn’t doing it. His new soil and seed were dry. I watched him water later and it can best be described as a gentle sprinkle. I wasn’t about to show him how to water his lawn properly. He’s 55, he can figure it out. (The lawn requires a nice deep soaking a few times a week; always follow any municipal watering restrictions.)

e) Let it go. I’ve had to learn to let go of things as a supervisor. I answered all questions where I could, I bought a new nozzle, took pictures and notes, and notified my vacationing boss. Writing this blog post is therapy.

How to have fun with annual tasks

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

In this blog post I will show that working on annual tasks can be fun. First of all, it gives us a nice break from routine maintenance schedules and, second, it’s only done once a year. And for me, that was a new experience.

Municipal

My first encounter with annual jobs was while working for a municipal parks department. At first, I couldn’t believe that some areas were only cut once a year. But it was a nice break from the usual routine. Since my job was to line trim, I loaded up on spare line (always do this!) and I made sure my jerry car with mixed fuel was close by for quick re-fuelling (another good habit).

Day one was near a mountain top and I couldn’t think of a prettier place to line trim. I just had to take some extra care because I couldn’t always see into the tall grass. This is why new workers are always encouraged to get familiar with their new lawns and identify any potential hazards.

 

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I line trimmed zones where the ride-on mower couldn’t reach safely.

 

On day two we worked at a section of the famous Coquitlam Crunch. Here it was the human scenery that was very pretty and I had to make sure passersby didn’t get hit. So here the work was a bit slower but just as fun.

Of course, the work isn’t very difficult; you just need some resolve. I was so excited about doing something new that the hours just flew by. This is why landscape workers report having good days after learning a new machine or task.

After I accidentally beheaded a small snake, the novelty wore off.

 

Strata

I mentioned strata “wild zones” in a previous blog. Here the issue is site size and low profile. It simply doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time in some far corner not many people see. But, I still think that all strata sites should be maintained without discrimination, that is, all areas should be maintained regularly.

 

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So you survey the “wild zone” and note the obvious tasks:

  1. weeding: the visible green mats are creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), this perennial weed is a tough weed to defeat. When you pull it out you will see many fibrous roots. I bring up buttercup when people tell me to weed with my hands. Not likely.
  2. prickly bramble:  invading from next door and growing through trees, we can’t tolerate this because it will just get worse
  3. roses out of control, both size and spread
  4. dogwood (Cornus) shrubs require pruning and thinning, since thinning requires more time it obviously hasn’t been done in a long time
  5. salal (Gaultheria shallon) pruning off the top, it’s an indestructible native so bring down to normal size
  6. Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) invading from next door, be ruthless, Sambucus grows like a weed
  7. cedar pruning (Thuja plicata), one annual shearing will suffice here

 

Once you complete the above list the whole place will look transformed. And then you can concentrate on other work knowing that you will be back in twelve months. Hopefully sooner.

 

Last service day of the season

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

The very last service day of the season on sites with ten month contracts is a special day. This blog post assumes that everything went well and your contract was renewed. Your strata site looks great and should hold up for two months.

If your contract wasn’t renewed, then, well, there is very little point stressing about your last service day. Most companies only cover basics but it’s important to go out as professionals. You never know, you could get called back.

Last service day

Since we’re close to the holidays, the last service day should cover the ‘beauty strip’. This would include the front entrance, mailbox areas, club houses and front entrances to all units. Residents are bound to entertain visitors over the holidays so the fronts should look good.

You should concentrate on weeding, deep edging and any remaining leafiness. I also like to blade edge all hard edges, especially on boulevard sidewalks. The edging will last for months and it sharpens up the site.

Bed and tree well deep edging should be done at ninety degrees and nothing else. Like the blade edges, these edges should also last for months. Cultivated, weed-free beds give the site a nice sharp look for the holidays.

 

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Note the weeded, cultivated bed and deep-edged tree circle. Personally I would have blade edged the hard edges.

 

Finally, the entire site should be blown clean.

Your last service day is not a good day for pruning or starting on cedar hedge shearing. If it didn’t get done, then just leave it for the New Year. The last day should leave the site looking sharp and clean so don’t start any new projects. The residents will likely notice weedy front beds over some back unit cedar that didn’t get sheared. You can shear it after the holidays. On this day, think clean.

 

Beyond the ‘beauty strip’

Note the difference in approach. Landscaping along the ‘beauty strip’ should only be practiced on the last few service days. During the season, it would be a grave mistake. And yet, it happens. Landscape companies cover all of the key, high-profile areas and let other sections “burn”.

I personally detest this sort of discrimination. All good landscape foremen will cover 100% of their sites, even if it has to be done on rotation. Owners of back units are paying the same fees as owners of higher profile units.

If you have any ten-month contract sites, enjoy the two-month break! If you live in a ten-month contract strata unit, enjoy the quiet!

 

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.

How to have fun with winter plant ID

By | Seasonal, Species | No Comments

Winter can be a great time for practicing your plant identification skills. The work days aren’t as hectic and the winter season offers a different look. Walking through your landscapes, you might notice a plant and realize that its name escapes you. I know all about it. It happens to me lots. At the worst moment, too. Like when the boss arrives on site.

Let’s look at a few examples.

 

Pinus contorta subsp contorta (Shore pine or Lodgepole pine)

 

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This is a commonly used pine in our West Coast landscapes. Plant ID hints: a) The needles come in pairs and b) the cones have sharp prickles on their scales.

 

Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon)

You must be familiar with the Rose of Sharon flowers. But what about winter? What we are seeing is dehiscent seed pods. This means that the seed pods open along built-in lines to release their contents. In this case, the seed pod opens into five distinct parts and the seeds spill out.

The seeds are actually very cute. They are almost heart-shaped with hairs. I saved some and if I find time, I will try to grow them.

 

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Choisya arizonica (Aztec pearl)

 

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You will be familiar with Choisya ternata which has bigger leaves. This shrub has finer greenery and its white flowers are equally as nice. This is the one plant I had trouble memorizing until I saw it at last year’s CanWest Hort Show in Abbotsford. Now I try to associate it with Arizona.

 

Ophiopogon planiscapus (Black Mondo grass)

Full marks if you remembered the full species name! I love this plant because it’s so dark. New foliage is dark green. It produces bell-like summer flowers which turn into black berries. The Black Mondo grass in this photo is a great border plant close to a clubhouse.

 

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Sambucus racemosa (Red elderberry)

I remember this tree-like shrub well because we have hack it up every winter so it doesn’t go too wild on our strata properties. It looks bad for a while but the shrubs look fine in spring. It can grow 2-6 meters tall. Because it has soft stems with a pithy center, you can cut through most canes with your Felcos. (For my blog on Felco snips click here.)

Flowers appear at the ends of branches and are visited by butterflies and hummingbirds.

 

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Now check out the sister plant Sambucus nigra (Black lace). This species is planted in people’s yards, not in wild zones, because it’s stunning. The first time I saw it in White Rock I was hooked. It took me a while to realize that this plant was related to its sisters in the riverbed zone. The sisters I rudely demolished so they wouldn’t grow out of hand.

 

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Winter can be a great time for plant ID skill work. Give it a try. You never know what you will discover.