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Species

Some landscape installs come with challenges: yew privacy screen install

By | Landscaping, Species | No Comments

We already know from my recent blog posts that fall is a great time for landscape installation projects. Cooler temperatures and moisture in the fall are good for plants; and the fall is a bit slower once we get over the maximum leaf drop on our sites and in our gardens.

Privacy screen

Privacy is a common problem. New owners move into their unit just as we remove dead cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘). Now their windows are exposed just above a walkway and we have a problem. The husband is a nice guy but the wife can compose letters to strata that would make a construction worker blush.

So a quote is submitted to strata council and approved quickly so the problem goes away. I was the lucky installer on a sunny fall day. It just so happened that the site was a challenge.

 

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It’s not perfect cover for windows yet but give it some time.

 

Cedars vs Yews

The heat waves our landscapes have been subjected to in recent summers have been hard on our cedar hedges. Most strata owners are too busy to water their plants and regular weekly landscape work visits don’t allow for watering.

Thus, the switch to yews (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) which are considered hardier. They make nice hedges and sport red berries. But they are more expensive than cedars so it’s a strain on strata budgets when many cedars die.

Access

I got a bit sweaty walking the thirteen potted specimens up the back walkway and I loved it. It served as training. Access is another common hassle. Same for soil conditions. Since the soil closest to the edge was mostly clay, I was forced to off-set the yew row just a bit. Not that it’s a huge problem.

The soil was very wet and I had to be careful with irrigation pipes. Another challenge was soil volume. As soon as stuck my shovel in, I hit landscape fabric. Not good. I had to make adjustments.

Planting

 

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Not the best conditions: soggy soil, clay edge, ledge and low soil volume.

 

One adjustment involved removing the yews from their pots and cleaning off soil from the bottom of the root balls. This allowed me to plant the yews in their somewhat shallow planting holes. Also, don’t forget to rough-up the roots before planting so they stop circling.

The second adjustment involved moving in some soil. There were at least two specimens with exposed root balls so the extra soil levelled everything off nicely. Remember, when backfilling your planting holes, always use the existing soil. A very common mistake is backfilling planting holes with new soil. It looks great but water will find it easier to move into the new soil. It will then cause soil saturation and your yew will turn into a joystick. Who knows which way it will fall?

Remember the soil we cleaned off from the bottom of the root balls? I saved it and used it to top-dress the finished yew line. It gave it a nicer look.

One last step: blow off the muddy ledge below the yews. Always clean-up as best as you can. Weekend rain will water the yews in nicely. I wish them well. I always feel responsible for the health of my plantings.

 

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This is a nice change from brown cedars. I hope all of these yews survive and thrive.

Improve your site appeal with fall planted bed changeover

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Species | No Comments

Fall is here and chances are if your planted beds are still full of annuals, they don’t look their best. And if they still do, think about changing them over soon. At one site, a strata council lady wanted us to plant winter annuals in amongst the old summer annuals; AND move some of the summer annuals around the complex. No way is that a good idea. Give it one cold day and summer annuals like begonias will turn to mush.

Time to switch

The simplest switch involves pulling your old summer annuals. And do it well. Dig up every single plant and rake out all broken flowers parts. Try not to remove too much soil as you do this.

If you have access to a rototiller, this is a good time to use it. Yes, tilling destroys soil structure but it’s Ok. Remember we’re not growing crops. The idea is to prepare your beds for easy planting. The softer the soil is for planting, the better it is for your wrists. When I worked at the City of Coquitlam our beds were so fluffy we didn’t need trowels!

If you don’t have a rototiller then just cultivate your bed nicely. That’s what I had to do last week and it was fine because I only had to work with six flats.

 

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Pulled summer annuals and cleaned up beds.

 

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Lay it out nicely to make sure the bed looks decent.

 

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Before you plant, remove the weak leaves at the base. Ornamental kale.

 

 

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Winter pansy.

 

 

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All done!

 

Don’t forget the critical last step: a courtesy blow. I had to remind my crew members to blow along the curb gently. Otherwise you risk getting debris blown in thereby ruining the show.

One extra twist

If you were planting spring bulbs, they would go in first. Obviously. Then the annuals would go on top. In spring, when the bulbs pop up, you remove the winter annuals. Then you sit back and enjoy your spring display. That’s called delayed gratification and after months of waiting, you deserve it.

 

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Final shot. Notice the courtesy blow. Always leave your work area as clean as possible. After all, this is a high-profile main entrance.

Don’t be shy with Roses

By | Pruning, Species | No Comments

Let me start this blog post by saying that I’m not an expert on roses. I know how to snip them and I know it’s usually done in February. Of course, there many rose varieties and lots of exceptions but on my commercial site I didn’t worry.

When I took the site over there was a lot of work to catch up on before lawn care started in the spring. Weeds were overdue and I also gave the lawns a nice, sharp blade edge.

By far the ugliest aspect of this commercial landscape were the roses. Since it was still technically winter it was easy to see the tangled mess inside the individual rose bushes. This is what happens when you quickly power shear the roses, season after season. Eventually, without good hand-pruning, the dead brown canes accumulate. Obviously, power shearing is quick and convenient. But I had time…..I was in charge now.

Dead canes

 

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This is a tangled mess full of dead canes oak leaves.

 

You will note the many brown dead canes. The dead is pruned out first. Then we move on to ugly twisted canes that rub or touch the ground. This pruning requires faith. Trust in your own work. By spring you will be rewarded.

 

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That’s much better.

 

 

This is the look we should aim for with nice canes pointing outward without crossing or rubbing each other. It looks too harsh at first. Just wait for summer. The rose plants push their available resources into the remaining canes. So for now we wait for the buds to swell and pop.

 

Growth and buds

 

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It’s all green and we have lots of buds. It’s just a matter of time.

 

See, everything is cool. We have new growth and flower buds. Correctly missing is the useless dead wood.

Summer success

 

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Summer success! It almost makes you forget the harsh look from winter.

 

Take a look at the second picture again. The one that made you cringe because it looked too harsh. Except it wasn’t. I would call this summer success. I knew it would work out because I have done it before. So don’t be shy, have some fun with your roses next February 2018 and watch them go.

The roses require some summer maintenance as the flowers fade. You can clip off the spent rose buds but be careful. Always look for upcoming rose flowers. Keep those on unless you’re pruning for shape. It’s OK to lose some flowers when a long cane reaches into the road for example.

 

 

Another Japanese Knotweed fight

By | Species, weeds | No Comments

Japanese knotweed is a nasty invasive perennial plant which destroys habitats especially around water bodies. As soon as I found a patch at a far corner of my site, I was on high alert. The invader probably benefitted from soil disturbances as condominium construction happened on both sites.

 

Headache

 

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Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

This is bound to be huge headache because our site is on the right and nobody is maintaining the area on the left. Since knotweed spreads by roots this will be a constant fight. Knotweed roots can extend for 20m from the parent plant and 3m deep. Definitely call or click before you dig. I hope the landscape maintenance company next door takes action soon.

 

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We didn’t have time to dig but we flush cut the hollow bamboo-like canes as close to the ground as possible. Some people are tempted to pour illegal substances on the stumps under cover of darkness. I know many municipalities use heavy chemicals that would be illegal for residents to apply. That’s how desperate it has become.

 

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One small clump generates lots of foliage and shade.

 

 

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City of Coquitlam, BC. This is a common roadside problem. The city sprayed this patch to keep it in check and off the roadway.

 

Knotweed details

The flowers on knotweed are actually attractive. They are small, white and grow in showy, plume-like, branched clusters along the plant stem and leaf joints. How can you make sure you’re dealing with knotweed in the absence of flowers? Look for the zigzag pattern in which leaves are arranged along the plant stems.

 

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Leaf and flower detail.

 

Knotweed isn’t the only bad boy invading our landscapes. There is a long list of others. Learn to recognize them and try to plant sound alternatives. Visit the Invasive Species Council of BC. They also have volunteer opportunities. But education is key.

Learning to recognize weeds is actually an important skill. New landscapers struggle in this department because machine use comes first. But once they do finesse-type work they need to recognize unwanted weeds from good plants. This takes time just like plant identification skills. Fortunately, there are only so many key weeds in our landscapes.

Chinese windmill palms on the West Coast

By | Arborist Insights, Species, Trees | No Comments

I love palms! They remind me of tropical locations we all love to visit. So when the August 2017 issue of Arborist News featured an article on palms, I finished it on the same day. It also gave me one credit towards my recertification.

This blog post features a palm we see in the Vancouver area. I learned about Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) after they got absolutely hammered this past winter at a client’s place. The lady was clearly distressed because the fronds were all beat up and brown. Plus, her palm was situated near her pool and outdoor kitchen. So I did the only thing I could; I pruned off the brown fronds. When my client retreated into her beautiful home, I snapped a photo of the palm tag and made a reminder to myself to check the species online.

 

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This poor palm didn’t make it. All growth originates from the top and clearly, not much is happening there. But perhaps there is hope. See the next picture.

 

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We almost gave up on this palm but look at it now!

 

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This specimen survived the winter nicely.

 

Winter hardiness

Trachycarpus fortunei is the most tolerant to cold temperatures of all palmate palms. But remember, our last winter in British Columbia was the harshest winter in thirty years. My boss almost lost his juvenile Chinese windmill palm this year. See the second picture above. And it just so happens that my boss and my client both live in an area which held on to snow the longest.

The other complication is that mature Chinese windmill palms handle cold better. Younger specimens are most susceptible.

Details

The Chinese windmill palm is a solitary fan palm with a slender trunk. The key distinguishing feature of this palm is a messy layer of brown fibers that turn gray with age.

 

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Note the messy fibers.

 

The palmate fronds are up to two feet (0.6m) wide and deeply divided into one inch (2.54cm) wide, stiff segments. The petiole is 1.5 feet (0.5m) long and armed along the base with blunt teeth. Yes, the teeth are blunt but weeding around this palm is still unpleasant.

Mature specimens can reach 25 feet (7.6m) in height. This species is a good selection for small gardens.

 

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All brown fronds should be pruned off.

 

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This is a picture after pruning.

 

What palms grow in your home area?

 

References: Arborist News August 2017 volume 26, number 4, pp. 12-21. This is an excellent article. If you are ISA certified you can earn 1 CEU credit.

Pachysandra terminalis comeback

By | Species | No Comments

Water plays a crucial part in life. Humans and plants both need it to survive. And as the Lower mainland in British Columbia stays hot we are reminded of the importance of water in the landscape. Which brings me to a site in Surrey.

Take a minute to examine the picture below.

 

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What do you see? Left to right, Hemerocallis, Pachysandra terminalis groundcover, grasses and Berberis thunbergii. That covers the plant species. Now, let’s back-up to last season.

2016

This high-profile bed next to a busy sidewalk was completely bare except for some struggling islands of Pachysandra terminalis, a slow-growing groundcover that flowers. Towering above are beautiful native Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

The strata council wasn’t very happy with this arrangement so they asked for a quote to put some plants in. And so we did. Closest to the sidewalk we put Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’, a much used perennial which flowered beautifully.

 

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Hemerocallis

 

Then came grasses and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Both species are tough once they establish. The purple Berberis foliage is attractive.

 

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Berberis thunbergii

 

 

Once we finished the install, we had to water the new plants and irrigation was checked and improved to protect them.

Comeback

Now back to the first picture above. Remember, we didn’t plant any Pachysandra terminalis in this bed. As irrigation came on, this groundcover came back. And furiously, considering that it’s a slow-growing plant. It’s now spreading throughout the bed as if it was reclaiming its bed from the new plants.

As it turns out, the groundcover simply didn’t have enough water. If the irrigation had been working properly all along, the new install wouldn’t have happened. I’m glad it did because it was a billable extra project; and it was fun because I worked alongside my boss.

If your plants struggle in the landscape check on them. Perhaps they just need extra care.

 

 

Little Giants

By | Species | No Comments

Today I got to plant a new cedar variety on a strata site! It’s always nice to get a little surprise like this. I’m used to planting cedars. We mainly plant Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ that form so many of our landscape hedges in the Lower Mainland. They get sheared once a year and look good. However, many of these cedars died in nasty heat waves and companies are starting to plant yews (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) instead.

 

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I planted lots of these Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’

 

Little Giants

One of my many tasks today was to install three Thuja occidentalis ‘Little Giant’ cedars. Excellent! Something new for me. So let’s meet the little giant just in case you have to plant it or decide to after reading this blog post.

This cedar is a slow growing, compact, globe shaped evergreen. It sports soft feathery bright green foliage. It works well as a small hedge or as foundation or border accent.

Its average size is 90-120cm tall and 90-120 wide.

Zone 3

It doesn’t flower.

Keep it moist in sunny locations. I planted them on a hot sunny day and watered them after planting. Then I encouraged the home owner to keep her little giants moist. Considering the condition of her begonias, I had my doubts. Cedars require water in their first year to establish well. Most companies are on site once a week and watering new installs isn’t very practical. Irrigated sites get watered twice a week in Metro Vancouver.

Little pruning is required but I’m sure I will eventually get to shear the little giants into globes.

This cedar needs acidic soils which is fine in the Vancouver area. It is suitable for containers.

Good companion plants are: Barberry, Dogwood, Potentilla, Spirea, Lilac, Sumac and Weigela.

Retail cost $39.99 plus tax in British Columbia. Nurseries will most likely give you a better deal, assuming they have stock.

 

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Thuja occidentalis ‘Little Giant’

 

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Coquitlam rose

By | Events, Species | No Comments

I love the idea of one city buying the naming rights to a rose variety. But having said that, I’m not really a great fan of roses. Their fragrances are intoxicating and I love the feel of their petals. But it’s unlikely you will ever see me joining a rose society. I personally prefer trees and forests; and wild plants. Roses with their prickles were always associated with some princess getting pricked and falling asleep for a hundred years. And yet, the idea of having my own rose variety is appealing.

Coquitlam rose

As a landscape blogger I had to be there for the official unveiling of the Coquitlam rose. It happened at the beautiful Centennial Rose Garden at the Dogwood Pavilion. Incidentally, I have good memories from the adjoining parking lot. I visited many farmer’s markets there; and I maintained the green spaces when I worked for the parks department there in 2014.

The rose garden is well worth the visit. If you are in the area definitely stop by.

 

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Having elected to not return to the City of Coquitlam, I hung back until the officials cleared out so as to avoid any awkward moments. Then I took as many pictures of the new Coquitlam rose as I wanted. And I surveyed the bowling green next door for chafer damage since I got to witness nematode applications there the year before.

The rose

The Coquitlam rose is salmon-colored and locally bred. It’s hardy, disease resistant and long blooming. That’s a nice list. The official unveiling took place at the Centennial Rose Garden at the Dogwood Pavilion. The Coquitlam rose is also planted at city hall and at the Inspiration Garden.

You can watch a video on the Coquitlam rose by Jennifer Urbaniak who runs the fun activities in Coquitlam parks. Jennifer also sat the Red Seal challenge examination with me at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Our fear of failure and embarrassment pushed us in the right direction. We both passed! She snagged a sweet full-time job and I became a landscape senior supervisor in the private sector. Both Red Seals win!

Go visit the Coquitlam rose in 2017 and see what you think.

 

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Native Indian plum

By | Species | No Comments

The Indian plum shrub, Oemleria cerasiformis, is the first native Pacific Northwest deciduous shrub to flower in spring. I keep seeing it on our strata sites, especially on wild forested edges. Yesterday, while I was preparing a new bed for planting, a resident asked me about it. And I had no idea what it was called. I knew it was a native but the botanical name takes some getting used to.

So I finally took the time to look it up and give it its own blog post. After the harsh winter we have just experienced, it’s very nice to see the white creamy flowers and green leaves. And I will be able to answer people’s questions about it.

Oemleria cerasiformis is medium to tall shrub, about 1-5m tall, with clumped arching stems which are pith chambered.

The white flowers are in loose drooping clusters. Male and female flowers are found on separate shrubs so insects are required for pollination. As the season progresses, we get orange fruit. The fleshy drupes look like plums as they ripen and turn blue. The plums are bean shaped, about 1 cm long, and birds love them. From my reading I understand that the plums don’t last very long. Birds really love them.

Leaves are alternate, deciduous and lanceolate. Crushed, they smell like cucumbers.

The Indian plum shrub is commonly associated with Cornus sericea, Sambucus racemosa and Symphoricarpos albus.

 

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White flowers and green foliage on my dirty hand; spring has arrived!

 

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Early summer fruit; orange (Photo by permission from nwplants.com)

 

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Ripe fruits look like plums and birds love them! (Photo by permission from nwplants.com)

 

The Indian plum shrub is very noticeable as I write this in mid-April. It deserves to be planted in people’s gardens. The creamy white flowers are great and birds love this shrub.

Now I just have to practice the botanical name. Oemleria cerasiformis.

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.