Another Japanese Knotweed fight

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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.




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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.




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.




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.



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.



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.



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



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.


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.



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.



All brown fronds should be pruned off.



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

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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.




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.


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.





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



Berberis thunbergii



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


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

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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.



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.



Thuja occidentalis ‘Little Giant’



Coquitlam rose

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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.




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.




Native Indian plum

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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.



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



Early summer fruit; orange (Photo by permission from



Ripe fruits look like plums and birds love them! (Photo by permission from


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 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.



Budburst in our native Sambucus.

When landscapers decorate their house walls

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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.


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.












How to have fun with winter plant ID

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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)



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.




Choisya arizonica (Aztec pearl)



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.




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.



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.




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

Yours to discover: Acer campestre

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Species | No Comments

First encounter with Acer campestre

Working in Langley, BC on an early spring day, I noticed a low tree branch obstructing an entrance. This is called ‘landscape eye’ and the subject of an earlier blog post. So out came my snips and the branch was cleared out of the way. In seconds. Then the ‘bleeding’ started! In seconds. Oops. I noticed the samaras and only then realized this was a maple tree. The actual species name escaped me because this was our first encounter. I would later look it up and a blog was born.


Maple rule

Maples are ‘bleeders’. They lose large amounts of sap when pruned at the wrong time. This is the maple rule: prune before Christmas or in summer. This was early spring so the sap ‘bleeding’ was noticeable. One week later it had stopped. Thankfully.

If you prune in summer, make sure it’s not under drought conditions. Under drought conditions, trees close their leaf openings to avoid water loss. This means that carbon dioxide can’t enter and food can’t be produced. The tree lives on reserves stored in its branches. If you prune too many branches off, you can starve the tree.


Field maple details

Campestre means ‘from fields’. It is an attractive medium-sized deciduous street tree. It tolerates urban conditions like drought, clay soils, air pollution and soil compaction. It prefers full sun to part shade conditions. It has yellow fall color and can be pruned, sometimes even harshly. In Europe it’s shaped into hedges.

The leaves have five blunt lobes.

This is a low-maintenance street tree. The only work I have done on these trees is walkway clearance. I have yet to encounter this maple species on other sites.

Have you seen Acer campestre?



5 lobes and samaras



Not much work to be done on these trees, other than walkway and house obstruction



City street location with plenty of sun