Monthly Archives

February 2017

Winter tree plant ID quiz: advanced edition

By | Arborist Insights, Plant Species Information | No Comments

As I write this blog post, the Lower Mainland is experiencing the harshest winter in thirty years! Last week some of our days were shorter so I used the time to study and to create blog posts. I think this might be a good time to look back at the 2016 season and review some tree names.

This tree ID quiz features lots of seeds and plant parts. It will challenge new landscapers. Do your best. Veterans should be able to ace it. Find the botanical names. Common names are fine but get used to learning botanical names.

Ten questions. Why not challenge your co-workers and friends. Check your answers below. 10 botanical names= 10 points; take 1/2 points if you only know the common name.

Plant identification skills are critical to our success as landscape professionals. Getting to know plants can be hard work but it’s also fun to know what populates your landscapes. Once you know what you have you can maintain it properly. You can also educate your clients and your new co-workers.


































10/10: ask for a raise! You might be ISA or landscape certified

7+: veteran landscaper

5+: not bad!

1-5: review the whole list and ace my next quiz



  1. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree flower parts; the tree flowers AND leafs out at the same time which is why people often miss the flowers)
  2. Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum-common landscape tree and beautiful alternative to maples)
  3. Styrax japonica (common landscape tree with beautiful snowbell flowers)
  4. Alnus rubra (native alder)
  5. Robinia pseudoacacia (long seed pods are hard to miss in the fall)
  6. Quercus robur (English oak, nice change from pin oaks Quercus palustris)
  7. Carpinus betulus (prominent seed catkins, another great street tree)
  8. Rhus typhina (huge staghorn sumac fruit cluster)
  9. Metasequoia glyptostroboides (one of the few evergreens that loses its needles; sports gorgeous tree bark)
  10. Fagus sylvatica (four seeds fit nicely into each pod, once they dried out at home they popped their seeds)


The hardest day of 2016

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

The plan for our sunny summer day was fairly simple. Remove a circle of astro turf and turn the area into a grass field. Fine. Working with your boss is what I always recommend to our workers. I had no idea this day would almost kill me. A day before my vacation flight to Japan no less. It was easily my hardest day of 2016.

Step 1: remove astro turf

The turf peeled off quite nicely and the rolls we created were nice and neat; if slightly ambitious. For as we soon found out, the turf was brutally heavy sitting as it was on sand. This would be the hardest part of the job. The chunks were heavy and had to be moved by wheelbarrow to a nearby truck.

As the removal progressed, the rolls got smaller and uglier. By the end of it, we couldn’t even call them rolls. Both wheelbarrows were on their last legs. We loaded and dumped three truck loads for a total of 8,500kg. Where were the young guys which my boss insists the landscape industry is built for?



All rolled up, and the brutality begins. There was no easy access for our truck.


Sep 1 completed, and my body was completely exhausted


Step 2: blow in some soil

This was a joke compared to step one. A company showed up and blew in the required amount of soil on top of the sand base. This used to be a putting green when the two residential towers were built. Massively underused, the strata finally decided to make changes. Grass field it was.




Step 3: hydroseeding

So you want grass on what used to be a putting green. Now what? You have a few options to consider.

Hand seeding may result in a patchy lawn and it may take longer to establish.

Sod is expensive and the installation is time consuming. Also consider the headache of sodding a circular putting green. Sodded lawns also have lines and there could be transplant issues because the sod is laid on soil the grass wasn’t grown in.

Hydroseeding is a fast and easy alternative. It uses a slurry of seed and mulch and produces beautiful lawns in just weeks, at a fraction of the cost! This was my first direct experience with hydroseeding and looking at the pictures, I’m convinced it works well.







I won’t soon forget this brutal day. I thoroughly deserved my long visits to Japanese hot spring baths.




Grinding through winter landscapes

By | Landscaping, Seasonal, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Last year came to a close with unusually cold temperatures and lots of snow in the Lower Mainland. As I write this blog post in early February, 2017, the cold weather continues. While working in cold weather with frosty landscapes can get very old and annoying, there is work. If you look closely. Some of it is obvious; some of it requires imagination. Consider yourself lucky if your employer let’s you work. In winter seasons past I used to get my work hours cut just because it happened to be foggy outside. Foggy!


The obvious

Snow clearing from walks and roads. The obvious and back-breaking task. Dress well and have some spare snow shovels ready. Just in case. Hydrate properly. Clear off high-profile walkways and car ramps.


Brushing snow of plants. Gently take the load off. This will prevent damage. The Nandina domestica below must feel better.



Surveying for damage. There will be branches to prune off and shrubs to stake or tie back.

Tree pruning. Assuming it’s not extremely cold outside, tree pruning is a perfect winter activity. The crown structure is clearly visible. Identify broken, crossing and rubbing branches; and anything dead or diseased. Identify every single tree species on your site using scientific names.

Cedars. Unless it’s extremely cold outside and positioning your ladder looks sketchy, cedar hedges can be sheared. Don’t forget you can warm up your hands on the gear case of your power shears. Just make sure the shear blades are stopped! No, it’s not very safe but what do you do with frost bitten hands?

Perennial and grass cutback. Some perennials get missed in fall or they are left to provide some winter interest. For example, Sedums and ornamental grasses. If you see snow damage it’s OK to cut them back.


The less obvious

River rock install. This was unexpected but it made perfect sense. Imagine a deserted landscape supply store on a cold morning. Loading my truck was quick and easy. No waiting. The client needed to cover up plastic that was protruding from her patio rocks. So we buried it with 2-6″ rover rock. As she came out to inspect the work and point out the protruding plastic, we enjoyed the heat escaping from her unit!

Drains. It’s critical to expose all snow covered drains. Before the surrounding areas flood. This step often gets skipped because it’s assumed municipalities are responsible for it. They are but they’re also busy. Be glad you have some work to do.

Exploring new sites. As new sites come on, this is a good time to familiarize yourself with your new work areas. Walk every inch, make notes, written and mental. Take pictures. Survey. You’ll be glad you did when the weather improves. This includes site clubhouses with washrooms and heat. Consider a brief safety meeting as you defrost. Just don’t make a mess.

Tree stake removal. Check to see how long the tree stakes have been on the trees. Anything over one year should be removed. Unless it’s a special case like downhill leaning pines that would collapse instantly. Staked trees fail to form reaction wood which is formed when wind events run though. It makes trees stronger.



Tree training. Now is a good time to take a new arboriculture apprentice and point out weak, crossing and damaged branches.

Blowing snow. I hate blowers and the noise they make but there are cases when blowing snow makes a lot of sense. We exposed the light top layer and shovelled the remainder, thus saving ourselves a lot of time and back-breaking labour. Ice can also be blown away if you’re patient enough to let air build up under the ice. This can actually be a fun activity.



There is winter work to be done even when the weather does not cooperate. Just do it safely. Dress properly. I spent money today on a new, warmer toque, $1.99 on a neck warmer, and new, what I hope will be much warmer gloves. Test day tomorrow. There will be food on the table for my kids. That thought always warms me up!

It’s also a good idea to enjoy the frosty landscape views. Kids make cute snowmen; the mountains look great covered in white. Make the best of it.




Tree topping requests

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

Tree topping requests never go away. Never. Case in point. A strata owner in Maple Ridge walks up saying it’s time to “trim” his trees. (I prefer the term prune; trimming sounds suspicious.) So off we go to check it out. Outside his backyard fence -all of it belonging to strata- stand two perfectly healthy trees: Acer rubrum and Liquidambar styraciflua.

The key issue

The owner is upset because Mt. Baker is no longer clearly visible from his back balcony. He wants the trees “trimmed” to the level of his deck. Roughly 30% off the top, which means topping. He invites me to his house to see for myself. I decline. Since I signed ISA’s code of conduct, I am obligated to inform him that topping trees is a horrific idea. He doesn’t care. This is about his view.

Why is tree topping bad? (Get a complete pdf file here.)

  1. The trees produce weakly attached pseudo-branches from the top cuts which gets insurance companies very excited. Weakly attached branches tend to fail.
  2. It leads to decay.
  3. It leads to sunburn.
  4. It stresses the tree.
  5. It’s ugly.
  6. It’s expensive.



The owner of the corner unit wants both trees “trimmed” to the level of his patio….



The City of Maple Ridge is unlikely to allow a massive crown reduction on two perfectly healthy trees.


Strata letter

One week later the same gentleman produced a letter from his strata council stating that it was OK to trim his trees at his landscaper’s discretion. The future health of both trees had to be accounted for. As it turns out, the City of Maple Ridge has new tree bylaws from January 2016. Topping is clearly prohibited. Of course! Tree can be removed if they are deemed dangerous or in poor health, after city inspections to confirm this is really the case. There are fees to pay and replacements to install.


The best we can do as landscape maintenance professionals responsible for the site is thinning of the tree crowns. It would not hurt the trees and it would partially recover the owner’s view of Mt. Baker. Perhaps he will invite us in for tea?