Monthly Archives

June 2017

Examining details in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance | One Comment

In my capacity as landscape supervisor I continuously examine landscapes and look for details. Here is what I found last week.


Tree suckers




Since we don’t want branches developing this low on our boulevard trees it’s best to snip them off. I always carry snips on my belt so this was a quick job. One exception would be really young trees. On young trees the lower branched shield the bark from potential sunshine damage. We can leave lower branches on, noting their eventual removal in subsequent seasons.


Lawn care rookies

Staff training never really ends. I like to gently point out mistakes and suggest corrections. As soon as possible. Just remember that some skills require significant amount of time to master. This applies to line trimming. Our new girl is still terrified of causing damage so she lacks the required aggression. Driftwood is fairly solid so we can take some liberties and get close enough to remove the shaggy grass edge. If driftwood chips fly off, we are obviously too close. We’ll give her more practice time on the line edger and she will improve. I know it takes time.



Our new worker will eventually get close enough so the shaggy edge is removed down to mower height. Practice time required.



This massive “Mohawk” is hard to explain.


Weak trees

It’s easy to spot the one weak red maple (Acer rubrum) on this street. Then you have to ask why it’s so weak when its sisters are doing fine. We found out the cause when we attempted to plant boxwoods around the weakling. The soil was so waterlogged we delayed the boxwood planting.

Water displaces oxygen in the soil and if nothing changes, plants suffocate and die. I believe the water leak problem has been corrected so we’ll see what happens with the red maple. My fingers are crossed.



One weak Acer rubrum surrounded by thriving sisters.


Cedar hedges



I personally planted these two cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’). So I check on them when I can to see if they’re getting watered. Cedars are thirsty in their first year.

Then this week I noticed a wooden trellis around the cedars. The owner had installed it to protect the cedars. But all I see is shading. The trellis blocks light and will most likely lead to browning. That’s not what the lady wanted to hear.

The above is what I noticed on my sites last week. Pay attention to landscape details.

What did you notice?



Obstruction in the landscape

By | landscape maintenance, Pruning, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Obstruction in the landscape is a well-known theme but it’s often missed or ignored. Especially by newer crew leaders and workers. So let’s examine some cases of obstruction and learn from them.


Spring rains

This is what happens after spring rains and early season growth. All of a sudden we have obstruction everywhere. Immediate corrective action is required by people’s front doors.





It happens all the time. Your new worker concentrates on his lawns and in his rush to complete the work places his tarps on walkways. Then a senior citizen pulls up in a motorized scooter and we have a problem. If you think senior citizens aren’t capable to angry outbursts and middle finger salutes, think again. Never block walkways.



This isn’t the best place for a tarp.



Much better and stress-free!



Signs exist because they have a message to convey. It’s easy for vegetation to obscure them so check your sites and take action. This is especially true for sites you have recently taken over.





Much better.



All exits should be clear. This example is from a neglected strata site. I pruned off the offending maple tree (Acer circinatum) branches in a few minutes. The residents must have been ducking here for months.





Another walkway example with Indian plum going wild.



Problem solved!



Peonies usually require staking and more space. I used a bit of string and two minutes.






Parking stalls

Parking stalls should always be clear of any obstructions. This took one cut with my snips.







Vehicle site lines

This one is much harder to spot. Residents driving out couldn’t clearly see other approaching vehicles so I had to prune the maples. Note that you should be able to see through Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) anyway.






Dog waste

This is a most disagreeable topic but let’s not be shy. This is what it looks like on the ground for landscape maintenance workers. The ignored long grass indicates the presence of large dog waste piles. So in this case the obstruction is created by the owners.



Dog waste in the open, urine soaked lawn and hidden inside shaggy islands.


Future obstruction

This is an interesting small yard. I once took the liberty of pruning a few branches off this Magnolia so we could get through the gate. The owner had a fit, calling us nasty names. Unjustly, I believe. She planted two Magnolias in her small yard never bothering to read the tree tags still attached to the trees. Considering the future size of these trees I fully expect this owner to beg me to prune her trees in the future. Always consider the mature size of your new trees before planting them.





Obstruction in the landscape is a well-known theme. Train your workers to spot it and correct it.

Product testing SA CO face shield

By | Reviews | No Comments




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.



In company colour.



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.



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




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.


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.





Weeds we fight: snapweed

By | weeds | No Comments

There are many native plants that are considered weeds in horticulture and one such plant is little Western bittercress (Cardamine oligosperma). It’s actually a nice little plant. But read on because you will soon find out why we fight this weed in our landscapes. I see it on all of our sites. The best procedure is to fight it before it flowers and produces seeds.



Flowers and upright siliques full of seeds



Cardamine oligosperma is a fast-growing native to Western North America. It’s an annual or biennial herb which grows from a taproot. It’s usually 20cm tall and grows in a branched form.

Flowers have four white petals 2-4 mm long.



Brownish colour indicates maturity and chances of explosions



Cardamine oligosperma fruit is a narrow exploding silique 1.5 mm wide with 15-22 seeds. Seeds are oblong-ovate and they are the plant’s mode of propagation. This is great information for landscapers.

Another common name for this plant is snapweed. This is because when the siliques mature they explode. You can touch them and have some fun with exploding seeds. Just don’t do it on my sites. Remember what we do with weeds: we get to them before they flower or worse, produce seeds.

I had some fun today. I ran my fingers over a mature Cardamine oligosperma and tried to catch as many exploding seeds as I could. The photo below shows the result. Now imagine if you let a patch of snapweed mature and explode seeds all over your landscape. You are looking at a fight next season. So get to them before they mature.




One silique and seeds in my landscaper hand


In conclusion, get to know little Western bittercress or snapweed (Cardamine oligosperma) and fight it in your landscapes. It might be a cute native herb but we can’t let it produce seeds on our sites.

How to change your lawn mower oil in the field

By | Lawn Care, Tips | No Comments

Spring is here and weekly lawn care is part of our routine. Our commercial machines see daily use and work extremely hard for us as we deliver great looking lawn care.  On some days the mowers will run all day. Five days a week all the way to November.

Key changes

To keep the machines running well all year there are a few key things we can do them. We have to change oil, air filter, blades and pull cords. Luckily most of these tasks can be done in the field on the fly. Some landscape companies employ small engine mechanics, some take the machines back to their shops for maintenance. But to save time, it makes sense to make easy adjustments in the field.



I love this light, simple commercial Honda mower.


I openly confess to struggling with machines. I prefer handling plant material. But again, my advice to all landscapers is to become total professionals by knowing everything. That includes machines. So I took notes today when our guys were changing oil in the field.

Oil change in the field

Let’s take a look at a simple commercial Honda push mower.

  1. Locate the oil tank.





2. Now we need to extract the used oil. It might help to run the mower briefly so the oil flows better. We used a fluid evacuator. Simply stick the hose into your oil tank and start pumping until the oil is out.  Never pollute. Put the used oil into your empty oil container and recycle it at a proper facility.




3. Replenish your oil with the proper formulation. Check the owner’s manual. We used 10W-30 Lucas oil. The Honda push mower requires 250mL of new oil. The exact amount will depend on the model of your lawn mower.

Frequency of oil changes will depend on actual use. Our machines work hard all season so we change the oil every two weeks. One oil change for every twenty to fifty hours of use is a general guide.

My old Honda mower sees limited action so I change the oil once a year. However, that might be a mistake. I think seasonal oil changes would be better: spring, summer and fall.





A funnel and measuring cup


In conclusion, it’s obvious that your mower will run better and last longer with regular oil changes. It definitely pays to stop during your busy week to do this quick change. Schedule it into your week and do it.




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.



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’