Monthly Archives

September 2017

Bronze birch borer related pruning

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

Because I am ISA certified, tree-related tasks are automatically given to me by default. And that’s fine. This blog post is about a birch tree which exhibited top dieback. So I was sent in with pole pruners and an extendable Stihl chainsaw to take care of the request.



It’s not super clear but the top leader is dead.


Once I took out all of the dead branches, I pruned the live parts of the tree to give it some sort of shape. Then I hauled out the debris up to the road for later truck pick up. Only later did I realize that my boss expected me to take the whole tree down! Not my style anyway.

Since we suspected the cause of the dieback to be the bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius) my approach was correct. Pruning out affected limbs is the way to do it. I just couldn’t burn the diseased branches on a strata site surrounded by woods. My only hope is that no adults emerged before the debris was processed with other green waste.

Bronze birch borer

Adult bronze birch borers are half an inch long and have slender dark green bodies with metallic bronze sheen. In summer, females lay their eggs in bark crevices of weak and stressed birches. They prefer sunny, south facing branches.

Larvae hatch 14 days later, enter the bark and feed on sapwood. After one or two years adults emerge by chewing D-shaped holes in the bark.


So let’s review. Bronze birch borers cause treetop dieback, leaf wilting on branches and D-shaped exit holes in the bark

What can we do?

Since the bronze birch borer only picks on weak and stressed birches we should keep our birches in good shape with regular watering, feeding and pruning. Also, put your birches in shadier corners.

One other idea is to plant birch borer resistant river birch (Betula nigra) cultivars.

If you are lucky, you will get some help from natural allies like parasitic non-stinging wasps and woodpeckers.

The birch featured in this blog post is still alive and standing.



After removing all dead branches and pruning others to give the tree some sort of natural shape.


Source: GardenMaking magazine no.30, pp.56 and 58.

Why the CanWest Horticulture show is a riot

By | Events | No Comments

I’m so glad I overcame my shyness years ago and approached my employer for time off so I could attend my first CanWest. The CanWest horticulture show is the best industry event in the Lower Mainland.

But before I dive into why this event is a riot, I would be remiss if I didn’t give thanks to my employer. My fees and wages were generously covered and the company was short-staffed this week. Always ask your employer for help.

Urban Forester’s Symposium

This happens on day one and runs all day 8-3. The fee includes lunch which consisted of pasta, lasagna and salads. Two speakers covered three lectures. Guy Meilleur covered pruning after a storm and managing old trees. I had no idea that he was behind the popular “Detective Dendro” articles that appeared in Arborist News. Julian Dunster covered “Field assessment skills for common Pacific Northwest tree diseases”.

I will cover the science part of the lectures in separate blogs. Just let me say that all three lectures were fascinating. The only problem was with the organizers who put two lectures next to each other separated only by a flimsy black curtain. So I got two lectures in one but it was annoying. I can only imagine what the lecturers were thinking.

As soon as I got home I e-mailed thank you notes to both lecturers. I also missed some of the references to extra reading and important people. I hope they can hook me up.



Plant ID booth

As soon as my symposium was over I headed straight for the plant ID booth. It’s a fun way to test yourself. I scored 100% just like last year and, as usual, the last two plants were the most challenging. This year they were Phlox subulata and Andromeda polifolia. You can attempt the test yourself by visiting here. Message me for answers. I will post them later once readers had a chance to attempt it.


This event is also great for mingling because inevitably you run into old bosses, managers and co-workers. Then you exchange business cards and catch up. Of course, some people you’d rather not see but that’s how it goes.

Some people I only see on Facebook so it’s nice to connect face to face. One West Vancouver city worker recognized my name in the food line. He had read my blogs because we both know a well-known journeyman horticulturist. See, it’s a big net. Sales guru Grant Cardone says obscurity is your enemy. All landscapers should be hanging out at CanWest. Mingle and get to know people. Hand out your cards. Hook up on social media.


Yes, many of the booths have jars and baskets full of cheap sugar sweets but stop by and see what’s available. I found bright coloured succulents and checked out plant tags. A sort of plant ID cool down after my plant ID test.

One lady showed me her new and improved plastic pot and plant tag system. The plant tags stay nice and tight on the side of the pot. I told her that also makes them very hard to steal when I run into a plant I don’t know.

If you get tired you can have a beer or buy lunch inside or from food trucks outside. And if you need a job, there is a two-sided panel full of job opportunities. You can even start an apprenticeship.

If you missed this year’s CanWest, mark your calendar for late September 2018. It’s well worth the price.




Fall is perfect for landscape projects

By | Company News | One Comment

Fall is a perfect time for landscape projects like soil and river rock installs. Take today for example. My whole day just flew by and it was nice and sunny. I remember these days when snow starts falling in winter. Let’s take a look at my day.

River rock

This was actually round two for river rock installs at this particular strata complex. Round one involved removing a weak lawn. It was basically a dog patch and the smell in summer was overwhelming. So I removed it and installed river rock.

Round two involved removing Vinca major (periwinkle), which is now considered invasive, and replacing it with 2″-6″ river rock. I like these permanent solutions. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year there will be round three.

Once the periwinkle was removed I dug deeper and cut a few selected roots off the two poplars. Since the soil was fine I disposed of it on site in the back wild zone.

Since efficiency is important, I moved my truck as close as I could to the bed and went at it. The entire load was 1.5 yards of 2″-6″ river rock; tax included $78.

There is one important step you have to take before you pack it in. Find a hose and wash off the river rock. Leaving it all sandy would detract from your finished look. I had to find hoses and outlets which was annoying but well worth the effort. Also hose off the curb.





Remove some soil so the river rock is nicely anchored.



Take the time to hose off the sandy river rock.



All done!



Aged mulch install

Next I moved to the front entrance. The main strip bed has newly planted trees and shrubs but the soil didn’t look great. So I installed two yards of aged mulch at $80 tax included. It gives this high-profile bed an instant new look. It will settle eventually but I love the fluffy look. It’s money well spent.



Aged mulch purchased literally two blocks away.



All done. Note clean edges.


Cool down

I wasn’t done yet. My end of the day ‘cool down’ involved one unwanted Thuja plicata tree. I hate removing perfectly healthy trees but I had to complete all work listed in the strata quote. That way the boss can send out his invoice.

Some days click perfectly and the hours fly by. This was one of those days. And I hope there are many more.

Fall is a great time for landscape projects like soil and river rock installs. What can you change about your property?


Can you fake a new turf install?

By | Company News, Lawn Care | No Comments

I don’t recommend it but it’s possible to fake your new turf installation. I got to see it last week but it definitely wasn’t my first time. It happens from time to time with home owners. If professional landscapers worked like this they wouldn’t be professionals.

Let me start by saying that I give people full marks for taking action and trying things out even though they aren’t professionals; and don’t want to pay for professional help or fight with their strata council. This example comes from Langley. The mother-daughter pair looked very happy with their project. They evidently googled it.


Faking it!

The idea is very simple. When you get tired of looking at your weak, beat up and dog urine soaked lawn you simply purchase new turf chunks and plop them on top of the existing grass. There. Done.

Normally you would use a turf cutter to remove the existing turf and rototiller to work the soil. Obviously, this would make the project much harder for busy home owners working outside in the middle of a heat wave. I repeat, I give them full marks for trying and for their enthusiasm but we’ll see how well the new sod does.




Does it work?

I think they’re pushing their luck and here’s why?

a) The soil should be nicely prepared ahead of time. All existing turf should be removed and the soil nicely turned over with a rototiller. Then, we rake it over and roll it flat with a roller.

Since we’re in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave, the soil should be well watered-in days before any sod installation happens.

Sod roots poorly on poor soil. It requires porous, moist and cool conditions. This project didn’t any of the three criteria. How does the sod root into existing turf below? It can’t be easy. I wouldn’t call it porous. Remember, most of the sod roots have been shaved off so now it will be a struggle to absorb water efficiently.

b) The mother and, I must point out, very cute daughter underestimated the amount of sod they would require. But unlike time-stressed landscape contractors they cheerily drove off to get more. You can go online and use sod calculators. All you need to know is the length and width of your yard. Hint: always order a few extra pieces to allow for mistakes and mishaps, theft, etc.

c) I feel like the ladies rushed the install, thereby leaving huge gaps. Ideally, the sod pieces should fit together nicely. In this yard you are inviting weeds to sprout in the gaps. They should also consider the application of turf starter fertilizer.

On the way home we reminded them about watering the new sod religiously and wished them well. Since we maintain this site weekly, I’m hoping to have follow up pictures. It makes for an interesting case study. Can you fake a new turf install?



Always install new sod same day and never leave it over 24 hours.



Client signs in landscape maintenance

By | Landscaping | No Comments

Since most clients have jobs and don’t get to see their landscape maintenance workers, they put up sings. And now that the pictures are accumulating, I thought it might be fun to share some of them in a blog post.


Sometimes not seeing strata clients can be a good thing. Once, many seasons ago, I was sent to a nasty site to save it. It was obvious that the regular crew wasn’t managing the site properly. First, I took two helpers and cut the large site by lunch, not over two days like the regulars. Of course, this completely soaked my work shirt with sweat. I find that many new workers aren’t ready to suffer this much, worried as they are about their pay rates.

Second, we picked the weediest beds and attacked them in logical sections as a team. If you split up and approach your site in helter-skelter manner, you will be doomed. Always work as a team and methodically.

Third, a terrible idea came to me. I decided to stay longer and fight the weeds after letting the crew go home. Except, the home owners started coming home and they were mad! People came out to ask me about the horrific state of their units and I had very little to tell them. Afraid for my life, I packed it up and left. My then-employer lost the maintenance contract shortly after that.


Fun with signs



This is a good sign. We can move on to other pressing tasks. No problem.



This happens a lot. Extra short, extra long, or not at all. We adjust mower heights and cut. Just remember to put your wheels back to their original height.



We are lucky to have a proper washroom on this site. It’s not always the case. On some sites we have workers driving off to answer their nature calls.

Getting young dudes covered in grass clippings to clean up and shed their boots isn’t always easy.




These people had recently made the switch from grass to artificial turf and left a reminder for our young guys. As European chafer beetles attack, heat waves hit and dogs urinate, owners like these happily invest money and switch. It means less maintenance work but the soil underneath is doomed.


IMG_6708 (2)ed


Directly in front of this sign is a decapitated lily and I feel for the lady. It means the crew leader has more training to do with his line trimmers. Zero damage is the goal. I find that middle-aged women especially are attached to their plants. Destroying their plants isn’t good landscape maintenance. Be careful. You are the guest on site.




The owner of this clematis is pro-active so the vine is still intact. I just hope the line trimmer dude slows down enough to notice the sign. To be fair, the dudes are asked to perform their tasks quickly and perfectly. It’s easy to forget to look ahead.




This sign must be included because dog waste problems are horrific in landscape maintenance. This couple neglected their grass so badly that all of our mowers ignored it. Then the owner got upset, made phone calls using expletives and shouted obscenities at our workers. Now, finally, they pick-up like they were supposed to from day one. I was filling in for a girl on vacation last week and mowed this place without incident.

It’s easy to love your self-propelled mower

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

New landscapers usually start by mowing lawns with push mowers. They’re simple machines with one pull cord and they’re light. Then, as the worker progresses, he gets to use a self-propelled mower.

As the name suggests, the mower is self-propelled which means you don’t have to push it as much. This comes in handy when you mow long or sloping sections. I absolutely love seeing the faces of my new workers light up as they discover the mower’s pull.

One important detail

After you gas up your mower with straight gas, you have two more steps to complete. Use the pull cord to start the mower and then, in step two we engage the blades. Normally there is a small button on a bar which we must depress. Obviously, different machines have different set-ups.

Once your machine is on, engage your blade. This should be easy to spot as the machine gets louder and your mower bag gets all puffy. Make sure your blade is engaged.



The yellow button on the bottom engages the blades.


True stories

Nothing gets your boss more excited than having a worker mow the front of a high-profile club house for 25 minutes without actually cutting a single blade of grass. This is a true story and the crew leader heard about it from his boss. Make sure your blades are engaged. Ask if you’re not sure. This is basic training you should receive from your superiors.


What if you’re trained and your blades still won’t engage? This happened to me recently when I was filling in for a sick worker. I gassed up my mower, picked up my green waste tarps and left. Except my blades wouldn’t engage. What now?

Frustrated, I stopped the engine and tipped the mower on its side. Incredibly, there was a plastic pot stuck between the blades and deck. Was it a freak accident or the crew having some fun with their senior supervisor? I laughed it off and mowed all morning.



Very funny! A plastic pot jammed between the blades and deck. No wonder the blades wouldn’t engage.


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.




IMG_6740 (1)ed

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.


IMG_6742 (1)ed

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.

Garden Making magazine scaling back

By | gardening, Magazines | No Comments

Garden Making magazine is the best garden magazine in Canada. It’s beautifully designed and full of interesting articles. So it was a bit distressing to read that the magazine’s publishing schedule is changing. Welcome to our digital age.

The magazine will not be published this fall. The next issue will come out in February 2018. You almost have to ask what the point is of publishing a magazine just twice a year. I will still buy it because I find consuming electronic garden magazines difficult. My Horticulture subscription is electronic by necessity, not by choice. I find the foreign print subscription charges way too high. So I get it delivered to my iPad.

Market realities

According to a letter from the publisher fewer people are subscribing to magazines and advertisers are diverting their spending to digital media. Those are the market realities. So I am encouraged to visit And maybe I will.

But I also make frequent visits to my local Chapter’s and it’s obvious that magazines aren’t dead yet. Fine Gardening is my favourite US-based magazine and highly recommended.

I think Garden Making can do quite well in the digital landscape. They have a nice list of subscribers. And they also follow others in offering free e-books and tips in exchange for people’s e-mails. Then comes the digital format magazine and plenty of upsell. I know it. Get ready for it.

Electronic magazine publishing must be a breeze compared to print. The publisher and editor both admit in their editorial that publishing the print magazine is more about labour of love than profits. I believe them.


I love to save clippings of interesting articles and plants. And as the files accumulate my wife tells me frequently what she thinks of this habit. Now it looks as though I will have to start making new folders on my laptop. Perhaps some change is good.

Still, the magazine’s new reduced publishing schedule is not what I wanted to hear. I really looked forward to receiving my quarterly issues. I would have loved to see bi-monthly issues.

What do YOU read? Leave comments, if you can.



Still purchasing lady beetles for your garden?

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

A few years ago I met a home owner at one of our sites and she told me about her annual lady beetle buy and release events. I smiled politely and privately thought she was insane and had way too much disposable income. She paid $16.95 retail plus tax for a bag of lady beetles. As we learn from the fact sheet below this biocontrol business is extremely lucrative.




Now, a few seasons later,  there is a new Fact Sheet from the University of Washington Extension that clarifies the issue and it happens to be co-authored by my favourite horticulture scientist Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott.

As it turns out many gardeners buy lady beetles for their gardens and landscapes. And the fact sheet concludes that “release to open gardens and landscapes is unlikely to be successful.” Now my burning question is answered.


Adult and larval beetles control aphids and scale insects, mites, beetle larvae and immature bugs.


Aphid problem

The site mentioned above has lots of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) which are known to attract aphids. The aphids suck on the new leaves but otherwise don’t harm the trees. Incidentally, don’t miss tulip tree flowers. They are spectacular.

Since aphids can’t process sugars, they excrete them. That’s why honeydew drops on leaves, cars and sidewalks. Then lady beetle sales go up. The lady swore that her lady beetle releases are effective. OK.

But perhaps you don’t have to spend your after-tax dollars on lady beetles. What if you can attract them naturally? Grasses and wildflowers will attract them to your gardens. Lawns not so much.

As we learn from the fact sheet, lady beetles eat fungus, fruit and occasionally vegetation. Adults look for sugar sources such as nectar or honeydew. These energy-rich supplemental foods improve lady beetle reproduction and survival over winter.

Take it easy on insecticides because they kill the target pests and natural predators.

Good or bad idea?

There are some negative aspects to this whole biocontrol business. First, we are removing populations from their natural ecosystems which may not be a good idea.

Second, native beneficial insects may suffer when we introduce non-natives. And third, introducing lady beetles may transport parasites.


In conclusion, I must say that the lady gets a gold star for spending $16.95 plus tax on a bag of lady beetles; and for inspiring this blog post. As we know from the new fact sheet, these lady beetle releases are unlikely to be effective. And yet, she swears by them. Perhaps the tulip tree honeydew attracts the lady beetles naturally.

I say, try to attract lady beetles naturally and save your money. Perhaps you can donate some cash to the University of Washington Extension so they can produce more science-based fact sheets.