Monthly Archives

December 2021

Go easy on your cedar hedges

By | Pruning | No Comments

Frightening work

Until this season, the work pictured above was by far the most frightening thing inflicted on cedar hedges I had ever seen. The resulting hedge was pencil thin because two workers somehow decided that it would be a great idea to power shear from both sides, simultaneously. It wasn’t a good idea. I think the hedges are still recovering, years later.

The key

Here’s the key to great cedar pruning: make sure the hedge is still nice and green when you finish. Don’t treat it harshly with your power shears. Below I show you an example of my own work, because I’m very humble.

Note that the sides are still green; and the top is tight.

The sides should remain green; and the top should be nice and tight. And level, of course. Remember, the proper motion for your power shears is from bottom to top, every time. That way you shouldn’t make any brown holes in your hedge.

Brown holes

Speaking of brown holes brings me to the worst cedar hedging job I’ve seen to date. Now, I don’t have access to the before pictures but I don’t need them. I know that the hedges in question are older and not very pretty. Some of the stems were protruding from the hedge.

This isn’t good pruning.

Here it would have been better to push the protruding stems back into the hedge and tie them in with arbor tie or wires. Leaving a huge hole like this wouldn’t even occur to me. It may grow back in over time but we’ll have to look at this for a while.

This sort of pruning is too harsh.

Imagine living in this unit and coming home every day to this brown gap. I feel like laughing but that’s not the correct response. We have to train, guide and retrain workers so they can do great, world-class work. This isn’t it. Far from it.

Now you know

Go gently on your cedar hedges. Shear them once a year and make sure the shears move from bottom to top. Leave the sides green and do the top nice and tight.

The clean up should be great, as well.

How to be a good neighbor

By | Landscaping, Pruning | No Comments


It’s important to be a great neighbor by controlling the plants growing at your place. In strata complexes, Proper Landscaping can take care of business, but what about private residences?

People are busy fighting their monster mortgages and sometimes there isn’t enough time for your garden plants. Until your municipality forces your hand with a polite written note to get moving, or else.

That’s where Red Seal Vas comes in to help you and make sure your neighbors still love you. Let me illustrate this with two recent examples.

Dangerous staircase

The shrubs interfere between the lamp and stairs.

The shrubs in this picture are clearly getting out of control, probably because they’re reaching for light and never get pruned. By itself, it’s hardly a disaster but look at the big picture.

Imagine you’re walking by in the evening and just as you reach the top of the stairs, extra light would help. Except the lamp is partially blocked out by the shrubs. You make it down safely, this time. But when you get home you wonder if the dark corner isn’t a perfect place for criminals and podophiles. That’s when you sit down and file an anonymous complaint with your municipality against the homeowner.

Weeks later, I get extra work. Yes, I’m the hero in this made up story.

Now the light can reach the stairs.

Monster hedge

I’m no stranger to this next property but when the owner texted me, there was urgency in his sentences. His municipality had just stopped by his house to encourage him to push the cedar hedge off the sidewalk. It was encroaching at least 30% into the sidewalk.

Now, this wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I had to balance the look of the hedge and still get it off the sidewalk. Remember, cedar hedges should still be green when you finish them. If you want to see some cedar hedge disasters, please read my blog post from December 30, 2021.

I sheared the hedge slowly, making several passes. And I think it worked.

That was tight!

Good neighbors

Check your garden plants once in a while to make sure your neighbors aren’t negatively affected. If you need help, call me. I would love to help you.

Be a good neighbor.

Landscape pro becomes a snow subcontractor

By | Seasonal, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

The worst case

It’s possible to go through the entire winter season without much work stoppage on the West Coast. But what do you do when the worst happens? And by worst, I mean no work, because there is snow on the ground. Now what?

This used to stress me out when I lived in pricey North Vancouver, British Columbia, with my wife and two little kids. Now, years later, life is better and I firmly believe in multiple income streams. Having one job and income sucks.

It’s official. Red Seal Vas hates snow.


To make up for lost winter income, I became a landscape blogger. I blog on my own site and for other landscaping companies. It’s a great learning experience, and it provides some extra income.

But what if you don’t want to write about your green work and you don’t have vacation time to cover your lost income? Well, one great option is to become a snow subcontractor. No, it’s not glamorous but it can generate income. I should know because I’ve done it. You can, too.

There are landscape companies with lucrative snow contracts and they usually need help. All you have to do is line up a few and wait for snow to fall.

Now, shoveling snow off sidewalks is heavy labor but a few years ago I pulled off two consecutive twelve hour days. It was long and strenuous, and it covered the two missed days from my regular landscaping job.

I carpooled with two young girls and the area we covered looked beautiful covered in snow. We hit multiple sites and shoveled all sidewalks. Note that strata properties (multi-family complexes) may be liable for any accidents on their unmaintained sidewalks. The snow must go. That’s where you come in.

Worse still are residents who can’t drive out with their BMWs to get their morning coffee. God help you if your run into this type of human.


Becoming a subcontractor makes it easy for the employer. You get paid for your time, without any deductions. It’s up to you to report your income with the CRA when you do your taxes.

No more winter stress

There are work options for landscapers when they get shut out of work by snow. You can become a blogger and a snow subcontractor. Push some snow and when you get home, blog about your experiences. If you have any energy left.

Pushing snow isn’t easy but knowing you can make some cash does reduce your stress. Especially if you don’t have banked vacation hours, savings or other income sources.

Never rely on one job and one paycheck. That’s nuts. Become a snow subcontractor.

On native fern resilience

By | Education, gardening, Plants, Pruning | No Comments


My Dec 21, 2020 blog post covered the whole fern mutilation affair so please read it to get the whole story. I will only recap the key points here.

Our West Coast forests are full of the native sword fern (Polystichum munitum). It does fine in the wild and in our managed landscapes. Except when experienced landscapers don’t use their heads and power shear it.

Imagine the horror when I discovered that the fronds had been halved by power shears- in winter- and the mess was never cleaned up. And we’re talking about experienced workers, not new dudes. It’s not clear what happened but clearly there was a breakdown somewhere.

Finished product

I’m sorry, but this kind of shoddy work can not be tolerated. Here’s why.

  1. Use hand snips to take out the brown fronds, if they bother you. It does make the sword ferns look neater. Don’t power shear ferns. Ever! I don’t care if it takes longer.
  2. The fronds only make sense when they are intact, not halved. It looks freaky.
  3. Not cleaning things up is the ultimate sin. How people walk away from this carnage is beyond me. Clearly, there were some problems with the crew. Pruning and clean-up go hand in hand. Both should be fantastic.
  4. The timing is awful. If you look at the base of the ferns, you should see next season’s fronds tightly packed together. When they pop up in spring, then you can take out the old brown fronds. Not in winter. Since nothing new emerges until spring, the residents get to look at halved sword ferns all winter. That’s just bizarre.

Good news!

Because plants are resilient, we have some good news to report a year later. I’m happy to report that the sword ferns recovered nicely! And the crews are under strict orders not to touch them until next spring. Hopefully, they learned their lesson.

Like nothing happened.

Left alone until spring, these sword ferns look great all winter.

Now you know how to handle our native sword ferns. Use snips in spring to prune out the brown fronds. That’s it. Then enjoy them for the rest of the year.

Community garden success

By | gardening | No Comments

Sweetgum prologue

Across the street from my building is a strip of lawn, squeezed between a recreation center parking lot and the road. Then, one day, the city of Port Moody planted three sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) there. I clearly remember this because the stakes were placed ridiculously far from the trees. They did nothing for the trees; and I fully expected kids to get clotheslined on the arbor tie. My picture of this poor staking job made it into level 1 apprentice courses. Without permission.

Weeks later, the trees went missing!? I never found out where they were moved.

Before the garden: columnar sweetgums with staking removed

A new community garden

Once the city installed raised beds on the lawn, it all made sense. And it was also clear that I was way too slow to get in on the garden lottery. I’m a busy man. But I’m happy to report that every single plot has been well used, mostly by women of a certain age.

Creating a new community garden is a great project anytime but it’s especially important during a pandemic. People can be outside fairly safely and taking care of plants gives them some measure of control, just as things seem to be spinning out of control.

One nice touch are the planted borders between the plots and parking stalls. They’re planted in perennials and add color, something vegetables can’t really do.

The city added a water source, which is critical because I expect summer 2022 to be hot. I’m not sure what happens to the green waste. I imagine the city hauls it away.

Considering the garden’s location, I wondered if some of the harvest would go missing under cover of darkness. Since I haven’t heard anything, I’m assuming the owners got to enjoy their harvests.

When I had a tiny rented plot in Burquitlam years ago, teenagers would stop by to collect apples in broad daylight. Who knows what else went missing.

A great idea

When the City of Port Moody planted sweetgum trees in a lawn across the street, with poorly installed stakes, I shook my head every time I walked by. Then the trees went missing and I shook my head some more. Wasn’t this a waste of money and labor.

Then the city installed community garden plots and life made more sense. The garden is well-used and the buffer zones are planted in perennials. So now we have some color visible from the road and from the recreation center parking lot. It may just brighten up our pandemic life.

Buffer zone Monarda

Never dismiss plant ID skills

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

A crazy confession

“Vas, when you tell me the names of landscape plants, it means nothing to me.” What a shocker from an experienced landscaper and Red Seal candidate. This blog post will make the case for improving your plant identification, and for never dismissing it.

This is what my buddy missed. If he had looked at the bigger picture, he would have realized that everything starts with plant names. You can’t provide proper care and maintenance to plants when you don’t even know what they’re called. Names allow you to dig deeper; or you can let Siri do some of the digging for you. If you like plants, your discoveries might please you. My buddy is missing out.

Plant examples

Fully grown, Acanthus is an imposing plant, but at its baby stage, it could easily be mistaken for a weed. This actually happened to us in the field in a bed with just one specimen.

Since I was able to find out the plant name, we didn’t pull it. I stood my ground and defended it.

One patch of Oxalis wasn’t so lucky. Beautifully spread out under Rhododendrons, it was doing its thing in the shade it loves. Unfortunately, the leaves look like clover to the untrained eye. So, it went missing and the owner quickly noticed. Oops.


The last example is hilarious. Thinking the tree was a lilac (Syringa) the foreman responsible for the site let it grow until his horrified boss arrived to set him straight. The tree was actually a fast-growing cottonwood (Populus) invader. Left alone, it would eventually overwhelm its spot. It had to go once it was clearly identified as a cottonwood tree, not a lilac shrub. Yes, plant identification skills make maintenance easier.

Cottonwood or lilac?


After receiving a number of plant name requests through text from another landscape manager, I wondered what was happening. Did she lose access to Google? I sent my answers back and let it go.

Months later I discovered that the plant names were required for a quote. It’s difficult to make a quote without proper plant names. Nurseries require botanical names, otherwise they can’t give you any prices. That makes sense.

In this case, the quote couldn’t be written up without proper plant names. No quote, no project and no extra income. There you go buddy. Now you know.

Expert on call

No, you’ll never know all plants but strata landscape plants tend to repeat so you have a great shot at becoming an expert. And your clients will likely approach you for help. So get ready.

If my buddy becomes a Red Seal landscape horticulturist with poor plant identification skills, he won’t be able to deliver great value to his employer. Personally, I love plants, so I work on my plant identification all the time. It’s an important skill. Trust me. So work on it.

Shocked by lawn damage!

By | Lawn Care | No Comments


This scenario plays out every autumn on the West Coast: a panicked home owner calls me about a damaged lawn. In this case, it was a fairly new client, texting me about solutions after raccoons had dug up her lawn overnight.

The raccoons were looking for European Chafer beetle grubs which have been feeding on grass roots and getting fat since late summer. That’s when females come down from trees after mating to lay their eggs in the lawn. They quickly stick their bums into the lawn and disappear. This is why people are advised to keep their lawns longer; to make it more difficult for the females, and perhaps, to encourage them to lay eggs in your neighbor’s lawn.

Mature European chafer beetles. Only one was dead, 3 eventually made a run for it.

What to do in late fall

All you can do in November is fix the damage with some soil. Overseeding won’t help because it’s now too cold for seed to take. You’d just be feeding the birds, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just pricey.

The grubs are nice and juicy by now. You could always hope for cold temperatures to kill them but that would mean severe cold. The kind of cold that would deprive me of work.

Just let the crows and raccoons feed; and ask Proper Landscaping to help you fix the damage.

Chafer grub

Baby your lawn in 2022

If you want to avoid nasty shocks twelve months from now, baby your lawn next year. That means regular fertilizer applications, proper watering, and correct mowing heights. You will need to do all three religiously to have a nice looking lawn.

I often find homeowners cutting their lawns very short, presumably to avoid cutting weekly. But, very short lawns dry out, allow light to reach weeds, and in late summer, they make it easy for chafer beetle females to lay eggs.

Watering is also a problem. Regular watering is a must for good looking lawns. I have clients who complain about weeds in their lawns and they water twice in summer. That’s hopeless.

Anti-chafer products

Your local garden store sells granular anti-chafer products that can be applied anytime. And you can also order live nematodes for application in late summer so the nematodes can chase down the chafers before they get big.

I have no idea how effective the granular products are but they are easy to apply. Unlike live nematodes which must be watered in and applied early in the morning or in late afternoon. That’s because they are photo-sensitive. And I have also heard horror stories about the nematodes arriving dead. Since they’re microscopic, it’s impossible to confirm this.

You must also water your lawn deeply before, during and after application. That sounds easy enough but in late summer you’re likely to run into watering restrictions. So visit your municipal office for a pricey exemption before your neighbors report you to bylaw officers.

Don’t give up

Never give up. Baby your lawn and keep fighting. The European chafer beetles are here to stay. We can control them but I doubt we can eliminate them.

If your lawn gets abused in winter, just patch up the damage and wait for spring when soil and seed will cover everything up.

Are stake pounders dangerous?

By | Tools, Training, Trees | No Comments

Intimate knowledge

I got to know stake pounders intimately when I went through the Landscape Industry Certified program. Recall that stake pounders are metal pipes with handles, closed at one end. Just pop the end of your wooden stake in and start pounding it in.

One version of a stake pounder.

Station master

I had to do the planting and staking practical station test three times! Years later I can joke about it but at the time, failing meant waiting for six months until the next test day.

Note that the practical exams are now scored from video footage captured by your employer. The twice a year testing days are long gone. Visit the Canadian Landscape Nursery Association for details.

One of my fails resulted from not wearing ear protection. Ouch. I was so nervous and caught up in procedures and time limits, I didn’t even notice the pounding noise. Ear protection during staking is mandatory. It is loud.

The other critical issue is the height of the stake pounder. The rule is that it can’t ever reach over your head. Even if you have a hard hat. But this wasn’t a problem for me until I became a judge.

Vas arrives

When I became a landscape judge, the CNLA got me to judge the same planting and staking station. Sweet! I was ready for it but not for failing people. Some of the candidates went overboard, raising their stake pounders way too high.

I could see my judge-mentor watching and fuming from a distance. And at the time I thought she was a bit anal. I don’t anymore. She was right. I should have raised my red flag and send them packing.


Last year I heard a nasty story that changed my mind. An experienced landscape company owner had managed to crack his skull with a stake pounder. He survived but he couldn’t work for a long time and who knows how the accident will affect his brain in the future.

Then today I heard about another landscaper breaking his neck with a stake pounder. Ouch.

If I ever meet my cute landscape judge mentor again, I will quietly apologize. Stake pounders are dangerous metal pipes that should never be raised above your head, even if you have a hard hat on.

Nelba knits away the pandemic

By | Side-hustle | No Comments

Nelba takes action

It’s so nice to see one of my landscape co-workers start a side-hustle. Since her nickname is Nelba, I don’t have to change her name to the usual default Miguelina. Nelba it is.

Now, when we work in the field as landscapers, many topics are discussed, including my favorite: side-hustles. It’s insane to rely on only one source of income. But, it’s not just about money. Just take Nelba as an example.

What do you do when your boyfriend isn’t making your life better and the pandemic shuts down many of the places young girls like to frequent in normal times? Well, you stay home and knit! You create beautiful toques and sell them.

I confess to being blown away by Nelba actually taking action and knitting away her pandemic time. And, then creating her own store on Etsy, the best platform for selling hand-made goods online.

Take a look at Nelba’s store. You can buy a toque for yourself or as a Christmas gift. There is still time, especially if you live in the Lower Mainland. They sell for $50 and I know from talking to Nelba that the price doesn’t really reflect the time required to create one. It’s a deal, so go get one.

I would totally get a toque but I look awful in them. I prefer caps or manly toques like the ones Stihl sells.


Nelba Knits is just the beginning. Creating extra income from the comforts of her own home is one attraction for Nelba. I know she hates getting all filthy when we work in the field. I, on the other hand, live for it.

Let’s also consider the lessons Nelba learns along the way. Like setting up an e-commerce site, dealing with shipping and setting the prices she likes. As of today, each toque sells for $50.

What’s stopping her from creating new products or starting with affiliate marketing? Nothing. There are many possibilities to explore and lessons to learn along the way. Especially for a cute young girl who doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life.

Action! Always take action!

The best Christmas gift for landscapers

By | Tools | No Comments

Felco all the way

When leaf clean up season is over, we do finesse work to get sites ready for Christmas. This type of finesse work involves bedwork and lots of hand snipping. Think spent perennials and the odd annoying branch. The same goes for home gardeners.

To get ready for the finesse work, I walked into my nearest Lee Valley store and bought brand new Felcos, even though I already own a few pairs. I really wanted a new, sharp pair; and I even got extra springs and a sheath. New Felco 2s, two springs and a sheath set me back C$100.

C$100 well-spent!

As I walked away from the door to my car, I realized that this was by far the best gift you could give for Christmas to a landscaper or a gardener. It’s December 18 as I write this blog post, so there’s still time to get a pair of Felcos.

Not my first plug

Now, this isn’t my first blog post about Felcos and there is no need to type up a disclaimer. I love Felco hand snips and I’m happy to say it; I don’t profit in any way from saying it. One day I hope to!

The red handles last forever and the blades can be changed. Normally I sharpen them before replacing; it’s cheaper. Also, a leather sheath is mandatory for professionals. I keep my snips on my hip at all times because you never know what defects you will find in the landscape. It could be a simple shoot sticking out from the top of a shrub or it could be a broken tree branch. Or perhaps someone missed a perennial during cutback.

With Felco snips on your hip, you’re always ready. And I like to be ready.

Early Christmas

Now, my old pair of Felcos was still fine. I could have kept it as a back-up pair but I did something better. I moved my old snips on to a new foreman-in-training who was still using an inferior and much cheaper model. I won’t name the maker; it wasn’t Felco.

Predictably, the dude was all casual about the loan but I know he’s hoping some of the Red Seal magic rubs off on him. Having my old snips on his hip, reminds him of his brilliant Red Seal manager and allows him to look like a pro. Honestly, it will take a lot of training to turn him into a real pro.

If you’re still looking for a gift for a gardener or a landscaper on your list, get a pair of Felco hand snips. It will set you back about C$80 and it’s worth every dollar. Trust me.

Felco 2s in action