Monthly Archives

May 2022

How to recycle Hydrangeas

By | Company News | No Comments

Unwanted plants

I love rescuing unwanted plants, selling them, giving them away or finding homes for them. This is how I recycled unwanted hydrangeas on one of my commercial sites.

Now, I must confess that this was round two in this particular bed. Previously, I had installed two sedges (Carex) in this bare spot in an attempt to cover up a stump. Unfortunately, without irrigation they failed to establish and died.


Both Hydrangeas show signs of life!

This is a back gate area at a major commercial construction company work yard. It isn’t much but two unwanted Hydrangeas are better than a bare spot. I’m determined to cover up the visible stump to save me the hassle of removing it.

It was nice to see growth on both shrubs. It means they will grow and hopefully bring some colour to this low-profile gate area. The owners pay for basic landscaping service to ensure that the business looks decent on the outside.

The lawns are cut bi-weekly and the bed work is done as well. But there is very little input or budget. Bare spots might stay bare. That’s where my recycling comes in. I get to have some fun while I cover up bare spots that would otherwise get weedy.

Save and share

I love rescuing unwanted plants, the same way some people look after unwanted pets. In the back of my vehicle as I write are two clumps of vinca and one Christmas cedar tree in a pot. Now I’m looking for new homes for them.

Gardeners constantly share plants and seeds; and advice. That’s what makes gardening fun.

Last year, when I gave away hundreds of unwanted Crocosmia corms, I got to meet many women of a certain age. Many happily came to collect their corms late at night. I just wish I could see their Crocosmias in full bloom.

Don’t dump your unwanted plants. Find a new home for them, sell them or give them away.

Rebel Rhododendron rehab

By | Pruning | No Comments

Sheared rhododendrons

This isn’t the first time I have written about power-sheared rhododendrons. Please see my blog post on a Rhododendron massacre.

In large scale commercial landscaping work, there isn’t enough time for hand snipping. So, when several larger specimens need to be pruned, out come the power shears. Unfortunately, the result isn’t pretty. A woody plant like a rhododendron isn’t really made for power-shearing. It makes me cringe every time.

Recently, I found one of these abused rhododendrons in a corner; it was easily accessible and I had time to do some corrections by hand. That’s what rhododendron rebels do when they’re working alone. It felt like a rescue and therapy all in one.

Note stubs and spent flowers.

Bonus if you recognized the Alder (Alnus) cones.

The tall stubs and shredded leaf margins are clear evidence of past power shearing and they don’t look great.

Much better after hand snipping


I hand snipped out the tall stubs carefully so as not to damage any buds. I also pinched off the spent flowers, which is another task there often isn’t enough time for. This is especially true with bigger specimens.

Note that pinching off the flowers means the plant won’t waste energy on seed production.

I couldn’t do much about the shredded leaves.


Finally looking like a regular rhodo

This is much better. All of the stubs and spent flowers are gone and it didn’t take very long. You can easily get away with work like this in late winter, before lawn care starts. Especially on a smaller and easily accessible specimen like this.

Judging from the spent flowers I found, this rhododendron flowers nicely.


If you can, avoid power-shearing rhododendrons. It leaves behind shredded stems and foliage, which look awful. Instead use your hand snips and enjoy your time in the garden. You’ll be rewarded when your rhododendron flowers nicely.

Late winter photo essay

By | Plants | No Comments

Almost spring

The older I get, the more I hate winter and cold weather. So, to cheer myself up I’ve put together a little late winter photo essay. Most of the plants are well-known in our landscapes. Only one was new to me, the fourth picture down.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) emerges before crocuses with bright yellow flowers, then come green, lobed leaves.


Beware of frugal husbands

By | Pruning, Side-hustle | No Comments

Quote accepted?

Frugal husbands can cut into your landscape company’s revenue. Take this example from last week.

I knew something was up when I tried to schedule pruning work with a residential client recently and there was no reply. Last year we settled on a quote and agreed to do the work when it got warmer in 2022. Now I was ready to go.

So, this week I stopped by to aerate the lawns and the pruning work had obviously been done by someone else. No wonder my kids often go hungry…..

Aeration first

If you don’t do anything to your lawns all year, at least aerate them in spring. This allows more water and oxygen into the root zone and should lead to a healthier lawn. Since this residential client is a referral from a friend, I did the aeration for $50, which includes a courtesy clean up blow. I also blade edged the front lawn edge to give the lawn a sharp look.

Then, when the lady came out to talk to me, she quietly mentioned that her husband brought a friend over and they did the pruning themselves. To save some money.

Beware of the frugal husband!

As an aside, she mentioned that the men were a bit shy about pruning the evergreen cones because of their phallic shape. I smiled politely. I’ve seen worse.

The frugal husband’s pruning work.

A lesson for homeowners

Homeowners can do great work. Yes, Red Seal Vas is a proud professional but I’ve seen homeowners plant and install mulch quite well. It’s nice to see them outside, doing physical work and saving a bit of cash.

That’s why I love to work with clients because you can teach them something and develop a long-term relationship. Customers only care about pricing and will drop you for anybody who is slightly cheaper. I try to stay away from them.

Allegedly, our frugal husband did some of the pruning from his roof, which I don’t recommend. But let’s be honest, he did a decent job and he saved himself a bit of cash. I told his wife, “we’ll keep him”.

A lesson for landscapers

There is a good reason landscape contractors love multi-family (strata) complexes and commercial properties that go all year and come with set contracts: they get paid monthly. Residential clients on the other hand, can decide they don’t need you one week or they save money by doing some of the work themselves.

All good!

I did lose a bit of cash on this pruning job but, at the moment, there is no shortage of work. I did squeeze the lady for aeration and it gave me a great blog post idea.

Homeowners can do decent work on their properties. It’s all good.

One big reason landscaper gives up on his business

By | Landscape Industry | No Comments

Wait! What!

Recently I heard of a local landscape company owner who is ready to walk away from the business. Now, ever since I started landscaping in 2000, I always thought that starting your own company was the goal. Be your own boss, set your own work hours, exploit some workers, etc.

Proper Landscaping Inc was born with a dream like that and now the company provides great landscape maintenance services throughout the Lower Mainland. There’s no walking away.

Why quit?

So it’s interesting to hear about the owner of a small, but established, landscaping business is ready to call it quits. Why?

Because he can’t find any good people to rely on to scale his business. he wants to expand and, perhaps, ease up a bit. He wants good people to do good work without him being there all day.

That’s the dream: build a good team and then you make a great living. But the job market landscape has changed with the pandemic. People stayed home and got a chance to re-evaluate their lives. Why would someone go work for a small landscaping company?

The Landscape Management Network (LMN) says that in the US, 92% of landscape companies struggle with hiring, training and retaining staff.

My own work life in 2022 is hybrid: I have a full-time job as a landscape manager but I also blog for a living and I have many private side-gig clients. Small residential clients. But it’s clear what my day-job boss is offering me.

Red Seal Vas, trained and experienced, ready for action!

What are you offering?

What’s our landscape company boss offering, exactly? According to the Landscape Management Network (LMN), people can get a paycheque anywhere. How does working for a small landscape company enhance my life? Is there a way for me to develop personally and professionally? What’s my future pathway?

If it’s just a paycheque, our small business owner will continue to struggle in his talent search. There aren’t many great landscapers available in the Lower Mainland, and lots of companies are looking as well. It looks grim.

You can’t just pay me some cash to take your truck, deliver great service and maybe rarely see the boss. That’s a silly dream for a small company. So, what are you offering? Great pay, benefits, education support, on-the-job training, nice work sites? I know that it is a long year out in the field. The work is physical, in all kinds of weather and the weather is getting more erratic. How many summer heat domes will it take for people to walk away? My fear is getting stuck in a winter vortex with weeks of super cold temperatures.


I can’t wait to see how this thing plays out. Will our local landscape company owner quit or will he find the star performers he craves so much? He needs a great team in order to scale his business and make great money.

I just want him to think beyond a simple paycheque. I want my life to get better; and I want to develop personally and professionally.

Garden lessons from a new residential client

By | gardening | No Comments


I love meeting new clients and getting to know them and their needs. I really love it when it becomes obvious I can help them. And during the garden assessment, you can take a look at the place and see what condition it’s in. When I meet the people I obviously don’t tell them they will be my next blog post topic.

What I see

If you read my blogs regularly, you will know that I hate landscape fabric. But if it’s already installed, then at least bury it with several inches of mulch or soil. This garden had lots of fabric showing so I recommended adding two inches throughout to keep the weeds down; and to give the planted bed a uniform look. Otherwise, they would see there more often, weeding.

Exposed root flare and landscape fabric.

Pro tip: Best case, your landscape fabric will delay weeds. Even with two inches of mulch installed, weeds will still drift in with animals and the wind.

I love gardening and I think people should bravely experiment in their gardens. Here, the owners planted lots of single plants which works best for specimens. Like having one weeping Japanese maple in the middle of the bed. More on this soon. But for perennials, multiples are better.

For example, one tiger lily doesn’t have the same effect as, say, 5-7. Instead of having two Bergenias, I would go for 3, 5 or 7. Planting more also means more competition for weeds which love open bed spaces.

One Hellebore and two Bergenias. You could add two or four Hellebores and at least one Bergenia.

Pro tip: plant in odd numbers. Three is better than two. Five, seven, etc.

Proper tree planting is also important. I really like that this client gave it a go. When I told her the maple was planted a bit low she smiled and said something about learning. That’s right, she has the right attitude.

I uncovered the root flare and created a quick tree well so the stem didn’t rot in the soil. The tree should be fine.

The outside boulevard also needed some attention. It was still leafy from the fall and it was covered with cherry pits. And the lawn edge also required blade edging. Now it looks much better.

Blade edged and blown clean.

Normally I would be tempted to make some inappropriate joke but, since these were brand new clients, I just mentioned in passing that their Skimmias were all female. It’s always nice to plant males nearby.

The future

The beauty of having clients is that you can teach them while you make money. Customers, on the other hand, only care about prices and rates, don’t care to learn and will dump you for Miguel who charges $1 less per hour.

I expect to work with this couple all year and beyond. Since the owner loves fragrant plants, I’m looking forward to transforming their garden into a semi-shade oasis. It might generate a few more blog posts this year.

The trouble with memorial trees

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

Memorial trees

Planting memorial trees is a natural reaction from people who lose their loved ones or pets. But there is added stress because when you plant a tree as a memorial, you need it to survive. There is a lot riding on this planting. Not only do you need the tree to live and thrive, many times ashes are scattered in the planting hole or on the surface.

I didn’t really think much about memorial trees until my sister and her partner lost their young daughter in a car crash. My sister called me, slightly panicked, because the memorial tree they planted at their ranch wasn’t doing well. Now, normally I would take one weekend and drive over to help out with the planting but it wasn’t that easy.

The provincial government had, at the time, issued advisories asking people not to travel unless it was absolutely necessary. And, there was the business of protecting the in-laws from COVID; I wasn’t even close to their “bubble”.

So, the tree got planted, in a beautiful heart-shaped bed. I didn’t care for annuals planted around the tree; I’m convinced it’s better to wait until the tree is established. Surficial tree roots and annual plants must compete in that tight space. Of course, the mother-in-law is an experienced home gardener so that’s how it went down.

Ponderosa pines on my sister’s ranch.

2021 check-in

I finally made it to the ranch in the summer of 2021, taking advantage of my son’s away soccer match. It took a few minutes to realize that the tree was planted a bit low. As I ran my fingers in the soil around the tree trunk, I noticed the partner’s pained facial expression which could mean that they had scattered ashes at the base of the tree. It’s not a bad idea to ask for permission before you start digging around memorial trees.

This is my pro-tip: always find the root flare where the stem becomes root and plant the tree at this level, flush with the ground. Planting too deep means that stem tissues will get wet and they could rot, inviting disease in.

I got my sister to excavate around the tree until there was an obvious tree well. Sticking my fingers in there again wouldn’t have been a great idea.

Other considerations

Obviously, the tree species should make sense for your home area. My sister lives in the BC Interior on a ranch without great layers of soil and the summers are hot and dry. If I recall correctly, they picked a flowering dogwood that won’t overwhelm the space it’s in.

You can do it!

I love the idea of tree planting; the more trees we have, the better. Planting memorial trees is a great idea but beware of the extra stress. Because the tree is planted in someone’s memory and the planting might include the deceased ashes, there is a lot riding on the tree’s proper planting and survival.

When my sister’s memorial tree wasn’t doing well, I could tell from her voice that she was stressed. Unfortunately, the raging pandemic prevented me from driving over to help.

If you’re thinking about planting a memorial tree, you can do it! If you need help, call me.

Echo 58v cordless power mower

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Time to switch?

Today I got a chance to see and touch the Echo 58v cordless power mower on my visit to the new Foreshore Equipment North Vancouver location. And now I’m considering getting one for my side-gig operation. Not that my old Honda gas-powered beast is falling apart; it’s still running well, many years after I picked it up second hand. But I’m tired of sucking exhaust, lifting it and paying for gas. It might be time to switch, if the mower is in stock.

Since I don’t mow that much, charging two batteries would be fine.

Two batteries.

One local landscape company I know has one of these battery-operated units on every truck. Because the mowers are light, they can be used in hard to access lawn areas. Some access is extremely awkward or it requires two crew members. Stairwells come to mind.

Well, not anymore; you can pick this baby up by the handle and go. I tried it and it’s really light. It almost feels like a toy.

There are two batteries in front and one simple throttle on the bar. It looks super simple.


As I’m writing this blog post in late February 2022, gas prices in British Columbia are climbing so not having to gas up your mower sounds great. The other, bigger benefit is avoiding unhealthy exhaust exposure. After twenty-two years in landscape maintenance, I wonder if I should have made the switch earlier.

This especially applies to my side-gigs, where I’m in charge. I obviously don’t call the shots at my day-job. But why suck exhaust when you’re mowing a small patch for your hard-of-hearing 87-year-old client when you could easily pull it off with a mower like this Echo 58v unit?

I also like how quiet it is when you let go of the throttle. Nothing is idling noisily while you try to talk to someone. It gets nice and quiet.

Another obvious benefit is solo lifting. This Echo mower can easily fold up and the lifting is a breeze. Gas powered units can be on the heavier side and that can seriously tax your back if you don’t have ramps.


The Echo 58v cordless power mower is decent for commercial operations and perfect for hard-to-access lawn areas. You can easily pick it up which frees up your co-workers and saves your back from pain.

I love the idea of not having to pay for fuel and most of all, avoiding exposure to unhealthy exhaust.

If this unit is in stock, I will consider getting it for my side-gig operation.

Is it time to switch? Contact Foreshore Equipment, the best dealer in the Lower Mainland, and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.