Monthly Archives

August 2023

Why you must fight lawn edge creep

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

What’s this?

As a landscape manager I often visit sites after being away for months so I notice when things change. One example is from last week. I did my routine line trimming session and then I noticed the sidewalk lawn creep. This was new and fairly recent. Take a look.

Edging is done to keep grass from overwhelming the sidewalk. If you allow it, it will slowly creep over the edge and annoy people using the sidewalk. Now, I personally prefer to use a blade edger because the metal blade is sharp and skinny. You run it along the sidewalk edge at ninety degrees and use it to separate grass from the sidewalk. It’s very narrow and hardly noticeable. Edging shouldn’t be noticeable; we aren’t building ditches. All we are after is sharp, clean edges. Blade edgers are designed for this kind of work.

Vertical sinners

Not every landscaper is willing to walk back to his truck to grab a blade edger. What if the blade needs changing? Horror! Let’s just use the line trimmer to vertical edge the sidewalk instead. Right, creeps.

Note how wide the edge is getting in the picture above. That’s because the landscaper is edging from the lawn side and it’s not done at ninety degrees. It looks like forty-five degrees or worse. Now, when you do this weekly, the lawn edge starts to creep away from the sidewalk. Very soon pets lodge their paws in the gap and weeds drift in. Now you’ve just created more work and your edges looked horrific. And Red Seal Vas gets to rant about it.


If you insist on vertical edging with your line trimmer, you must do it from the sidewalk edge. That way, if you miss you hit the sidewalk which is solid and unlikely to start creeping away. The other adjustment you must make is to aim for ninety degree angles. Make sure your string hits the edge at ninety degrees so we avoid lawn creep. This is easily accomplished with a blade edger.

Do not get sloppy and allow your edges to creep from the sidewalk into your lawn. This creates an unsightly gap that eventually harbors weeds. Edge like a pro.

Very aggressive edging

My best-ever LinkedIn post!

By | Pruning | No Comments


It’s always nice to get a lot of impressions on my LinkedIn posts. It’s hardly the norm; it happens very occasionally. My best post from 2023 so far is close to getting 1300 impressions. That’s basically viral territory for Red Seal Vas. That got me thinking: why was it so interesting? Let’s see.

First, the key picture.

What’s wrong here?

What do you notice about this picture? Obviously, only the right side of this rhododendron is covered in blooms in 2023. That’s weird, so we have to back up to late summer 2022. That’s when we had a worker on staff eager to show off her pruning skills. She came to us from a job where she pruned full-time and she clearly needed a break from lawn care and finesse work.

She made it to half way before we stopped her. Why stop her? So we can give some respect to a rhododendron pruning rule:

Prune rhododendrons soon after flowering, before new buds set for next season.

Our eager apprentice was pruning months after flowering. This didn’t register much until the early part of the season in 2023. That’s when I took the above picture. Now it was clear. The buds on the right had a chance to set for next year and flowered nicely; the ones on the left got sheared off and now that part was bare.

Nice and neat

I think my post works because it clearly states an important rule about rhododendron pruning and proves it with one picture. It’s nice and neat; it’s correct and we see proof. The eager apprentice is long gone but this pruning job wasn’t the reason for her departure. Sadly, she may not even be aware of this post. In any case, this is a great teaching moment, not a reason to let someone go.

This is why landscaping is such a great career. You are constantly learning and this post clearly illustrates the importance of knowing how and when to prune. It’s an art so keep learning. I know I am. I could pack it in and relax with my Red Seal status but that’s not me. I want to know it all, including rhododendron pruning rules.

The easiest upsell ever!

By | Side-hustle, weeds | No Comments

Lawn care only?

One of my old clients moved to a nice modern house he built in Coquitlam and he needed someone to cut his grass. Since he already knew me and I had some mow clients in the area, he got me to take care of his lawns.

Now, newly installed sod always looks great. It’s fresh and green, just the way we like it. But you have to work at it if you want to keep it looking great. Alas, my client is a busy man. I fertilized and he turned on his irrigation system. Then summer hit and now we have new stricter watering restrictions which prohibit lawn watering until further notice. (Light rain is forecast for Wednesday, two days from now.)

Other problems

The lawns aren’t the only issue at this residence. Weeds pop up and take off when they go unmolested. All I can do is make note of it and blog about it. And I can easily upsell it! Now you know my secret. I hook you in with cheap lawn care service and then I derail your retirement plans with weed control charges.

Seriously now, as weeds mature they flower and then produce thousands of seeds. Those seeds then stay in your soil waiting for perfect conditions to sprout; or they’re carried by wind to your unsuspecting neighbour’s house. Never let this happen.

Trophy weeds!

Sale closed

When I sent over my hefty lawn care service invoice, I casually mentioned the trophy weeds that could soon block his drains with seeds. And the client didn’t even blink; he hired me for weeding just a few days later. Done. Sale closed.

Next, we will replace dead cedars but not now. It’s too hot. We need cooler temperatures and moisture for that. For now, I will feed my teenagers with the extra weeding work I will do.


If you are a homeowner, don’t let your weeds flower and produce seeds. If you are a landscaper, don’t be shy about upselling other services. You can do more than lawn care: prune, weed, install plants, etc. Win by upselling other services. I can’t wait to make my client’s house weed-free. For a while.

Red Seal Vas facing the enemy on the way to the bank.

Weed control with Red Seal Vas

By | Tools, weeds | No Comments

Use tools!

If you read my blogs regularly you will know that I always try to use tools when weeding. The only obvious exception being huge trophy weeds which are easy to pull but hard to explain. How did they evade detection for so long? Were they out on some hard to reach ledge?

Professionals use tools, not fingers. Years later I’m still stunned by a foreman’s request that we all hand pick massive mats of weeds. I literally didn’t know where to start. Why abuse my fingers like this?

Grab a cultivator or a small hand tool like a Home Depot tomahawk which retails for $15. I love this tool. I use it to uproot the weeds before discarding them and I humbly suggest that you do the same. Save your fingers for better, more refined activities.

Field test

I am a huge proponent of weeding tools, not fingers. But now that I am of a certain age and my gray hair shows from under my ball cap, some people dismiss me as an old crank. So when I got a chance to run a little field experiment, I was delighted.

Out in the middle of a parking lot, we had two same-sized beds full of weeds. Obviously the weed species didn’t match exactly; one had more buttercup which is notoriously difficult to dig up.

On my bed I used a tomahawk to uproot the weeds and then discard them on a nearby tarp. It wasn’t much fun weeding in the middle of an open parking lot on a hot summer day with reflected heat hitting me.

Some meters away was my co-worker who stubbornly used his fingers to weed his buttercup-filled bed. Somehow he finished ahead of me and moved on. That’s when I snapped pictures of both beds and also moved on.

Five weeks later

I didn’t make it back to this parking lot until five weeks later. Then it hit me: go back and check on the weeded boxes from five weeks ago. It wasn’t even close!

My bed had a few weeds; most were poking along a cable where tomahawks and fingers can’t reach. The hand-weeded bed was green with weeds, confirming what I already knew.

Quick finger weeding doesn’t pull out the roots as much as hand tools. You’re basically wasting time by eliminating the top growth and leaving the roots behind to regenerate the plant. The proof was right there in the middle of a baking parking lot.

Picture A five weeks after getting hand weeded with fingers.

Picture B five weeks after getting weeded with a hand tool.


Use tools for weeding. Period.

How to unload unwanted trees

By | Trees | No Comments


Picture a new house and busy, young owners with a small boy to care for. Their lawn went un-watered and un-cared for for months and now they needed help from Red Seal Vas. It happens all the time. Having a nice green lawn is harder than it looks. You have to water it regularly, fertilize it with product specific to the season, and cut at the proper height. On dry days you can mulch it by letting the clippings drop on the lawn as free fertilizer; and if you have time, you can pop any big weeds with a hand tool.

But this blog post is about two columnar sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) planted in the front lawn. They both looked dry, they didn’t have established tree wells and one had a dry top, a sure sign of water stress. I also did a quick wiggle test by gently moving the main stem. Since I could see the root balls moving, I knew the trees weren’t established.

Unwanted, water-stressed and eventually sold online.


The lady didn’t want the trees. She was sure of that. So I suggested she take a picture of the tree tags, still attached to the trees. (Columnar sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’, $149.99). She can then use the information to sell the trees online. And she did, just before I did a second cut on her weedy lawn.

As luck would have it, I finished work close by so I popped over to help dig up the trees, like some Japanese just-in-time service. Now, since the trees weren’t completely established in their planting holes the extraction was easy. Once the trees were out we transferred them to plastic pots and wrapped them up in plastic so we could put them in the small SUV that showed up.

I always wonder what sort of person buys columnar sweetgum online. The young buyer looked like a techie. He put the root balls in the back and stuck the tree tips out through the passenger window. I hope he didn’t have far to go.


Don’t want your landscape trees? Give them away or sell them online. My client did and she’s happy, even though those two trees were the only trees on her property, if you don’t count single cedars.

When you dig up the trees, keep as much of the root ball as you can, unless you’re confidently planting bare-root. Also, don’t forget to fill in the holes so your mailman doesn’t break a leg.

Never waste perfectly good trees!

Danger in the landscape: wasps!

By | health and safety, Pruning | No Comments


It’s too bad we see conflicts between landscapers and wasps every summer. The poor landscaper needs to earn his keep and the wasps have nests to build. I have nothing against wasps because they have their own part to play in the ecosystem. I’m happy to leave them alone. Until they start interfering with my work that is. Safety is no laughing matter. Some people are allergic to stings; and when you’re attacked high up in a ladder it can lead to falls.

Now this season I’ve been very lucky personally. I’ve had some close calls with small nests early in the season but I didn’t get stung. I haven’t always been this lucky. Some seasons are so bad, as soon as you see a moving insect you tense up.

Eyes have it

We normally don’t start power shearing cedars until late August and, with draught conditions extending into fall, I could see the start time pushed way past the end of August. So how are the wasps supposed to know that a maniac landscaper would be up on his ladder shearing a cedar globe in July? Of course they reacted and the poor dude got stung in his eye. Ouch. Later that day he didn’t look great but he lived. Now he has a story to tell.

Sufficiently recovered from the shock, he did what most landscapers are trained to do. He reached for his Bug Bomb spray and bravely emptied the chemical contents into the hedge. That usually takes care of the insects. It’s been such a problem that all work trucks now carry one or two spray bottles.


Landscapers face various dangers and insults during the year. I’ve always said that it’s a long year in the field. And summers come with oppressive heat and stinging insects, so be careful. We normally run into insect nests while shearing because the nests are beautifully camouflaged in the foliage. Some veteran landscapers know to look for groups of flying insects but nobody stops to examine the full hedge before shearing. Perhaps we should.

Always carry an insect spray so you can destroy the nest, unless it’s built into a tiny crack in a retaining wall. If you do get stung, take a break and get some first aid. We know that it will happen again next season.

A new round of watering restrictions

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Now what, Vas?

As soon as the owner of this new house asked me what to do about his dry, sad-looking lawn, I knew I would have to pick my words carefully. Since new watering restrictions came into effect on August 4, we can’t water this lawn. And water is obviously missing from this picture.

Now, the owner hasn’t lived in the house very long and he’s been busy with the back lane area of his house. Once the grass faded, weeds moved in. That’s usually when people call me with desperation in their voice. They want nice green grass and they definitely don’t want long stares from their neighbours. When the man tells me he’s embarrassed, I believe him. The yellow-flowered weeds were visible from across the street.

Baby your lawn

Having a nice green lawn takes a lot of work. You must have regular watering, seasonal fertilizer applications and proper mowing heights. And definitely expect to see some lawn weeds. Even golf courses have weeds.

Obviously, our West Coast lawns go dormant in summer and come back with fall rains. So there’s no need to stress about your yellow lawn. Except, last year the drought dragged deep into fall and, I think, the forecast is the same for this year.

So, the owner has to wait for watering restrictions to ease up before fixing his lawn. In the fall we can top-dress his lawn with soil and over seed but this too requires water. Fertilizers also require water to activate.

My advice

For now we wait until we get water in the form of rain or irrigation. Since the weeds are tough, they will poke out again and I will run them over to keep them from producing seeds. At least this gives the lawn a decent look, otherwise the neighbours think it’s been abandoned.

Yes, you can have a great looking lawn but you’ll have to earn it.

When shrub pruning goes wrong

By | Pruning | No Comments


It’s rare for me to see a shrub pruning job where I didn’t like the cuts and the strategy. But I found one last week along a chain link fence. Now, before I dissect the whole thing, let’s remember that the world didn’t end; the Mahonia shrubs will grow out again. Nobody died but the lessons are there for you to take away.

The cuts

First, let’s consider the pruning cuts. Clearly, judging from the shredded tissues, they were made by power shears, the go-to machine for landscapers. It’s quick and it packs lots of power. However, considering the size of the stems, hand snips or loppers might have been better. Not faster mind you but they would have made nicer, cleaner cuts. I shot a YouTube short to show you how to fix the damage.

Additionally, making hand cuts allows you to stagger the cuts for a more natural look. The power shears run over the top at one level.

Shredded Mahonia stems

The big picture

Before you start pruning, always ask yourself why. I’m already assuming you know how to make your cuts. Now I need to know why you are pruning. The Mahonia “balls” look fine but zoom out at the big picture. The chain-link fence should alert you right away: originally, the Mahonias were installed so they could provide a screen between the two properties. Who wants to see cars coming and going and listen to the noise? If you let the Mahonias grow up they will form a nice buffer that filters out noise and possibly even air pollution.

This is another reason why I hate rushed pruning jobs. Before you prune look around and make sure everything makes sense. Don’t rush in with your tools. Zoom out and look at the big picture. Then start pruning.

The Mahonias will be left alone from now on. If they start flopping over, we’ll tie them to the fence. We need them to form a natural green barrier.

Let these Mahonias grow up to form a barrier

Kids on a rampage!

By | Education, Pruning | No Comments

Playground in flames

Well, not literally in flames, because there is a fire ban in British Columbia. But we did find damaged cedars in a playground enclosure. And that’s to be expected. Kids play and sometimes, without adult supervision, plants suffer. Like the cedars (Thuja occidentalis) inside the playground. Or trees sporting carved initials or broken branches. Take a look. This was no accident.

It’s unlikely this damage is left over from winter, nor was it likely done by large predatory animals roaming through Langley. I suspect kids did this and only video footage can confirm this. However, I couldn’t just knock on the door and ask for the security footage. I’m not a detective. I’m a landscaper so I do it my way.

The fix

Now, we normally shear cedar hedges from the fall as the weather cools. Assuming it does, of course. It’s already been a crazy hot summer. Not just in British Columbia but globally. So I wasn’t about to shear these poor damaged plants. That would just stress them out considering the 30 degree July heat. Plus we had time.

Out came hand snips and we lopped off the cedar tops just below the damaged stems. It was easy work without noise or air pollution.

Since the far left cedar wasn’t damaged, we had a decision to make. Do we leave it taller than the others or do we take it down to keep the hedge even? The final picture shows that we decided to level it as well to keep the hedge even.

Damage controlled, for now!

A younger landscape pro Vas would try to hunt down the little bastards responsible but a slightly older Red Seal Vas is super mellow. I believe the kids still learned something from their interaction with cedar tree tissues. The damage is fixed and this fall we’ll shear the hedge nicely, including the top. It will push out and, assuming there won’t be anymore insults, recover nicely.

Now I just wish the kids would water the plants.

Terrified by London plane tree bark

By | Trees | No Comments

Calm down!

When apprentices heat up WhatsApp with messages about tree bark, I laugh. It means they still need to spend more time in the field. That’s why the Red Seal program involves school sessions and time in the field. It’s difficult to pass the trade exam without experience. And London plane (Platanus x acerifolia) trees are part of that experience. She’s on the right track by asking questions.

Platanus x acerifolia bark

What about the bark?

The bark on London plane trees is extremely attractive. I have these trees across the street from my place and when I walk by, I peel off some of the bark for the fun of it. I have no immediate use for it. It’s just a bad habit.

Now, should our apprentice worry about the bark on the ground? Or, would it make more sense for her to worry about the sidewalk crack weeds and weeds in the tree wells? The lawn could also use a blade edge; that’s what any good landscape manager would notice. It’s important to cover everything in the landscape.

Of course, there are times when the trees may be diseased but London plane trees shed bark all the time. One reason is renewal: old bark peels off to make room for new, beautiful bark. Another reason is defensive: protect against invading parasites and fungal diseases.

Seed balls

I know London plane trees well because they- they only!-make me cry when I get close to them. I don’t suffer from any allergies but pollen from the seed balls and bark makes my eyes water. In a big way.

The seed balls are as attractive as the bark. They have a hard core to which are attached seeds, making a round seed ball.


If you see your neighbourhood London plane trees shedding bark, chances are they are just renewing their bark or defending themselves against diseases.