Monthly Archives

October 2023

In the garden: simple summer tasks

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Feeling the heat?

There was a hot, dry and dusty stretch in July and August and many landscapers had difficulty finding work. Since their lawns were short and brown, they had extra time on their hands. And finding work on site shows experience.

To find work you have to look closely at your landscape or garden. The work is there. I know because I have done it. When people cry there is no work, I rush in to help them. That is what good landscape managers do. Let us take a look.

Work examples

Any ferns that have not been clipped in spring, like this native sword fern (Polystichum munitum), can be done in summer.

Dead out

Dead plants and dead branches look awful. We want everything to look great: healthy and beautiful. So do not be afraid to cut dead stuff out.

Easy hand pick: dead branch on top of this rhododendron

This dead rhododendron branch really bothered me. One cut and I could sleep well at night.

Cut back the brown Bergenia leaves
Snip out dead out of junipers.


This low branch looks terrible; we need a nice upright look. When the branches touch the ground you can make them disappear.


I planted this groundcover to compete with weeds and it’s doing really well. Almost too well. So, clip it back inside the triangle borders.


This sweetgum tree is sending out suckers from its roots right through a juniper. So, I snipped it at ground level to create the separation we need. It wouldn’t make sense to let the sweetgum get bigger inside the juniper.

It has taken two seasons for this invading cottonwood tree to grow back to annoying size. I actually cut it back myself because the foreman on site thought it was planted on purpose. It wasn’t. Cottonwoods get quite large and this site is small.

I did my best to remove all roots but there is one buried deep in the soil and I didn’t have the time to excavate it, which means I will be back in two years to humble the invader once again.


Take a good look around your home garden or strata landscape. Even during summer when conditions are dry, there is plenty of work. You just have to look for it. Looks for details that get missed during the busy months. Check every corner, every raised bed and every back exit area.

Chainsaw attachment 101

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The basics

Recently I purchased a chainsaw attachment for around $300 which fits onto my ECHO PAS engine. Since I mostly do pruning, not logging, I opted for this attachment instead of a regular dedicated chainsaw. If you take down trees and cut them into firewood then definitely get one of those.

Yesterday I had to remove six dead cedars so I used this chainsaw attachment to take down the tops in sections, leaving a three foot “joystick”. The joystick gives you nice leverage when you try to take out the root ball.

The new, sharp chain sliced through the dead stems nicely. And that is the point: chainsaws speed things up, especially when you are getting paid by project, not by the hour.

Another job I have lined up involves lifting pine branches growing from a neighbouring property off my client’s maple trees. It’s time for some separation and the chainsaw attachment is perfect for this work because it gives me some space between me and the branches. With a dedicated chainsaw I would require a ladder which would be awkward.

Before you start

Always read the manual and consider your safety before firing up the chainsaw attachment. Make sure you have bar and chain oil in the chamber and always keep your hand tool close by. You will need it if the chain slips off the bar, gets loose or the unit requires cleaning. One optional purchase is a spare chain. I fully intend to learn how to sharpen my chain to save money and learn a new skill. I am an ISA certified arborist but I have never sharpened a chain.

My fear is working out in the field and having the chain break on me. It is nice to have a spare chain.

Put in bar and chain oil and keep the hand tool close by!

Safety is important in the field. Every. Day. So, make sure you have a helmet and eye and ear protection. I have a helmet with earmuffs and a shield. Having the long bar between you and the chainsaw makes this set-up safer than with a regular chainsaw which is closer to your body.

A note on pruning quality

Here is a pro tip: chainsaw attachments are great for taking down trees in sections but not for making awesome, precision cuts close to the main stem. It is very easy to slip and cut into the bark when making a finishing cut at the branch collar. I prefer to make these cuts with a handsaw.

One of my clients has a dead tree in front of his house and he needs to remove it. So, I will take it down slowly in firewood chunks. Note how there are not any precision pruning cuts to make here.


If you own an Echo PAS engine then this chainsaw attachment is a great buy. Visit Foreshore Equipment in Burnaby and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.

Why I love my Japanese hori-hori knife

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From Japan, with love

It used to be that only my trusted Felco 2 hand snips would hang on my belt. But now my belt also supports the Japanese hori-hori knife. It’s very sturdy so you feel its weight a little bit, it has a sharp tip like most knives and one side is serrated. This comes in handy when you are dividing perennials in the fall.

The knife also bailed me out yesterday when I was taking out dead cedar trees. Since I forgot to bring a shovel (don’t ask!) I was able to stick the knife in the ground and find the roots, which I then severed with my hand snips. I hate to do this with my hand snips because they get dull quickly. The hori-hori knife is designed for dirty work. It’s also sharp enough to slice through thin roots.

Who needs a shovel? I used the knife to stab a circle around each cedar and the extraction went well after that. All six trees were dead and fairly easy to extract.

Pro tip: leave the bottom portion of the cedar stem standing so you can use it as a joystick during removal.


This project sounds super easy, and it was. But it also highlights the importance of extras. Normally I only maintain the front of this eight unit complex, once a month. And if you stick around long enough, do a good job and get to know people, they will give you extra work.

No, I didn’t get rich from this side project but it did pay off a portion of my recent chainsaw attachment purchase.

Other uses

The hori-hori knife is labelled as a digging and weeding knife. It’s a huge gift if you work with freaks who insist on weeding with their fingers. That’s because we need to uproot the weeds and the sharp hori-hori knife is perfect for this work.

I get involved in this debate every season: weeding requires tools, unless you’re only hand picking massive trophy weeds. Professionals use tools! And as soon as I say it, people get sidetracked wondering if Red Seal Vas is a professional instead of focusing on weeds.

Personally I find hand weeding with my fingers very taxing on my fifty-something hands. Why abuse myself when I can uproot the weeds with my beautiful $30 hori-hori knife.


You will need a sheath for your hori-hori knife because it’s sharp and you’re less likely to lose it. The Japanese got it right by making a closed belt loop sheath. Lee Valley got it wrong by making a button belt loop. It took me literally five minutes in the field to lose the knife because the button closure is too flimsy for non-stop landscape activity. Don’t buy this belt loop; get one that’s closed.


For $30 the hori-hori Japanese digging and weeding knife is a great tool to hang on your belt right next to your snips. You can use it for weeding, dividing perennials, digging and to keep degenerates away.

Why is my Dawn Redwood tree browning?

By | Company News | No Comments

Do we have a problem?

The owner of this young Dawn redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) started panicking when his prized tree showed signs of browning. Now what? People on Facebook offered lots of advice, as they often do.

My own comments were about the tree well. I would enlarge it to keep lawn care machines away from the tree; and to allow the tree to collect water and nutrients. It’s good to keep grass away from your tree because it’s a tough competitor. Sometimes trees planted in lawns don’t thrive; all you get is status quo.

Another obvious issue is water and proper planting. Was the tree planted properly at grade and watered in? Is it getting enough water right now? Or too much?

Since the owner cuts his own grass he’s confident there hasn’t been any damage done to the tree by lawn care machines. Of course, we know well that even professionals can make mistakes.

The key?

Then one lady correctly observed that Dawn redwoods are deciduous so you can expect their needles to turn orange before dropping to the ground. Bald cypress is another evergreen that loses its needles. Which means that the owner shouldn’t be panicking. The tree is doing its thing: as fall approaches its needles start to change color. If the tree pushes out new needles next year, life is good.

Dawn redwood

According to my internet search, Dawn redwoods were first identified from fossil records. But then in the 1940s, live specimens were found in China. Today we see the trees planted in our British Columbia landscapes.

Early into my stint at my current day job company, the boss took me into a strata section and asked me to identify beautiful evergreen specimens. I didn’t skip a beat: Metasequioa glyptostroboides! Impressed, my boss and co-workers didn’t know that, purely by coincidence, I had read an article about the trees the night before. Now whenever I encounter these trees I think of this day and laugh.

If you have lots of space in your garden you can’t go wrong by planting one of these trees. The bark is beautiful. And remember, when the needles turn orange and fall to the ground you don’t have a problem. Dawn redwoods are deciduous.

Garden professor takes on myths

By | Education, gardening | No Comments

Link of gold

Usually, surfing online is an awful time-waster but not today. While checking my Facebook feed I came across a recent video recording of a presentation given by my mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. You might have read my earlier blog about Linda. In it, I call her my hero because she covers gardening as a scientist. This means that her findings and writings are based in science, not gardening hearsay. When I read about her experiments with mulch flammability I was extremely jealous. I would love to torch different mulches in the name of science.

Linda uses science to bust persistant gardening myths. You can listen to her presentation below. I can almost guarantee you that you will learn something new. It’s also possible that you too are holding on to gardening myths. Let Linda dispel it for you.

My mentor

Before the pandemic hit, I almost got to see Linda at a trade show in Abbotsford. I have several of her books -highly recommended-and I follow her because she writes on topics that apply to my everyday work as a landscape professional.

Let’s see some examples. I know a strata site where one of the residents buys lady beetles every year with after-tax dollars to deal with aphids. It sounds like a plausible idea until you realize that the lady has no way of keeping the lady beetles on her tree. There are more trees on her site. Linda has an extension paper that deals with this topic. (Spoiler alert: don’t do it!)

Now, what about landscape fabric? It’s sounds great! Put it down, cover it with soil or mulch and never weed again. Not so fast. The fabric clogs up and doesn’t let water through; and when the soil decomposes, thin layers can actually make life very cosy for weeds. Landscape fabric is a waste of money. (Now you know!)

Get to know Linda

Gardening is fascinating. There is always something new to learn and I have a lot of respect for garden professionals. But there are many opinions that aren’t backed up by science so why not let Linda show you the way. You can thank me later. She’s an awesome lady and she lives in our corner of the world, in the Pacific Northwest. That’s a huge bonus.

Poor planting you must avoid

By | Installations | No Comments

Not the best

What’s wrong with this picture?

This obviously isn’t the best planting job; nor is it a great photograph. If you can, zoom in a little bit to see how the root ball is almost fifty-percent exposed. Roots anchor the rhododendron and seek out water and nutrients for the shrub. They can’t really do their job when they’re exposed to the elements. They just desiccate and die.

I took this picture in summer when the province was in drought conditions. Clearly, the plant is in a rough shape. It’s dead and I wonder if it could have been prevented with better planting.

Planting too deep is just as bad so make sure your root flare-where stem becomes root-is planted at grade or just slightly above to allow for settling.

Why so bad?

I hate to rush when I’m planting trees and shrubs but let’s be honest, workers are usually under pressure to put stuff in the ground and move on. So, why is the rhododendron dead?

One problem is planting in newly installed amender or lawn and garden mix. When the soil is installed it’s nice and fluffy but it does settle over time. And it also decomposes or gets washed away by rain. Now, if the rhododendron was planted in the fluffy stuff which subsequently settled, it could result in the trouble we see above.

It’s best to plant your shrubs in native soil and then put amender around the plants but not against the stems. I don’t like planting directly into amender; it’s always preferable to plant into native soils.

We also don’t know if the shrub got enough water post-planting. I suspect it didn’t because this is a non-irrigated site. Another, less obvious problem, is that the amender is fairly warm on the day it’s installed. Planting new shrubs into it can damage the roots. It’s best to plant later or water the planting holes at install time.

Proper planting also saves cash. Somebody had to plant the rhododendron, and somebody had to pay for it. Replanting it takes time; and replacing it is also expensive. Let’s just do it right the first time so we can have a healthy landscape that will inspire the residents. When I look at the picture above, I’m close to depression. We can do better.

Low-profile zones need love, too!

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Don’t discriminate

I love seeing and knowing the entire garden or strata complex landscape. Not just the high-profile entrance and car ramp areas but every little corner, including raised box beds and back of the building areas. You must move beyond the “beauty strip” to succeed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about it; but I remembered the idea when I substituted recently for another vacationing landscape foreman. His main helper volunteered to cover the back of the building by himself, which sounds like he reads my blogs. Not so. He’s a smoker and by working at the back of the building he gets to smoke a lot of “fags”. My only worry, with the province in drought conditions, was a human-caused fire in the neighbouring wild zone.


Low-profile zones are weedy; full of small weeds and big trophies. There is also some seed drift from the wild zone next door. Cultivation fluffs up the soil nicely as well.

Another less obvious task was establishing tree wells around trees planted in the lawn. Without tree wells to warn lawn care workers about trees, there is bound to be trouble as lawn care machines crash into tree bark. This leads to stress and, if repeated weekly, to death.


When we walked the back area later in the afternoon to assess everything we noticed several blemishes. One was tree stakes installed way too low. Normally, stakes are roughly at chest height, depending on the tree. The stakes we saw were at knee height which makes them ineffective.

Another blemish worth covering in a separate blog, involves shrub planting. Many of the shrubs were sitting high with portions of their root balls exposed. That’s crazy because the roots desiccate and die. Read my next blog post to find out how this can happen.

Residential low-profile corners

Yesterday, my job was to clean-up a backyard residential garden. It was full of magnolia leaves from last fall; there were some dead shrubs and dead branches to remove, and of course, weeds. When I did the final clean up blow I discovered a hidden corner behind a stack of chairs. A perfect example of low-profile garden neglect.

Small weedy areas like this produce weed seeds so it’s best to keep everything in check. Remember, check every single area around your house and garden. Don’t discriminate!

A cleaned-up low-profile zone

Red Seal Vas visits the arborist store

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Why care?

As you visit this blog and read the headline, you’ll probably think “why should I care about an arborist store?” It’s not like I’m an arborist; I hire those people in shiny helmets so they can charge me exorbitant sums of money for tree and shrub maintenance. Hold on, let me explain.

It’s important to know where your nearest arborist store is because they sell quality, sharp hand saws, snips and loppers; tools homeowners are most likely to use. Yes, the big box stores carry those tools but they’re not as good. Go for quality so you can make great cuts, every time. It happens to me every year: I show up at a client’s place and they eagerly push their own tools on me. The hand saws have rust on them and finger prints from the Second World War. So, I politely decline the offer and use my sharp hand saws.

Getting there

The arborist store in located in an industrial area on 1515 Broadway Street, unit 605, in Port Coquitlam. I didn’t find it easily but the outdoor signs helped. The store itself is nice enough. It’s like a candy store for arborists.

I was there to buy a pole pruning attachment and not seeing prices on the items was annoying. It forces you to check the price on every item with the dude behind the counter. I found what I was looking for but it wasn’t cheap. However, I expect to get my money back after a few tree jobs; it’s an investment so I didn’t cry about it.

Then I noticed a Japanese hori-hori knife for weeding and pruning; and for protection from degenerates. I also love the sheath which attaches nicely to my belt. Months earlier I purchased a smaller knife at Lee Valley but, incredibly, the sheath had a button on the belt loop. Clearly, the designers don’t work in the field. It took fifteen minutes for the button to fail and the knife slide down my rain pants. This is a major fail. The Japanese got it right!


Before paying I registered my business with the store and now, as I suspected, I’m getting weekly junk mail with discount codes. I also picked up free stickers before snapping a few pictures and leaving the store. Obviously, professional tree dudes know this store well but I would argue that homeowners too, should get to know it. They can buy good quality, sharp tools here, from snips and hand saws to loppers.

I bought my pole pruner attachment so I can do easy tree work. The Japanese hori-hori wasn’t exactly a required item but I do like the knife. You can weed with it and divide perennials.

You don’t have to be an arborist to visit this store. Walk in and check out the sharp tools on the wall right in front of the cashier. Pay extra for good quality.