All Posts By


Landscape Certification Top 5 Mistakes

By | Education, Landscape Industry | No Comments

Landscape Industry Certified top 5 mistakes

Landscape Industry Certified testing has been in place in Canada since 1995. It was designed as a way to set minimum standards of skill and knowledge within the landscape industry. The CNLA News Brief (summer 2015, volume 24, issue 3) lists the top 5 mistakes made by candidates. Having gone through the testing and getting certified in the fall of 2011, I found the list interesting and correct. I took the liberty of adding my own observations.

1) Forgetting personal protective equipment (PPE)

Safety is extremely important so use whatever is provided for you on the table. This one slip can cost you valuable points and be the difference between pass and fail scores. Sadly, I found this out the hard way. Half-way through the Planting and Staking station, candidates are required to stake their tree with a stake pounder. Ear protection is required for this step. I was so caught up in the station I totally forgot about my head set. The deducted points gave me a fail mark and meant that I would have to wait until fall for my third attempt. Not really trusting myself, I wore my headset for the entire thirty minute test! Success, finally on my third attempt. Remember, this station is testing your ability to follow specifications, not just tree planting and staking. Study the diagram carefully.

Bonus hint: put your tool away safely before grabbing another one. Leaving a shovel on the ground is considered a hazard.

2) Talking instead of doing

One word: action! Take your instructions from the judge and then wow him or her. This is a practical test so just do it. I personally didn’t have this problem.

3) Second-guessing yourself on the written exam

The exam is based on what you do every day. Write with confidence. It does require some preparation. They don’t give it away easily. I didn’t have any problems on the written exams. I wrote them on Friday afternoon, did a few practical stations and then faced a full day of testing on Saturday.

4) Not paying attention during the candidate orientation

Again, I didn’t have any problems here. I was all ears and focused. One minor distraction might be former co-workers from other companies. The testing stations are timed and roll on quickly. There is no room for mistakes.

Hint: don’t watch other candidates, they might be doing it wrong. Walk in there and kill it your way.

5) Getting too nervous

Who enjoys tests? I openly admit to feeling very small in the candidate tent. I ate donuts to comfort myself and then a certain prominent judge walked in and finished the rest.
Allegedly, the judges want you to pass but that wasn’t really obvious. My judges had shades on and responded to my questions with finger movements. Having former managers and supervisors stand only meters away watching was extremely distracting. Luckily, I am stubborn and able to focus. Do the same. The stations are yours to pass. You can do it!

Getting certified shows your clients and bosses that you are serious. It should lead to raises and opportunities for growth in your green career. Your boss should be able to pay the testing fees. Ask nicely.

For more information visit or contact You can also message me if you have questions. Also visit the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) Sign up now, don’t wait until you feel ready.



Testing station


Successful third attempt! Acer platanoides Norway maple


BCLNA awards dinner, cleaned-up Vas on far right, Yay!!

landscape industry certified technician (1)

Soil Compaction: Don’t Forget this Silent Killer

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Lawn Care, Mulch | 2 Comments

Study the dead tree pictured below. What’s wrong here?


A heavy ride-on Deere mower has gone over the area very efficiently, riding right over the root zone. That means less line trimming. Perfect for the municipal workers maintaining this park. The operator does this every ten days or so. But wait. What about the tree itself? The tire tracks point to a deadly condition: soil compaction! (The pictured tree is dead. Was it soil compaction that killed it? Or bored ball players from nearby baseball diamonds? Campers building illegal fires with poached tree branches? Line trimmer damage?)

The 4th edition of Arboriculture defines compaction as the breakdown of soil aggregates. Compaction decreases total pore space in the soil. When large pore spaces are compressed, the resistance to root penetration increases.

The results of compaction?

  • Slow water infiltration
  • Poor aeration
  • Reduced drainage
  • Impaired root growth and activity
  • Increased erosion
  • Mycorrhizal activity declines

Basically, with compaction the tree struggles to obtain water and oxygen, roots can not grow as easily and since water can’t penetrate it runs off, causing erosion on the surface.

The top 4 inches of soil are usually the most affected; the greatest compaction occurs about 0.75 inches below surface.

At the September 2015 Can-West Horticulture Show in Abbotsford, Dr. Kim Coder relayed to us a story about a group of green activists who campaigned to save an ancient tree. They assembled at the base and did what they had to do, never noticing the serious compaction they were responsible for over the root zone. If I recall the story correctly, the tree declined and eventually died.

Think about soil compaction and avoid it! It’s hard work rehabilitating compacted soils. For best results create a nice tree well and mulch it with arbor chips. Many tree companies are happy to donate their wood chips. Problem solved.


Tree Born to be a Landscape Specimen

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Plant Species Information, Species | No Comments

While blowing a strata site on a recent sunny December afternoon, I almost tripped on a huge cone. Intrigued, I smuggled it home past my wife in a lunch bag.

Using my trusted Sibley guide to trees by David Allen Sibley and Google, I found out it was a female Cedrus deodara cone. Deodar cedar is a Himalayas native. According to the Arbor Day Foundation website,, this tree was born to be a landscape specimen. It has elegant pendulous branches, attractive coloring, pleasing shape and interesting branching patterns.

Tree guru Michael Dirr calls the deodar cedar “the most graceful cedar”. It tolerates drought but it’s not really suited for cold zones. The needles are bluish-green or silvery with sharp tips usually borne in clusters, smaller toward twig tips. The needles are shed in spring as new growth appears.

The cones are upright like in firs (Abies) but stouter and they disintegrate over winter, leaving an upright central spike.

photo 2 (2)

Needles in clusters

photo 3 (2)

Female cone, upright

Red Seal Vas on periodicals

By | Arborist Insights, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Magazines, Resources | No Comments

As the 2016 season approaches, I try to finish my dusty magazines from last year. Below are the key periodicals I read. Because my budget is limited, I subscribe to some and buy interesting issues from the others. What do YOU read?

Horticulture Magazine (USA)

It has nice detailed plant and how to articles. I get the digital version because shipping for paper copies to Canada is too high. Lee Valley sells paper copies in the store


Arborist News (International)

This comes bi-monthly and is included with your ISA membership. It’s the main magazine for arborists. Includes quizzes, scientific tree articles and book reviews.
Warning: ISA also publishes a book catalogue full of great but pricey books. I never seem to have the budget for everything on my wish list.

photo 5

photo 4

Gardenwise, Canadian Gardening and Garden Making (Canada)

Good coverage of Canada. The best part of Gardenwise is the chores page that outlines what to do in your garden for a particular month. Garden Making is the newest and prettiest of the three. It has nice how to articles and lots of plants.

photo 3 (1)


photo 4 (1)

Fine Gardening (USA)

Great photos but this magazines can seriously add to your food bill as you throw it into your food cart. Covers all of USA so my interest is in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy the how to articles on pruning. Plenty of botanical names.

photo 2 (1)

Landscape Management (USA)

A magazine for landscape company owners and managers. The most interesting issue is the one with top annual revenues. The numbers will blow you away.
You can get it for free if you own a landscape company in Canada. You can also check out the online version at

photo 1 (1)

Success magazine (USA)

Every issue comes with bonus audio CD. I listen to it on the way to my sites. Articles cover important topics related to business and personal success. I am also a fan of publisher Darren Hardy. His book “Entrepreneur Rollercoaster” is a must read. Darren also has a daily blog you can subscribe to. Available at local stores.

photo 5 (1)

What do YOU read?

On Effective Supervision

By | Landscaping | No Comments

Vas on effective supervision


One day in the field this past summer, I was forced to attend to another task ( backpack blow) which meant that my under-performing, trained worker had to be on his own. Fortunately, his bedwork was in a defined circular bed, he had clear time parameters, his progress was measurable in green waste generation and quality (weed-free bed), and, big bonus, cell reception was extremely poor (his lonely out of town girlfriend had to wait). Then it hit me and a blog was born. This was a perfect effective supervision case study.


For best results in landscape maintenance, the crew foreman should always attempt to keep his workers together. Tasks and tools can change hands but the crew sticks together. Splitting up can result in loss of control for the foreman in charge. We need results.

But what if you can’t be there? The boss shows up or strata president comes in with a pressing landscape emergency. Now what? Keep the following five points in mind.

  1. The workers must be trained to perform the assigned tasks. This is critical. We can’t leave them if they can’t do the work
  2. The work should be in a defined location, for example units 1-10, front entrance, or a circular bed. This keeps it simple for the workers and for the foreman. Spell out your expectations.
  3. The workers should be given clear time parameters. In this case we had roughly 90 minutes which was generous for one circular bed planted with native species.
  4.  Work progress should be measurable, in the volume of green waste generated or in the number of strata units completed
  5. Check all work when you return and give constructive feedback. Stick together as you continue with your maintenance work. Feedback is also critical.


Now go deliver Proper results for your clients!

Frequently asked about this native shrub……

By | Arborist Insights, Species | No Comments

After fielding many, many questions about this native shrub, it’s time to give it its own blog. Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry) is a native shrub. In the wild it forms dense thickets. In strata landscapes it gets sheared down to size in winter. Now would be a good time to do it. The shrub produces small flowers in June which attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Then in fall we get many clusters of white berries and they last into winter. This is why, I presume, my workers and residents ask about this native shrub. The white berries are hard to miss. Native birds eat them. Sometimes I think about this when I am asked to shear the shrub to size. The poor birds might go hungry.

The common snowberry is easy to grow and tolerates all but very wet soils. If you don’t have this shrub on your strata property you are bound to see it on your nature walk. If you see clusters of white berries, chances are it’s the Common Snowberry. If you want to sound like a native plant expert, use the botanical name Symphoricarpos albus.

Symphoricarpos albus

Symphoricarpos albus Common Snowberry

Review: HortusTV, Television for Gardeners…….

By | Arborist Insights, Reviews | No Comments

After seeing ads for HortusTV in Garden Making magazine, I decided to give it a try. The website offers a seven day trial and you don’t have to hand over your credit card information to enjoy your free week. Most episodes are in the 20 minute range and lots of different topics are covered. The selection looks limited as I write this but the episodes are shot really well. You will learn lots of interesting stuff, guaranteed. Once the number of shows increases it will make sense to pay monthly. For the moment I will keep my cash for Netflix.

Once you get your free 7-day trial, log in and first go to the Small Town Gardens series hosted by Rachel de Thame. She is easily the world’s prettiest horticulturist!
If the number of her episodes doubles, I will subscribe to HortusTV. I watched an episode about a windy apartment patio. The owners needed more privacy and heavy winds were an issue. It was an interesting problem for the landscape architect.

The Earth’s Garden series examines the connection between people and plants. In the Kew Gardens episode you will discover an interesting tree, Amorphophallus titanum. Kew is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. It is on my “Live it” list.

Another interesting series was about spring around the world. All of these episodes are worth watching, especially South Africa.

My recommendation would be to do the free seven day trial and then wait for the number of shows to triple before paying monthly.


Stihl Dream Machine…..

By | Arborist Insights, Education, Landscaping Equipment | No Comments

You know the scenario well. You are blowing a strata site and your worker stops you with a question. So you stop and then take the blower off your back to start it again. Back to your leaf avalanches. Then a strata lady stops you with a pressing landscape emergency. You get the picture. I always wanted a better system where I wouldn’t have to take the unit off my back to restart it. And this year Stihl came out with my dream machine, BR 450 C-EF professional blower!


(Image courtesy of Stihl USA,

​Key features:

  1. Electric on/off switch so you can keep the blower on your back and eliminate idling (and excessive noise) as you go from one area to the next.
  2. The blower tube extends by loosening the orange collar, no need to fit two pieces together like on my Echo blower
  3. The trigger has adjustable cruise so you are not stuck at maximum power on cruise control
  4. The trigger is easily moved along the tube with one lock, no need to tighten anything

I am not sure if this blower is available in the Lower Mainland but it is on my wish list!


Get Landscape Industry Certified!

By | Arborist Insights, Landscape Industry, Resources | No Comments

This past fall, with daylight quickly fading out, I witnessed a residential landscape service blitz at a house next door. Three men mowed and pruned in semi-darkness. When you look at the globe cedars pictured, pruning must be used loosely. The cedars should be evenly sheared into nice globes and the clean up should match the pruning job. Always! Incredibly, this is their finished product and the clippings remain on the ground weeks later. Presumably they got paid for this “service”.

photo 1


photo 3

Then it hit me! This is why landscape professionals get certified. To get some separation from people who produce and accept this kind of service.

The Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association (CNLA) runs the Landscape Industry Certified program in Canada. The program helps landscapers validate their skills and prove, by passing all written and practical tests, that they have the minimum required skill levels. Employers love it and clients should look for this logo. If you are lucky your employer will cover your testing fees. Ask nicely.

landscape industry certified technician

Visit or e-mail

Proper Deep-Edging 101

By | Edging, Landscaping, Mulch | No Comments

Deep-edging beds and tree wells is a great winter task. It defines our bed edges nicely. While it is not a very difficult task, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. Always put in sharp ninety degree edges and if your bed has freshly installed soil or mulch do not mess it up with soil chunks. First, rake your mulch or soil away from the edge! See example below.


1) Only 90 degrees will do. Position your spade so you get a nice ninety degree edge.


2) Put your foot behind the spade to prevent bed edge rounding


3) Continue with sharp edging, then beat up any clumps and rake up


4) All done! Do not make volcanoes, instead remove any excess soil

Important! To deep-edge beds with fresh mulch or soil DO NOT kick up fresh soil chunks over the new soil or mulch.


1) Rake away fresh soil from the edge


2) Deep edge and cleanup


3) Pull back the soil to your new edge; use the same Proper procedure for mulched beds