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Vas Sladek

Mowing tips for the fall

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Fall recovery

Last fall was extremely dry and it was the first time I saw turfgrasses not recover completely. Normally, our lawns go dormant in summer and then they green up when rains return in the fall. Except last year the rains were delayed. We’ll see what 2023 brings. But this also gives us a chance to consider mowing tips from the Guelph Turfgrass Institute.

The golden rule

One-third rule: never remove more than one third the height of the plant.

Mowing heights depend on grass species and lawn uses. If you cut your lawn higher, you won’t have to cut as often. I know a dude who cuts his grass very short and twice a week. He loves his lawns and has the time. Others don’t care as much. I visit their homes every two weeks and the grass is fine.

Best tips

  • Water deeply and infrequently as this encourages deep root formation and thus better drought tolerance
  • Overseed with drought tolerant species. Check your home region for the best seed mixes.
  • Don’t remove grass clippings. The clippings are natural fertilizer. I love this as a landscape professional because it speeds up my lawn care work: no stopping to empty my mower bag and now green waste to remove. I always do this in summer.
  • Encourage dense grass stands to out-compete weeds: overseed in spring and fall. This issue comes up a lot. Homeowners are always asking about weeds in their lawns. While their lawns will never be weed-free, dense grass stands will make it hard for weeds to establish and thrive.
  • Speaking of weeds, hand pick them and overseed the bare patches you create with seed.
  • In the fall, mulch your fallen leaves into your turf.

Brand new sod

Learn from Red Seal Vas

I find that landscapers and homeowners make the same basic mistakes over and over. It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve taken the worst five mistakes people make and developed them into a stunning online course called “Lawn Care Mastery 101: the top 5 mistakes“. Now you too can mow like a professional. Click the link above or button below and change your life! Your lawns will thank you for it. If you’re reading this blog post to the end and inflation is making your life difficult, contact me for a discount code.

Take good care of your lawns!

Is #NoMowMay a good idea?

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

PlantLife did it!

The PlantLife conservation group from the United Kingdom started #NoMowMay in 2019; and it’s a great idea because it makes us think about pollinators and how to help them thrive. We need pollinators for their free services and getting people to talk about them. The key idea is to stop mowing in May so dandelions can feed pollinators early in the season.

I first heard about #NoMowMay from a buddy who was totally frustrated about his strata council telling him to stop mowing in May. His work days start with lawn care all year so now he had to adjust his service. He was basically down to finesse and pruning work for all of May and it threw him off. I would be lying if I told you that my buddy was deeply concerned about dandelions and pollinators.

And then comes June

#NoMowMay sounds great but not if homeowners and condo landscapers struggle to get their lawns back up to shape in June. One problem with long, meadow-like lawns is that some weed species get easily established and may be difficult to eradicate later. Another problem is suddenly cutting your lawn low in June; back to its normal height. This stresses the lawn as it removes storage.

My buddy clearly struggled with his first regular mow in June. The grass was long and the cut required more effort, time and extra tarps. Don’t even get me started on the long faces his workers had.

Two alternatives

The Guelph Turfgrass Institute proposes two different ideas. One involves moving beyond turfgrass monocultures by adding mowing tolerant flowers such as crocus, creeping buttercup, English daisy or snowdrop.

Another idea is creating naturalized zones close or next to your lawn areas. You can let the naturalized area go wild and grow into a meadow that will support pollinators. As for your lawns, mowing every two weeks is the best way to support pollinators.

The future

We’ll see how the #NoMowMay idea evolves in the future. I love that it gets people talking and thinking about pollinators. We need their services and yet their numbers are declining. But we also have to consider the health of our lawns and their function. When homeowners struggle with their lawns in June, something is wrong. My buddy grumbled about dandelions but he survived the season. And I hope his long lawns helped pollinators get through the early part of the season.

Are you planning to mow your lawn next May?

Let black bears play in your garden

By | gardening | No Comments

“Kids playing”

Two weeks ago I was push mowing in a strata complex when an elderly couple drove up and stopped me to warn me about black bears playing on their back patio. Clearly distressed, they were worried about the well-being of my crew but loud lawn care machines usually repel black bears.

They also bitterly complained about a part of their cedar hedge (Thuja occidentalis) being down. The bears broke off one stem and then sat on it while the owners looked on from the comforts of their over-priced home.

I found it funny because there was nothing to be done. I believe we are extremely lucky to have black bears roaming our neighbourhoods; they’re beautiful animals. Beyond the patio they abused there is a large wild zone and beyond that are long dykes. That’s where the bears find food and hang out. This is their home. So yes, be careful and know what to do when you encounter black bears in the city or on the trails. But don’t worry about any damage they do to your garden. We are fortunate to have these animals.

Easy fix

Later that day I brought over a sharp hand saw, and a rake and tarp. The lady living in this unit is pretty interesting; some would describe her as “high-maintenance”. Often she bikes around on her pricey e-bike and stops by to tell me- in great detail- about invasive plant species that keep her up at night.

My job was to cut and remove the broken cedar stem which was easy with my sharp hand saw. Always use sharp hand saws so you can make quick, sharp cuts. Then, as specified by the homeowner, I had to rake up the drop inside the cedar hedge. Before we left the site, I sent one of our guys there to blow off the grass so it looked like we were never there.

The bears were responsible for the large hole in the hedge. It should grow over eventually. Let the kids play!

Danger: broken branch!

By | Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Don’t delay

As soon I walked into one ground level strata unit yard last week, I noticed piles of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seed cones. You can expect to see some but not piles. Then I looked up and saw the problem: a large branch had broken off and now it was just hanging in the tree. It was suspended in the tree, waiting to claim any unsuspecting victim, which isn’t funny. A child playing on the patio could potentially be killed; and adults would definitely end up concussed, or worse.

Large broken branches must be taken care of immediately. Strata owners should call their garden rep or building manager. A direct call to your landscape contractor like Proper Landscaping would also work.

It happens

You can expect some craziness with trees. Weaknesses develop as the tree matures and with sweetgum trees the weight of their seed pods alone can cause headaches. Here there was some weakness in the branch attachment, as indicated by the black tissues. See the picture below. That’s biology. We just can’t tolerate broken branches stuck in trees for safety, and aesthetic reasons. Our landscapes should be healthy, green and beautiful; and free of hazards.

Note the dark tissues, a clear evidence of weakness


Liquidambar styraciflua trees are an awesome alternative to maple trees. The leaves look similar to maples but the distinctive seed pods give it a unique look. The weight of the seed pods gives the tree a workout. Then, add a bit of wind as in this strata example where the two buildings create a wind a tunnel, and you get trouble.

Sweetgum trees also put on a nice color show in the fall; and they hang on to their leaves for a long time. If you plant one, make sure it has room to grow in the future. It’s not a small garden tree. We see it planted along strata complex streets.


Trees lose branches all the time, in wind storms, through disease and decay; or vandalism, and even self-pruning. The key is to quickly identify dangerous broken branches and remove them, especially inside strata complexes where there are targets like kids, pets and pregnant women. Barbecues and glass plates are also targets.

Call your landscape contractor, building manager, strata manager or council member and remove the danger as soon as possible. I pulled down the branch pictured above with my hands and it landed heavily on the sidewalk. Give trees lots of love, water and respect!

Great news for Red Seal journeyman horticulturist candidates

By | Education | No Comments

The wait is over

Finally, as of September 2023, you can access the Red Seal journeyman horticulturist exam preparation workshop online. Simply buy your study manual ($30 plus tax) online and get free access to on-demand one hour video recording. In the video, Egan Davis covers the crucial material people mess up on the Red Seal exam. This is absolute gold, especially for people challenging the exam. Apprentices who go through all four levels are in better shape but I still recommend this course to anyone planning to sit the Red Seal exam.

Old style

In 2014 I did it the old way, in the classroom. The preparation workshop took place at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and it took all day. It was also nice to see the group discussions which is one thing you can’t do with online, on-demand recordings. Some of the people in class were teachers from Kwantlen Polytechnic University; and I got to see them absolutely “smoke” the test in record time. In contrast, I stayed for the full four hours and left the exam room hungry and dehydrated.

The session cost $100 and the manual covered material that people mess up on the test. I thought it was gold for someone challenging the exam. I’m one hundred percent convinced I wouldn’t have passed without this course. For one, it showed me what exactly was on the test; and two, it gave me more confidence. I still have my notes from that day.

My mentor, Egan Davis

The teacher, Egan Davis, is a plantsman and overall a great guy. Just Google him and see. He ran the UBC horticulture program and then moved to a municipal job. I’ve also attended many of his presentations. I distinctly remember the last lecture I saw him deliver because it was just as the pandemic was hitting. Some of the attendees in the small lecture hall were already fist-bumping which confused me. But not for long. Soon my day-job employer would face pressure online to shut down his business; he didn’t!

Davis knows a lot about plants and his overall great knowledge shows in the exam preparation workshop. He’s knowledgeable and confident. Once you grab his email address, you have a mentor for life.

Just do it!

If you want to challenge or take the Red Seal exam, this workshop is for you. And now you can do it from the comforts of your home. Buy the study manual and watch the one-hour video anytime you want. I highly recommend it because the study manual covers material people mess up. It obviously can’t cover in one hour what apprentices learn in four levels.

I recommend this workshop to everyone: challengers with work experience and apprentices who have gone through all four levels. Good luck!

Pruning: don’t be so formal

By | gardening, Pruning | No Comments

Check before pruning

Before you start pruning, stop to assess everything. Ask yourself why you are pruning and then decide how you will do it. In my nightmares, dudes indiscriminately gun down every shrub in sight with power shears.

It also helps when the clients give you a hint, like this past weekend in White Rock. The lady took me for a walk around her back garden and showed me what work she wanted me to get done soon. One obvious target was a shaggy Euonymus.

Gardens vs Strata complexes

Now, I know that most strata landscapers would grab power shears and prune it into a ball, leaving behind tons of debris on the ground and on top of the shrub. It looks fast but it’s a mirage. We’ll get to that soon.

Luckily, I knew the lady’s garden well and nothing in her garden is sheared into formal shapes: balls, squares, rectangles, etc. She has a nice garden and my monthly visits involve a lot of bitch work. I weed, remove leafiness and cultivate the beds. And I also prune so let’s get back to our euonymus shrub. I grabbed my Felco hand snips and, always minding the location of my pretty fingers, carefully grabbed a few stems before snipping them off. And I held on to the debris which was then disposed of in my garden bag. Power shears seem to be faster but not if you include clean-up time. I had almost zero debris on the ground and on top of the shrub.

Good result

Hand snipping gives the shrub a more natural look since the pruning cuts are slightly staggered. And in this garden setting it totally fits. Tight round balls would only make sense if we had some formal shapes in the garden already, either plants or fixed elements. That isn’t the case in this garden and I love it! I openly confess to happily leaving loud, polluting power shears in the truck and enjoying quiet hand snipping on a sunny day in a quiet-and also white and rich-neighbourhood. It feels like therapy.



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.