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Vas Sladek

Is it lilac or cottonwood?

By | Company News | No Comments

A true story

There was a young cottonwood growing in between two strata (multi-family complex) units. And our young landscape foreman panicked, unsure about the plant species. It looked like a lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and he wasn’t about to prune or remove a lilac shrub.

What if the fragrant flowers go missing and the owners blame him for it. So, he let the shrub grow. Until the boss showed up and ordered him to remove it.

What struck me was the dude’s panicked face. This is the same dude who can tell good marijuana from junk full of straw; and we know he has a mobile phone with Google access. Why then is he so shy?

Let’s settle it

As soon as I heard this story, I knew I had a new blog post handed to me. So, I took some pictures and then life and work got busy. But, the idea was written down and saved for later. Which would be today, March 2022, and the blog post will get published in June 2022.

So, let’s settle this, without Google. Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) is a fast growing tree. At maturity it can be over 30m in height. When I photographed it, it was still a manageable baby tree; and fairly easy to remove. When cottonwoods mature, they tend to self-prune by dropping branches. Left to mature in this location, that would mean exposing families to branch bombardment.

This cottonwood is very happy here but it can’t stay.

Since we don’t have pictures of flowers, the key distinction between the two species is leaf arrangement. Cottonwood trees have alternate leaf arrangement.

Alternate leaf arrangement.

Now, when I think of lilacs, I think of shrubs with showy fragrant flowers. As a boy in Prague, I used to climb a mature lilac at my grandpa’s villa. I know the fragrance really well and still find it intoxicating.

Again, at the time, we didn’t have flowers so let’s look at lilac leaf arrangement: it’s opposite and whorled.

Opposite leaf arrangement on Syringa vulgaris. Note the fat buds as well.

Unlike cottonwoods, lilacs don’t get as tall. They might reach something like 5-7m at maturity.

Have no fear

Let’s be honest, most people know what lilacs look like but, if you look quickly, there are some similarities between the leaves. Still, lilacs versus cottonwoods shouldn’t even come up for a landscape foreman with experience.

Have no fear! If you’re not sure about a plant species, look it up and key it out. You might learn something.

Landscape side-hustle benefits

By | Side-hustle | No Comments

Benefits

Landscape side-hustles come with many benefits. It’s not just cash, even though today, in spring 2022, cash sounds great. Interest rates are going up, inflation is at 6% and gas prices are close to $2/L. Add to that Putin’s war in Ukraine, and making some extra cash on the side sounds great. Don’t even get me started on my daughter’s braces.

Ideas

Working at my regular landscape manager job and side-hustles provides me with plenty of blog post ideas. That’s gold and it keeps things interesting. Some homeowners are hilarious, like the lady with a potted hydrangea, wondering if she should prune it. I could count just a few short stems so her specimen should be left alone for at least one season. Then she might get some flowers in 2023.

Obviously, professional blogging is a form of side-hustle in itself. Always look for new opportunities. I became a pro blogger when the owner of this website needed some posts for his website.

Practice!

Extra side-work allows you to practice your craft; and it’s often more enjoyable because it’s not done on an hourly basis. I know I can install three yards of mulch fairly quickly and leave the clients with a good looking front yard that will stay weed-free for months.

Fresh mulch and happy clients!

Every pruning job, lawn care fix and question answered build up your confidence, knowledge and experience. The most interesting gigs are turned into blog posts. Of course they are.

Networking

Another benefit of side-hustling is enlarging your network. Some people may not need your services right away but they can recommend you to others. Or what seems like a lunch money kind of gig can grow like wildfire.

Once we were approached by a homeowner from across the street. Because his lawn patch looked small, my buddy immediately rejected the man and sent me over. Two years later, I’ve done more work for him and his friends; and I have access to even more work this season. All because I said yes to an easy job.

Look past money, enlarge your network and reap the benefits. I now have a client who likes my work and wants to continue to work with me on his various projects. That feels good.

Solving problems

Side-hustle work can also allow you to genuinely help people. Like the nearly deaf 86-year-old woman living alone who can no longer mow her own lawn but enjoys looking at one.

Or the man with retina problems who isn’t allowed to lift anything. He can’t do his own landscaping work and I’m happy to do it for him. When his daughter got married last summer, I pimped out their house so it looked great.

Fresh mulch, in time for wedding guests.

Now they’re moving and I will be their gardener at the new place! That’s a good client. If you do good work, don’t be afraid to say it.

Then you have the obvious case of the well-to-do people who are too busy to do their own weeding. They leave it up to you and e-transfer you money when you ask. Diving into their pool is a better use of their time.

The funniest was a lady who called me about a final lawn cut in fall. She needed help because her mower wasn’t working. So, I came over, and discovered that her mower was totally fine. The gas valve was shut off: mowers run on gas so the line must be open.

I cut her lawn and gave it much-needed edging. Who knows, she might need help again in 2022. I haven’t asked yet.

The best “client” I have is a buddy who doesn’t care about his landscaping and refuses to put money into it. When his neighbours start whispering, he calls me to knock down the wilderness.

A wild backyard I get to knock down once in a while.

Nothing new

Side-hustles are now an accepted part of life in Canada and the US. Many people make extra money on the side. Landscaping is made for side-hustlers. You don’t even have to advertise because people will approach you when they see you work.

And while some people will try to save money and do their own work, many happily accept your offers of help. Good clients also let you teach them, that’s why they’re gold.

Do it!

If you get a chance to try a side-hustle, do it. It can be a source of extra fun, income, practice and it can enlarge your network. Give it a try.

Red Seal Vas is always available for hire!

Hart’s tongue fern 101

By | Plants | No Comments

Plant ID fight club

Do you struggle with botanical names? I know I do. Remembering botanical names is always a fight. As soon as I learn a few new ones, I see a plant I know and it takes me several minutes to recall Liatris spicata. So, this blog post is a kind of trick. While it introduces you to an evergreen fern, Asplenium scolopendrium, it also builds my memory and yours. I hope.

Asplenium scolopendrium stands out in our gardens because its fronds are solid and evergreen. I love the way it looks.

When my residential clients asked me about plants for their shady sidewalk bed, I mentioned the Hart’s tongue fern and they bought some. Of course, after learning the botanical name Asplenium scolopendrium I picked up the plastic pot and the tag said Phyllitis scolopendrium. I shouldn’t have panicked because my Google search would soon reveal that it was just a synonym, not a different species.

Asplenium has a connection to “spleen” and scolopendrium refers to “centipedes”, presumably because the sori (spores) on the frond undersides are arranged in rows, thus resembling centipedes.

Now, I’m hoping this information will jog my memory when I walk by a specimen of Asplenium scolopendrium. If it doesn’t, I will have to Google my own blog post. But, I feel like this is a good start. Spleen and centipedes.

Caring for Asplenium scolopendrium

I could list everything here but you might as well read the tag I photographed. One key is good drainage because this fern can suffer from root rot. Otherwise, it’s disease and pest free.

Install fun

Shady corner install

Good clients listen and learn from you. When I suggested a few of my favourite shade plants, they bought them without hesitation and at hefty retail prices.

We put Black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) in front and two fern species in the back: Asplenium scolopendrium and the native sword fern (Polystichum munitum). They all looked fine a year later when I visited the home recently; there is adequate shade but I do wonder about road salts spilling over.

To summarize

Remembering botanical names isn’t easy but it’s important. I struggled to remember Asplenium scolopendrium but typing it out in this blog post 35 times might help. You can also think Asplenium (spleen) and scolopendrium (centipedes). That might hep jog your memory.

Another important step in remembering botanical names is actually planting the specimens in the ground. I keep plant tags whenever possible; and sometimes my wife finds them laundered and shredded at the bottom of our washing machine.

Now, when I go back to my client’s place to do bed clean-up, I should be able to blurt out Asplenium scolopendrium. I might even remember Phyllitis.

Note the sori in lines, thus the specific epithet scolopendrium which refers to centipedes.

Flannel flower

By | Plants | No Comments

A tattoo

It all started with a tattoo I saw on a young summer helper’s arm. You don’t often see flowers on young men’s arms so I asked a few questions, like any other plant geek. The flower in question was the Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi). The genus Actinotus means “furnished with rays”.

Why put it on your arm? What’s so special about it? I did some research on Google to find out because the dude is no longer employed with us and I don’t recall what exactly made him choose the Flannel flower. I just remember that his father was from Australia and when they visited the country, the dude must have noticed the flowers around Sydney.

The Flannel flower is a symbol of purity used in festivals and religious ceremonies.

It’s also adaptable and enduring which is why it’s able to survive in the bushland around Sydney.

The daisy-shaped flower is also beautiful and strong which is why it’s Australia’s national symbol for the promotion of mental health awareness. The dude’s tattoo was OK but I didn’t see the beauty until I saw pictures on Pinterest. Now I understand.

Botanical notes

The Flannel flower is actually very interesting because its stems, flowers and leaves are all grey in colour; and they’re all covered in soft downy hairs. Thus the flannel name.

We know that hairs are an adaptation for avoiding water loss. That’s why the flower can survive in the bushland; and why it’s a good plant for a rock garden.

The flowers appear in spring; you can grow them from seed or cuttings and plant them in well-drained, sunny locations.

Plant lust

I think every plant on Earth is interesting and the Flannel flower definitely fits. I’m glad I asked my co-worker about his tattoo because it inspired this blog post. If you ever find yourself in Sydney, you will be ready to explore thanks to my blog post.

How trees love me back

By | landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

Tree hugger’s good karma

I love trees, and recently I found out that they love me back. Let me explain. When a new residential client contacted me, she specifically mentioned blowing her driveway clean every 2-3 weeks. This didn’t completely make sense until I met her.

Since the lady runs a mobile detailing service and does a lot of work in her driveway, she wants to have it nice and clean. Now, if you stand in her driveway and look up you’ll see giant Douglas fir branches coming over from the neighbouring lot.

Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are native trees in British Columbia and they’re easy to identify because their cones have unique bracts. Many specimens on Vancouver Island are very old. Harvey Rustad’s book “Big lonely Doug” is about a Douglas fir 66m tall and about 1,000 years old. I highly recommend this book.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Needles!

Douglas firs drop a lot of needles and branches all the time. Incidentally, you will never catch me calling trees “messy”. Trees do what they do.

What this means is that the lady will need my help all year; and thanks to this tree species’ habit of dropping needles and shedding branches, I will make some spare cash all year. It’s like a constant side-hustle money machine. No, it won’t make me rich but my work does solve someone’s problem. And the lady is really nice. She’s a true client because she’s not afraid to listen to my suggestions and act on them.

Customers only care about price and will drop you for Tom, who is $1 cheaper.

When I drove home that day, I was convinced trees loved me back. Who knew trees could drive a side-hustle operation without getting cut down and turned into toilet paper?

Here we also see one of the benefits of doing side-gigs. You learn new things and meet interesting new clients. It isn’t always about money.

Take care of your trees and who knows, one day they might show you their love!

Horrific UK tree planting

By | Trees | No Comments

Lessons from the UK

Tree planting is a science. It’s not just a quick, dig a hole, put plant in, affair. And here’s some proof from the United Kingdom. I got the photo from Dr. Duncan Slater through LinkedIn.

Take a look and see what you think is wrong.

Lessons

There are three main lessons from this tree planting fail and they transfer nicely from the UK to Canada. Let’s take a look.

Lesson 1: stakes

Having one, extremely tight stake doesn’t work. Clearly the top of the tree snapped off in a wind storm because there is no “play” allowed for the tree trunk. You can solve this problem by installing two stakes with arbor tie which allow for movement and subsequent development of reaction wood. It’s like lifting weights: the more you life, the stronger you get. Held super tight, the tree never develops this reaction wood and snaps in a severe storm.

This is what also happens when stakes are left on for more than the recommended fourteen months.

Lesson 2: tree wells and mulch

The absence of tree wells is very noticeable. Young trees benefit from tree wells and mulch. The tree wells channel water into the root zone and protect the tree from lawn care machines. Inevitably, someone will come along to take care of the shaggy grass near the trunk, and the bark will get slashed. Possibly weekly.

We know that turf is a stiff competitor for new trees. They might live but they won’t thrive. Having an established tree well definitely helps.

The mulch keeps moisture in and benefits the tree as it breaks down.

This is how the City of Burnaby does it. Two stakes and mulch.


Lesson 3: location, location, location

Location matters in tree planting. The puddles visible in the picture mean that there is poor drainage. Since water displaces oxygen, our new trees can struggle and will most likely suffocate.

Conclusion

Tree planting is a science and it should be done with care. That’s the only way we can ensure that the trees will survive and thrive. They’re expensive to buy, install and replace. We need them to live for a long time and provide us with their many free ecosystem services.

Abused by an algorithm

By | Trees | No Comments

A rare slip

I always try to post normal, family-friendly stuff online. Especially on the Proper Landscaping website. I’m more like a permanent guest blogger here and this is family-friendly place. Unfortunately, last week I slipped. Luckily, it wasn’t a post on this blog, and I had no idea for a while.

While scrolling through my older posts, I noticed one about Ginkgo trees that was flagged and removed by Google. Presumably by a strict algorithm. What? I admit I was a bit surprised.

But first, take a look to see if you find it offensive.

Now, the botanical facts are, to my knowledge, completely accurate. The female Ginkgo fruits produce a strong odour. You can Google the scent description; I have no idea how to describe it. It’s not pleasant but it’s hardly overwhelming.

I’ve used the fruits in several pranks and to date I don’t recall any hospitalizations. Just hate mail through WhatsApp.

The specimen where I collected the fruits and seeds sits on a private property and the landscape architect deserves credit for fearlessness. Google algorithms are much stronger today.

Male Ginkgo trees dominate on city streets for a good reason. Imagine city sidewalks covered in fruits that produce an unpleasant odour. The seeds themselves are big enough to send senior citizens to hospital with bone fractures.

Careful!

You’ve been warned. Watch the way you word your online posts because Google algorithms are merciless. My Ginkgo post got flagged and removed for comparing females unfavourably to males. I am no misogynist; I was comparing male and females trees. And I stand by my removed post. There was nothing malicious about it.

A machine algorithm doesn’t know that. And one day it might take revenge on me when I get into a self-driving car on my way to a tree lecture.

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.

Hydrangeas

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

Corrections

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.

Beauty!

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.

Conclusion

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.

Enjoy!