Why I love & hate memorial trees

By | Trees | No Comments

A great idea!

Memorial trees are a great idea. When I die, I’d love to get a tree planted somewhere with my name on it. But sometimes the technical aspect can be troubling, which explains my love and hate relationship with memorial trees.

Scott’s tree

I have no idea who Scott was. I discovered this memorial tree while installing twenty yards of soil amender in the same courtyard. It took me four days to complete the project and every time I wheeled my wheelbarrow by Scott’s tree I counted my blessings. I’m older than Scott and I’m celebrating twenty-five seasons in the landscape industry this year.

I have no idea how much time I have left so I’m counting my blessings.

Scott’s tree is technically a shrub. Prunus lusitanica is a Portuguese laurel from the cherry family. Given its location in a sheltered courtyard, I expect Scott’s tree to do fine. Also, laurels are easier to plant and establish than trees; and they’re also cheaper and.

Eventually the laurel will need some pruning but for now it’s working really well. Note that it’s sitting in a large tree circle where lawn machines can’t injure the bark.

Thea’s tree

Now, when my sister and her partner tragically lost their daughter in a car accident they also planted a memorial tree. But this project was stressful.

I believe they picked a hawthorn because they are on a ranch outside Kamloops where it’s cold in winter and very hot in summer. The soils are also poor and there is limited water in summer.

As soon as the tree was planted, the girl’s grandma planted up the heart-shaped tree well with annuals. Personally, I don’t like the idea this early. We need the tree to establish and annuals can deflect rain drops away from the tree; and they also compete with surface roots. Alas, grandma is an avid gardener.

Then we get to watering. Newly installed trees should be flooded but this isn’t practical on a ranch with limited water resources. I also suspect there might be ashes in the planting hole: I didn’t have the balls to ask. When I poked my finger in the tree well to check on moisture levels I got raised eyebrow looks which more or less answered my question.

Last year the tree had to be moved and I believe it’s doing ok at the moment. Still, every time my sister mentions it I feel a bit of stress.

There is tons of pressure on memorial trees to thrive.

Seeing red in the garden

By | Plants, Seasonal | No Comments

Desperate for colour

Every winter I find myself longing for spring and for some colour in the garden. January seems to drag on and on. And today, with the first real cold and snow hitting the entire province, it was easy to notice the colour red. Let’s take a look.

Pyracantha

This prickly firethorn shrub (Pyracantha) is a great choice if you’re trying to keep pedophiles from your backyard. But I noticed it because it was full of birds helping themselves to berries. And those berries were more and more noticeable as light snow fell.

Look closely and you will notice the sharp thorns.

Berberis

Berberis is also prickly but not as harsh as Pyracanthas. It has nice fall colours and when the leaves drop we really notice the red berries. Especially when the ground is covered with a bit of snow.

Cotoneaster

Cotoneasters are very popular shrubs. And like the Pyracantha, birds enjoy their fruits. Cotoneasters are cool because they have two kinds of shoots: long ones for structure and short one for flower clusters.

Nandina

My eyes automatically shifted to Nandinas because of their red berries. Planted in a group, they made an island of red.

Red twig dogwoods

Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have attractive red twigs and as snow fell they stood out even more. Just remember that it’s the new canes that look red. If you allow your shrub to mature, it will lose this red color except for the very top where new growth pushes out. See the picture below.

You can correct it by taking out the old wood. Don’t be shy.

Mature Cornus sericea

Winter blues?

I’m trying to enjoy winters more, now that I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything about them. Today, for example, was a beautiful January day but with -13C temperatures I couldn’t really work outside. But the cold didn’t stop me from taking winter photos and video shorts for YouTube. Spring will come, I know. And until then, try to find some colour in your neighbourhood.

Add stuff for success!

By | gardening, Installations, Landscaping | No Comments

Winter additions

Winter is a great time to add stuff to your landscape because everything is quiet. There is no lawn care and plants aren’t growing actively; weeds included. You can add soil to weak areas and plants to open spots before weeds move. And since trees are dormant, it’s a good time to add a few as well.

Soil amender

I love adding soil to the landscape. Dark soil amender gives your place an instant upgrade, it will help the plants and, if you’re behind on weeding, it will definitely smother weeds. Just make sure you don’t go cheap. I wouldn’t install anything below two to three inches.

If you don’t have a truck, fear not. They deliver for a fee.

It’s not even expensive: $35 per cubic yard maybe.

Much sharper look with new soil amender.

New plants

This is frightening because in nature plants move into open spaces. I personally finessed this bed and it was a lot of labour. Why not add some plants? They’re not expensive and they will save you from weeding because they compete with weeds. New plants will also beautify the bed. So why not go shopping for something you like?

If there is no budget, then consider asking your friends and visiting garden clubs. But whatever you do, don’t leave so much open space in your beds. Weeds will move in and they will produce lots of seeds.

Trees

I love planting trees! Winter is a great time to plant trees because they’re dormant. Unless, of course, the soil is frozen. Then you have to wait.

Pick something appropriate for your garden and make sure you consider your tree’s mature size. Your baby tree looks cute at the nursery but a giant red maple will soon tower over your house; and clog your gutters with leaves.

Last December I planted two dogwoods that will stay fairly small and flower nicely for the owners. Both came wrapped in burlap and nestled in metal cages. The ISA says it’s up to you if you want to keep or remove the burlap and cage.

Normally, I remove both but since I was by myself it made more sense to keep the cage. I simply cut away the strings, bent the cage top downwards and cut off the burlap from the top. You can my videos here: root flare and backfilling.

Conclusion

Winter is nice and slow so consider adding some stuff to your garden. Adding soil and mulch is a great project. And assuming the ground isn’t frozen, you can also add new trees. Have some fun before spring hits.

One key to your YouTube channel success

By | Blogging, Trees, YouTube | No Comments

Disclaimer

Let me start by saying that my little YouTube channel is tiny; I’m far away from success but the key idea comes from another YouTube video. It’s a great, tested idea. Interestingly, I stumbled upon it by accident: I uploaded some tree videos and watched the views climb quickly. So keep reading.

ASQ

This is all you have to know: ASQ or Answer Specific Questions. People visit YouTube to find answers to their questions. What’s funny is that I published my most-watched videos without even realizing I was answering people’s questions. It become obvious after the views piled up and the videos stood out. Kind of like my “Aha” moment.

Leafiness

My video on leaf clean-up got 5.7 thousand views. I called it a leaf clean up hack, sort of tongue-in-cheek, because the idea was to simply bury lots of leaves in shrubs for later pick-up. Clearly, leaf clean up is a major pain point for people. Now I’ve given people permission to bury their leaves for later pick up.

Tree stubs

Next comes my video on tree stubs so people obviously like to know how to cut off a tree branch properly. One lady confessed to butchering trees around her campground and promised to do better! I think that’s already success, reaching one viewer.

Tree planting

People love trees! You can’t go wrong by uploading tree videos. The next two most-watched videos were shot on the same day. One shows how to find the root flare before planting; and the other discusses proper backfilling techniques. Both videos sit at 2.5 thousand views.

Tree planting is a science in itself. It’s crucial that we get this part right because it determines the tree’s long-term survival. Tree planting is an investment. Plant the tree at the right level and backfill with the original soil. Water it in nicely and possibly stake it for the first 14 months.

YouTuber Vas

Well not really a YouTuber but my channel is a companion to my West Coast Landscape Pro blog. Some people like to read, some prefer to watch. If I can answer someone’s question, life’s great.

If you’re thinking about starting your own YouTube channel, think ASQ. Answer specific questions.

The trouble with greedy landlords

By | gardening, Landlords, landscape maintenance | No Comments

Down to cash

I’ll be honest, taking a poke at landlords makes me smile. And I will be talking about landscaping, not greed, even though that part would make me rant for fifteen-hundred words. Easy. My own landlord illegally increased my rent last year by thirty-five percent, saying I had to pay ‘market-rates’. Really?

So it comes down to cash. Landlords are getting greedy because in the current housing mess they know they can be. There aren’t enough affordable apartments available and they know it.

Neglected gardens

Some landlords I work for do the bare minimum with their landscapes to save cash. So the work I do is reactive: I put out fires when things get out of hand.

Berberis

For example, I had to prune a Berberis shrub that was growing wild by the driveway. Because it was allowed to mature and produce big woody stems, I elected to hand prune it, hard. It could have been pruned more frequently but that costs money. When the hand pruning took a bit longer, the landlord had some reservations about the size of my invoice.

Now, let’s take a look at the back lawn where the renter’s kids play.

Back lawn

Now, I’m not judging anybody but this landlord knows where to find me. Leaving the lawn covered in soggy cherry leaves is bad for the grass. It turns yellow and dies; and it will look like hell in spring. Not that it was in great shape at any time last year.

If the renter’s kids slipped on soggy patio leaves it wouldn’t surprise me. The only work I’m supposed to do here is remove some of the cherry tree branches touching the house. Sure. That sounds like great winter work. Goodbye green lawn!

Bramble

Can you even see the Pieris shrub?

How long has this been let go? Landlords collect their rents and invest their revenues. This house generates about six thousand dollars in rents monthly while my landscaping fees are tiny compared to that. And yet, the landscape is let go until there is a fire to put out. Like cherry trees touching the building or prickly brambles climbing over the fence, making the backyard unusable for the renter’s kids.

If you are a landlord, then definitely consider hiring a landscaper for regular visits. If you are a renter, then definitely insist that your landlord pay for regular landscape upkeep. That way the kids have somewhere safe to play.

If the landscape looks like hell, the landlord did it!

Why plant Western Wild Ginger?

By | Plants | No Comments

One I didn’t know

Over the Christmas holiday I took a walk through Shoreline park in Port Moody, BC. There I discovered an active planting site with native plants set out in pots but not yet planted. Since most of the plants had tags on them this gave me a chance to test my plant identification skills.

And I aced the test, except for one plant. I guessed correctly that it was wild ginger but I had no idea that it was Asarum caudatum (Western Wild Ginger). So I took one plant tag home and did some digging online.

A soon to be planted Asarum caudatum

Why plant it?

I had only one question: why would the City of Port Moody plant Western Wild Ginger in the park close to a trail? It was obviously a groundcover plant so it was planted closest to the trail. But what about the rest of it? Well, let’s see.

Asarum caudatum is a herbaceous perennial which means it works the soil nicely. It’s a shade plant which makes sense; it’s planted in the woods because it’s an understory plant. It grows from rhizomes and spreads slowly. I believe it’s the rhizome that smells like ginger. The plant isn’t invasive.

The leaves are round and heart-shaped; and the plant blooms in spring. I don’t recall seeing flowers on wild gingers so I will go back in spring to see them. Allegedly the flowers are small and hidden in the foliage. We’ll see about that.

Asarum caudatum is slug and deer resistant which is another good reason to plant it in a woodland park. It’s also more drought tolerant than other species. That might be another huge reason why the city would plant it, now that our summers are getting hotter.

A great choice

My original plan at Christmas time was to have a nice walk to clear my head and think about the new year ahead. I didn’t expect to learn a new plant: Asarum caudatum or Western Wild Ginger. It’s a great choice for the trail side at Shoreline park.

Revisiting my first-ever blog post for Proper Landscaping

By | Blogging | No Comments

A rough start

This week I was searching through my Proper Landscaping blog posts when I noticed my very first technical post. It’s like seeing a younger photo of yourself several years later and noticing the progress you’ve made. Or remembering how I first walked with my son into our apartment; he could barely walk so I held his hand. Fast forward fifteen years and now he’s taller than me!

My first blog post from March 17, 2015, was very short because I was very shy about putting my words out there for Google to digest. It was exactly one paragraph long. Today I know that blog posts should be at least three hundred words long. Some of my Proper blog posts are 400-500 words, not many reach 1,000 words.

I’m also far from shy because people have to know about you. And for that to happen you have to publish lots of posts, videos, and e-books. My production has increased but it’s still work in progress. Occasionally I sell an e-book on Amazon; and occasionally one of my short videos on YouTube gets thousands of views.

One big mistake

My first blog post had a title and category but there was one huge mistake. No SEO. Search Engine Optimization is critical for success. By entering a focus key phrase you allow people searching for that phrase to find you on Google. That’s exactly what we need, eyeballs on our blog posts.

Traffic is key! That’s why companies like Proper Landscaping Inc hire bloggers to write blog posts. Without any new content you website will likely sink in Google rankings.

When Google notices weekly posts on the Proper blog, the site ranks higher. First page on Google is the goal of every blogger and company.

Topics

One of my fears early on was running out of stuff to write about. How new and naive I was. This year marks my tenth year of blogging for Proper Landscaping and there is plenty to write about. New courses are advertised, new tools are made, and workers keep making mistakes in the field. There are people to interview and books to review. I also curate content by simply adding my own comments to other people’s content. Now we have AI to test out.

As a landscape manager I get to see a lot of stuff in the landscape. I also write about my own side-hustles and what it’s like to earn extra cash on the side.

Thank you

Thank you for visiting the Proper Landscaping blog and leaving comments. If you are an existing Proper Landscaping client, even better. Make sure you renew your maintenance contract and stop by to read a few posts. There are enough blog posts in the pipeline into spring.

Have a great year in 2024!

Yes, you can find winter colour in the landscape

By | Plants, Seasonal | No Comments

Mild, mild, mild!

As I write this, there are colder temperatures in the forecast. And I have no idea what the weather will be like outside by the time you read this. All I know is that I love mild winters: I don’t ski much and I have side-gigs to do that bring in much needed winter revenues. Snow is my enemy. A mild start to the new year is absolutely brilliant.

Second benefit

Mild winters mean that there aren’t any work stoppages and I can do my side-gigs. But there is also another benefit: we can go out and enjoy whatever colour we can find. Let’s take a look. Seeing some colour on this page might inspire you to head out and find some more in your neighbourhood.

I love seeing a bit of colour in winter.

Hamamelis mollis is my favourite winter shrub. I find the yellow very warm.

Hamamelis x intermedia is also nice. It’s as if the landscape designer couldn’t pick a colour so he put one each at this entrance.

Rhododendron flowers are always great to look at but most of them will pop next summer. As long as you don’t touch the buds. They are set for next season already which means no pruning!

Hellebores are another winter flowering plant we see lots and I don’t mind them, even if many of the flowers look down and are harder to enjoy.

This Camellia is very nice. The shrub is probably in a sheltered spot where it’s warmer.

Viburnum bodnantense is another winter all star. I still remember seeing it for the first time and thinking it was a mistake. But it wasn’t. They flower in winter and the flowers are extra showy on bare branches.

Even this Vinca is a welcome sight. Yes, I know, it’s labelled as invasive in British Columbia but it’s hard to miss in the winter landscape.

Spring is coming but for now enjoy whatever colour you can find in your garden and neighbourhood.

Easy winter tasks you can do

By | gardening, Grasses, Pruning, Trees | No Comments

Easy stuff

As I write British Columbia is very cold. It’s minus twelve degrees Celsius and it feels way worse when you’re actually outside. But, once it warms up, you can attend to some easy garden tasks.

Trees

Broken branches can’t wait. They look awful, they could create a hazard and the last thing we need is diseases getting inside our tree through open wounds.

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Use a sharp pole pruner and take it out nicely.

Hakonechloa

Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa) can also be snipped because they’re on their way out. Use sharp hand snips and flush cut them at ground level. Just watch your fingers.

Hakonechloa
Hakonechloa nicely flush cut.

Plant separation

As plants grow and mature, they collide and then require separation when it gets out of hand. One example is the common snowberry being invaded by a mahonia.

When the snowberry is in leaf, this isn’t so obvious. And landscapers also have other, slightly more important, tasks to attend to during the busy season. In winter there is time for separation pruning.

So, one plant has to go. Since the mahonia creeped in and it’s smaller, I elected to cut it completely. This leaves the snowberry alone to do it’s thing. It’s a native plant which produces clusters of white berries, thus the common name snowberry. The botanical name is Symphoricarpos albus and I encourage you to Google it and get one for your garden.

It’s a good native plant. I rescued two specimens a few years ago and planted them at my commercial site. One has white berries and the other has pinkish ones. They’re doing well in their new home.

Enjoy your grasses

Miscanthus

This Port Moody homeowner gets a gold star for leaving her Miscanthus ornamental grass standing so it can ornament the neighbourhood. I drove by today and it looked awesome moving in the breeze with fresh snow on the ground. Cut it back in roughly two months before the new growth starts appearing.

Take a good look at your garden in winter and do some easy maintenance when you get a chance. Spring is coming!

Plant separation: Callicarpa rescue

By | Pruning | No Comments

Callicarpa

I love Callicarpas. Every year I do final fall clean-ups for a client in Coquitlam, BC, and she has a beautiful Callicarpa shrub in her front garden. And every year the purple berries look awesome; at a time when the rest of her garden looks like it’s ready for a break.

So, of course, I leave it alone. I snap a few photos for my files and maybe make a few cuts in the back where the shrub is touching the fence. That’s it. You don’t have to do much in late fall. Just enjoy the show.

Pro tip: be careful in summer when the shrub sends shoots out. The flower clusters look small. Much smaller than the berries so don’t snip them off.

January 2024

Now, just this past week I was doing bedwork in White Rock when a crew member asked me to rescue a Callicarpa shrub from under a cedar tree. Since I was looking down, I hadn’t even noticed the shrub.

Our native cedars (Thuja plicata) are fast-growing trees. They don’t need much time to swallow up a small shrub. Really all I could see was a few purple berry clusters.

Lift!

Now, lifting the cedar off the shrub is fairly easy but we need to do it discreetly. We can’t just hack up the cedar to make some room for the shrub. So, I carefully reached in and followed the lowest cedar branches far inside the tree. Then I made my cut there, eliminating the whole branch so it looked natural. As opposed making heading cuts on the cedar tree and leaving the cuts to show.

Don’t rush this work! Make a cut and step away to see how much lift you’ve achieved. It should look natural: just enough opening for the shrub and not too much lift for the cedar.

Good enough?

Take a look at my work: is it good enough?

Note how the Callicarpa is reaching out, stretching for light. That’s why there are only a flower clusters showing. All plants need light to feed themselves and to thrive. I’m hoping this Callicarpa will appreciate having more light. I suspect we’ll have to do this again in a season or two but that’s ok. If I remember, I will check back to see if there are more flower clusters present eleven months from now.

Plant separation is an important issue as gardens mature and evolve. You can make room for some plants; and some you have to move. Some that didn’t make it will get removed.