Beware of frugal husbands

By | Pruning, Side-hustle | No Comments

Quote accepted?

Frugal husbands can cut into your landscape company’s revenue. Take this example from last week.

I knew something was up when I tried to schedule pruning work with a residential client recently and there was no reply. Last year we settled on a quote and agreed to do the work when it got warmer in 2022. Now I was ready to go.

So, this week I stopped by to aerate the lawns and the pruning work had obviously been done by someone else. No wonder my kids often go hungry…..

Aeration first

If you don’t do anything to your lawns all year, at least aerate them in spring. This allows more water and oxygen into the root zone and should lead to a healthier lawn. Since this residential client is a referral from a friend, I did the aeration for $50, which includes a courtesy clean up blow. I also blade edged the front lawn edge to give the lawn a sharp look.

Then, when the lady came out to talk to me, she quietly mentioned that her husband brought a friend over and they did the pruning themselves. To save some money.

Beware of the frugal husband!

As an aside, she mentioned that the men were a bit shy about pruning the evergreen cones because of their phallic shape. I smiled politely. I’ve seen worse.

The frugal husband’s pruning work.

A lesson for homeowners

Homeowners can do great work. Yes, Red Seal Vas is a proud professional but I’ve seen homeowners plant and install mulch quite well. It’s nice to see them outside, doing physical work and saving a bit of cash.

That’s why I love to work with clients because you can teach them something and develop a long-term relationship. Customers only care about pricing and will drop you for anybody who is slightly cheaper. I try to stay away from them.

Allegedly, our frugal husband did some of the pruning from his roof, which I don’t recommend. But let’s be honest, he did a decent job and he saved himself a bit of cash. I told his wife, “we’ll keep him”.

A lesson for landscapers

There is a good reason landscape contractors love multi-family (strata) complexes and commercial properties that go all year and come with set contracts: they get paid monthly. Residential clients on the other hand, can decide they don’t need you one week or they save money by doing some of the work themselves.

All good!

I did lose a bit of cash on this pruning job but, at the moment, there is no shortage of work. I did squeeze the lady for aeration and it gave me a great blog post idea.

Homeowners can do decent work on their properties. It’s all good.

One big reason landscaper gives up on his business

By | Landscape Industry | No Comments

Wait! What!

Recently I heard of a local landscape company owner who is ready to walk away from the business. Now, ever since I started landscaping in 2000, I always thought that starting your own company was the goal. Be your own boss, set your own work hours, exploit some workers, etc.

Proper Landscaping Inc was born with a dream like that and now the company provides great landscape maintenance services throughout the Lower Mainland. There’s no walking away.

Why quit?

So it’s interesting to hear about the owner of a small, but established, landscaping business is ready to call it quits. Why?

Because he can’t find any good people to rely on to scale his business. he wants to expand and, perhaps, ease up a bit. He wants good people to do good work without him being there all day.

That’s the dream: build a good team and then you make a great living. But the job market landscape has changed with the pandemic. People stayed home and got a chance to re-evaluate their lives. Why would someone go work for a small landscaping company?

The Landscape Management Network (LMN) says that in the US, 92% of landscape companies struggle with hiring, training and retaining staff.

My own work life in 2022 is hybrid: I have a full-time job as a landscape manager but I also blog for a living and I have many private side-gig clients. Small residential clients. But it’s clear what my day-job boss is offering me.

Red Seal Vas, trained and experienced, ready for action!

What are you offering?

What’s our landscape company boss offering, exactly? According to the Landscape Management Network (LMN), people can get a paycheque anywhere. How does working for a small landscape company enhance my life? Is there a way for me to develop personally and professionally? What’s my future pathway?

If it’s just a paycheque, our small business owner will continue to struggle in his talent search. There aren’t many great landscapers available in the Lower Mainland, and lots of companies are looking as well. It looks grim.

You can’t just pay me some cash to take your truck, deliver great service and maybe rarely see the boss. That’s a silly dream for a small company. So, what are you offering? Great pay, benefits, education support, on-the-job training, nice work sites? I know that it is a long year out in the field. The work is physical, in all kinds of weather and the weather is getting more erratic. How many summer heat domes will it take for people to walk away? My fear is getting stuck in a winter vortex with weeks of super cold temperatures.

Conclusion

I can’t wait to see how this thing plays out. Will our local landscape company owner quit or will he find the star performers he craves so much? He needs a great team in order to scale his business and make great money.

I just want him to think beyond a simple paycheque. I want my life to get better; and I want to develop personally and professionally.

Garden lessons from a new residential client

By | gardening | No Comments

Lessons

I love meeting new clients and getting to know them and their needs. I really love it when it becomes obvious I can help them. And during the garden assessment, you can take a look at the place and see what condition it’s in. When I meet the people I obviously don’t tell them they will be my next blog post topic.

What I see

If you read my blogs regularly, you will know that I hate landscape fabric. But if it’s already installed, then at least bury it with several inches of mulch or soil. This garden had lots of fabric showing so I recommended adding two inches throughout to keep the weeds down; and to give the planted bed a uniform look. Otherwise, they would see there more often, weeding.

Exposed root flare and landscape fabric.

Pro tip: Best case, your landscape fabric will delay weeds. Even with two inches of mulch installed, weeds will still drift in with animals and the wind.

I love gardening and I think people should bravely experiment in their gardens. Here, the owners planted lots of single plants which works best for specimens. Like having one weeping Japanese maple in the middle of the bed. More on this soon. But for perennials, multiples are better.

For example, one tiger lily doesn’t have the same effect as, say, 5-7. Instead of having two Bergenias, I would go for 3, 5 or 7. Planting more also means more competition for weeds which love open bed spaces.

One Hellebore and two Bergenias. You could add two or four Hellebores and at least one Bergenia.

Pro tip: plant in odd numbers. Three is better than two. Five, seven, etc.

Proper tree planting is also important. I really like that this client gave it a go. When I told her the maple was planted a bit low she smiled and said something about learning. That’s right, she has the right attitude.

I uncovered the root flare and created a quick tree well so the stem didn’t rot in the soil. The tree should be fine.

The outside boulevard also needed some attention. It was still leafy from the fall and it was covered with cherry pits. And the lawn edge also required blade edging. Now it looks much better.

Blade edged and blown clean.

Normally I would be tempted to make some inappropriate joke but, since these were brand new clients, I just mentioned in passing that their Skimmias were all female. It’s always nice to plant males nearby.

The future

The beauty of having clients is that you can teach them while you make money. Customers, on the other hand, only care about prices and rates, don’t care to learn and will dump you for Miguel who charges $1 less per hour.

I expect to work with this couple all year and beyond. Since the owner loves fragrant plants, I’m looking forward to transforming their garden into a semi-shade oasis. It might generate a few more blog posts this year.

The trouble with memorial trees

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

Memorial trees

Planting memorial trees is a natural reaction from people who lose their loved ones or pets. But there is added stress because when you plant a tree as a memorial, you need it to survive. There is a lot riding on this planting. Not only do you need the tree to live and thrive, many times ashes are scattered in the planting hole or on the surface.

I didn’t really think much about memorial trees until my sister and her partner lost their young daughter in a car crash. My sister called me, slightly panicked, because the memorial tree they planted at their ranch wasn’t doing well. Now, normally I would take one weekend and drive over to help out with the planting but it wasn’t that easy.

The provincial government had, at the time, issued advisories asking people not to travel unless it was absolutely necessary. And, there was the business of protecting the in-laws from COVID; I wasn’t even close to their “bubble”.

So, the tree got planted, in a beautiful heart-shaped bed. I didn’t care for annuals planted around the tree; I’m convinced it’s better to wait until the tree is established. Surficial tree roots and annual plants must compete in that tight space. Of course, the mother-in-law is an experienced home gardener so that’s how it went down.

Ponderosa pines on my sister’s ranch.

2021 check-in

I finally made it to the ranch in the summer of 2021, taking advantage of my son’s away soccer match. It took a few minutes to realize that the tree was planted a bit low. As I ran my fingers in the soil around the tree trunk, I noticed the partner’s pained facial expression which could mean that they had scattered ashes at the base of the tree. It’s not a bad idea to ask for permission before you start digging around memorial trees.

This is my pro-tip: always find the root flare where the stem becomes root and plant the tree at this level, flush with the ground. Planting too deep means that stem tissues will get wet and they could rot, inviting disease in.

I got my sister to excavate around the tree until there was an obvious tree well. Sticking my fingers in there again wouldn’t have been a great idea.

Other considerations

Obviously, the tree species should make sense for your home area. My sister lives in the BC Interior on a ranch without great layers of soil and the summers are hot and dry. If I recall correctly, they picked a flowering dogwood that won’t overwhelm the space it’s in.

You can do it!

I love the idea of tree planting; the more trees we have, the better. Planting memorial trees is a great idea but beware of the extra stress. Because the tree is planted in someone’s memory and the planting might include the deceased ashes, there is a lot riding on the tree’s proper planting and survival.

When my sister’s memorial tree wasn’t doing well, I could tell from her voice that she was stressed. Unfortunately, the raging pandemic prevented me from driving over to help.

If you’re thinking about planting a memorial tree, you can do it! If you need help, call me.

Echo 58v cordless power mower

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Time to switch?

Today I got a chance to see and touch the Echo 58v cordless power mower on my visit to the new Foreshore Equipment North Vancouver location. And now I’m considering getting one for my side-gig operation. Not that my old Honda gas-powered beast is falling apart; it’s still running well, many years after I picked it up second hand. But I’m tired of sucking exhaust, lifting it and paying for gas. It might be time to switch, if the mower is in stock.

Since I don’t mow that much, charging two batteries would be fine.

Two batteries.

One local landscape company I know has one of these battery-operated units on every truck. Because the mowers are light, they can be used in hard to access lawn areas. Some access is extremely awkward or it requires two crew members. Stairwells come to mind.

Well, not anymore; you can pick this baby up by the handle and go. I tried it and it’s really light. It almost feels like a toy.

There are two batteries in front and one simple throttle on the bar. It looks super simple.

Benefits

As I’m writing this blog post in late February 2022, gas prices in British Columbia are climbing so not having to gas up your mower sounds great. The other, bigger benefit is avoiding unhealthy exhaust exposure. After twenty-two years in landscape maintenance, I wonder if I should have made the switch earlier.

This especially applies to my side-gigs, where I’m in charge. I obviously don’t call the shots at my day-job. But why suck exhaust when you’re mowing a small patch for your hard-of-hearing 87-year-old client when you could easily pull it off with a mower like this Echo 58v unit?

I also like how quiet it is when you let go of the throttle. Nothing is idling noisily while you try to talk to someone. It gets nice and quiet.

Another obvious benefit is solo lifting. This Echo mower can easily fold up and the lifting is a breeze. Gas powered units can be on the heavier side and that can seriously tax your back if you don’t have ramps.

Conclusion

The Echo 58v cordless power mower is decent for commercial operations and perfect for hard-to-access lawn areas. You can easily pick it up which frees up your co-workers and saves your back from pain.

I love the idea of not having to pay for fuel and most of all, avoiding exposure to unhealthy exhaust.

If this unit is in stock, I will consider getting it for my side-gig operation.

Is it time to switch? Contact Foreshore Equipment, the best dealer in the Lower Mainland, and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.

Scanning for late winter details

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

Scanning your sites

Whenever I’m sent to a site after several months, I like to take a walk around and catalog any blemishes I see. This is especially easy to do in late winter when it’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. I did this recently and this blog post will show you some of the details I found.

Broken branches

I detest having broken branches on shrubs or trees. It can invite disease into the plants, and it looks awful. One broken Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) branch was right in the middle of a high-profile corridor between two buildings.

Since the cut was too large for my hand snips, I waited until I was able to retrieve a hand saw from the my car. I could have tried it with my hand snips, but blowing my wrist is a bad idea. It wasn’t an emergency; safety first.

Groundcover in check

Groundcover plants do what they’re supposed to: they cover the ground so weeds don’t move in. Left untouched, some groundcovers grow out of bounce. That’s what happened with Rubus climbing into Rhododendrons.

Rubus climbing into a Rhodendron
Much better!

It took only a few minutes and it looks better. The Rubus is cut back down to its grouncover function and the Rhododendron is left unmolested.

Missing ivy

This third example makes me mad because it could have been prevented. Last year, someone made the strange decision to remove ivy (Hedera helix) from this power box. I wrongly assumed that something else would replace the ivy.

That’s why I shook my head last week when I had to weed the now bare ground. I knew it would come to this: nature hates bare spots. Weeds move in and have a great time with plenty of sunlight reaching them. It wasn’t that easy for them when ivy still covered the ground. Groundcover plants cover ground; they look good and they prevent unwanted plants from moving in.

The power box looked much better surrounded by ivy. Only remove it if you have a good plan for the spot. Bare ground is the worst option.

You can see weeds creeping in.
Cultivated by Vas but ivy did the job well before.

Late winter details

Late winter is a great time to scan your gardens for blemishes like the three mentioned above. It’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. So, take the time to identify and eliminate little blemishes from your gardens.

Sarcococca condemned by caretaker

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

Weird requests

I’m used to being dragged away from my regular landscape duties by caretakers, but sometimes it’s hard to swallow the weird requests they assault me with. Take last week, as an example. It was late in our shift and we were barely thirty minutes away from calling it a day.

Then, out he came, caretaker on a mission, sneezing and looking like he had Omicron. Now, he’s a great guy and a huge ally. But I couldn’t believe what he was asking me to do.

Annihilation

The poor caretaker was suffering from terrible allergies. Allegedly he had trouble breathing at night, his eyes watered and his nose was runny, like a pre-schooler’s. So of course, right away I thought that taking a COVID rapid test would have been a great idea but I’m not a doctor.

To avoid stuffing his body with pills and adding to Big Pharma’s profits, he needed me to level a patch of Sarcococca growing under his windows. The evergreen shrub flowers now, in February, and produces a sweet fragrance, especially when mass-planted.

Now, I had never before heard of anyone suffering allergic reactions from Sarcococcas. It’s plausible, I guess, but weird. And so was his request.

I did hear from a Facebook friend who claims to suffer nasty headaches from the fragrance.

So, out came my power shears. And before I annihilated the plants, the caretaker reminded me to watch out for the sprinkler heads. Last year, all of them got slashed.

The only trick was to hand snip the plants from all of the wall edges and from around the irrigation sprinklers. Then we raked up most of the mutilated plant material and went home. I promised myself I would blog about this. Perhaps there are other caretakers like this.

When Sarcococca goes missing

It looks like hell but, luckily, it’s a very low profile corner. Long term, it should be changed over, assuming there is budget.

Like COVID, weird requests aren’t going away anytime soon. I have to learn to live with them and decline the ones that are clearly over-the-top.

Fragrant plants for a shady garden

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

Plants matter

Plant knowledge is very important in gardening and landscaping. I still shake my head when I recall how a fourth level apprentice in landscape horticulture dismissed plants. Standing in a planted bed, he flat out told me that me telling him plant names had no meaning at all. He didn’t care; which, I suspect, is one reason he is struggling to pass the Red Seal exam.

Now, let’s talk about my new residential client. She found me through Google My Business and happens to be a mobile detailer. So it makes sense that someone like that would like to have fragrant plants in her mostly shady garden.

Suggestions

I openly admit to not being a garden designer. I often have to consult my notes at home before offering plant suggestions. My day-job boss, on the other hand, expects a detailed list on the spot.

One fragrant plant that came to my mind right away is Cimicifuga which flowers in late summer. It’s best planted in multiples, not as a single specimen. It will send out a flower spike and the fragrance is amazing. Intoxicating even. When I stop to enjoy it, I linger there, completely ignoring the fact that I’m there on company time.

An obvious choice for early summer are Lilacs (Syringa).

The owner bought two specimens of Sarcococca, which flowers now, in February. For some reason, some people can’t enjoy the fragrance. Incredibly, last week I had to level an entire corner just to please a caretaker who argued he was suffering from allergic reactions.

Sarcococca

Most gardeners enjoy the Sarcococca fragrance, including me. The key is to mass plant them so I told the client to plant in odd groups. Three is better than two.

Viburnum bodnantense is an awesome shrub. It pushes out fragrant, trumpet like flowers while the branches are bare. The first time I saw it, it looked like a mistake.

Viburnum bodnantense

Also fragrant is the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) which also looks stunning with its spider-like flowers. It never gets old.

Hamamelis mollis

Daphne is smaller than the two shrubs above and smells awesome. I wish I could describe fragrances well, but I can’t.

Daphne

Experiment

I always recommend that clients experiment in their gardens. Buy a few fragrant plants and see how you like them; and how they establish in their semi-shade home.

I expect to be around the garden doing regular maintenance and hope to enjoy the changes. It might inspire a few future blog posts.

New climate-change driven landscape requests

By | Events, health and safety | No Comments

New AC

The owners sacrificed a healthy Camellia for a new AC unit.

This winter I’ve been getting a lot of new requests involving shrub clearance around buildings. By itself, that’s nothing unusual but many owners are now installing air-conditioning units. Aha, that’s our twist.

To understand it, you’d have to know about the unprecedented, anywhere on Earth, heat dome we experienced in June 2021. For weeks we head super high summer temperatures and according to provincial reports, 595 people died as a result of the oppressive heat. Seniors are especially vulnerable so they’re getting ready by installing air-conditioning units. If there are boxwood hedges or flowering shrubs in perfect health in the way, so what. Summer safety comes first.

The actual physical work was easy. I had to prune away sections of boxwood which looked ridiculous until the AC unit got installed. And the elderly owner was super happy. If we get another summer heat dome, he’ll ride it out inside.

And the workers?

And what about the workers? I’m currently working on a second edition of my e-book “How to become a landscape professional” and now I wonder if it’s right to recommend landscaping as a career. It could be a mess with global warming driven changes.

The heat dome was oppressive, to put it mildly. One complex provided us with water coolers and a misting station but that was a rarity. For weeks, we suffered and went home early. Most of the professionals on staff managed; most of the hypochondriacs on staff bailed early and this time they didn’t need any elaborate excuses.

People were actually dying from the heat in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia; mostly seniors, sick people and the homeless. Five-hundred and ninety five heat-related deaths is 595 too many. Welcome to climate change. It’s very real.

Some clients care about their landscapers.

2022

With the pandemic continuing, I fully expect another eventful summer. If we get hit with another heat dome, we’ll get through it. And so will the seniors who invested into new AC units, sacrificing perfectly good shrubs to stay safe. Here we go. Bring on summer.

Mind your landscape fabric

By | gardening, Mulch | No Comments

A big clue

When your landscaper uses a line edger in your planted beds for weed control, you know you have a problem. Lawn care machines don’t belong in planted beds; it’s a sign of desperation. It’s also unsafe because you can damage plants and launch stones into elderly passersby or windows.

I see this done when landscapers try to move out as quickly as possible, probably on the way to their next gig. Weeding is time-consuming. Perhaps it’s time to get a new residential landscape contractor.

One big clue is landscape fabric showing in the soil. Now, I’m not a fan of landscape fabric because over time, it doesn’t work. It clogs up and doesn’t allow water through. The sales dude at your local garden store doesn’t tell you that. He assures you that with fabric in place, you won’t have to worry about weeds.

If you must use landscape fabric, bury with at least two inches of mulch. This will deprive the weeds of sunlight. Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has convincingly shown that going light on mulch can actually help the weeds. This is because they still get light and moisture protection from the skinny mulch. Making weeds feel cozy in your garden is a bad idea.

It’s time to bring in more mulch.

My suggestions

I made two suggestions to my new residential clients. One, leave everything as is, and pay me to hand weed their garden every month. I use hand tools, buckets and tarps to weed, never machines. That’s desperately amateurish, in my humble opinion. This option keeps my kids well-fed.

Two, bury the existing landscape fabric with at least two inches of mulch, and see me less often. Remember that weeds will be blown in or deposited by birds, so you will get weeds. But if you pay for regular maintenance visits, your garden will look great. With this option, my kids will still be well-fed but I will have to hustle elsewhere.

Conclusion

When you start seeing exposed landscape fabric and weeds, it’s time to top up your mulch or soil. I suggest two inches. And if your landscaper line trims your garden weeds, look for a better residential landscape company. Like this one.