How to unload unwanted trees

By | Trees | No Comments


Picture a new house and busy, young owners with a small boy to care for. Their lawn went un-watered and un-cared for for months and now they needed help from Red Seal Vas. It happens all the time. Having a nice green lawn is harder than it looks. You have to water it regularly, fertilize it with product specific to the season, and cut at the proper height. On dry days you can mulch it by letting the clippings drop on the lawn as free fertilizer; and if you have time, you can pop any big weeds with a hand tool.

But this blog post is about two columnar sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) planted in the front lawn. They both looked dry, they didn’t have established tree wells and one had a dry top, a sure sign of water stress. I also did a quick wiggle test by gently moving the main stem. Since I could see the root balls moving, I knew the trees weren’t established.

Unwanted, water-stressed and eventually sold online.


The lady didn’t want the trees. She was sure of that. So I suggested she take a picture of the tree tags, still attached to the trees. (Columnar sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’, $149.99). She can then use the information to sell the trees online. And she did, just before I did a second cut on her weedy lawn.

As luck would have it, I finished work close by so I popped over to help dig up the trees, like some Japanese just-in-time service. Now, since the trees weren’t completely established in their planting holes the extraction was easy. Once the trees were out we transferred them to plastic pots and wrapped them up in plastic so we could put them in the small SUV that showed up.

I always wonder what sort of person buys columnar sweetgum online. The young buyer looked like a techie. He put the root balls in the back and stuck the tree tips out through the passenger window. I hope he didn’t have far to go.


Don’t want your landscape trees? Give them away or sell them online. My client did and she’s happy, even though those two trees were the only trees on her property, if you don’t count single cedars.

When you dig up the trees, keep as much of the root ball as you can, unless you’re confidently planting bare-root. Also, don’t forget to fill in the holes so your mailman doesn’t break a leg.

Never waste perfectly good trees!

Danger in the landscape: wasps!

By | health and safety, Pruning | No Comments


It’s too bad we see conflicts between landscapers and wasps every summer. The poor landscaper needs to earn his keep and the wasps have nests to build. I have nothing against wasps because they have their own part to play in the ecosystem. I’m happy to leave them alone. Until they start interfering with my work that is. Safety is no laughing matter. Some people are allergic to stings; and when you’re attacked high up in a ladder it can lead to falls.

Now this season I’ve been very lucky personally. I’ve had some close calls with small nests early in the season but I didn’t get stung. I haven’t always been this lucky. Some seasons are so bad, as soon as you see a moving insect you tense up.

Eyes have it

We normally don’t start power shearing cedars until late August and, with draught conditions extending into fall, I could see the start time pushed way past the end of August. So how are the wasps supposed to know that a maniac landscaper would be up on his ladder shearing a cedar globe in July? Of course they reacted and the poor dude got stung in his eye. Ouch. Later that day he didn’t look great but he lived. Now he has a story to tell.

Sufficiently recovered from the shock, he did what most landscapers are trained to do. He reached for his Bug Bomb spray and bravely emptied the chemical contents into the hedge. That usually takes care of the insects. It’s been such a problem that all work trucks now carry one or two spray bottles.


Landscapers face various dangers and insults during the year. I’ve always said that it’s a long year in the field. And summers come with oppressive heat and stinging insects, so be careful. We normally run into insect nests while shearing because the nests are beautifully camouflaged in the foliage. Some veteran landscapers know to look for groups of flying insects but nobody stops to examine the full hedge before shearing. Perhaps we should.

Always carry an insect spray so you can destroy the nest, unless it’s built into a tiny crack in a retaining wall. If you do get stung, take a break and get some first aid. We know that it will happen again next season.

A new round of watering restrictions

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Now what, Vas?

As soon as the owner of this new house asked me what to do about his dry, sad-looking lawn, I knew I would have to pick my words carefully. Since new watering restrictions came into effect on August 4, we can’t water this lawn. And water is obviously missing from this picture.

Now, the owner hasn’t lived in the house very long and he’s been busy with the back lane area of his house. Once the grass faded, weeds moved in. That’s usually when people call me with desperation in their voice. They want nice green grass and they definitely don’t want long stares from their neighbours. When the man tells me he’s embarrassed, I believe him. The yellow-flowered weeds were visible from across the street.

Baby your lawn

Having a nice green lawn takes a lot of work. You must have regular watering, seasonal fertilizer applications and proper mowing heights. And definitely expect to see some lawn weeds. Even golf courses have weeds.

Obviously, our West Coast lawns go dormant in summer and come back with fall rains. So there’s no need to stress about your yellow lawn. Except, last year the drought dragged deep into fall and, I think, the forecast is the same for this year.

So, the owner has to wait for watering restrictions to ease up before fixing his lawn. In the fall we can top-dress his lawn with soil and over seed but this too requires water. Fertilizers also require water to activate.

My advice

For now we wait until we get water in the form of rain or irrigation. Since the weeds are tough, they will poke out again and I will run them over to keep them from producing seeds. At least this gives the lawn a decent look, otherwise the neighbours think it’s been abandoned.

Yes, you can have a great looking lawn but you’ll have to earn it.

When shrub pruning goes wrong

By | Pruning | No Comments


It’s rare for me to see a shrub pruning job where I didn’t like the cuts and the strategy. But I found one last week along a chain link fence. Now, before I dissect the whole thing, let’s remember that the world didn’t end; the Mahonia shrubs will grow out again. Nobody died but the lessons are there for you to take away.

The cuts

First, let’s consider the pruning cuts. Clearly, judging from the shredded tissues, they were made by power shears, the go-to machine for landscapers. It’s quick and it packs lots of power. However, considering the size of the stems, hand snips or loppers might have been better. Not faster mind you but they would have made nicer, cleaner cuts. I shot a YouTube short to show you how to fix the damage.

Additionally, making hand cuts allows you to stagger the cuts for a more natural look. The power shears run over the top at one level.

Shredded Mahonia stems

The big picture

Before you start pruning, always ask yourself why. I’m already assuming you know how to make your cuts. Now I need to know why you are pruning. The Mahonia “balls” look fine but zoom out at the big picture. The chain-link fence should alert you right away: originally, the Mahonias were installed so they could provide a screen between the two properties. Who wants to see cars coming and going and listen to the noise? If you let the Mahonias grow up they will form a nice buffer that filters out noise and possibly even air pollution.

This is another reason why I hate rushed pruning jobs. Before you prune look around and make sure everything makes sense. Don’t rush in with your tools. Zoom out and look at the big picture. Then start pruning.

The Mahonias will be left alone from now on. If they start flopping over, we’ll tie them to the fence. We need them to form a natural green barrier.

Let these Mahonias grow up to form a barrier

Kids on a rampage!

By | Education, Pruning | No Comments

Playground in flames

Well, not literally in flames, because there is a fire ban in British Columbia. But we did find damaged cedars in a playground enclosure. And that’s to be expected. Kids play and sometimes, without adult supervision, plants suffer. Like the cedars (Thuja occidentalis) inside the playground. Or trees sporting carved initials or broken branches. Take a look. This was no accident.

It’s unlikely this damage is left over from winter, nor was it likely done by large predatory animals roaming through Langley. I suspect kids did this and only video footage can confirm this. However, I couldn’t just knock on the door and ask for the security footage. I’m not a detective. I’m a landscaper so I do it my way.

The fix

Now, we normally shear cedar hedges from the fall as the weather cools. Assuming it does, of course. It’s already been a crazy hot summer. Not just in British Columbia but globally. So I wasn’t about to shear these poor damaged plants. That would just stress them out considering the 30 degree July heat. Plus we had time.

Out came hand snips and we lopped off the cedar tops just below the damaged stems. It was easy work without noise or air pollution.

Since the far left cedar wasn’t damaged, we had a decision to make. Do we leave it taller than the others or do we take it down to keep the hedge even? The final picture shows that we decided to level it as well to keep the hedge even.

Damage controlled, for now!

A younger landscape pro Vas would try to hunt down the little bastards responsible but a slightly older Red Seal Vas is super mellow. I believe the kids still learned something from their interaction with cedar tree tissues. The damage is fixed and this fall we’ll shear the hedge nicely, including the top. It will push out and, assuming there won’t be anymore insults, recover nicely.

Now I just wish the kids would water the plants.

Terrified by London plane tree bark

By | Trees | No Comments

Calm down!

When apprentices heat up WhatsApp with messages about tree bark, I laugh. It means they still need to spend more time in the field. That’s why the Red Seal program involves school sessions and time in the field. It’s difficult to pass the trade exam without experience. And London plane (Platanus x acerifolia) trees are part of that experience. She’s on the right track by asking questions.

Platanus x acerifolia bark

What about the bark?

The bark on London plane trees is extremely attractive. I have these trees across the street from my place and when I walk by, I peel off some of the bark for the fun of it. I have no immediate use for it. It’s just a bad habit.

Now, should our apprentice worry about the bark on the ground? Or, would it make more sense for her to worry about the sidewalk crack weeds and weeds in the tree wells? The lawn could also use a blade edge; that’s what any good landscape manager would notice. It’s important to cover everything in the landscape.

Of course, there are times when the trees may be diseased but London plane trees shed bark all the time. One reason is renewal: old bark peels off to make room for new, beautiful bark. Another reason is defensive: protect against invading parasites and fungal diseases.

Seed balls

I know London plane trees well because they- they only!-make me cry when I get close to them. I don’t suffer from any allergies but pollen from the seed balls and bark makes my eyes water. In a big way.

The seed balls are as attractive as the bark. They have a hard core to which are attached seeds, making a round seed ball.


If you see your neighbourhood London plane trees shedding bark, chances are they are just renewing their bark or defending themselves against diseases.

Don’t wait, take action!

By | landscape maintenance, Pruning | No Comments

Lists, really?

I like lists. I make them because I have lots to do in my personal life but I dislike them at work. I prefer to take action immediately or as soon as possible. Big tasks that require approval from bosses and strata people must be recorded but small tasks, not so much.

It happens more than I like to admit. When I show up on a site and the foreman or landscape worker tells me about simple tasks they have been thinking about doing, I cringe. Why wait? Take action!

Just last week, while filling in for a dude on vacation, his regular helper told me about a dead cedar they’ve been thinking about pruning out. It was brown, dead and (horror!) visible from the road so yes, let’s prune it out. I picked up a hand saw and made literally two cuts. That’s not even a warm-up for a certified arborist.

One part of the native cedar (Thuja plicata) was still green and healthy so I left it alone; I hauled away the other two dead parts. Done! In minutes! No lists.

After pruning, only the green healthy cedar remains.

Classic obstruction

This second example was even easier. Again, while I was filling in for the regular foreman, I discovered cherry tree branches touching the wall of one unit. This makes insurance agents upset; and homeowners often wonder what the noise outside is when winds kick up at night and branches slam into their unit.

So, I carefully jumped on the wall and used my snips (always on my hip!) to make three to four cuts in like one minute. Problem solved! No emails from owners to strata to bosses; no lists, no time wasted. Just quick action, the way I like it. Be like Red Seal Vas. Take action.

Before pruning, cherry tree branches on the building.

Summer blow job strategy

By | landscape maintenance | No Comments

Hot weather clean-up

When I was blowing yesterday I could see the man on the patio from the corner of my eye. Hands crossed over his chest, he stared down at his convertible collector car as I approached with a blower on my back. In my dreams people like this rush down and raise the roof on their car so I don’t have to stress. But this was Langley, BC and the man wasn’t about to leave the protection of his awning.


Many homeowners know that clean up blows are sketchy on hot, dusty days. It doesn’t make sense to chase every leaf and create dust clouds. Some homeowners are more anal so we educate them.

What really scares me are AI look-alike landscapers who blow dust clouds all the way down the block. Of course, I’m not one of them. As soon as I cleared the convertible classic car, the wind changed direction. Ok, no problem. The noisy machine usually drowns out my bad language. Then, when I finally made it to the end of the road, people were moving stuff into their mover truck. It wasn’t my day. So you give up on perfection and leave it for next week. No big deal.

The key is to use your head and not behave like a robot. Yes, I would love to pick up every dry leaf off the site but in dry, dusty conditions it doesn’t make sense. By the way, this approach works with everything else you do in your garden. You’re bound to run into exceptions; sometimes you just have to let it go and relax.

Landscape testing

This blog post shows the advantage of going through landscape testing. One of the practical stations I had to pass was on blowing. In that fake scenario, the site was littered with garbage (pick it up first, before you blow), there was an expensive car nearby and the fake walkway was covered with high schoolers in uniforms. Obviously, we leave the car clean and we stop for every passerby. Use your head. It doesn’t make sense to anger people.

Man operating a heavy duty leaf blower: the leaves are being swirled up and glow in the pleasant sunlight

Lawn jockey meets Berberis

By | Plants, Pruning | No Comments

Plant ID

As often happens, full-time lawn care dudes get asked to do extras, such as pruning. They like the extra cash but it’s a bit scary when you don’t even know what the shrub is. Identification is the first step. In step two you can Google it or go on Facebook to ask your lawn care buddies. That’s what the dude who snapped the picture did. And good for him, he isn’t afraid to ask for help. So let’s help him.


In our BC landscapes we often plant Berberis thunbergii which has the same burgundy color and sports light prickles. They are sharp enough to remind you that peeping into people’s windows is wrong but not stiff enough to draw blood and cause swelling. For that we have Pyracantha.

They also do well in hot weather which is important as July 2023 marks the hottest year on record globally since record keeping started. And they also flower which is a nice bonus; and the fall colors are fine, too. There’s lots to love about Berberis.

Pruning Berberis

The specimen in the picture doesn’t look like it requires pruning. It’s doing its thing sending out shoots and splashing them on all sides. Now if the owners insists on clipping it, do it lightly, especially in summer. I don’t like hot weather pruning because it just increases the stress on plants.

Of course, Berberis is very forgiving. If your shave it hard into a ball it will recover by sending out new shoots. Personally I prefer to keep Berberis shaggy which gives it a softer look. I’m not a fan of tight formal balls.


Even as a Red Seal journeyman horticulturist with years of experience, I find that there is lots always to learn. I like how the lawn care dude went online to ask his buddies for help. Additionally, it’s a good hint for him to learn more about plants. It looks like it might be good for his bottom line.

Because the dude lives in the United States I didn’t offer him a copy of my e-book on the first 100 landscape plants you should know if you live and work in the Pacific Northwest. Check it out on Amazon Canada.

Berberis is a great plant. Use it in your garden if you get a chance.

How landscapers stay busy on cold winter days

By | gardening, landscape maintenance | No Comments

There’s always work

If you live in a strata building and look outside at your landscapers with suspicion, fear not. They’re busy even though it’s cold outside. Let’s see what they’re doing.


There’s no point making a site look beautiful when there is a pile of garbage on the lawn. You might as well pick it up, otherwise it will detract from your overall maintenance presentation. This will also take the pressure off your building caretaker.


Assuming your edges aren’t frozen solid, you can re-establish your deep edges with an edging shovel which is flat on the bottom. Make sure the edges are sharp ninety degrees and remove any dislodged grass chunks.

Edging gives our beds nice definition, it will help guide our lawn care edger machines, and it’s best done now in winter when we’re not busy cutting grass.

Dead out

Now is a great time to snip out dead foliage out of our plants. Often people are too busy during the season to stop and deal with this. Not deep into January: I snipped out dead branches from trees, dead out of Salal and evergreens. We should aim for beautiful, healthy landscapes. Dead foliage looks awful so snip it out.


Add soil

If there’s budget, adding soil amender to tired, depleted beds, is also a great winter time task. The warm soil might even warm you up. New soil looks great immediately and you won’t have to weed for months. The plants also appreciate the new soil.

My commercial site in Coquitlam.

Note the Miscanthus sinensis ornamental grass. Since it’s still beautiful and upright, I’m leaving the cutback closer to spring. It’s important to cut it back before new foliage starts to emerge in spring. But for now, enjoy it.

This bed usually requires cultivation but now, with new soil installed, I shouldn’t have to touch it too much.


Yes, the winter is a slow season but we still have work to do. We can add new soil to tired, depleted beds, snip out dead foliage from trees and shrubs, prune roses and deep edge our beds. And don’t skip garbage picking.