Saving kids’ lives, no more!

By | Planting | No Comments

Update on my 2021 blog post

Yesterday, on the way home I stopped by a site to check on the progress of our project. I published my post in September 2021 and on my last visit in 2023 everything looked fine. Briefly, there was a gap in a Berberis shrub and the kids would run through it and turn left to go play in the fields. However, there was a problem.

Just beyond the Berberis gap was a cedar hedge which hid the kids from view for exiting cars. The drivers wouldn’t see the kids until the last few seconds. And while I don’t recall any fatalities, there were several close calls.

Enough close calls for the strata to call for a solution.

Natural solution

I’ll be honest, this was an exciting, small project. It involved plants and saving kids’ lives. Sign me up.

Now, Berberis is widely available in local nurseries and it’s reasonably priced. I think we planted only three specimens so it wasn’t a huge hit for the strata; my labour charges were a different story.

Why Berberis? Because it’s already there making a big, mature hedge. The prickles on the plant are soft so if any of the kids decided to cheat and run through the gap, they would feel it but they wouldn’t lose any blood.

When I checked on this gap last year (2023), it looked fine. The new specimens were slower than the existing hedge so the gap was closing nicely but mainly from the top. Which was good enough for me.

New Berberis installed as barrier in 2021.

Disappointment

Yesterday, on my follow-up visit, I was disappointed. Take a look and you’ll understand why.

January 2024 and the gap is open again.

The three specimens I planted in 2021 showed signs of being cut and trampled. The tops on both sides were also pruned back. Now, I have no idea what exactly happened. Sometimes strata management changes; and so do their wishes. Perhaps some parents wanted the gap opened up again but I doubt it. Remember the close calls with cars?

I suspect the kids frequenting the gap sabotaged the plants; and then somebody asked the current landscape contractor to prune the sides. Whatever the case, somebody ruined this project. Red Seal isn’t saving kids’ lives anymore. Too bad. I tried.

Defeated by leaf drop

By | Leaf clean-up | No Comments

Leafy war zone

Oh, man, I had a lot of fun walking to 7-Eleven for coffee today. I passed a house where the owners totally gave up on leaf clean-up. It looked horrendous but I understand why they would give up. So I smiled and walked by in search of coffee.

I hope holiday visitors came from the back lane.

The London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) on the boulevard produce a lot of pollen and it sticks to everything: leaves, bark bits and seed pods. If you hang out long enough with your rake in hand, it’s likely your eyes will soon be watering. The London plane is the only thing in our West Coast landscape that affects me negatively. I don’t suffer from any allergies but this tree makes me cry.

I’m pretty sure the homeowner is responsible for the piles in front of the fence. Leaving it all piled up will also destroy the lawn underneath: that alone would motivate me to take care of the leaves.

Briefly I considered leaving my business card at the door but I live too far away in Port Moody. Clearly the owners are too busy or out of tissues. It’s also possible the residents are renters but I detest that label.

There’s more

This house wasn’t the only leafy place in the neighbourhood. I found a really leafy exit door area that made me shake my head. Take a look.

Very ugly hazard!

I don’t like leaving any exits leafy because people can easily slip on soggy, decomposing leaves. If the landscape contractor is already off then maybe get the caretaker to blow this area. This is an area waiting for an accident to happen. It also looks awful in early January, 2024, meaning that it wasn’t clean for the holidays.

It’s not that bad

Leaf clean up isn’t that bad if you remove the drop in stages. Take one load away and then stop stressing about the new drop. It’s fresh, so enjoy the fall colours and come back another day.

Allowing the leaves to accumulate on your lawn is a mistake because it will turn yellow and die. Then come spring you will extra work to do. Don’t let that happen.

Notes on tree planting

By | Planting, Trees | No Comments

Today I spent the day in Burnaby and I made some notes for this blog post. It’s a kind of follow-up because I don’t always come to this part of Burnaby, but it’s nice to see how things change.

Horse chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum

This City of Burnaby planting checked many boxes. The city workers staked the tree, and they made a tree well around it. And, just to make sure lawn care people knew to stay away, they also installed a plastic guard.

Now, months later, there is some work to be done. I would weed the circle and I would get ready to remove the tree stakes. Stakes shouldn’t stay on longer than 14 months: this allows the tree to develop reaction wood in response to wind events, and thus get stronger.

I would keep the plastic guard on, even though the tree circle should make it obvious that lawn care machines shouldn’t get anywhere near the bark.

Cages

When I walked by this Styrax japonicus I immediately noticed the cage sticking out. Now, we know that planting trees with cages is totally fine. So far there isn’t any scientific evidence showing that cages cause harm. It’s totally up to you: keep it or remove it. But, it does look ugly.

When you install the tree, bend the top of the cage down or remove it completely. Don’t leave it sticking out like this. I already know that line edgers will get their line stuck in it when they show up in spring to edge the grass.

Also, there is a tiny soil volcano touching the trunk. It’s important to locate the root flare (where the trunk turns into roots) and make sure there isn’t any soil piled above it. These infamous volcanoes kill trees. You can watch my video on this important topic here. It tells you why the volcanoes kill trees.

Conclusion

Tree planting is no joke. It’s a science and we need to get it right if we want our trees to thrive. Take your time, do it well and you will be rewarded with beautiful, healthy trees.

Tough love for landscape apprentices

By | Pruning, Training | No Comments

Nice try!

Picture an entrance area flanked by cedar hedges on the left and right. We got down to cedar pruning as temperatures dipped and light flurries started coming down. I worked on my hedge and then moved on. That’s when my apprentice saw me and motioned to me to come top his hedge.

Nice try! Now way! Apprentices training under Red Seal Vas do everything hands on. They learn by doing and by facing their fears. When I can, I give some background information but mostly it’s hands on in the field.

Since this hedge is in a high-profile spot, there’s extra pressure to make it look good. And when you succeed, you will do it well again somewhere else. That’s how we get good, confident workers. You have to face your fears. I still do.

Easy does it!

Notice that I didn’t crack any jokes. It’s important for the apprentice to know that we have confidence in him. I did stop him to remind him to slow down with the cedar tops. This is a common mistake: people rush the tops. They make two passes over the top and leave. That’s wrong, unless you’re trying to get the top to grow higher.

Cedar hedge sides are clipped much lighter than the tops. The tops should be tight and that requires making several passes over them with the blades. (It helps if your shears are sharp!) Don’t rush this step.

If you must check the level, by all means, walk away and take a look. In this case we already know that the top line is there from last year. We just have to find it under the new growth.

Journeyman: nice tight cedar tops (Note that the grasses are still standing!!)

Apprentice: not bad at all. Keep doing it!

Having fun

I like winter because it’s slower without lawn care. This gives me a chance to notice how the crew members are working. When I can, I gently instruct and correct them. To put in world-class work we need skilled workers.

What it’s like to work with landscape apprentices

By | Education, Pruning, Training | No Comments

The idea

Apprentices in landscape horticulture attend classes for six weeks, usually in winter, when it’s slow. Then for the rest of the year they work under a journeyman in the field. That’s where I come in. I work with them in the field as they learn hands-on skills and more. The set-up is sound and it gets results when the journeyman wants to teach and the apprentices wants to learn.

Dogwood lesson

Today my apprentice started thinning out a mature Red-twig dogwood shrub and he did a good job. However, we still had the same problem. Only the top section was showing the classic red twigs, which is why this shrub is planted. Normally the red twigs show really well in the winter landscape. Not this specimen.

Because there were some concerns about privacy on the patio, I knocked on the door to check with the owner. And she didn’t care: whatever I wanted to do was fine by her. Sadly, because I joke around a lot, my apprentice didn’t believe me when I relayed the owner’s message. There should be complete trust between the teacher and apprentice!

Old wood goes

Now that privacy issues didn’t matter, I got the apprentice to remove all of the mature wood which look gray or brown, not red. He used a hand saw and loppers to do this work.

Once the old wood was gone, all we had left were the young, red canes. And we should get more next season. Assuming the coming blast of cold doesn’t kill the shrub. (Disclaimer: another manager approved the work; I wouldn’t prune dogwoods with -17C temperatures coming later in the week.)

Before:

Mature dogwood with red twigs up top.

After:

Old wood is gone and my apprentice is smiling!

Training

I love working alongside apprentices in the field but, sadly, I don’t get to all of them. The hands-on work they do is priceless, plus I add extra knowledge when it applies. Then the rest depends on their own work and six weeks of study.

When they come back from school they are more knowledgeable and confident. And that makes me and every landscape boss extremely happy.

It’s official: people struggle with fall leaf clean up

By | Leaf clean-up | No Comments

YouTube test

This past weekend I shot a short YouTube video about leaf clean up at one of my commercial sites. Cleverly I called the video “Leaf clean-up hack: bury it out of sight temporarily“; and it has become the most-watched video on my humble YouTube channel. Close to six thousand views. Which is funny; and it shows what a pain it is for people to pick up their leaves in the fall. It’s a chore and when West Coast Landscape Pro offers them a “hack”, they jump at it. Here, take a look and continue reading.

Don’t forget to like and subscribe!

A hack

I have several mature pin oak trees (Quercus palustris) on my commercial site and when they decide to drop, it can be overwhelming. But it’s not my first season: I took advantage of a long laurel hedge and I buried some of the leafiness into it and behind it. Then came Christmas break.

Luckily, the start to our winter has been mild and I was able to go in and fix it. That’s when I shot the video. And to be honest, it was a relief to finally have the pin oak drop under control. Nobody really noticed; nobody complained. Now I can concentrate on other tasks.

Don’t sweat it!

If you hate leaf clean-up, learn to relax. Pick up some leaves every week and enjoy whatever fresh stuff drops. If you’re busy, don’t be shy about hiding it temporarily.

You can also pile it up and shred it with a mower before using it as mulch. Also, last October I learned about collecting leaves in plastic bags and parking them with the tops open. By summer you should have decent compost to spread over your garden beds.

Finally, don’t forget to stop and enjoy the fall. Many tree species are planted for their beautiful fall colors so look up and enjoy the show. If you’re lucky, the wind will blow your drop over to your neighbour’s place.

Grass in your planted beds? Now what?

By | gardening | No Comments

Lawn care dudes are cute

I poached this picture from a Facebook group because the question that came with it was instructive. The lawn care professional had one question:

“What do we about the grass growing in the planted bed?”

Right away I can tell the dude is a lawn care professional, not a landscaper. He guns down miles of green lawns during the season. But occasionally he gets asked to prune something or to take care of weeds in planted beds.

Easy answer for gardeners

The late famous English gardener Christopher Lloyd wrote that he would weed on all fours with a trowel in his hand. And stop crying, weeding isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. So that’s what a famous English gardener would do. And I humbly follow in his footsteps, except I use a double-sided tomahawk hand tool to weed. It doesn’t matter really, as long as use a tool.

Lawn care pros panic

The Facebook group answers weren’t really helpful. Many of them mentioned Round Up which is nasty, infamous weed killer. I never recommend applying chemicals in planted beds. That would be awful. Why not grab a tool and hand weed the area. From the picture it doesn’t look that bad.

Once you weed it, you can keep it clean by regular cultivation. Or, better still, plant something in the open space. You can beautify the spot with plants and those plants will happily compete with weeds and grass for resources.

Poisoning the bed with chemicals will make this bed inhospitable for plants; and I guarantee you that eventually weeds will drift in with the wind, birds or animals.

No short-cuts

There are no short-cuts in gardening. You can expect weeds and grass to invade your beds. So why not grab a hand tool, get on your knees and take care of it?

By the way, Lloyd has lots to say about people who prefer to weed standing, plucking weeds out without tools. Using his proper English, he politely questions their standards. You can imagine what I would say if this wasn’t a family blog.

Never reach for chemicals which poison the soil and the life within it. I also firmly believe that those same chemicals are bad for the applicator.

Red Seal Vas isn’t afraid of weeds!

Can you mow your lawn between Christmas and New Year’s?

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Winter mow?

I did it! Today I mowed a lawn just three days away from the new year. In my twenty-five seasons in landscaping I had never mowed a lawn past early December.

First time ever: lawn cut between Christmas and New Year’s.

Here’s how it happened. My client called me to see if I could clean up her garden beds. Of course I could; I’m off on holidays recovering from a long season and she lives ten minutes away. But why the rush, right after Christmas? Mother-in-law is coming! Aha. I wonder how excited she gets when she looks out at the backyard and it’s not exactly looking mint.

Always a pro

Now, when the topic of lawn care came up, I did smile and tell my client that I had never mowed a lawn between Christmas and New Year’s. However, I didn’t tell her that it would make for a good blog. Why not try something new and see what happens?

Of course, I’m a professional. I don’t ruin lawns for profit, in any season. So, I checked the lawn. It did look shaggy because it was never put to bed. My client’s mower died in the fall, allegedly. I know people are busy; I’m not judging.

Frosty?

The test is always frost. Frosty grass blades have very little water and oxygen and can, therefore, break easily. That’s why you shouldn’t even walk on frosty lawns, if you can help it.

This shaggy winter lawn passed the test because we’re having a mild start to the winter. And I hope it stays this way until spring because it helps me financially. Cold weather affects my side-gigs, except tree work.

So I brought my mower, fuelled it up and went at it. I think it turned out well. The lawn needed a final mow and it also sucked up any remaining leaves. We should be good until spring.

Rules

Most lawns stop actively growing by late November, depending on the weather. You should aim to have your last cut done by November. But if your mother-in-law comes to visit and you haven’t done your last cut, give it a shot. Just make sure the conditions are decent: do not mow in freezing temperatures when the grass blades don’t have water and oxygen in their tissues. Frosty grass blades can break when you step on them. Definitely don’t mow over frosty grass.

Arnie says “give back” in his new book

By | Reviews | No Comments

Be useful

You can’t go wrong by reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new book, “Be useful”. I found it interesting; and I suspect you will, too. Just consider his many accomplishments: Mr. Olympia, Mr. Universe, Hollywood movie star, California Governor and author.

In the book Arnie gives you seven tools for life. But I didn’t expect to see a long section on giving back; on helping out and being useful. He did it and we can, too. That includes my teenage kids. My son helped install Christmas lights in front of my building recently now that he is taller than his father; and my daughter often makes cakes for her friends. I sometimes volunteer on ivy and knotweed pulling events in public parks.

Landscape volunteers

The idea of giving back brings me to my landscaper buddy Derek. Last fall he volunteered to clean up a garden belonging to a ninety year old woman. Her run down garden was a source of stress for her but she didn’t have the money to hire people. So in stepped Derek with a few more volunteers. They weeded, cut out tree suckers and hand pruned.

Originally I wanted to join them and then write a blog post about the experience. Unfortunately, my work schedule didn’t allow for it. So I waited for Derek’s social media posts so I could poach his pictures.

The garden clean-up happened over two sessions and it was a success. The old lady was ecstatic when she saw her upgraded garden. Arnie would have been proud. I sure was.

Over to you

How can you give back and help out in the community? Arnie’s fame is a great advantage when it comes to giving back but we don’t have to go big. Not right away. Just pick a project that interests you and give it a go. Give back. Help out. Make someone’s day.

Dandelion greens for sale! Yes, really.

By | Plants, weeds | No Comments

“What the s=*#?”

Yesterday I happened to scroll through my Facebook feed and I found a gem in a lawn care group. A professional lawn care dude, presumably running his own company, posted the picture below with a question: “What the shit?”

It’s almost comical. A lawn care professional shocked by seeing local organic dandelion greens for sale. That’s because the chemical industry has done a great job picking on the plant. Unfairly. That’s it, that’s the main point of this blog post. Landscapers have become so brainwashed by the chemical industry, they can’t believe the plant they fight and poison is available for sale. And marked as organic.

Lawn care professionals usually try to get rid of dandelions by mowing them down weekly; and by poisoning them with chemicals. In your own garden you might be able to just pick them out with a hand tool. I once spent a day doing exactly that. You can read about it here.

Or your kids can run around in the “weeds” and make wreaths. I remember playing with dandelions as a kid in Europe. I especially remember one open field like it was yesterday because I would walk it between my grandpa’s villa and my father’s office.

Great plant, great benefits

My other point is that dandelions (Taraxacum oficinale) are amazing plants. I love the way they look but I understand why some multi-family complex clients don’t appreciate the wild look.

Dandelions are so widespread because they don’t need sex to reproduce. And every single part of the plant is edible! Like the greens pictured above and the roasted roots turned into organic, USDA-approved, tea. I buy it occasionally just to create some demand for dandelions.

You can Google the many health benefits of dandelions. And this is just one plant. How many others are we “nuking” because the chemical industry wants us to have a perfect lawn? It’s just that the dandelion is a poster child for the chemical industry; that’s how good they are at selling their chemical products.

Go ahead, try it!

I openly admit to looking at dandelion tea with some reservations. USDA-approved, organic dandelion root tea for C$6? But I gave it a shot and everything was fine. You can too. So next time you see dandelion greens for sale, buy some and enjoy them. The dandelion got picked on by the chemical industry unfairly. It’s an amazing plant.

That was my reply to the post mentioned above. Greens? That’s nothing. The whole plant is edible.

Controls over 50 weeds and look which one is on the cover!