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gardening

When your first lawn cut is in October

By | gardening, Lawn Care | No Comments

Strange COVID times

Previously I have written blogs about my friend who hates gardening and pays me to knock down his lawns when his neighbors start whispering. Over the course of one season, I will visit his “meadows” five to six times. His house is every low-baller’s dream.

Now, let’s talk about my new client. To make the first lawn cut at a house in late October is unusual but we also live in unusual times. Thanks to the pandemic, the house owners are stuck in Taiwan; and their son worked, until recently, as a consultant in California.

Now back in town, the son wanted a little fall clean-up done. And I happily gave him one reasonable number for the work.

Fall clean-up

Lawns

Normally the consultant cuts his own grass but his mower wasn’t strong enough to cut through a frosty meadow. Grass this long has to be cut twice or knocked down with a line trimmer first.

My commercial Honda model made it in one pass, albeit slowly. The lawn is obviously in rough shape so I applied fall lawn fertilizer. Edging completes the work and this is where most homeowners fail. Many don’t even own commercial grade line trimmers.

A sharp blade edge on the street side gives the home a sharp look and, when done late in the fall, it should hold for months.

The first lawn cut of 2020 in late October.

Pruning

Next came pruning and a bit of finesse work. Daylilies and peonies are made for fall cutback when the show is long over. I took out my Felco snips and went to work.

Flush cut your perennials and let them pop up next year

Laurels, boxwoods and Spireae got clipped with power shears to control their growth and give them a more formal shape.

Shaggy shrubs
After power shearing

I used hand snips for Rhododendron and Pieris shrubs. Both were too big for the consultant’s liking.

Then came a quick scan through the cedar hedges for out-of-control morning glory (Convolvulaceae family).

The final step always involves clean-up and in this case, my weapon was a backpack blower.

Now that the consultant knows about my great, affordable service, I have a feeling we’ll do business together again in 2021. He knows I can help him and, considering the way the pandemic is dragging on, it will be nice to generate some extra income.

3 West Coast lawn issues

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

Season over

Now that the regular lawn care season is over, it’s a good time to recap some of the issues that came up in 2020. Let’s examine three issues: one is comical, one is frustrating for me and the last one isn’t going away anytime soon.

Bend over!

This issue came up in a Facebook group. The lawn care operator was asking for a good machine or technique to remove the shaggy bit of grass in the corner. The light wood is clear evidence that they’ve tried removing it with line edgers but the geometry didn’t work out.

Sometimes you just have to do it the low-tech way: bend over and rip it out.

Tree or lawn?

This looks just like another neglected tree well; it’s full of grass and lacks a sharp, ninety degree edge. But, it’s actually a misunderstanding between the unit owner and maintenance staff.

Landscapers are trained to keep tree wells weed-free and well-defined with sharp deep edges. The plastic guard on the tree is extra insurance against tree abuse from lawn care machines.

Unable to keep the tree well clean, it finally came to light that the owner had been over-seeding the tree well in order to eliminate the tree circle. He wanted a nice uniform lawn with the tree in the middle. Thus the plastic guard.

There is just one problem with the homeowner’s approach. Young trees often get outcompeted by turf. They struggle and often die because turf is an efficient competitor and lawn care machines are bound to take some liberties with the bark.

If you want to keep the tree, keep the tree well.

Chafers aren’t going away

When animals dig up your lawn in late October looking for European chafer beetle grubs, it can be a shocking site. The strata president tracked me down looking for help but by late October there isn’t much I can do. The grubs in the soil are juicy and, I presume, delicious.

I raked up the damaged turf chunks and peeled back whatever was still attached. Then I added soil and over-seeded it with good renovation seed mix.

The treatment window for chafers is in late summer after the females deposit their eggs in lawns, but there are now new treatments coming in. So, check with your local garden center. They will be happy to take your money.

Search for my European chafer beetle blogs on this website.

Female European chafer beetles. Only one is really dead!

Summer pruning fun

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Pruning | No Comments

Why prune?

Before you take out your shears and hand snips, ask yourself: why am I pruning in late summer? Usually, obstruction issues are the worst and should be done as soon as possible.

For example, I was asked to prune a dogwood that was encroaching into a walkway. That’s a problem and it’s easy to solve.

Other pruning like perennial and shrub cutback isn’t as critical and could be delayed if time is short.

Let’s take a look at some examples of my work.

Obstruction

Shrubs encroaching onto walkways get residents excited so it’s best to do this kind of pruning as soon as possible. In this case it was a dogwood shrub. Don’t forget to hand pick the branches off the top; they will be noticeable once they dry up and turn brown.

Before
After

Another pressing case involved Rhododendrons encroaching onto a patio. This patio is well-used by the family and their friends and the rhodos become annoying in late summer.

Always snip rhodos by hand because power shears just shred the plant tissues and corrections have to be made by hand anyway. This job didn’t take very long; it’s like therapy for me, hand-snipping on a sunny day.

Before
After

One serious safety issue is plant obstruction around lights. Here I used pole pruners to eliminate Red maple (Acer rubrum) branches covering a lamp along a high-profile walkway.

Before
After

Less critical pruning

It’s nice to clean-up perennials in your garden like Hostas or shrubs like butterfly bush (Buddleja) and lilacs (Syringa sp). But it’s not as critical as obstruction pruning.

Spent Hosta flower spikes can be snipped out.

Lilacs (Syringa sp) flower early in the season and once the flowers fade, it’s nice to snip them out. I did this shrub last week because I don’t normally work on this site. But again, it’s not super critical.

Before

Buddleja is a borderline invasive species but it sports beautiful flowers. This specimen was growing wild making mower access a bit challenging so I took it down by half. But don’t worry. It will make a comeback soon enough.

Buddleja reduced by half.
Buddleja flowers.

Conclusion

Have some fun with late summer pruning; and pay attention to obstruction and safety issues. Always know why you are pruning and get to know your target plants. Plants are fascinating so treat them well.

How to make easy cash with plant removals

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Removal request

Never discount your simple lawn care clients because, inevitably, they will come up with extra projects for you to do. And all of a sudden, there is extra money to be made by solving more problems for your clients.

The mugo pine (Pinus mugo) in this blog post was clearly struggling and the owner wanted to use the space for her potted Hydrangea. No problem.

Get set

Before you start, state your price. I did. Then, once the job price is established, bring all of the necessary tools and bang the job quickly. Of course, there is always some risk because some mugo pines are very stubborn, especially when they’re healthy. This one was marginal so it popped fairly easily.

Don’t touch my fabric

The entire bed is covered in landscape fabric and a generous layer of mulch. A few years ago I brought in several yards of fresh bark mulch because the bed looked a bit tired. See, extra services lead to extra cash.

The owner warned me not to disturb the fabric too much and I complied. I uncovered just enough of it so I could remove the stump.

Incidentally, landscape fabric doesn’t work, especially long-term. Yes, it will keep weeds down in the beginning but as the fabric clogs it causes problems for the plants. I suspect this mugo pine wasn’t getting enough water into the root zone because the fabric was pressed against the stems.

Step 1

Lop off the branches for easier access to the root zone. Once I removed the branches, I used my shovel and mattock to dig around the plant. I had to fight the fabric a little bit so I put my body between the plant and the owner’s windows. This way there wasn’t any panic in the house about damaged landscape fabric.

Once the plant was loose, I had to sever a few stubborn roots with my loppers. A hand saw will also do. The mattock is fine, too.

Step 2

Remove the stump and branches and install the potted Hydrangea. I suspect the Hydrangea will do well since it’s planted in open soil. I just had to remind the owner to water it. And now, instead of looking at a struggling mugo pine, the owner is looking forward to Hydrangea blooms next season.

Problem solved! Cash made! Blog post composed!

Weeding 101 with Red Seal Vas

By | gardening, weeds | No Comments

Basics you must know

Proper weeding technique comes up a lot as new workers come on board. In your own residential garden, there is very little pressure. You can weed when and how you like. But in commercial settings, weeding is just like any other task; it has to get done quickly and efficiently.

I’m creating yet another blog post on weeding because I’m still seeing workers sitting on their butts, hand-picking weeds while listening to their favorite podcasts. It’s comfortable but it’s terribly slow.

Do it like Vas

Here’s how you do it. Stay on your feet as much as possible and always use tools. It could be a cultivator or, if you must get on your knees, a hand tool. I consider hand picking tiny weeds a form of punishment. When I do it my fingers hurt and I know I’m NOT getting the weed roots out. It looks OK for a day and then the weeds come right back because you failed to cultivate the bed.

Exceptions

There are exceptions, of course. One involves giant trophy weeds that were obviously missed for a while. Those we hand pick because it’s easy. Just remember to train your people not to tolerate large weeds. It looks awful and reflects badly on your service.

The second exception is weeds inside groundcover where tools can’t really enter without damaging the groundcover. Recall that groundcover does what it says, it covers the ground and keeps weeds away. When you find a few sticking out, pick them out.

Stuck in groundcover, you must hand pick these weeds.

Obviously, hand pick trophy weeds.

Helping Pierre

My client Pierre (his real name) is funny because he calls his weeds “herbs”. He’s at that stage where paying me to weed makes more sense than doing it himself. His shiny black Mercedes in the driveway is a hint.

Pro tip:

Armed with this blog post, you can actually make good extra coin for weeding people’s gardens. Nobody likes to weed. I will do it anytime because seeing my kids fed gives me enormous pleasure.

His front bed was weedy but it was hardly a disaster. His mulch is settling now and decomposing; plus, wind and birds bring in weed seeds all the time. I probably blow some seeds his way when I maintain his neighbor’s place directly above.

I used a four-prong cultivator from RONA because the weeds were easy to uproot in mulch. You can use the sharper Dutch hoe for stubborn masses of weeds. Run the cultivator through a section and collect the weeds into a bucket or tarp. That’s it. Repeat this until you cover the entire front. I charged Pierre the low sum of C$60 for 70 minutes of labor. That will buy a few apps.

The bonus? Using a cultivator leaves the bed fluffy and fresh looking. That’s something your hand-picking colleagues will never accomplish. A few weeks later, only a few weeds are showing and the bed looks good. The dry weather also helps.

A few weeks later, this cultivated and weeded front still looks good. I only found a few weeds and I won’t let them get far.

Weed like a pro

Let’s review. When weeding, stay on your feet and use tools. Cultivators, rakes and buckets are best, plus small hand tools. Uproot the weeds and collect them. Hand picking should be left for giant trophy weeds.

Are tulip bulbs reliable after one season?

By | gardening, Species | No Comments

I love it when I get to run field tests on my sites by chance. One such test involved used bulbs. This was the question: are tulip bulbs reliable past the first season? Can you use them over and over?

Fall 2019

In late fall 2019, I did maintenance at a small Port Moody, BC, strata (multi-family) site where the garden liaison stopped me. Would I be able to plant her saved tulip and daffodil bulbs in the dead space I was weeding? Yes, of course.

Mass-planting bulbs is very easy. You just dig a hole deep enough to match the bulb size 2.5 times. And that’s what I did because there wasn’t enough time for individual planting. I find mass-planting better anyway, especially with daffodils.

Always make sure the bulbs are pointing up the right way and try to plant at a consistent depth. This way they will pop more or less in unison.

Pro tip: Try to plant a section by yourself, because your helpers will, inevitably, plant slightly higher or lower. We need consistency so do your section and let them plant other sections close by.

Spring 2020

This is the look in spring 2020. What conclusions can we draw?


Recycled tulips.

A) Tulip bulbs are not reliable past one season. They may or may not pop and this test proves the point. So, why not toss the tulips and design a new display every year? The bulbs aren’t expensive and you’ll get to have more fun. Like me.

This is what happens when you read too many magazines. As soon as I saw the row of Mexican feather grasses flanked by deep purple tulips, I was hooked. Sadly, my humble patio only allows small pots so I created just one.

See, you can have lots of fun with new tulip combinations.

B) Daffodils are rock stars. They look good in my test plot and they will continue to pop every year unless something crazy happens to them. Daffodils, unlike tulips, can be naturalized. I even found some daffodils in the woods recently, where they were left for dead by careless gardeners.

Pro tip: Never discard unwanted plants in the woods. That’s how plants turn into invasives.

Conclusion

Get one good show from your tulips and toss them. Then design a new display for the following year. This way you’ll get to have more fun and you won’t have to worry about all of the tulips looking great in season two.

Keep all daffodils.

Garden as a place of comfort

By | gardening | No Comments

Brian Minter writes in today’s Vancouver Sun about gardens being places of comfort. And I totally agree. Except it wasn’t very comfortable today buying the paper. Just before I entered Shopper’s drug mart, the security guard questioned me about my shopping intentions. What? These really are strange times we live in.

Escape

With the novel coronavirus upsetting our normal routines, we need gardens more than ever. We need some safe spaces to escape to, where we can rest and relax.

Unfortunately, I only have a small patio so I have to rely on containers. Of course, Brian Minter is a gardening legend in British Columbia so he’s after well-designed containers. Mine are planted with rejected plants I brought in from work; and I love all of my rescues.

Elements

The only designed pot I have contains Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) which moves nicely with the breeze. All around it I planted purple tulips because I read too many gardening magazines and I saw this idea in one of them. The light grass contrasts nicely with the purple tulips. At least that’s the idea. The tulips aren’t out yet. I can’t wait.

Rebel daffodil discarded in the woods and rescued.

Minter also mentions colours and perfumes. The only perfume I get in winter comes from my one Sarcococca. The other elements are plants which attract pollinators and LED mini-lights for extra magic.

Now, while my patio probably wouldn’t get a passing mark from Brian Minter, it’s my special place. I feel like the plants I rescued and bought are my friends. Some are tiny trees I will never be able to keep to maturity but I love seeing them grow.

I have one Styrax, Pin oak and Horse chestnut, not exactly patio pot friendly specimens. Once they grow up I will give them away.

Watering my plants also got my mind away from virus news and financial stress. Now I’m considering growing vegetables.

If you have a garden or a patio, try to add some plants. It may just give you some serenity in a crazy world. I feel great when I check on my patio plants. I think you would, too.

Brian Minter is right, gardens are places of comfort.

Armeria juniperifolia

How to ruin someone’s garden!

By | gardening | No Comments

Disclaimer: this is a tongue-in-cheek blog post. Never ruin someone’s garden.

If you hang out online long enough, you will run into some crazy questions. Like this one: how do you ruin someone’s garden? Aha. Let’s have some fun.

Chemicals

Contact liquids

For sure the quickest way to ruin someone’s garden is to cover it in copious amounts of weed killer. I don’t want to name any one specific product but there are many available, they’re cheap and they work. If you soak everything thoroughly, you’re guaranteed success. Usually in a matter of hours.

Warning: cosmetic pesticide use isn’t allowed in British Columbia. Of course, this is a tongue-in-cheek blog post. I’m not expecting anyone to actually run out and ruin a garden but if you do, do it under cover of darkness.

Pre-emergent granular

You might also consider applying a pre-emergent granular product that forms a barrier on top of the soil. It will sterilize your garden soil and affect the most important part of garden soil: the life in the soil.

The discussion used to be about soil content. How much organic matter is in the soil, etc. But now we’re finding out that the life in your soil is crucial to success. You can quickly ruin a garden by affecting the life in its soil.

Grass seed

Dumping fast-germinating grass seed onto someone’s garden would also be a nightmare because you’d have to weed it out. And that’s not fun.

This is actually a thing in the landscaping industry. When company A loses a maintenance contract to company B, they dump a lot of expensive grass seed into beds just to mess with the new landscapers moving in. It’s hard to believe, I know.

Stop weeding

You can also ruin a garden by not weeding. Allow all weedy plants to flower and produce seeds. Since weeds are opportunistic colonizers they usually produce lots of seeds. So let them produce their seeds. They will accumulate in the soil and cause headaches for years to come.

There you have it. I hope that whoever asked the question online was kidding because need healthy gardens. One book I recommend is Dr. David Goulson’s The Garden Jungle. He wants you to stop worrying about global climate emergencies. Start with your own garden.

Would you raze your garden?

By | gardening | No Comments

Would you raze your own garden? It seems like a radical waste of time but I like the idea. What if you try gardening and years later you admit to yourself that you’re not really a gardener?

This blog post was inspired by a story I had read in the Globe and Mail newspaper. The writer started gardening in her small Calgary garden and everything went well. Her husband helped with spring preparations and the garden produced all sorts of vegetables for the family.

Then they moved to British Columbia where their new neighbours were gardening all-stars. And it must have been a bit intimidating.

I have some experience with this. I was once a happy community garden plot “owner” and then I made the mistake of renting a bigger plot. It was bigger but also closer to the main building. This meant close scrutiny of my plot by a gardener on disability with time to kill. He would constantly analyze my vegetable choices and rob me of the joy of growing and experimenting with new plants. I let my plot go to some lucky person on the waiting list. And to this day I regret accepting the bigger garden plot.

Back to our family. While the husband helped in spring, he didn’t do much beyond that. Same with the kids. The wife was left to care for the garden, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting. And soon she was overwhelmed.

That’s when the family decided to quit. The husband went out and razed the garden; the wife walked out on the patio and instead of worrying about the garden, she opened up a book and relaxed. The change felt great. They weren’t really gardeners and they openly admitted it.

I totally loved reading this article because it’s different from beautiful garden magazine stories. You never read about people giving up and razing their gardens. That wouldn’t sell many gardening magazines or books, tools and seeds.

 

 

photo 2 (1)

This is how Red Seal Vas rocks bedwork

By | gardening, Strata Maintenance, weeds | No Comments

Great bedwork gives your garden and landscape a beautiful edge but it’s not a popular task. So let me show you how it’s done properly.

Struggle

Busy with pruning, I could only observe a new employee performing finesse work with her hands and a rake. Since she wasn’t given any time parameters it took her a long while to complete a small bed area. She raked and hand picked weeds as best as she could. Then she finally moved on, leaving a nearby weedy tree well untouched.

And I don’t blame her. She wasn’t set up to win. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bedwork is simple. You just need to bring a good attitude to it. Let’s get sweaty.

No more struggles

Unless you’re hand picking huge trophy weeds, stop using your fingers for weeding. Professionals use tools and they stay on their feet. Sit down to enjoy your break, not to weed.

(Warning: if your company insists on hand weeding, use a small hand tool to save your fingers from abuse. )

Cultivate

Use a cultivator to uproot the weeds and fluff-up the soil. Concentrate on edges because that’s where weed seeds get blown; and where people miss them.

 

IMG_2494

Run your cultivator along the edge and uproot all of the weeds. Don’t hand pick tiny weeds.

 

The cultivator uproots the weeds and then we rake them up. Hand-picking many tiny weeds is time consuming and it’s unlikely you’ll pick the entire weed. This is why weedy hand-picked beds quickly return to weedy mess.

I also find that my fingers hurt after hours of slow weeding by hand. Don’t do it, unless you’re picking big trophy weeds.

Rake up

Next, gently rake up the mess you just made and be careful not to remove too much soil. If you do remove some soil-and you will!-remember the time you just saved. Your hand-picking colleagues are probably still hand-picking tiny weeds somewhere.

Place your debris into a tarp.

Remember to always keep your debris piles in bed edges, not outside on pavement or lawn. This eliminates unnecessary blowing later on.

 

IMG_1615

Note that the debris pile is raked to the edge, not on the stones.

 

Final step

The real final step is a clean-up blow but that’s done at the end of the day. Before you move on, rake any soil away from the edges.

 

IMG_2002

Note that I raked soil away from the bed edge to keep it sharp looking.

 

Bonus effect

One huge bonus is that cultivation leaves your beds fluffy and fresh looking. Hand-weeded beds still look tired afterwards. Shame. So what if it costs you a bit of sweat. Your beds will look great longer.

Bedwork is a critical component of landscape maintenance and yet it’s often labelled as “bitch work”. This is wrong. Follow my steps outlined in this blog post and you’ll be a gold star in no time.