When ornamental grasses are allowed to ornament

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If you know me well or if you read this blog regularly, you will know that I love to leave ornamental grasses standing in the fall. As long as they are upright and beautiful I let them ornament the landscape until late winter.

Why the rush to turn the grasses into low mounds of nothing? Once they’re gone, there’s no more drama, nothing swaying in the breeze, no resting place for the frost that would have made the flowers stand out.

And yet, I’m happy to report some signs of progress. I’ve seen some landscapes recently where the grasses are still standing, ornamenting the landscape the way they were supposed to. Let’s take a look.

This is a high-profile entrance to an upscale community in White Rock; and look how good everything looks. The grasses move in the wind and when it really cools off later this week, they will look awesome frosty.

This Rocky Point bed in Port Moody has Chinese Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and beautiful Calamagrostis Karl Foerster grasses. As far as I’m concerned, it looks awesome!

You might have seen this Miscanthus a few times already. It was a rescue and it’s doing fine on my commercial site. I won’t cut it back until later winter.

More Miscanthus from White Rock, BC. Wait for a light breeze and see them come alive.

Now, if you do cut them back, don’t leave a foot long stub like the one above. Cut it back low to the ground in a mound shape. Then wait for next year’s growth.


Ornamental grasses add drama to your garden so leave them standing until late winter. Then cut them back before they start to grow again in spring. When you do cut them, make it a low mound. Don’t leave a foot long stub.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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!


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!

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.


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.


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 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


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!

Grass in your planted beds? Now what?

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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!

Lessons from a gardener’s garage sale

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I know that some people frequent garage sales where they buy stuff they then flip for profit online. I’m not one of them, not yet. But this morning I made the forty-five minute drive into Vancouver to visit a garage sale put on by a retired professional gardener.

A few hours later flurries would come down so it was a cold morning but I had fun visiting another gardener and ISA certified arborist. This gentleman ran his own gardening company for over thirty years, servicing well-to-do residences in Vancouver. He never had more than four employees.

So now what, I asked him. It turns out he discovered his second act: he’s working as a tourist guide in Vancouver and sharing its history! That’s definitely less taxing physically; and he’s enjoying himself.

Greed and unaffordability

The current housing situation in British Columbia and the rest of Canada is horrendous. It turns that our retired gardener got a “renoviction” notice last fall to move out by February 2024. Thus the garage sale.

Having lived at the house for the past nine years means that his rent was probably very low and affordable. So the landlord is moving back in, allegedly. But I say they will eventually rent the place out at 35% more. And finding a new place to live for a seventy-plus retired gardener must be a nightmare.

Last year my own landlord openly, and illegally, emailed me with a 35% rent increase, saying I should be paying “market rates”. Oh, the beauty of greed! Laws only permit 3% annual rent raises. Yes, the market has gone nuts.

Here we go, 2024

So now I have to make more money to cover a huge rent increase, like the rest of Canada’s renters. That’s why I combed through the garage sale for items that would help my own one-man company. And I found some. Let’s see:

An 8′ landscape ladder in great condition for cheap was a huge score for me. I will eventually need bigger ladders like 10′ and 12′ but this baby will do for now.

Old tarps. Now I know that sounds a bit sketchy but new green waste tarps are fairly expensive. It was nice to score a few.

Used tarps are extremely useful.

I also scored a STIHL safety helmet with earmuffs and a shield. It’s nice to have a back-up unit; or I might sell it later. It has a nice ISA certified arborist sticker on it.

Five and ten litre jerry cans will also come in handy; and so will another hard rake in great condition. Wooden tools eventually break.

Afternoon flurries

By the time I got home the flurries were annoying so I changed my plans. I went home to compose blog posts like this. I still have Sunday and Monday to hustle.

It’s important to stay flexible and resilient. Careers end, rents go up, the weather turns ugly. Change is constant so get ready. I’m looking forward to 2024. Are you?

Definitely say “Thank you!” to your landscaper

By | gardening, Landscaping, Seasonal | No Comments

Thank you!

It’s a long year outside in the landscape so it’s always nice when a resident shows up with gifts to thank us. Like today. While I was deep-edging and enjoying a beautiful sunny mid-December day a resident “woke me up” from my audiobook.

The lady handed me an envelope with sweets and a card with cash inside. The sweets didn’t last very long; before lunch is the most dangerous time for landscapers because blood sugar levels are low. So I took care of that problem very quickly; and there was enough cash to buy lunch at Tim Horton’s an hour later. That was really nice.

It doesn’t matter who maintains your complex or residential garden, say “thank you” just before the holidays. Your landscapers and gardeners work hard to keep your place looking great. They will definitely appreciate a simple ‘Thank you’.

Bitch, bitch, bitch

It isn’t always rosy like this. Sometimes things go wrong so I fully expect to get several complaints a year. Not that every complaint makes sense. When I was a new landscape foreman every complaint threw me off and many times I lost sleep because of it. Not anymore. Now I’m a working manager and most complaints can be dealt with. I no longer lose sleep over it.

Now it’s also easier to blame junior staff for mistakes…….

A long season

Every Christmas it hits me how long the season is. Landscapers sweat outside all year in heavy rain, 30+ summer temperatures and in freezing temperatures. Every spring is super busy, then comes hot summer weather. When school starts, leaves start to turn and fall and the clean up can drag into December.

December is always a bit sketchy because we never know what we’ll get. This year El Nino is giving us a mild start to winter so it looks like we’ll make it to Christmas without interruptions. I can’t remember the last time I did side jobs the week before Christmas; and I have tree work ready for the new year. I’m counting my blessings.


When you’re enjoying your Christmas holiday this year look outside at your garden or landscape. If it’s in great shape, don’t forget to say thank you to your maintenance workers. They spend a long year outside doing their best.

Are you still stressing over fallen leaves?

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David Hobson’s opinion

This past October I travelled to Waterloo, Ontario to cheer on my son’s soccer team. They played in the youth U15 nationals, representing British Columbia.

Now, since they only played one match a day and the team didn’t hang out with parents, I had plenty of time to hang out.

I visited the St. Jacob’s farmer’s market, Canada’s largest outdoor farmer’s market. Safely absorbed by the market crowds, I bought a copy of the Waterloo Region Record newspaper. In it David Hobson wrote about fall leaves and how he deals with them “How about those leafs?” (Waterloo Region Record, October 7, 2023, section C8). Inevitably, this topic comes up every year so let’s see what David does in his own garden.

Easy does it!

David recommends bagging your leaves and leaving them outside exposed to the elements. By spring you should have layers of soggy, decomposing leaves you can add to your garden beds. He has done it for years and suggests you do the same. Start small. Even one bag of leaves is fine.

David doesn’t spread the leaves around in his own garden, except around shrubs where they get trapped and don’t blow away. Normally he makes a large pile of leaves, sometimes two metres across and just as high. The leaves should be wet for best results.

As the leaves begin to decompose, the pile shrinks by half. By early June he peels of compacted layers and adds them to his garden and vegetable beds. They stay there all summer and by fall those leaves are almost gone. They were used to build up soil just the way it happens in nature.

This is one reason I enjoy blowing leaves off multi-family complexes into woodland buffer zones. It’s good ecology and I cut down on green waste dumping charges.

If you like David Hobson’s ideas, try them out; and follow David online.

Stop stressing: blow it into one big pile and let it decompose!

In the garden: simple summer tasks

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Feeling the heat?

There was a hot, dry and dusty stretch in July and August and many landscapers had difficulty finding work. Since their lawns were short and brown, they had extra time on their hands. And finding work on site shows experience.

To find work you have to look closely at your landscape or garden. The work is there. I know because I have done it. When people cry there is no work, I rush in to help them. That is what good landscape managers do. Let us take a look.

Work examples

Any ferns that have not been clipped in spring, like this native sword fern (Polystichum munitum), can be done in summer.

Dead out

Dead plants and dead branches look awful. We want everything to look great: healthy and beautiful. So do not be afraid to cut dead stuff out.

Easy hand pick: dead branch on top of this rhododendron

This dead rhododendron branch really bothered me. One cut and I could sleep well at night.

Cut back the brown Bergenia leaves
Snip out dead out of junipers.


This low branch looks terrible; we need a nice upright look. When the branches touch the ground you can make them disappear.


I planted this groundcover to compete with weeds and it’s doing really well. Almost too well. So, clip it back inside the triangle borders.


This sweetgum tree is sending out suckers from its roots right through a juniper. So, I snipped it at ground level to create the separation we need. It wouldn’t make sense to let the sweetgum get bigger inside the juniper.

It has taken two seasons for this invading cottonwood tree to grow back to annoying size. I actually cut it back myself because the foreman on site thought it was planted on purpose. It wasn’t. Cottonwoods get quite large and this site is small.

I did my best to remove all roots but there is one buried deep in the soil and I didn’t have the time to excavate it, which means I will be back in two years to humble the invader once again.


Take a good look around your home garden or strata landscape. Even during summer when conditions are dry, there is plenty of work. You just have to look for it. Looks for details that get missed during the busy months. Check every corner, every raised bed and every back exit area.

Garden professor takes on myths

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Link of gold

Usually, surfing online is an awful time-waster but not today. While checking my Facebook feed I came across a recent video recording of a presentation given by my mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. You might have read my earlier blog about Linda. In it, I call her my hero because she covers gardening as a scientist. This means that her findings and writings are based in science, not gardening hearsay. When I read about her experiments with mulch flammability I was extremely jealous. I would love to torch different mulches in the name of science.

Linda uses science to bust persistant gardening myths. You can listen to her presentation below. I can almost guarantee you that you will learn something new. It’s also possible that you too are holding on to gardening myths. Let Linda dispel it for you.

My mentor

Before the pandemic hit, I almost got to see Linda at a trade show in Abbotsford. I have several of her books -highly recommended-and I follow her because she writes on topics that apply to my everyday work as a landscape professional.

Let’s see some examples. I know a strata site where one of the residents buys lady beetles every year with after-tax dollars to deal with aphids. It sounds like a plausible idea until you realize that the lady has no way of keeping the lady beetles on her tree. There are more trees on her site. Linda has an extension paper that deals with this topic. (Spoiler alert: don’t do it!)

Now, what about landscape fabric? It’s sounds great! Put it down, cover it with soil or mulch and never weed again. Not so fast. The fabric clogs up and doesn’t let water through; and when the soil decomposes, thin layers can actually make life very cosy for weeds. Landscape fabric is a waste of money. (Now you know!)

Get to know Linda

Gardening is fascinating. There is always something new to learn and I have a lot of respect for garden professionals. But there are many opinions that aren’t backed up by science so why not let Linda show you the way. You can thank me later. She’s an awesome lady and she lives in our corner of the world, in the Pacific Northwest. That’s a huge bonus.