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gardening

Early 2023 fine-tuning tasks for your garden

By | gardening, Trees | No Comments

New season

The new year is here and the garden is very quiet. But if you look closely, there is some fine-tuning you can do now. Assuming you feel motivated to go out into your garden in January. Let’s take a look at some of my work.

Black eyed Susans

I’m not a fan of stubs. On trees they die and create a pathway for diseases to enter. On perennials like Rudbeckias, they create homes for bugs to move into and sharp sticks for gardeners to get stabbed with.

I hate this look. If you must cutback your Rudbeckias early, use hand snips and enjoy the work. Remove the entire flower stalk so only the basal leaves remain. It will look much better. These long stubs look weird.

Clean up tree damage

If you don’t manage to knock off snow from your trees before damage occurs, then just make sure the break points are cleaned up. I found one small evergreen with a broken top so I cut it to make it look decent. Always use sharp hand saws.

Rubbing branches on trees should also be eliminated. See the white arrow.

Perennial cutback

January is a good time for perennial cutback but it’s not critical. Just get it done before spring hits. Personally, when I see the bed below, I don’t want to wait any longer.

This deserves a clean up.

Once Hellebores start pushing out new foliage, you can clip back the old leaves. Flowers follow. I don’t like to rush this. The old leaves at least give us something green to look at.

Now you can cutback the old leaves at the base.

Conclusion

Take a good look at your winter garden to see if you can fine-tune it a little bit before spring. There is always something to do.

My favorite moment of 2022

By | gardening | No Comments

The best moment

While spending some time on LinkedIn recently, I came across a post asking a simple question: what was your favorite moment of 2022? It didn’t take me long to think of my favorite moment. What about you?

City note

Early in the season, I picked up what would quickly become my best-paying client. It’s a logistics company and business is good because goods have to move. The business is based at the back of a residence and both employees and clients pass through the gardens on their way in and out. Therefore, everything has to look presentable.

When I first took on the work, there was a lot of weeding and pruning to do. By summer I had everything under control. Then, when I showed up for my weekly service session, the owner informed me that she had received a note from the city.

Immediately I assumed it was about me over-stuffing the green waste bin and causing headaches for the truck driver. Not so. The note was asking her to take photos of her garden and submit them to their municipal website! That was funny, and it made me looked good. It also made my client feel like she was getting her money’s worth by hiring Red Seal Vas.

Yes, my maintenance work was brilliant as always, but it would be wrong to take credit for the garden design. The tall lupins, Columbines and bright Calendulas must have looked awesome in the summer sunshine as the city people drove by- slowly I’m sure. So they dropped off their door-hanger note and left.

Calendulas: deadhead often for continuous blooms

Timing

Now you see why this was my favorite moment of the year. I was trying hard to impress my well-paying clients and the garden looked really good in summer. To have the city stop by and say it looked good was a huge bonus. And by inviting my clients to submit photos of their garden, they made them feel good. Everything came together well, which, sadly, isn’t always the case.

I had a huge grin on my face when I drove away with my weekly service cheque in my pocket.

What was YOUR favorite moment of 2022?

Gardening and karaoke

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On demand gardening

The text message came through exactly one week from Christmas; and flurries in the forecast. Looking at the weekend forecast, I was totally prepared to shut down my side-hustle operation. It’s been a good, long season. But I’m a well-known landscape slut. I can’t say no.

Plus, this was a serious request. My client was having a karaoke party and the garden looked like hell after the recent snow melted away. Could I clean it all up and also give the back pool area a blow? Absolutely!

Residential service

This is exactly why my side-hustle business exists: you enjoy your party and sing karaoke, I make sure your guests aren’t horrified when they arrive and see your gardens. Some of my clients do yoga by the pool while I garden nearby. And many of my clients are, sadly, too invalid to do the work themselves. I work for elderly couples where both the husband and wife have serious health issues. So my work saves them from having to look out on a weedy, wild-looking garden.

Some of my clients are in their nineties and living alone. They barely make it up and down the stairs, never mind lawn mowing and weeding. Vas can handle that.

Proper Landscaping provides the same great service but on a larger, strata scale.

Basic tasks

I had to do a lot of raking to do because the cherry tree on the boulevard finished dropping its leaves. Weed weren’t a big issue because in spring we installed several yards of mulch to keep them down. The mulch worked well, except along the fence line where it was too thin.

As I raked, I noticed a beautiful Callicarpa shrub, now completely bare and showing its purple berries. Deep into December, it was the only thing putting on a show.

Callicarpa berries in mid-December

Another important task was removing spent hostas and daylilies. But the key final task was a clean up blow, only hours before guests would start arriving for the karaoke party. I blew the property thoroughly, including the back pool area.

As soon as I got home, I sent my fat invoice to the owner, knowing full well she’s already busy drinking and singing, and very unlikely to question the dollar amount.

This then is the reward. Not just the money and profits but the satisfaction of delivering good service, on time, so the client can relax and concentrate on whatever they’re doing.

Relax while I do the labor.

Put your garden to bed with these late season tasks

By | gardening, Lawn Care, Pruning | No Comments

Steps to take

I have a great residential client in Port Coquitlam, BC, and his main concern is tidiness. So, when the pin oaks (Quercus palustris) from a neighboring high school drop leaves on his property, he usually calls me in a panic.

Let’s see what I did at this house to put it to bed for the winter.

Lawns

Mowing in late November isn’t ideal but it had to be done. So, I pre-blew the oak leaf drop onto the lawn, raked up the bulk of it and then mowed over the rest. Done! Now we leave the lawns alone until spring.

The front lawn also got a final blade edge which should keep it nice and sharp until spring.

Annuals

Obviously, annuals are toast by late November. I took out the petunias from the curb pot; and I removed annuals from the front bed. I will most likely plant bulbs in the pot so we can surprise the wife: she loves pretty flowers!

The show is over.

Blueberries

I have never winterized blueberries, so I Googled it and did it anyway. I pruned back most of the canes and moved the pots into a sheltered spot between the fence and shed. Then I put a tarp over the pots.

It might be better to park the pots in the garden shed but that’s not what the owners wanted. And it makes sense. They have two spotless Lexus cars in the garage, and when I forget to blow off their front door seat cushions, they text me about it!

Hydrangea

Again, it’s all about the look. The hydrangea was fine; just the leaves were still hanging on and the owners were creeped out every time they used the front entrance. So, I pruned the hydrangea back by a few bud sections and manually removed the spent leaves. If I cut it back too much, into old wood, you won’t get any flowers next year.

Eventually I will remove the canes that are close to the ground but for now it will do.

New planted bed

The new planted bed in the back got a quick cultivate to freshen it up a bit and to uproot any weeds. I deadheaded lavenders and cutback Liatris spicatas. Note that I left the Rudbeckia stems alone. The birds can enjoy the seeds and I can cutback the stems later, closer to spring. When you do this, cut the stem off close to the ground so you don’t leave a stub.

Final blow

As always, everything ends with one final blow, so the property is nice and clean. Since the front lawn is shared with the neighbors, I’m not ashamed to admit that I blasted some of the remaining leaves on the lawn into their groundcover.

There you have it. One last service in late November seals the deal. The garden should hold nicely into spring. I might stop by to blow the stubborn pin oak leaves; and to install the bulbs, secretly.

When I got home, it was dark. So, I made some coffee and sent off my hefty invoice.

Nice and clean.

No escape from desperate homeowners

By | gardening, Landscaping | No Comments

Tracked me down

Yes, of course you can find me on Google. You can search for landscapers in the Tri-cities area, and you should be able to find me. But people still track me down while I work for other clients. And don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people and helping them.

Yesterday, I was rushing to complete one more residence before daylight ran out. I had roughly four hours left, three with decent light. So, I blew the leaves into piles and picked them up. Then I gave the lawns one last cut. What light remained I used to prune a Magnolia tree and cut down many perennials; all brown and spent, they were ready for cutback. They’ll be back next year. Don’t worry.

Bittersweet

As I worked yesterday, my focus was on finishing the garden and putting it to bed for the season. The owners are both facing health challenges; challenges so severe that they can’t do their own gardening anymore. So, I’m happy to help them and every dollar I make helps me beat inflation. It’s also nice to see the owners pleased.

It can be distressing to see a weedy garden and long grass outside when your day is dominated by health issues. Incidentally, this also happened when the pandemic first hit, and people had to self-isolate at home. Seeing their landscapers outside on regular basis brought some normalcy to a crazy time.

Then, just as I was finishing, I saw the man approaching. And sure enough, he wanted me to see his garden. These are bittersweet moments for landscape side-hustlers. My focus is on finishing one house, not on taking more work. Now, I know it doesn’t make sense to cry about extra work walking in without any effort on my part. I am grateful for every single client. But in that moment, it’s bittersweet. I want a finish line, not a new race.

I also can’t say no because I know people need help. In this case, the couple moved into their house last summer and now they needed help. Lots of help.

Typical issues

How can Red Seal Vas help you? Well, there is lawn damage from European chafer beetles to fix, and the wife wants pretty flowers by the door where there are only shrubs and groundcovers. In the back, there is a patch of prickly bramble that will only get bigger; and next to it are three alders that will not stop growing until they’re towering over the house.

The garden wall has ivy, Pieris and junipers trailing over the lawn. And the neighbors haven’t touched their trees in a while so now they’re coming over and must be pruned. This actually gets me excited because tree work can be done in winter, just as regular landscape maintenance work ends.

Let’s do it!

Many homeowners need help with their gardens and I’m happy to help, assuming I can fit it into my schedule. You can find me on Google Maps; and approach me when you see me working in your neighborhood. I’m such a landscape slut, it’s unlikely I will say no.

And it will feel bittersweet all the way.

Removing leaves from your garden? Not so fast!

By | gardening | No Comments

Changes

With low temperatures forecast for next week, today I received phone calls from several panicked homeowners looking to get their leaves picked up. I will squeeze in a few but I rarely work on-demand. I’m too busy with regular clients.

And this afternoon, as I headed to one of my regular residential clients, they informed me that they were keeping all of their leaves in their beds. Working on a garden design across the street, a horticulturist recommended that they mulch their beds with leaves. So, this is the change for 2022: leaves stay in beds so they can insulate the plants against harsh low temperatures. The forecast for this coming week says as low as -14C.

Leaves as mulch

Leaves can definitely be used as mulch in planted beds. A layer of leaves can insulate your plants from low winter temperatures. However, some clients can’t stand the look of their beds, stuffed full of leaves, especially in high-profile beds. Then the wind picks up and it’s a mess. So, you decide.

Insulation is one thing, but quick leaf decomposition that will benefit the plants might be a bit exaggerated. If you expect your plants to benefit from decomposed leaves, then the best first step is to shred them.

Simply pile them on your lawn and run your mower over them. Whole leaves take longer to decompose. And, speaking of lawns, it’s always a good idea to clear leaves off your lawn so you don’t get weird light-colored zones in your lawn as the grass is smothered.

Never shred your leaves on top of plastic turf!

Same old, same old?

I love the idea of clients trying different things. Why not mulch your beds with leaves instead of removing them every year. Are you tired of your perennial bed? Rip out some of your plants and get new ones.

Your garden shouldn’t be static; gardens are never finished: they evolve.

I’m perfectly happy to adjust to different client requests. There is always something to do, like perennials to cut back or broken tree branches to remove.

Enjoy the off-season and make some plans for next year.

Garden lessons from a new residential client

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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.

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.

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.

Leave frosty Escallonia shrubs alone

By | gardening, Pruning | No Comments

Timing

Late January isn’t the best time for shrub pruning. Especially when those shrubs are covered in frost. The season and presence of frost should feel like a stop sign. I don’t recall ever hand pruning shrubs in late January.

But for some dudes it feels fine because they look for an easy shift at work, away from finesse work. It’s super relaxing to stand there, talk non-stop with a cigarette in your mouth and snip away while others weeds and rake up debris.

In this case it was an Escallonia, covered in frost and already looking rough after getting hammered by Christmas time snow events. It’s a terrible candidate for hand pruning.

This is a terrible candidate for hand pruning.

When to prune Escallonias

The best time to prune Escallonias is after flowering in summer. This is a good general rule for most shrubs. Enjoy the show and then get your snips out.

Now, if you want to renovate an Escallonia, the best time to do that is in late spring. That’s when temperatures go up and the shrubs hasn’t fully developed yet.

You might want to do that if your shrub is too big for its space or, like I have to do once in a while, when winter-killed branches have to be removed. This is what should have happened to the shrub pictured above. Wait until it warms up and then renovate it so it’s ready for the new season.

In late January, there is less water and oxygen in the tissues so it’s easier to cause damage. Plus, until the shrub starts to push out leaves, it’s hard to tell how much we’ll have to remove.

One example

Three to four years ago, this Escallonia got hit hard by snow and I had to remove the top half. Note that I did it in early spring, like a pro. This picture is from last week (early February 2022) and the shrub is back to its original size, if not bigger. We’ll see if it comes back fully this spring.

Conclusion

Remember the rule for pruning Escallonia shrubs. Prune them after flowering in summer or renovate-prune in spring. Pruning in late January, when they’re covered in frost isn’t recommended. It’s my humble opinion that you’re just causing more harm.