Add stuff for success!

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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.

Poor planting you must avoid

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Not the best

What’s wrong with this picture?

This obviously isn’t the best planting job; nor is it a great photograph. If you can, zoom in a little bit to see how the root ball is almost fifty-percent exposed. Roots anchor the rhododendron and seek out water and nutrients for the shrub. They can’t really do their job when they’re exposed to the elements. They just desiccate and die.

I took this picture in summer when the province was in drought conditions. Clearly, the plant is in a rough shape. It’s dead and I wonder if it could have been prevented with better planting.

Planting too deep is just as bad so make sure your root flare-where stem becomes root-is planted at grade or just slightly above to allow for settling.

Why so bad?

I hate to rush when I’m planting trees and shrubs but let’s be honest, workers are usually under pressure to put stuff in the ground and move on. So, why is the rhododendron dead?

One problem is planting in newly installed amender or lawn and garden mix. When the soil is installed it’s nice and fluffy but it does settle over time. And it also decomposes or gets washed away by rain. Now, if the rhododendron was planted in the fluffy stuff which subsequently settled, it could result in the trouble we see above.

It’s best to plant your shrubs in native soil and then put amender around the plants but not against the stems. I don’t like planting directly into amender; it’s always preferable to plant into native soils.

We also don’t know if the shrub got enough water post-planting. I suspect it didn’t because this is a non-irrigated site. Another, less obvious problem, is that the amender is fairly warm on the day it’s installed. Planting new shrubs into it can damage the roots. It’s best to plant later or water the planting holes at install time.

Proper planting also saves cash. Somebody had to plant the rhododendron, and somebody had to pay for it. Replanting it takes time; and replacing it is also expensive. Let’s just do it right the first time so we can have a healthy landscape that will inspire the residents. When I look at the picture above, I’m close to depression. We can do better.

Groundcover barricade fail

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The plan

When I do landscape installations, I usually follow exact specifications and I rarely have anything to do with the planning. Strata managers create the plan and I execute it. In this case, the plan was to install groundcover plants to cover up bare soil; and to deflect people from their unauthorized pathways. It didn’t work!

Residents ignore the signs every day because this pathway is the most direct downhill access to their homes. Nobody wants to go around. Nobody. And the same goes for passersby who know that this path will take them down to the road and nearby NewPort village. Once people form their habits, it’s a fight. My kinnikinnick plants never had a chance.

Heavy labor

Scraping off compacted forest floors is heavy labor. Once I got a nice layer removed, I installed new garden soil mix, mowing it up slope, which also involved heavy labor. Luckily, I had a bit of shade.

Last came the planting of many specimens of kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Sadly, I couldn’t locate any water hoses nearby so I just shook my head and prayed.

Always water-in your newly installed plants.

Months later

Now, when I showed up on site last week, I could see that the groundcover plants were trampled by foot and pet traffic; see (C) in the photo above. The poor plants are barely holding on; they never had a chance. Slightly off to the left, the plants are doing fine (A). I left my snips (B) in the photo for scale.

Now what? Replanting seems crazy unless you place a full-time security guard on the lawn. Clearly, not all projects work out well. We tried to green up the open pathways but the plants couldn’t handle the foot traffic. I can’t wait to see what the strata council members think of next.