Category

landscape maintenance

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.

Berberis

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!

Bramble

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!

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.

Hydrangea

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

Groundcover

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.

Sweetgum

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.

Conclusion

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.

Low-profile zones need love, too!

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Don’t discriminate

I love seeing and knowing the entire garden or strata complex landscape. Not just the high-profile entrance and car ramp areas but every little corner, including raised box beds and back of the building areas. You must move beyond the “beauty strip” to succeed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about it; but I remembered the idea when I substituted recently for another vacationing landscape foreman. His main helper volunteered to cover the back of the building by himself, which sounds like he reads my blogs. Not so. He’s a smoker and by working at the back of the building he gets to smoke a lot of “fags”. My only worry, with the province in drought conditions, was a human-caused fire in the neighbouring wild zone.

Tasks

Low-profile zones are weedy; full of small weeds and big trophies. There is also some seed drift from the wild zone next door. Cultivation fluffs up the soil nicely as well.

Another less obvious task was establishing tree wells around trees planted in the lawn. Without tree wells to warn lawn care workers about trees, there is bound to be trouble as lawn care machines crash into tree bark. This leads to stress and, if repeated weekly, to death.

Blemishes

When we walked the back area later in the afternoon to assess everything we noticed several blemishes. One was tree stakes installed way too low. Normally, stakes are roughly at chest height, depending on the tree. The stakes we saw were at knee height which makes them ineffective.

Another blemish worth covering in a separate blog, involves shrub planting. Many of the shrubs were sitting high with portions of their root balls exposed. That’s crazy because the roots desiccate and die. Read my next blog post to find out how this can happen.

Residential low-profile corners

Yesterday, my job was to clean-up a backyard residential garden. It was full of magnolia leaves from last fall; there were some dead shrubs and dead branches to remove, and of course, weeds. When I did the final clean up blow I discovered a hidden corner behind a stack of chairs. A perfect example of low-profile garden neglect.

Small weedy areas like this produce weed seeds so it’s best to keep everything in check. Remember, check every single area around your house and garden. Don’t discriminate!

A cleaned-up low-profile zone

Don’t wait, take action!

By | landscape maintenance, Pruning | No Comments

Lists, really?

I like lists. I make them because I have lots to do in my personal life but I dislike them at work. I prefer to take action immediately or as soon as possible. Big tasks that require approval from bosses and strata people must be recorded but small tasks, not so much.

It happens more than I like to admit. When I show up on a site and the foreman or landscape worker tells me about simple tasks they have been thinking about doing, I cringe. Why wait? Take action!

Just last week, while filling in for a dude on vacation, his regular helper told me about a dead cedar they’ve been thinking about pruning out. It was brown, dead and (horror!) visible from the road so yes, let’s prune it out. I picked up a hand saw and made literally two cuts. That’s not even a warm-up for a certified arborist.

One part of the native cedar (Thuja plicata) was still green and healthy so I left it alone; I hauled away the other two dead parts. Done! In minutes! No lists.

After pruning, only the green healthy cedar remains.

Classic obstruction

This second example was even easier. Again, while I was filling in for the regular foreman, I discovered cherry tree branches touching the wall of one unit. This makes insurance agents upset; and homeowners often wonder what the noise outside is when winds kick up at night and branches slam into their unit.

So, I carefully jumped on the wall and used my snips (always on my hip!) to make three to four cuts in like one minute. Problem solved! No emails from owners to strata to bosses; no lists, no time wasted. Just quick action, the way I like it. Be like Red Seal Vas. Take action.

Before pruning, cherry tree branches on the building.

Summer blow job strategy

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Hot weather clean-up

When I was blowing yesterday I could see the man on the patio from the corner of my eye. Hands crossed over his chest, he stared down at his convertible collector car as I approached with a blower on my back. In my dreams people like this rush down and raise the roof on their car so I don’t have to stress. But this was Langley, BC and the man wasn’t about to leave the protection of his awning.

Expectations

Many homeowners know that clean up blows are sketchy on hot, dusty days. It doesn’t make sense to chase every leaf and create dust clouds. Some homeowners are more anal so we educate them.

What really scares me are AI look-alike landscapers who blow dust clouds all the way down the block. Of course, I’m not one of them. As soon as I cleared the convertible classic car, the wind changed direction. Ok, no problem. The noisy machine usually drowns out my bad language. Then, when I finally made it to the end of the road, people were moving stuff into their mover truck. It wasn’t my day. So you give up on perfection and leave it for next week. No big deal.

The key is to use your head and not behave like a robot. Yes, I would love to pick up every dry leaf off the site but in dry, dusty conditions it doesn’t make sense. By the way, this approach works with everything else you do in your garden. You’re bound to run into exceptions; sometimes you just have to let it go and relax.

Landscape testing

This blog post shows the advantage of going through landscape testing. One of the practical stations I had to pass was on blowing. In that fake scenario, the site was littered with garbage (pick it up first, before you blow), there was an expensive car nearby and the fake walkway was covered with high schoolers in uniforms. Obviously, we leave the car clean and we stop for every passerby. Use your head. It doesn’t make sense to anger people.

Man operating a heavy duty leaf blower: the leaves are being swirled up and glow in the pleasant sunlight

How landscapers stay busy on cold winter days

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There’s always work

If you live in a strata building and look outside at your landscapers with suspicion, fear not. They’re busy even though it’s cold outside. Let’s see what they’re doing.

Garbage

There’s no point making a site look beautiful when there is a pile of garbage on the lawn. You might as well pick it up, otherwise it will detract from your overall maintenance presentation. This will also take the pressure off your building caretaker.

Deep-edging

Assuming your edges aren’t frozen solid, you can re-establish your deep edges with an edging shovel which is flat on the bottom. Make sure the edges are sharp ninety degrees and remove any dislodged grass chunks.

Edging gives our beds nice definition, it will help guide our lawn care edger machines, and it’s best done now in winter when we’re not busy cutting grass.

Dead out

Now is a great time to snip out dead foliage out of our plants. Often people are too busy during the season to stop and deal with this. Not deep into January: I snipped out dead branches from trees, dead out of Salal and evergreens. We should aim for beautiful, healthy landscapes. Dead foliage looks awful so snip it out.

Salal

Add soil

If there’s budget, adding soil amender to tired, depleted beds, is also a great winter time task. The warm soil might even warm you up. New soil looks great immediately and you won’t have to weed for months. The plants also appreciate the new soil.

My commercial site in Coquitlam.

Note the Miscanthus sinensis ornamental grass. Since it’s still beautiful and upright, I’m leaving the cutback closer to spring. It’s important to cut it back before new foliage starts to emerge in spring. But for now, enjoy it.

This bed usually requires cultivation but now, with new soil installed, I shouldn’t have to touch it too much.

Conclusion

Yes, the winter is a slow season but we still have work to do. We can add new soil to tired, depleted beds, snip out dead foliage from trees and shrubs, prune roses and deep edge our beds. And don’t skip garbage picking.

So help me Vas: two adjustments you can make to your strata maintenance work

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

Adjustments

I love filling in on strata sites when the regular foreman is missing. Sometimes they’re on vacation, sick, ill with COVID, or laid off by choice. Whatever the case, it’s fun to examine their sites and look for adjustments that can be made when the new season hits. 2023 here we go.

Mow lines

What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Obviously, the lawn care dudes mow like robots so now we see clear dips in the lawn where the mower wheels run. Every single time! Now that the grass isn’t growing in January, it’s especially noticeable. And I’m not a fan. I prefer seeing a uniform green lawn without any dips that could potentially injure my ankles or swallow small pets.

I would correct this problem by instructing the crew to alternate the starting lines of their mowers. For example, start mowing a bit farther away from the sidewalk edge and the wall. Yes, you will have to line trim a little bit more grass but it’s worth it.

Don’t mow like robots.

Curbs

Whatever you do inside the complex, this curb will always detract from your work presentation. I know that some of you will disagree, telling me that the city is responsible for curb maintenance. And technically speaking you’re right. However, nobody knows when the city sweeper is coming. Can he handle curbs caked this badly in soggy, decomposing leaves? And are you sure that all of the parked cars will obey your signs and move away from the curb?

Landscapers are definitely responsible for keeping drains open. Since I know this, I blew away the curb edge to let the water flow away.

I would correct this problem by blowing the curb edges as soon as leaves start to fall. Early on the leaves are still dry and fluffy. Blow them onto lawns before you mow or, make small piles and rake them up.

If it’s windy, then you can discreetly blow the leaves into the neighboring municipal park or directly across the street to your competition. Of course, this could start a war so be careful. Conversely, if your curbs are caked in leaves and your competition is super clean across the street, you know you’re getting abused.

Conclusion

Your strata complexes will look better in winter if you take good care of your curbs and mow correctly all year. Avoid heavy leaf accumulations in curb edges; and don’t mow your lawns like a robot. Alternate your starting mow lines to avoid creating huge dips in the lawns with your mower wheels.

What other adjustments can you think of?

How trees love me back

By | landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

Tree hugger’s good karma

I love trees, and recently I found out that they love me back. Let me explain. When a new residential client contacted me, she specifically mentioned blowing her driveway clean every 2-3 weeks. This didn’t completely make sense until I met her.

Since the lady runs a mobile detailing service and does a lot of work in her driveway, she wants to have it nice and clean. Now, if you stand in her driveway and look up you’ll see giant Douglas fir branches coming over from the neighbouring lot.

Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are native trees in British Columbia and they’re easy to identify because their cones have unique bracts. Many specimens on Vancouver Island are very old. Harvey Rustad’s book “Big lonely Doug” is about a Douglas fir 66m tall and about 1,000 years old. I highly recommend this book.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Needles!

Douglas firs drop a lot of needles and branches all the time. Incidentally, you will never catch me calling trees “messy”. Trees do what they do.

What this means is that the lady will need my help all year; and thanks to this tree species’ habit of dropping needles and shedding branches, I will make some spare cash all year. It’s like a constant side-hustle money machine. No, it won’t make me rich but my work does solve someone’s problem. And the lady is really nice. She’s a true client because she’s not afraid to listen to my suggestions and act on them.

Customers only care about price and will drop you for Tom, who is $1 cheaper.

When I drove home that day, I was convinced trees loved me back. Who knew trees could drive a side-hustle operation without getting cut down and turned into toilet paper?

Here we also see one of the benefits of doing side-gigs. You learn new things and meet interesting new clients. It isn’t always about money.

Take care of your trees and who knows, one day they might show you their love!

Scanning for late winter details

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

Scanning your sites

Whenever I’m sent to a site after several months, I like to take a walk around and catalog any blemishes I see. This is especially easy to do in late winter when it’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. I did this recently and this blog post will show you some of the details I found.

Broken branches

I detest having broken branches on shrubs or trees. It can invite disease into the plants, and it looks awful. One broken Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) branch was right in the middle of a high-profile corridor between two buildings.

Since the cut was too large for my hand snips, I waited until I was able to retrieve a hand saw from the my car. I could have tried it with my hand snips, but blowing my wrist is a bad idea. It wasn’t an emergency; safety first.

Groundcover in check

Groundcover plants do what they’re supposed to: they cover the ground so weeds don’t move in. Left untouched, some groundcovers grow out of bounce. That’s what happened with Rubus climbing into Rhododendrons.

Rubus climbing into a Rhodendron
Much better!

It took only a few minutes and it looks better. The Rubus is cut back down to its grouncover function and the Rhododendron is left unmolested.

Missing ivy

This third example makes me mad because it could have been prevented. Last year, someone made the strange decision to remove ivy (Hedera helix) from this power box. I wrongly assumed that something else would replace the ivy.

That’s why I shook my head last week when I had to weed the now bare ground. I knew it would come to this: nature hates bare spots. Weeds move in and have a great time with plenty of sunlight reaching them. It wasn’t that easy for them when ivy still covered the ground. Groundcover plants cover ground; they look good and they prevent unwanted plants from moving in.

The power box looked much better surrounded by ivy. Only remove it if you have a good plan for the spot. Bare ground is the worst option.

You can see weeds creeping in.
Cultivated by Vas but ivy did the job well before.

Late winter details

Late winter is a great time to scan your gardens for blemishes like the three mentioned above. It’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. So, take the time to identify and eliminate little blemishes from your gardens.

Sarcococca condemned by caretaker

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Weird requests

I’m used to being dragged away from my regular landscape duties by caretakers, but sometimes it’s hard to swallow the weird requests they assault me with. Take last week, as an example. It was late in our shift and we were barely thirty minutes away from calling it a day.

Then, out he came, caretaker on a mission, sneezing and looking like he had Omicron. Now, he’s a great guy and a huge ally. But I couldn’t believe what he was asking me to do.

Annihilation

The poor caretaker was suffering from terrible allergies. Allegedly he had trouble breathing at night, his eyes watered and his nose was runny, like a pre-schooler’s. So of course, right away I thought that taking a COVID rapid test would have been a great idea but I’m not a doctor.

To avoid stuffing his body with pills and adding to Big Pharma’s profits, he needed me to level a patch of Sarcococca growing under his windows. The evergreen shrub flowers now, in February, and produces a sweet fragrance, especially when mass-planted.

Now, I had never before heard of anyone suffering allergic reactions from Sarcococcas. It’s plausible, I guess, but weird. And so was his request.

I did hear from a Facebook friend who claims to suffer nasty headaches from the fragrance.

So, out came my power shears. And before I annihilated the plants, the caretaker reminded me to watch out for the sprinkler heads. Last year, all of them got slashed.

The only trick was to hand snip the plants from all of the wall edges and from around the irrigation sprinklers. Then we raked up most of the mutilated plant material and went home. I promised myself I would blog about this. Perhaps there are other caretakers like this.

When Sarcococca goes missing

It looks like hell but, luckily, it’s a very low profile corner. Long term, it should be changed over, assuming there is budget.

Like COVID, weird requests aren’t going away anytime soon. I have to learn to live with them and decline the ones that are clearly over-the-top.