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Landscaping

How to be a good neighbor

By | Landscaping, Pruning | No Comments

Control

It’s important to be a great neighbor by controlling the plants growing at your place. In strata complexes, Proper Landscaping can take care of business, but what about private residences?

People are busy fighting their monster mortgages and sometimes there isn’t enough time for your garden plants. Until your municipality forces your hand with a polite written note to get moving, or else.

That’s where Red Seal Vas comes in to help you and make sure your neighbors still love you. Let me illustrate this with two recent examples.

Dangerous staircase

The shrubs interfere between the lamp and stairs.

The shrubs in this picture are clearly getting out of control, probably because they’re reaching for light and never get pruned. By itself, it’s hardly a disaster but look at the big picture.

Imagine you’re walking by in the evening and just as you reach the top of the stairs, extra light would help. Except the lamp is partially blocked out by the shrubs. You make it down safely, this time. But when you get home you wonder if the dark corner isn’t a perfect place for criminals and podophiles. That’s when you sit down and file an anonymous complaint with your municipality against the homeowner.

Weeks later, I get extra work. Yes, I’m the hero in this made up story.

Now the light can reach the stairs.

Monster hedge

I’m no stranger to this next property but when the owner texted me, there was urgency in his sentences. His municipality had just stopped by his house to encourage him to push the cedar hedge off the sidewalk. It was encroaching at least 30% into the sidewalk.

Now, this wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I had to balance the look of the hedge and still get it off the sidewalk. Remember, cedar hedges should still be green when you finish them. If you want to see some cedar hedge disasters, please read my blog post from December 30, 2021.

I sheared the hedge slowly, making several passes. And I think it worked.

That was tight!

Good neighbors

Check your garden plants once in a while to make sure your neighbors aren’t negatively affected. If you need help, call me. I would love to help you.

Be a good neighbor.

Remnant pile of a remnant pile

By | Landscaping, Training | No Comments

Danger zone

I know from past bad experiences to avoid end of the day confrontations. That’s the danger zone where people are tired and ready to go home. They might also be wet from heavy rain or annoyed by their under-performing colleagues. It’s best to make some mental or paper notes and bail.

A few months ago I couldn’t hold my tongue at the end of the day. I was on site to help out and I, too, was ready to go home. My son had soccer practice as usual and I knew traffic would be bad.

Stand-up comedy

What I didn’t expect was to witness an experienced landscaper blow a remnant pile of some leaves and a few pebbles into yet another remnant pile for us to pick up. That must be the worst case of overtime ever. Pushing the entire crew past exit time over a few leaves and some pebbles is unacceptable.

So, I told the dude to stop playing around and blast the remnants out of sight. This could be into the nearby lawn or, better still, into neighboring shrubbery. That’s it. Aggressive, direct and no overtime.

If you catch yourself blowing a remnant pile of a remnant pile, something went wrong. Perhaps the original pile was just a standard pile.

This is how you do it

Let’s see how I put a remnant pile to bed quickly and aggressively.

Some dust, pebbles and leaves.

After picture, 30 seconds later.

Unless you have a broom handy and extra time, blast the remnants into your lawn or nearby shrubbery. Discreetly pushing the dust into a neighboring strata complex is best. Just do it quickly. No more piles.

The lesson

Remnant pile management seems obvious to some and mysterious to others. Blowing remnant piles into more piles is ridiculous. Because this is a family blog, I can’t use stronger language. But I did on site.

This is why staff training never really ends. I want my workers to be sharp and aggressive with small tasks like remnant piles.

Magnolia trees need space

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

Round 1

As a professional landscaper and ISA certified arborist, I provide the best possible advice for our clients. So, when a client is asking me to plant a tree near his gate, I have to object to his plan. Gently.

Take a look. What’s the problem here?

Freshly planted Magnolia.

First of all, the planting spot has marginal soil; and you can see immediate access issues for the owners and for landscapers walking in to do lawn care maintenance: the branches are already sticking out.

But by far the worst sin-one I see repeated all the time- is the owner’s refusal to consider the Magnolia’s mature size. All he needs to do is look around; there are several mature Magnolias around his unit.

Since the owner paid for the tree and my labor, it had to be done his way, over my objections. So I did the work and let it go. But I didn’t think I’d be back months later.

Round 2

It turns out, somebody in the complex convinced the owner to move the tree to a more suitable spot. Well done.

Luckily, we found space just over the fence where he would still be able to see the Magnolia. Now we just had to dig up the tree and move it, which wasn’t easy considering the root ball size.

Much better!

Now I can sleep at night. This Magnolia should be happier in this corner because it has more room and it won’t be in the way. Once the nearby dead western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) gets removed, there will also be more available light.

I’m pretty confident the owner will be able to see the flowers from his unit. If the tree somehow fails to thrive, I will find a helper to blame.

Conclusion

Always consider your new tree’s mature size before planting. Don’t get distracted by its beauty. Otherwise, you will have to re-plant it later like I did with this Magnolia.

Clover lawn goes missing!

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

Clover rebels

I still remember walking by this front lawn and discovering that it was planted in clover. What a surprise. I thought these owners were total rebels. What’s not to like about this simple design?

You don’t have to mow which saves you time and money; and that is also very gentle on our warming planet. Also, European chafer beetles don’t like clover and are unlikely to lay eggs in it.

The only maintenance I see would be keeping the clover inside the rectangle. And that can be accomplished with a blade edger or even hand snips.

The clover will flower and attract insects in summer. That’s another huge plus. Unless, of course, your kids get allergic reactions to bee stings.

I was so excited about this discovery, I turned it into a blog post and shared my picture online.

New owners, new regime

Then, this past November I was back in the neighborhood to help with leaf clean up. And I looked for the clover lawn. Except, it went missing with the new home owners. Sad, sad, sad.

This shows the enduring power of the lawn. That every house should have a green lawn is a powerful idea that still persists. And I should be glad, I guess, because I make my living from landscape maintenance where lawn care is a big part of the service.

But, if this was my new home, I would have kept the clover lawn. Who cares about the neighbors.

Now we are back to the usual regime. Water, fertilize, mow and edge weekly or possibly bi-weekly. I suspect it will be done with gas-powered machines which create noise and air pollution; and all of it will either require time from the owner’s life or money to hire a professional like me.

Freedom

People are free to do what they want in their homes. If you want a green lawn in front of your house, then definitely get one. But I still love the idea of a low-maintenance clover lawn. I never did meet the clover rebels.

Cheap landscape upgrades

By | Landscaping, Plants | No Comments

We’ve all seen garden design porn with those beautiful, elaborate designs that cost real cash and take time to pull off. I see them on LinkedIn and in magazines like Fine Gardening. They make me jealous because I don’t have the imagination, nor plant knowledge to be a full-time designer. One day.

This blog post covers a humble project that cost zero cash and involved rescue plants. It took only minutes to complete and it solved some real problems.

Gate bed

The area I upgraded is a pretty humble corner bed next to a gate. There is a dogwood stump in the middle of it and bramble grows along the fence. For most of the year this is a dusty entrance area. I don’t even know if anybody notices the bed. But I’m in charge of maintaining the site so I have to keep it clean. That’s landscape maintenance without prejudice.

Let’s examine the problems:

  1. There are empty spaces that just get colonized by weeds
  2. The dogwood stump is visible
  3. There is only one shrub plant layer and nothing below

Solutions

We fight dead space by installing free Sedges (Carex). I scored two large clumps from another site where they were rudely edited out of a water feature zone. I’m not sure why.

I sold one clump on Facebook marketplace so I could compose a blog post about it. If you’re wondering, I sold the sedge in one day for the price of two coffees at Starbucks. I hope it thrives in its new home.

Now, back to the gate bed. Since the clump was too large, I divided it into two with a shovel. You will encounter some resistance if you try this, but keep on trying.

Adding plants eliminates dead space and introduces competition for any weeds trying to get established in the bed. It also brings in a second, lower layer and upgrades the look.

I also wanted to hide the stump until I get around to bringing a chainsaw so I can flush cut it. I believe I succeeded.

Much better.

After planting we rake and cultivate the bed (finesse work). Don’t forget to blow off the lawn edge.

If everything goes well, the sedges will grow out and one day we’ll be able to divide them again. Note that they don’t require any maintenance. Just enjoy them.

Conclusion

You can make simple landscape improvements with free plants and some sweat and time. And maybe, one day, we’ll all create more elaborate designs.

Celebrate small wins!

By | gardening, health and safety, Landscaping | No Comments

Celebrating in tough times

As the pandemic continues, it’s important to celebrate small wins. I find that I need to improve my mental health and reading newspapers doesn’t help. I didn’t find anything up-lifting in either The Globe and Mail or the Sunday New York Times today.

So, why not celebrate small, simple wins? It’s good for my own mental health and it might inspire you to celebrate your own personal wins.

Small wins

Carex

I scored small wins with sedges (Carex). In both cases I plugged up empty spaces that would otherwise go weedy. In one case, the plants were free. I salvaged them from another work project. In the other case, the owner paid hefty nursery charges. But in both cases, the sedges are thriving and expanding in their new homes! It’s a win.

Before

After

Cedars

Many B&B (ball and burlap) cedars (Thuja occidentalis) don’t do well long-term in the landscape and people get frustrated. That’s because it costs money to buy and install the cedars; and often, the owners are looking for a privacy screen. Green preferably.

Growers are finding that B&B trees don’t have great roots and some are refusing to purchase them.

This may not look like much, but I planted these two cedars when they were just six feet tall. Except here the owner cares. She waters well and frequently which is exactly what the trees need to establish well in their first year.

Often, cedars don’t get the required watering because people are busy and landscapers aren’t really paid to water new installs. Except, of course, on the day of installation.

This is a huge win.

Rhodos

Rhododendron

This Rhododendron was huge last year. So huge it towered over the rocks. Until my desperate friends called me for help. Now, with rhodos this big, there aren’t any obvious junctions to cut to so you need faith.

Faith in latent buds, that is. Rhododendrons, especially rough barked, have latent buds which pop and produce new foliage. You can see them in the picture because they’re lighter green. Smooth barked Rhododendrons may not respond as well.

I shot this picture last week and it was nice to see the new growth. I’d hate to kill my friend’s shrubs. Another win!

Herbs

This last win is close to home. My teenage daughter loves to cook but she hates touching soil and seeing bugs. That doesn’t sound like a landscaper’s daughter.

But when we got herb seeds she happily planted them on our patio. And it wasn’t just for show. She actually used parsley and cilantro in her dishes. This was another small but significant win.

Balcony herbs

I hope 2021 is going well for you! Leave comments about your own wins. I hope you score many this year.

Tree staking 101

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Tree staking seemed really easy to understand and pull-off. Ever since I started landscaping in 2000, I’ve used two or three stakes with good quality arbortie to stake newly planted trees.

But now, thanks to my landscape professional friends in the United States, I know that there is more to staking than meets the eye. And I love the idea of learning new techniques even twenty seasons later.

Pro tip: Always be open to new ideas and techniques. There’s so much to learn.

Regular staking

I have had lots of practice with tree staking because I have twenty seasons in the field; and because I went through the Landscape Industry Certified program. There, one of the practical stations was tree planting and staking. Let’s ignore tree planting for now. I will cover it in a separate blog.

Depending on the specifications, I had to drive the tree stakes just outside of the root ball or inside. To pull it off, you’ll need a metal stake pounder and ear protection.

First, the pounder goes on the top of the stake and then you stand it up, line it up and drive it in. As the metal pounder hits the stake, it gets very loud quickly. That’s why my failure to wear ear protection during testing cost me points.

Incredibly, I would need three attempts to pass this practical station.

Second, you secure good quality arbor tie to the stakes and loop it around the tree. It should be just tight enough; not too tight and not too loose.

Pro tip: Tree stakes should only stay on for a maximum of 14 months. Beyond that the tree will get “lazy”; it won’t form the reaction wood it needs to grow strong and withstand future wind storms.

One example of standard tree stakes.

Staples

Stapled pine tree in Florida.

This was news to me. Instead of above-ground stakes this pine in Florida is stapled with stakes. First, four stakes are driven into the root ball and then both pairs are connected together.

Obviously, the wood size would increase with a bigger root ball. Here it’s a 2×2″.

Advantages

  • The stakes are mostly hidden so they don’t stick out like regular wooden stakes, which many people consider unsightly.
  • The tree develops reaction wood as it moves in response to wind events. In this example, the pine survived a recent hurricane storm that hit Florida.
  • There’s no need to go back and remove the stakes.
  • Nobody will forget to remove the stakes.
  • There is zero chance of girdling because there is no arbor tie connecting branches to the stakes.

Conclusion

Keep your eyes and mind open to new ideas and techniques. I was blown away by the stapling technique even though it’s not new. It was new to me and I would love to try it one day.

Landscaper in the hole

By | Landscaping | No Comments

I love it when I get to detour from regular landscape maintenance duties and work on a different project. For example, just last week I got to patch up a sinking hole in the lawn. There was a depression in the lawn and nobody was sure why. So, we fixed it in a few hours.

Access

How do you move several yards of lawn and garden mix soil into an area with lousy wheelbarrow access? Well, you make a phone call and you get the soil blown in. And that’s what happened.

We took advantage of a hole in the fence and ran the soil hoses through there. Fortunately, it was on a Monday morning and the worshippers were long gone. I’m not even sure if the new coronavirus allowed them to meet on Sunday.

Brutal access.
Blowing in soil.

Rolling it!

Now, it was important to roll the new soil as it was blown in so I danced with the operators. While I rolled the left side, they blew in soil on the right. Then we switched sides. And so on.

Yes, landscaping is a physical job; rolling a pin full of water to flatten soil is heavy labour. I was sweating under my toque and smiled about the very real possibility of weight loss.

It feels good to empty the rolling pin at the end.

Ginkgo

It wasn’t my idea to move a Ginkgo tree into the middle of the new depression-free lawn. I would prefer to re-plant it into native site soil, not into brand new lawn and garden mix.

So, we preserved as much of the root ball as we could and we plugged it in. Of course, this is a shock for the tree so it’s important to water it in gently with a slow soak.

Last step

Once temperatures go up high enough for grass seed to germinate, this lawn area will get hydroseeded. Hydro seeding is a faster and cheaper alternative to sod install. And it works well. Soon we’ll have a new lawn area to mow and it will be easier to maintain without the freaky depression.

The lesson here is that you can get around lousy site access by blowing soil in and hydroseeding. You will have to supply some labour.

All set for hydro seeding with male Ginkgo biloba.

Lowest point as a landscaper

By | Landscaping | No Comments

Someone online asked an interesting question: what was your lowest point as a landscaper? Aha. So I gave it some thought and my answer took me to the beginning. I started landscaping in 2000 and I was an eager apprentice working at a prominent landscape maintenance company.

Deep edging

One important winter task we had to perform was establishing deep edges. It was a lot of labour sticking an edging shovel into bed edges at exactly ninety degrees for miles and miles. And since deep edging generated many soil chunks we had to make them disappear.

This was accomplished by shaking off any grass and disposing of it; the remaining soil was cultivated into the bed. Repeat.

As hard as it was, deep edging gave our beds nice definition and a sharp look. But there was more.

 

Image_006

Ninety degree edge gives this bed nice definition.

 

Lowest point

One day I was given a respirator and a plastic applicator full of the granular herbicide Casoron. It wasn’t very clearly explained to me at the time but Casoron is a pre-emergent granular herbicide. Applied in spring, it sterilizes the soil and prevents weeds from germinating.

Few weeds means fewer labour dollars spent on weeding. Casoron application is now illegal in British Columbia but it’s a hard habit to stop. Look around in spring, you will see landscapers quietly sneaking around their sites. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

When it rains after Casoron application, the herbicide can run off and “burn” the grass by leaving it yellow. Beautiful deep edges prevent this from happening. Aha. Vas finally connected the dots.

Was this the wrong company for me? And industry? It was definitely my lowest point as a landscaper.

I had just spent weeks deep edging beds just so we could sterilize the beds with a granular herbicide. Herbicide so bad for your olfactory system it could rob you of your sense of smell.

 

River rock at the border

By | Landscaping, Mulch | No Comments

Returning from a Seattle soccer tournament last weekend, I had time to examine the border landscaping while I waited in line. It was an early summer evening and I was relaxed because I didn’t have anything to declare. I literally spent four days near soccer fields watching my son take his U12 team to the finals.

Perfect fit mulch

To my left was a row of red maples (Acer rubrum) planted in river rock beds. Aha! Another perfect fit.

 

IMG_2744

Approaching the Canadian border.

 

Now, personally I prefer organic mulches like arbor chips or composted bark. However, river rock can be perfect in some situations. I’ve already written blog posts about river rock as replacement for dog urine soaked lawn patches; and river rock as a solution for small dirt patches where new plants get flattened by car tires or, left bare, the dirt patches just grow weeds.

When you apply a nice, thick layer of mulch it keeps weeds out and doesn’t require any extra maintenance.

Now, back to our picture.

A. The river rock is correctly kept away from the critical root zone so water and oxygen can be accessed by the tree roots. The tree well also “captures” leavesĀ  and, assuming they’re left in place, allows them to feed the tree.

B. The river rock looks nice and thick. Thickness is important when applying mulches because we need to block out sunlight so weeds don’t germinate. Thin mulch applications can actually encourage weed growth because they trap moisture and allow sunlight to penetrate. Go deep or don’t do it all.

C. There are weeds visible in the edges which is to be expected. Wind and birds can import weed seeds.

D. River rock eliminates the need for lawn maintenance. This eliminates extra costs and protects cars lined up at the border. It would be stressful mowing and line edging near so many car windows. And, I suspect, the people lined up in their cars appreciate the complete lack of noise and air pollution.

 

Yes, you can use river rock as mulch. And, in some situations, it works better than organic mulches. Give it a try.