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Landscaping

Danger: broken branch!

By | Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Don’t delay

As soon I walked into one ground level strata unit yard last week, I noticed piles of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seed cones. You can expect to see some but not piles. Then I looked up and saw the problem: a large branch had broken off and now it was just hanging in the tree. It was suspended in the tree, waiting to claim any unsuspecting victim, which isn’t funny. A child playing on the patio could potentially be killed; and adults would definitely end up concussed, or worse.

Large broken branches must be taken care of immediately. Strata owners should call their garden rep or building manager. A direct call to your landscape contractor like Proper Landscaping would also work.

It happens

You can expect some craziness with trees. Weaknesses develop as the tree matures and with sweetgum trees the weight of their seed pods alone can cause headaches. Here there was some weakness in the branch attachment, as indicated by the black tissues. See the picture below. That’s biology. We just can’t tolerate broken branches stuck in trees for safety, and aesthetic reasons. Our landscapes should be healthy, green and beautiful; and free of hazards.

Note the dark tissues, a clear evidence of weakness

Sweetgum

Liquidambar styraciflua trees are an awesome alternative to maple trees. The leaves look similar to maples but the distinctive seed pods give it a unique look. The weight of the seed pods gives the tree a workout. Then, add a bit of wind as in this strata example where the two buildings create a wind a tunnel, and you get trouble.

Sweetgum trees also put on a nice color show in the fall; and they hang on to their leaves for a long time. If you plant one, make sure it has room to grow in the future. It’s not a small garden tree. We see it planted along strata complex streets.

Conclusion

Trees lose branches all the time, in wind storms, through disease and decay; or vandalism, and even self-pruning. The key is to quickly identify dangerous broken branches and remove them, especially inside strata complexes where there are targets like kids, pets and pregnant women. Barbecues and glass plates are also targets.

Call your landscape contractor, building manager, strata manager or council member and remove the danger as soon as possible. I pulled down the branch pictured above with my hands and it landed heavily on the sidewalk. Give trees lots of love, water and respect!

Requiem for a clover lawn

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

Love at first sight

When I saw this clover front lawn a few seasons ago, it was love at first sight. It’s fluffy, only requires occasional blade edging to keep it from spilling over, keeps the weeds down by shading them out, and bees love it when it’s in flower.

You don’t have to mow it or line trim it, it’s very low maintenance. I thought it was a brave statement from the owners. I never got to meet them. People are generally afraid of sticking out in the neighborhood.

New owners

Then, months later, I walked by again and the clover lawn was gone. People love green lawns. But if it were up to me, I wouldn’t go back. Now I miss the fluffy clover lawn when I walk by.

The new owners overseeded their new lawn and the grass was coming in.

Of course, now that you have a new lawn, you have to do some work. The previous owners must have been busy or away frequently.

Now you have to water and fertilize the lawn; and once it’s long enough, you have to cut it. But not too short. Edging is also required to keep the lawn nice and neat. Next spring, they will likely aerate the lawn to keep it healthy. The clover eliminated most of these extra steps that cost money and time.

Fall 2023

To each his own. If you want a lawn, by all means get a lawn. But when I saw this lawn recently, it didn’t inspire me. I missed the fluffy clover. Some people do a mix of the two, grass and clover. I believe this kind of mix discourages the European chafer beetles from attack.

To be fair, I didn’t get to see the clover lawn in winter. Perhaps it was a sad, muddy looking zone. I have no idea. I was just sad to see it go. It was my favorite lawn!

Great install memories from Blue Mountain

By | Landscaping | No Comments

8 years ago

It’s always nice to visit old project sites and see how the plants are doing. One such site is at Blue Mountain Park in Coquitlam and when I drove by recently, I pulled over and snapped some pictures. And those pictures took me back eight years.

Back then, I was close to finishing my season as a temporary full-time parks worker with the City of Coquitlam. Our task was to create a brand-new bed for Remembrance Day, which was fast approaching.

City gardener Tracey Mallinson did the initial design, and I did a lot of the labor while she watched me as a hawk. We knew that city managers would bring the mayor over for a visit. Everything had to go smoothly.

Steps

The first step was to measure out the bed dimensions and spray paint the border. Then came the heavy labor part: removing the grass chunks and amending the new bed with fresh soil.

Then we brought in plants and quickly installed them. This is what it looked like.

Fast forward to 2022

Now let’s fast forward to 2022 and see what we have.

2022: 8 years later

Not bad at all! After Tracey Mallinson and I moved on, the raised “poppy” bed was added to make it more visible from the road. It’s planted with red flowers every year to make it look like a poppy.

What I really like is how the yews (Taxus) grew to form a solid hedge. The dogwood tree (Cornus) in the middle is also very special because we planted it bare root. It was my first time planting a tree bare root and I paid attention. It was a lot of fun.

Why bare root?

Bare root planting allows you to see the roots and make some editing cuts, if necessary. We kept the original root ball soil and mixed it with water before backfilling the planting hole. This way the “mud” solidifies and cements the tree in the planting hole.

Years later I would use the lessons I learned here to plant my very first bare root tree solo. You can read about it here. And I’m happy to report that the tree is doing well.

Conclusion

Not every visit to an old planting project site is a happy one. We’ll cover that in up-coming blog posts. But this Blue Mountain project went well. We created a nice new bed for Remembrance Day celebrations, and I took away several important lessons.

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.

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.