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Lawn Care

Welcome to mowing hell

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

It’s coming, I know it is. Every spring we apply generous amounts of lawn fertilizer with high Nitrogen content to get our lawns to green up. And green up they do.

Mowing hell

As the nitrogen kicks in, our lawns turn lush green and they look fantastic after cutting. But there is a catch. Where weeks ago I needed thirty minutes and three tarps to complete my commercial site lawns, now it’s all doubled.

And because I do the sites on weekends, solo, there is no one to off-load the mowing on. I occupy my own personal mowing hell. It seems like I have to empty my mower bag after every pass and, after a while, it gets old.

It’s usually at this point that I remind myself what a nice extra source of income this flexible gig is. Because the sites are commercial, not residential, I can start early or work late. I will never get old Mrs. Robinson complaining about how I robbed her of beauty sleep. This flexibility is awesome. For example, when my son has soccer matches, I can do two half-days. Nobody cares, as long as the place looks great on Monday.

Complications

Mowing hell gets worse when your mower blades are dull and it rained the night before. Now the grass clogs up the mower chute while the bag remains fairly empty. So, you’re stuck cleaning the chute. Otherwise, the mower starts dropping grassy clumps from the deck.

Dull mower blades shred the grass blades and the wetness makes them stick to the deck, bag and chute. This requires frequent stops which is annoying because I’m not paid by the hour. When I’m done, I can bail.

Make sure the blades and engine are off before reaching in to clean the chute.

It’s also important to clean the deck carefully. Stop the blades and engine and tip the mower with the filter pointing up. Then undo the spark plug. I’ve never seen it but mowing the mower blades with the spark plug still on could bring them back to life. Allegedly. Disconnect the spark plug and clean the chute. I do this before moving to a new lawn section. If you do it with every stop, you’ll be there forever.

Conclusion

Mowing hell is coming this spring. I know it. It’s the price I pay for lush green lawns. Make sure your mower blades are sharp and bring extra tarps.

Bonus: if you’re in charge of fertilizing, you can have some fun with other crews or your neighbors. Put the fertilizer down heavy and watch them sweat.

A new course for lawn care newbies

By | Education, Lawn Care, Training | No Comments

Vas dares to dream

I’ve been training landscapers for many years now and I always wondered if I could make a bigger impact. So, when people struggled with basic plant identification, I put together a simple picture book to help them. It allowed me to test the Designrr software and, occasionally, I make a few dollars when the e-book sells on Amazon.

Now, lawn care is a bit trickier but since I was seeing the same mistakes over and over, it made sense to create an online course. That’s how the BC Landscape Academy was born in 2021. It’s been a fun learning experience and I’m working on other courses so it feels like a school. The second course will introduce landscapers to the most common tree species.

Students wanted

It’s not really a school without students but as the new mow season approaches, I’m hoping to get a few beta testers to test drive the course. And that includes Proper Landscaping Inc. I just have to convince the big boss James, in exchange for a huge discount.

The first course deals with the Top 5 lawn care mistakes. These mistakes happen over and over as new employees come to work at landscape companies. So, what if you could alert them to the worst five mistakes from day one? It would save costly training time in the field and could, potentially, save time and money. The well-trained newbie would know what mistakes to avoid and why. Which should make him an asset to his clients and company from day one.

I just think that the employers will have to attach some carrots to this project. Finish the course and get free snips. Or, finish the course and get a small raise.

Homeowners can benefit, too

Yes, the course is aimed at professional landscapers but homeowners will also benefit. The mistakes happen all the time. Why not check it out and get educated about proper lawn care. It’s not as simple as it appears. But the BC Landscape Academy is here to help you. Don’t repeat the same mistakes. Learn from others.

The case of shredded tree guards

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Tree guards

I got the idea for this blog post from my UK LinkedIn friend who shared this picture with me. Incredibly, it’s of a shredded tree guard!

This is crazy. Shredding a tree guard is like burning down your life jacket or stomping on your wilderness first aid kit. It’s in place to protect the tree exactly from this kind of abuse.

Because it’s fairly high, I suspect the damage was caused by a ride-on mower. But, of course, any employee who shreds a tree guard could also be a lousy line trimmer. I hope I’m wrong.

Lack of training

This sort of abuse happens when workers aren’t trained properly. It’s as if lawn care machines have the right of way. They don’t.

My favorite scientific paper is from New Zealand and it deals with this kind of “mower blight.” The study authors recommend training as one way of fixing the problem. The other recommendations are: creating tree wells, and installing tree guards! Aha. That didn’t work here so we’re back to training.

What lawn care machines do to trees

When you train lawn care workers you have to teach them why it’s a bad idea to hit landscape trees with lawn mowers and line trimmers. As a worker at a municipal parks department, I witnessed one of my co-workers get out, put his trimmer on and when he trimmed the very first tree, I could almost feel the bark flying past me. So, when I bravely mentioned why it wasn’t a good idea, the dude was upset. You have to thread lightly in unionized departments. Even with temporary full-timers.

  1. Trees are resilient. You can hit them a few times and they will recover. It’s the repeated abuse that stresses the tree.
  2. Abused trees must use up precious resources for repairs when they should be investing in growth.
  3. Damaged bark can allow diseases to get in
  4. Wounding interrupts water transport
  5. Repeated wounding eventually kills the tree
  6. Removing, replacing and taking care of new trees is expensive
  7. Dead trees can’t provide important ecosystem services

This should be a good enough starting point for your crew discussion. Respect tree guards. People installed the guards for a reason.

How landscapers die on the job

By | Landscape Industry, Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Danger!

Whenever people work with machines there is potential for accidents. This is especially true with ride-on mowers. So, let’s get the worse part of this blog post over with.

Ride-on mowers are big beasts that cover lots of lawn in short amount of time. I’ve been trained on one but I wouldn’t want to use it all day, all week. It’s a bouncy and often dusty ride.

And you can die when you get too close to edges. I know of two true incidents from the US where both operators got too close to the edge and crashed, strapped to their seats.

One dude drove too close to a creek and flipped his ride-on mower over into the creek. This poor dude never had a chance. He got crushed on the creek bed.

The second dude got too close to a pond but he had a chance to unclip and swim out. Except he wasn’t a swimmer and he panicked, drowning as his mower sank into the pond. I learned about this in a Facebook group from his boss. It’s pretty sad.

Sadly, the operator drowned in the pond.

Missing digits!

This next story involves missing digits and it comes from my home province of British Columbia. Now, when I first heard it, it sounded a bit sensational. After all, modern mowers come with safety features like bars that stop the blades when disengaged. Let go of the bar and you should be fine.

Except here we had two dudes who made poor choices while wearing headphones. One (very efficiently) offered to hold the power bar while the other emptied his mower bag and reached in to clean the chute. And that’s when the digits on his hand went missing in a flash.

Shocked, the dude screamed his ass off on site, causing a massive, and bloody, scene.

This used to happen with early push mower models where the blades didn’t stop when the operator did. New mowers are super safe.

How to stay safe

Yes, you can stay safe in the landscape.

Get as much training as you can and respect all machines and tools on your work truck. Learn to use all of them safely. Ask questions and practice. And watch out for your team mates.

The same applies to homeowners. Before you let your kids mow your lawn, train them well and watch them.

Ask about and identify potential hazards on site and at home. Especially if it’s your first visit to the site.

Don’t wear headphones while you work.

When turf is the way to go

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Tired of grass?

Sometimes switching from grass to turf makes sense, like in the following case. The owners had two small grass patches situated between the house and a cedar hedge so sunlight was an issue.

Since both lawns were installed inside wooden borders, drainage was also an issue. The lady described a muddy mess, made worse by her landscaper’s weekly visits.

When her grandkids came to visit they couldn’t really play on the grass; and picking up dog waste from the mud must have been horrific.

Dog owners hate to admit it, but dog urine kills grass. The cost of repairing the lawn all the time would send anyone to Google to find a permanent solution.

Plastic

Personally, I’m not a fan of plastic turf. It’s expensive, it heats up in summer, and it removes nature from cities. There is no life hiding in plastic turf.

But, in this case, plastic turf is the way to go. The owner was extremely proud of her new turf. She can easily pick up dog waste, hose off the turf and let her grandkids run on it. Kiss goodbye top-dressing and over-seeding.

She got all this for C$1,800.

The procedure

Do you ever wonder how turf is installed? I did.

  1. Remove the old grass and grade the soil. It sounds easy but the installers had to go up and down 15 stairs. Access can affect the quote.
  2. Install rock base. If I heard correctly, for this job they used 3/8 pressure fines. Again, it was a nightmare for the young dudes to negotiate stairs with heavy wheelbarrows.
  3. You have to compact the rock base with a machine. I was surprised how gentle the compactor looked. Make at least three passes over the area to properly compact the rock base.
  4. Install turf. There are many options and the owners here selected a “pet-friendly” model. Pins secure the carpet at the edges. Here the patches were quite small. For larger areas, the carpet pieces are zipped up together on the underside.
  5. Enjoy! Now you have your instant lawn to enjoy.
Compaction is a critical step!
The rock base is down.
All done!

Conclusion

I make a living with lawn care so I rarely recommend switching to plastic turf. There are many problems with it. But, in some cases, it makes a lot of sense to switch. Just be ready for a hefty bill.

When your first lawn cut is in October

By | gardening, Lawn Care | No Comments

Strange COVID times

Previously I have written blogs about my friend who hates gardening and pays me to knock down his lawns when his neighbors start whispering. Over the course of one season, I will visit his “meadows” five to six times. His house is every low-baller’s dream.

Now, let’s talk about my new client. To make the first lawn cut at a house in late October is unusual but we also live in unusual times. Thanks to the pandemic, the house owners are stuck in Taiwan; and their son worked, until recently, as a consultant in California.

Now back in town, the son wanted a little fall clean-up done. And I happily gave him one reasonable number for the work.

Fall clean-up

Lawns

Normally the consultant cuts his own grass but his mower wasn’t strong enough to cut through a frosty meadow. Grass this long has to be cut twice or knocked down with a line trimmer first.

My commercial Honda model made it in one pass, albeit slowly. The lawn is obviously in rough shape so I applied fall lawn fertilizer. Edging completes the work and this is where most homeowners fail. Many don’t even own commercial grade line trimmers.

A sharp blade edge on the street side gives the home a sharp look and, when done late in the fall, it should hold for months.

The first lawn cut of 2020 in late October.

Pruning

Next came pruning and a bit of finesse work. Daylilies and peonies are made for fall cutback when the show is long over. I took out my Felco snips and went to work.

Flush cut your perennials and let them pop up next year

Laurels, boxwoods and Spireae got clipped with power shears to control their growth and give them a more formal shape.

Shaggy shrubs
After power shearing

I used hand snips for Rhododendron and Pieris shrubs. Both were too big for the consultant’s liking.

Then came a quick scan through the cedar hedges for out-of-control morning glory (Convolvulaceae family).

The final step always involves clean-up and in this case, my weapon was a backpack blower.

Now that the consultant knows about my great, affordable service, I have a feeling we’ll do business together again in 2021. He knows I can help him and, considering the way the pandemic is dragging on, it will be nice to generate some extra income.

3 West Coast lawn issues

By | gardening, landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

Season over

Now that the regular lawn care season is over, it’s a good time to recap some of the issues that came up in 2020. Let’s examine three issues: one is comical, one is frustrating for me and the last one isn’t going away anytime soon.

Bend over!

This issue came up in a Facebook group. The lawn care operator was asking for a good machine or technique to remove the shaggy bit of grass in the corner. The light wood is clear evidence that they’ve tried removing it with line edgers but the geometry didn’t work out.

Sometimes you just have to do it the low-tech way: bend over and rip it out.

Tree or lawn?

This looks just like another neglected tree well; it’s full of grass and lacks a sharp, ninety degree edge. But, it’s actually a misunderstanding between the unit owner and maintenance staff.

Landscapers are trained to keep tree wells weed-free and well-defined with sharp deep edges. The plastic guard on the tree is extra insurance against tree abuse from lawn care machines.

Unable to keep the tree well clean, it finally came to light that the owner had been over-seeding the tree well in order to eliminate the tree circle. He wanted a nice uniform lawn with the tree in the middle. Thus the plastic guard.

There is just one problem with the homeowner’s approach. Young trees often get outcompeted by turf. They struggle and often die because turf is an efficient competitor and lawn care machines are bound to take some liberties with the bark.

If you want to keep the tree, keep the tree well.

Chafers aren’t going away

When animals dig up your lawn in late October looking for European chafer beetle grubs, it can be a shocking site. The strata president tracked me down looking for help but by late October there isn’t much I can do. The grubs in the soil are juicy and, I presume, delicious.

I raked up the damaged turf chunks and peeled back whatever was still attached. Then I added soil and over-seeded it with good renovation seed mix.

The treatment window for chafers is in late summer after the females deposit their eggs in lawns, but there are now new treatments coming in. So, check with your local garden center. They will be happy to take your money.

Search for my European chafer beetle blogs on this website.

Female European chafer beetles. Only one is really dead!

Landscape adjustments to consider

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care, Trees | No Comments

100% Vas

With landscape supervisor Vas on site, there are always bound to be adjustments to make because I love to catalogue them. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments on the fly. When tasks get pushed, they may not get done. But not when I’m on site.

Let’s see some examples.

Low branches

Pro landscapers carry good quality snips on their hips for moments like these. As I walked by, I noticed low tree branches. Since we don’t want branches to grow this low, it’s a good idea to remove them.

In the second example, we have a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) branch hanging so low it made it difficult for me to mow in straight lines. The offending branch also affects the shape of the tree, as if it’s attempting to break away from the crown.

Since I didn’t have a hand saw, I had to put this on my list for later.

Aggressive line trimming

These developing ditches scare me. I know vertical line edging is responsible for this because blade edging is sharp and narrow. It would be OK if the crews left it alone but they don’t. They will hit it again next week and the ditch will grow wider. Then we’ll have to pull weeds out of the gap. Use a blade edger, if you can. If you can’t, vertical close to the driveway edge at ninety degrees.

This is the classic “beavered” look and it’s not Ok. You have to slow down and touch the post without chipping it. I know we ask people to get their work done quickly and efficiently but we also need quality. “Beavered” posts invite complaints from clients so take the time to train your crews.

Don’t touch your mow lines

Here the dude was rushing to mow a missed lawn and he took the shortest route right across his mow lines. It’s not a good idea at a high-profile clubhouse used by residents from two different complexes.

Don’t cross your mow lines; and don’t be afraid to make landscape adjustments on the fly. Your site or garden will look much better.

Cheapest fix for European chafer beetle damaged lawns

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Here to stay

The European chafer beetle is here to stay so let’s not despair. You can easily fix your damaged lawn with some soil and seed. Now, I know some homeowners get tired of this but there are new products coming online to help them fight against this pest. Watch for my future blog posts.

Study case

When the owner of this lawn first approached me in late fall, I told him to hold on until spring so we could bring in soil and seed. In spring the seed would have the required moisture and temperature levels to take. I couldn’t do much in late fall.

The front half of the lawn was in bad shape. I didn’t have to dig too much to see European chafer grubs. Luckily, the lawn area is small so the cheapest fix with some soil and seed would be fairly easy.

The client wasn’t just worried about his lawn. What would the neighbors say about his lawn when the whole neighborhood was lush green? With a shiny white Porsche parked in his garage, I knew this client was used to getting results.

Spring

New soil and seed.

The cheapest fix is also extremely easy. Bring in good, weed-free soil. I like lawn and garden mix which costs roughly C$30 per yard. Use good commercial seed which germinates in 7-10 days.

Apply the seed and use a rolling pin to press it into the soil. You can also step on it after raking it over lightly.

Water your lawn gently so you don’t dislodge the new seed. That’s it. Some soil, good seed, water and a bit of labor. What’s there to stress about?

Much better in summer 2020.

Baby it!

The lawn looked great in summer and we gave it summer fertilizer (22-2-22). So, when you get your lawn back, take better care of it. Spring, summer and fall fertilizer helps. So does proper watering.

Every time this client calls me over to cut his lawn, his frugal, stay-at-home mother beats me to it. I think she cuts it a bit too short but all I can do is mention it.

So, let’s review. Don’t panic when your beautiful lawn looks awful overnight. Bring in some good quality, weed-free soil and good commercial seed.

Once you get your lawn back, water it properly and don’t cut it too short. Apply fertilizer seasonally.

On the simple beauty of lawn mulching

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Simple pleasures

I know this photo doesn’t look like much. It’s a commercial site lawn with too many weeds in it but this photo makes me smile! Why? Because I remembered to mulch the lawn.

Since I don’t always get to mulch lawns it was nice to do it at this commercial site where I’m in charge. So, I locked the mower in its mulch position and started mowing.

Good or bad?

Now, I know that some lawn “experts” online disagree with the idea that leaving grass clippings in the lawn is free fertilizer. I’ve run into a few on sites like Quora.com and they gave me a lot of unsolicited-but always appreciated!- feedback.

Don’t worry about them. Leaving grass clippings in the lawn is good for your lawn.

It also makes mowing much easier because you don’t have to stop to empty your mower bag; and there aren’t any green waste disposal issues. That made me very happy on this early Saturday morning. I just mowed without stopping and I didn’t have to worry about tarp collection. Good progress makes me happy when I’m not working by the hour. The morning sun also helps.

Of course, dry conditions are best for mulching. Don’t do it in wet conditions because the grass will get clumpy and it will stick to your mower deck. It will also clump up on top of your lawn and ruin the neat look we are after.

Mulch on dry days when you barely even notice the clippings.

As we slowly exit July, our West Coast lawns are slowing down and, where there isn’t any irrigation, they may go dormant. So, this is a perfect time to try lawn mulching if your mower model allows for it. You’ll have more fun and your lawn will thank you.