Category

Lawn Care

Echo 58v cordless power mower

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Time to switch?

Today I got a chance to see and touch the Echo 58v cordless power mower on my visit to the new Foreshore Equipment North Vancouver location. And now I’m considering getting one for my side-gig operation. Not that my old Honda gas-powered beast is falling apart; it’s still running well, many years after I picked it up second hand. But I’m tired of sucking exhaust, lifting it and paying for gas. It might be time to switch, if the mower is in stock.

Since I don’t mow that much, charging two batteries would be fine.

Two batteries.

One local landscape company I know has one of these battery-operated units on every truck. Because the mowers are light, they can be used in hard to access lawn areas. Some access is extremely awkward or it requires two crew members. Stairwells come to mind.

Well, not anymore; you can pick this baby up by the handle and go. I tried it and it’s really light. It almost feels like a toy.

There are two batteries in front and one simple throttle on the bar. It looks super simple.

Benefits

As I’m writing this blog post in late February 2022, gas prices in British Columbia are climbing so not having to gas up your mower sounds great. The other, bigger benefit is avoiding unhealthy exhaust exposure. After twenty-two years in landscape maintenance, I wonder if I should have made the switch earlier.

This especially applies to my side-gigs, where I’m in charge. I obviously don’t call the shots at my day-job. But why suck exhaust when you’re mowing a small patch for your hard-of-hearing 87-year-old client when you could easily pull it off with a mower like this Echo 58v unit?

I also like how quiet it is when you let go of the throttle. Nothing is idling noisily while you try to talk to someone. It gets nice and quiet.

Another obvious benefit is solo lifting. This Echo mower can easily fold up and the lifting is a breeze. Gas powered units can be on the heavier side and that can seriously tax your back if you don’t have ramps.

Conclusion

The Echo 58v cordless power mower is decent for commercial operations and perfect for hard-to-access lawn areas. You can easily pick it up which frees up your co-workers and saves your back from pain.

I love the idea of not having to pay for fuel and most of all, avoiding exposure to unhealthy exhaust.

If this unit is in stock, I will consider getting it for my side-gig operation.

Is it time to switch? Contact Foreshore Equipment, the best dealer in the Lower Mainland, and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.

Babied plastic turf

By | Lawn Care, Tools | No Comments

Chill pill

Plastic turf is fairly common now and some companies are making a killing installing it. But when I cleaned up ash (Fraxinus) leaves from a few turf lawns this past fall, I wasn’t ready for the aggressive defense. First, let’s take a chill pill.

There she was in her backyard, a lovely mother of a young child, wearing stunning tights and sporting a blond ponytail. She was the kind of resident every single member of my male crew paid attention to; and extremely bad for crew production.

She was out to remind us to use a plastic rake she and her neighbors invested into. Leaf pick up with our regular rakes was too harsh on her turf. Fair enough. If she had told us to jump, we would have all jumped. I laughed to myself and stopped staring at her.

A plastic rake for gentler leaf pick-up.

Investment

I totally understand the lady’s concern. After shelling out C$3000 for her small plastic patch, she obviously wants it to last for a long time. This was my first experience with homeowners defending their turf.

Why get turf?

Personally, I hate plastic turf. Not only does it rob me of paid work, it also removes nature from our cities. Plastic turf tends to heat up in summer and, therefore, requires hosing off on hot summer days. And nothing lives in plastic; it’s terrible habitat for insects. Worse still, the soil underneath dies.

On this site, however, plastic turf makes a lot of sense. The lady and her neighbors live under towering Ash trees that shade out any grass plants attempting to form a lawn. We even tried pruning the ash trees to allow more light in but it didn’t make a huge difference.

The lady also owns a dog, which created a distraction every time she took it out to answer nature’s call. Unlike grass, plastic turf can take a lot of dog abuse and still look nice and green. Grass becomes very patchy because it can’t handle so much fertilizer at one time; you’d have to hose off the spots immediately after the dog goes. And who has time for that when there is a toddler inside.

As much as I hate plastic turf, there are instances when it makes sense. Like when you have heavy shade and heavy dog damage. But it will cost you. One small lawn goes for around C$3,000. Many people also switch because they’re tired of lawn damage related to European chafer beetles.

Once the lawn is removed, the company installs crush and runs it over with a compactor. Then comes the plastic, anchored with pins. The actual model depends on the owner.

Considering the cost of plastic turf install, don’t be surprised if the owners defend it. If you’re lucky, the defenders you encounter are super cute.

C$3,000 turf, unaffected by shade and owner’s dog.

Shocked by lawn damage!

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Surprise!

This scenario plays out every autumn on the West Coast: a panicked home owner calls me about a damaged lawn. In this case, it was a fairly new client, texting me about solutions after raccoons had dug up her lawn overnight.

The raccoons were looking for European Chafer beetle grubs which have been feeding on grass roots and getting fat since late summer. That’s when females come down from trees after mating to lay their eggs in the lawn. They quickly stick their bums into the lawn and disappear. This is why people are advised to keep their lawns longer; to make it more difficult for the females, and perhaps, to encourage them to lay eggs in your neighbor’s lawn.

Mature European chafer beetles. Only one was dead, 3 eventually made a run for it.

What to do in late fall

All you can do in November is fix the damage with some soil. Overseeding won’t help because it’s now too cold for seed to take. You’d just be feeding the birds, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just pricey.

The grubs are nice and juicy by now. You could always hope for cold temperatures to kill them but that would mean severe cold. The kind of cold that would deprive me of work.

Just let the crows and raccoons feed; and ask Proper Landscaping to help you fix the damage.

Chafer grub

Baby your lawn in 2022

If you want to avoid nasty shocks twelve months from now, baby your lawn next year. That means regular fertilizer applications, proper watering, and correct mowing heights. You will need to do all three religiously to have a nice looking lawn.

I often find homeowners cutting their lawns very short, presumably to avoid cutting weekly. But, very short lawns dry out, allow light to reach weeds, and in late summer, they make it easy for chafer beetle females to lay eggs.

Watering is also a problem. Regular watering is a must for good looking lawns. I have clients who complain about weeds in their lawns and they water twice in summer. That’s hopeless.

Anti-chafer products

Your local garden store sells granular anti-chafer products that can be applied anytime. And you can also order live nematodes for application in late summer so the nematodes can chase down the chafers before they get big.

I have no idea how effective the granular products are but they are easy to apply. Unlike live nematodes which must be watered in and applied early in the morning or in late afternoon. That’s because they are photo-sensitive. And I have also heard horror stories about the nematodes arriving dead. Since they’re microscopic, it’s impossible to confirm this.

You must also water your lawn deeply before, during and after application. That sounds easy enough but in late summer you’re likely to run into watering restrictions. So visit your municipal office for a pricey exemption before your neighbors report you to bylaw officers.

Don’t give up

Never give up. Baby your lawn and keep fighting. The European chafer beetles are here to stay. We can control them but I doubt we can eliminate them.

If your lawn gets abused in winter, just patch up the damage and wait for spring when soil and seed will cover everything up.

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.

First lawn care service disaster

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Not a good start

When you do lawn care for the first time at a new site, you really want to shine and impress your new clients. I know I do. And as a proud Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist, I expect quality work from myself and my crew members. But earlier this spring things didn’t go well for me.

Eager to get started, I mapped out my section, picked up the line edger and went to work. Then, just three yards into my section, I did a vertical edging job on a small tree well and proceeded to blow out a patio door. Oops, that’s not good. And just think, I have an online course on lawn care mistakes.

Now, normally landscape companies have glass service people on speed dial because accidents like this happen. Except in this case, the patio door had built-in blinds which made in a $1000+ repair job.

Built-in blinds made this a very costly mistake.

Red faced

Accidents like this happen but not to me. It was very humbling, considering my work shirt is outfitted with landscape industry certified patches. I had no idea doors had built-in blinds. That really stung.

The only silver lining is that the crew members got to see the human Red Seal Vas who very occasionally makes a mistake.

Two lessons

There are two lessons we can learn from my costly mistake.

One, danger in lawn care is always seconds away if you get sloppy or cocky. Mowers and trimmers pick up objects easily and cause damage to windows, cars, and even people. Safety first!

Two, it makes no sense to vertical a small tree well with small stones showing. It’s better to ignore it and use a blade edger later. Blade edgers have a metal guard and a rubber flap which makes them much safer to use.

Edging a small tree well wasn’t worth the headache and the steep cost. Use blade edgers for tree wells and put your food behind the machine for extra protection when there is a patio window behind you.

Be careful. Don’t get caught red-faced like I did.

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

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

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.