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One fail from 2020

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Taking stock

Landscape install projects are great because they break up the monotony of routine landscape maintenance work and they generate extra revenues for landscape companies. I also love working with plants so it’s very good fit for me.

It’s also a great idea to take stock of your completed landscape install projects and see how it all went. And while 2020 went really well, without any disasters or client complaints, there is one fail that bothers me.

Doomed Christmas trees

In one project this season we installed two expensive spruce trees along with Sedums and shrubs like Spireae and Berberis. It was all fun and games except for the trees. You know you’re dealing with spruce trees when you touch the foliage and feel the stabbing pain in your skin.

The planting went well. I dug a hole with the correct dimensions and removed the wire cage. Then I carefully back-filled the tree and went in search of water.

You should always water-in your installs.

The spruce trees were labelled as drought-tolerant but it’s my humble opinion that they must first get established.

Because the trees were situated in no-man’s land it took a while for the residents to start watering. I think this delay doomed the trees.

Others think that over-watering did them in and it’s plausible that the residents would over-compensate with over-watering.

Several weeks later, both trees were suffering. One went down hard; and the other one pushed out new growth which gave me some hope. When I visited the site next, both trees were gone, replaced by native Western Red Cedars (Thuja plicata).

Water

Plants need water to function properly. This is especially true for newly planted specimens.

Over-watering can also be deadly because excess water displaces oxygen from the soil and the tree suffocates. For this reason it’s important to stick your finger in the planting hole and check for moisture levels.

This is extremely hard for busy residents to pull off.

This one failure from 2020 will be haunting me for a while. I always feel responsible for the plants I install. Like they were my kids. It’s unfortunate that I can’t do the watering myself. I do the install and pray.

How was your year? Did you experience any failures in your gardens?

Colour from a COVID19 spring

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Spring colour

Spring 2020 is a bit strange because of the coronavirus but we can still enjoy the new spring colours as they emerge. Some of the plants are also super fragrant, like Skimmia and Daphne.

  1. Doronicums are very happy, simple flowers, I first encountered when I worked for a municipality in 2014. Mass-planted they look stunning in the early season landscape. Why I still don’t have any on my patio is a mystery. Full sun.
  2. Camellias are landscape favourites and it’s easy to see why. The flowers are beautiful and the foliage glossy.
  3. Skimmias are super fragrant at the moment. I noticed the fragrance before I noticed the source of it. Then, I stole a bit of company time to enjoy the scent until the resident behind the window started wondering about me.
  4. Oxalis is an all-star for shady corners, especially when mass-planted as it was here, correctly, under Rhododendrons. In small clumps it could be mistaken for a weed.
  5. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) is a West Coast native shrubs. The flowers eventually turn into edible berries. Local bears love them but I had to talk my little kids into trying them.
  6. Daphne is also very fragrant but I had to get closer to catch the pleasant scent. Trust me, get closer.
  7. Viburnum tinus is a nice shrub but it’s often attacked by the beetle Pyrrhalta viburni.
  8. Plum blossoms are just as beautiful as cherries and they remind me of my time in Japan. Here the tree brightens up the entrance.

Conclusion

What plants are you enjoying this spring? COVID19 may be dominating the news and affecting our lives but it’s important to stop and enjoy the colour in our gardens. For me it’s a dose of the familiar, in a super strange season. The odd fragrant plant also helps. Enjoy the spring!

Another classic residential pruning job

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The title of this blog post says ‘classic’ because the home owner was on a budget and had clearly let her hedges go wild. And now she was desperate to reclaim some space and light from her Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica).

This is common with homeowners. They start out with huge ambitions but a few years later they get overwhelmed and call in professionals. Then you don’t hear from them again for several seasons which is a mistake. Good, regular maintenance is best. I could tell from the garden weeds that not much happens around the patio other than smoking.

 

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The list

Luckily, the lady was still home when I arrived so we could talk about the work and her expectations. This is extremely important so you avoid any nasty misunderstandings.

The list was easy for an experienced landscaper:

  1. Prune large fence line hedge (Prunus lusitanica) but only “tickle” the tops so neighbours aren’t visible from the patio
  2. Prune the globe hard, especially off the gutters
  3. Clean up the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) by the window
  4. Remove one dead cedar (Thuja occidentalis) by the patio stairs
  5. Blow the leaves off the front lawn and from under the large hedge

 

Pruning

The pruning is easy when you have sharp shears; and the laurel is fairly soft, too. The only glitch was the slick wooden patio in the back. There was no way to anchor the ladder peg. Luckily I found a cement block under the hedge.

 

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Safety first!

 

Clean-ups

If you read my blogs regularly -and you should!- you will know that I harp on doing great clean-ups that match the pruning effort. Poor clean ups detract from your pruning work. Always clean up well.

Final courtesy blow is a given. I left the residence feeling happy with my effort. I just wonder how many seasons they will let it go before calling me back. Regular maintenance is best! I can’t stress that enough.

 

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Are you afraid of chainsaws?

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I have an uneasy relationship with machines but I’m not afraid of them. Years ago when I was a candidate in the Landscape Industry Certified program at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University I was literally shaking when I hit the chainsaw practical station. The attendant noticed and asked me if I wanted to walk away. No, never!

I did everything correctly but I forgot to put a log in place which made it difficult to cut anything. Oops. Luckily it wasn’t a deduction. I found a log and passed the station. Walk away, don’t make me laugh.

Now, fast forward to 2018 and read about a perfectly good day I had with an old warrior chainsaw. The chainsaw is very old but a new chain made it usable. The bonus was that I got to change the chain myself which was extremely therapeutic.

It’s hard for an ISA certified arborist to admit that in my nightmares my chains always break and fly off. So putting a new chain on correctly made me relax. After all, I installed it myself.

The other bonus was that I was flying solo and allowed to practice. There was nobody watching.

Dead birches

My task was fairly easy: take down six dead birches (Betula papyrifera).

 

Winter landscape edits: be brave!

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Yes, winter weather can be a challenge for West Coast landscapers but I love winter because I have time to take care of details. Once spring hits, the days get longer and busier and all of a sudden it’s hard to stop for minor adjustments.

Landscape editing

Rescued Rhodos

Just this past week as my helper and I were searching for missed corners, I discovered two Rhododendrons under the foliage of Viburnum tinus and Abelia x grandiflora. Now what? You can prune both shrubs to expose the rhododendrons or you can move the rhodos. I chose to move the Rhododendrons because the shrubs will grow back eventually. So be brave and edit your gardens and landscapes as required.

 

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Both Rhododendrons were stuck by the fence in the far right corner. They will have more light in their new location; and we covered up dead space in the landscape.

 

Shuffled entrance plants

 

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This is the after shot so it looks normal. Where the triangle is now, the back Nandina domestica was squeezed in between the Pieris japonica and the Rhodo. So I moved the heavenly bamboo shrub back a little to create much-needed plant separation.

Where the star is now, there were Rhododendron branches covering up the Pieris japonica on the right. So I snipped a few branches off the Rhodendron to create more plant separation. And the Rhododendron still looks normal.

 

Nandina

 

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This Nandina domestica was very leggy, not the bushy little shrub we want. It was also jammed right against a Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) hedge. We already know that Nandina domestica doesn’t regrow from pruning points. It’s best to flush cut it and let it regrow. So we have a little experiment here.

If it regrows, it will match its bushy cousins nearby. And if it doesn’t, well, then the Ilex crenata hedge will thank us. Either way, don’t be afraid to edit your gardens and landscapes.

Many strata complexes look great when they are first installed but over time, as plants mature, we can’t forget about plant separation. Often, complete editing is required. We move what we can. Some plants go missing altogether.

Have some fun with your landscape editing.

Winter is perfect for checking your deciduous trees

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Winter is perfect for checking your deciduous trees. Since the leaves are gone you can clearly see the branches. Ideally, you can do this work annually, making a few cuts each season. This should leave you with healthy, good-looking trees you know well.

No man’s land

Some strata sites have out-of-the-way semi wild zones that don’t get regular maintenance. Normally the idea is not to discriminate and, instead, attend to all areas equally. But on large complexes that’s not easy to accomplish. So some areas away from the beauty strip get slightly short-changed.

This, then, was my mission. Taking advantage of the slower winter season I got to attack one of these wild zones. I will cover the maintenance work in a future blog post. Here I wish to mention a tree I ran into.

Since time was short, I did the obvious work in just a few minutes:

I removed stubs, dead branches and one crossing and rubbing branch which also reached into the road.

 

Stubs

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These are ugly cuts. Don’t forget to make your cuts at the branch collar so the tree can cover up the wound. Otherwise the stubs eventually die, like the smaller one visible in the back.

 

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Much better, no stub, and the tree can heal itself.

 

 

Dead branches

 

Dead branches are dead so they are to be eliminated as soon as possible. They will most likely break off anyway.

 

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Crossing branches

 

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The branch with the pointer is a good candidate for removal because it crosses through other branches where it rubs; and it’s growing into the street where it’s likely to interfere with delivery trucks.

 

The final product

 

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This is the final product with ugly stubs removed, dead branches gone and one crossing and rubbing branch that interfered with local traffic eliminated. And it took me a few minutes with my Japanese hand saw.

Is the tree perfect? No, far from it but why stress? I will be back in twelve months to do more work on it.

And if you need help with your trees, call Proper Landscaping. You can also learn more about tree maintenance from my inexpensive Kindle e-book. Landscape Tree Miantenance by Vas Sladek. Please leave a review.

 

 

Space considerations on BC strata landscapes

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There is only so much space available for plants on strata properties. When the complexes are first built they look great but over time, as plants mature, we start to run into problems. This blog post explores some common examples from my work sites.

 

Driveways

Some driveways are way too tight. Of course, this isn’t obvious at first because we landscapers don’t live on site. In the picture below there are two Berberis thunbergii specimens planted in front of boxwood (Buxus). Dead space just gets invaded by weeds and landscapers hate dead space. So we plant it up.

And then the owners come home……There is very little sense in replanting because the owners are bound to reoffend.

 

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Berberis thunbergii crushed by a car.

 

Holly

 

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It’s not clear whether this holly was planted by the owners or just simply invaded the space. Whatever the case, it’s way too close to the building. And that gets insurance companies very excited.

The holly could be pruned but that wouldn’t solve the problem. There simply isn’t enough space for this plant. My suggestion was complete removal and replanting with something smaller. There are many shrubs available that won’t overwhelm this space.

 

Plant separation

 

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I really like this one corner. The Hamamelis mollis shrub is blooming right under a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The only blemish is the Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) shrub that’s growing into the witch hazel and through the fencing. So I gave it a little hand-pruning to achieve a bit of separation.

As the landscape matures, there is more and more of this type of work. Sometimes, it’s necessary to edit out plants completely.

 

Trees

 

The idea that trees need room to grow seems obvious but people often forget to look into the future. Do you know the mature size of your landscape trees? Sure they look beautiful when they’re installed but without room to grow they inevitably get abused. Mainly by harsh pruning.

I have selected two examples from many. The first maple (Acer palmatum) is the saddest maple I know! The other maple is even worse off. So please remember to consider the mature size of your landscape trees. As an arborist I prefer complete removal to annual hacking.

Trees are resilient. They will push out new growth. Except we don’t have the required space for them.

 

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The saddest maple I know. It was planted too close to the unit so it gets hacked up periodically. I would almost prefer complete removal.

 

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This is nuts! A maple tree requires room for growth. Here it’s too close to a narrow pathway. It also shades out the cedars on the right.

 

Space considerations are a big deal on strata title properties. Remember to give plants room to grow and separate them when you can.