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How do you celebrate 25 years in the landscape industry?

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This year marks my 25th season in the landscape industry! And I’ve been trying to generate ideas on how to best celebrate this milestone since late 2023.

One idea is to publish and share more original content in the form of blog posts, new and edited e-books, one new online course and more YouTube videos. Another idea is to create T-shirts and other stuff to give away to clients, supporters and friends.

More ideas

If you happen to be in the same situation or will soon be, consider some of the points below for your own celebration.

  1. Reflect on Achievements:
    • Take some time to reflect on your journey in the landscape industry. Consider the projects you’ve worked on, challenges you’ve overcome, and the personal and professional growth you’ve experienced.
  2. Host a Personal Retreat:
    • Treat yourself to a personal retreat or getaway to recharge and reflect. Choose a location that brings you peace and inspiration, whether it’s a nature retreat, spa weekend, or a visit to a scenic location. For example, I’m planning a trip to California to see the state’s big trees.
  3. Professional Development:
    • Invest in your continued professional development. Attend a conference, workshop, or training program related to landscaping or a skill you’ve been wanting to enhance.
  4. Create a Personal Garden Project:
    • Design and implement a special garden project at your home or a meaningful location. This could be a space that reflects your personal style and passion for landscaping.
  5. Network and Connect:
    • Reach out to colleagues, mentors, and individuals who have been part of your journey. Arrange a casual gathering or coffee meet-up to share stories, insights, and celebrate together.
  6. Document Your Journey:
    • Create a personal portfolio or scrapbook that highlights key moments, projects, and achievements throughout your 25-year career. Include photographs, project plans, and any press coverage you’ve received.
  7. Host a Celebration Dinner:
    • Invite close friends, family, and colleagues to a celebratory dinner at your favorite restaurant or a special venue. Share your experiences and express gratitude for the support you’ve received.
  8. Personal Branding Update:
    • Update your personal branding materials, such as your resume, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio. Showcase your 25 years of experience and the skills you’ve acquired along the way.
  9. Give Back:
    • Contribute to a community project or volunteer your landscaping skills for a local cause. This is a meaningful way to celebrate your expertise while making a positive impact.
  10. Professional Photoshoot:
    • Arrange for a professional photoshoot to capture your personality and expertise. Use these photos for your professional profiles, website, or promotional materials.
  11. Educational Event:
    • Share your knowledge and experience by hosting a small educational event or workshop for aspiring landscapers. This could be a way to give back to the industry and inspire the next generation.
  12. Celebrate with Nature:
    • Plan a day outdoors to reconnect with nature. Whether it’s hiking, camping, or simply spending time in a botanical garden, immerse yourself in the beauty that inspired your career.

2024, here we go

It’s still early in 2024 and with colder temperatures coming in a few days, I expect to have time to plan out my celebrations. It’s been quite a ride from 2000 to 2024. Stay tuned! And message me if you think of a great way to celebrate.

Weeding with Christopher Lloyd

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What a treat

Christopher Lloyd was a famous English gardener and I love his book “The well-tempered garden“. It’s by my bed and I’m constantly running out of highlighters and pencils because there is so much to underline.

When I reached the section on weeding I was super happy because here was a famous gardener telling me how he weeds.

A nightmare from years ago

Picture a large planted bed with big open spots where weeds thrive. There was maybe seven of us weeding what were essentially mats of weeds. Not big trophies or the occasional clump of weeds: I’m talking about a mat of green weeds.

Now, the foreman in charge expected us to hand weed with our fingers. No tools. I was stunned: where do I begin? Does this all end with my fingers bleeding? It was insane. I laughed but I wanted to cry. I always use tools like a cultivator or a small tomahawk. Fingers only? What the ….?

Lloyd settles it!

First, he sets the tone by saying that complaints about weeding are exaggerated. Weeding isn’t that bad.

Now, I quote “Efficient hand-weeding requires that you should get down to the task on your knees: as comfortably as possible, with a soft rubber mat and a good sharp-pointed, sharp-edged, stainless steel trowel.”

Many municipalities hand out small weeding mats but I prefer cheap knee pads because they’re attached to my knees and therefore harder to misplace. I like to use a two-sided tomahawk instead of a trowel but it’s still a hand tool.

What about the foreman we mentioned earlier with her finger weeding? Lloyd rips her up, I quote:

“You will observe that professional gardeners do all hand-weeding from a standing stooping position. They pull the weeds out (or break them off) by the hair and do not use a trowel. Their standards of weeding are mediocre….“.

And that’s proper English fit for print. Privately I could tell you exactly what their standards are. Because they break off the weeds, many of them come back quickly.

Previously hand-weeded without hand-tools.

Extra notes on weeding

Use gloves if you like. It doesn’t matter because gloves don’t slow you down. I wear gloves on rainy days.

Here’s on more quote: ” I never like to weed out anything that I can’t identify. Not all seedlings are weeds.” One example from my work is Acanthus. As a baby plant without its signature flower spike, it looks like a weed because its leaf edges are spiky. When we didn’t know, we left it and later identified it. Whew. That was close.

Finally I’m happy

Now I can finally relax and laugh at the landscapers who insist that I hand-weed with my fingers. Their standards of weeding are mediocre. Amen.

Are you ready for your first blade change?

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First time!

It’s hilarious when after working with someone for months, I discover that they have never changed the blade on their blade edger. Blade edgers give us beautiful definition where hard edges meet lawns. I love to put one last blade edge on a site before the winter holidays because it sharpens the site look; and it will last because our lawns aren’t growing actively.

Of course, it’s difficult to put in a nice, sharp edge when your edger blade is down to a short stump. You must know how to change it. There are two important keys to this simple changeover: you must know how to stop the blade from spinning and realize that blade edger bolts loosen clockwise. That’s it!

Tools you will need!

Step one is lining up the holes and inserting a Stihl screwdriver to stop the blade from rotating

Loosen the bolt clockwise and avoid cutting your hand on the blade. Wear gloves.

Remove the bolt, cover piece and old blade. Yes, this one still looks good.

Ready for a new blade!

Now we put it all together!


Back when I was young and sloppy, my hand slipped on a stubborn blade and I cut the palm of my hand open. This required freezing and stitches at a nearby clinic. So wear gloves and don’t over-tighten the bolt.

Fly baby!

I love the way hard edges look after edging and blowing. Always run your blower along the entire edge to dislodge any debris. Then look back and enjoy your beautiful work.

This is much nicer!

The edge above looks great but if you look closely there is some soil on the bottom right that could be forced out with a rake. Still, not bad, thanks to your new sharp blade.

Don’t forget to teach the next new landscaper or homeowner that comes along. Be great!

Why is my Dawn Redwood tree browning?

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Do we have a problem?

The owner of this young Dawn redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) started panicking when his prized tree showed signs of browning. Now what? People on Facebook offered lots of advice, as they often do.

My own comments were about the tree well. I would enlarge it to keep lawn care machines away from the tree; and to allow the tree to collect water and nutrients. It’s good to keep grass away from your tree because it’s a tough competitor. Sometimes trees planted in lawns don’t thrive; all you get is status quo.

Another obvious issue is water and proper planting. Was the tree planted properly at grade and watered in? Is it getting enough water right now? Or too much?

Since the owner cuts his own grass he’s confident there hasn’t been any damage done to the tree by lawn care machines. Of course, we know well that even professionals can make mistakes.

The key?

Then one lady correctly observed that Dawn redwoods are deciduous so you can expect their needles to turn orange before dropping to the ground. Bald cypress is another evergreen that loses its needles. Which means that the owner shouldn’t be panicking. The tree is doing its thing: as fall approaches its needles start to change color. If the tree pushes out new needles next year, life is good.

Dawn redwood

According to my internet search, Dawn redwoods were first identified from fossil records. But then in the 1940s, live specimens were found in China. Today we see the trees planted in our British Columbia landscapes.

Early into my stint at my current day job company, the boss took me into a strata section and asked me to identify beautiful evergreen specimens. I didn’t skip a beat: Metasequioa glyptostroboides! Impressed, my boss and co-workers didn’t know that, purely by coincidence, I had read an article about the trees the night before. Now whenever I encounter these trees I think of this day and laugh.

If you have lots of space in your garden you can’t go wrong by planting one of these trees. The bark is beautiful. And remember, when the needles turn orange and fall to the ground you don’t have a problem. Dawn redwoods are deciduous.

Yes, trees can kill you!

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RIP Jed Walters

Arborists go down every year in North America. One of my LinkedIn contacts shared this statistic: tree workers in the United States are fifteen times more likely to die on the job than workers in other industries. Sadly, Jed Walters became a statistic on January 20, 2023. We’ll get back to Jed soon but first let’s see my “redneck” tree work.

Targets everywhere

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Since I was on site to do landscape maintenance, not tree work, I had to improvise a bit. Below this broken branch is a parking lot full of cars so there were too many targets for me to ignore it and walk off.

Considering the size of the branch, I had to strap it to the tree first before cutting it loose. I couldn’t be sure where it would land. And once I cut it loose, it just sat there, propped up by other branches. So, I made one more cut and the heavier top part crashed down with limited guidance from me. Even a branch this small generates huge forces. Forces large enough to kill you.

Deadly snags

Last summer, a girl from the school board showed up and cut down blown-over trees. Unfortunately, the tops broke off and lodged themselves over the fence in our maple tree. Incredibly, the girl didn’t inform us of this, I just happened to notice it later.

You can’t leave dead pieces of wood in another tree’s canopy and walk away. As soon as people walk out to enjoy their patio, they’ll become targets. So, I dislodged the loose snags and hauled them away, cursing.

Bigger scale

Jed Walters was a professional arborist with his own YouTube channel: Guilty of Treeson. Last week he was clearing away trees felled by a storm. Two fir trees had crashed into a maple so the idea was to drop the maple, which would automatically take down the firs. Except, things didn’t work out as planned.

Jed and his crew didn’t notice a snag, hanging in the maple tree. It might have been the chainsaw’s vibrations that sent it crashing down. It hit Jed in the face and killed him instantly!

So, let’s give trees and arborists lots of respect. I always encourage my readers to prune their own small trees; and to hire professionals for bigger specimens. It’s better to pay the hefty charges than to become a statistic.

Jed leaves a wife and two kids and there is a GoFundMe page set-up if you want to help.

Stay safe!

Jed Walters

Why hiring apprentices can make employers rich!

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Hire an apprentice

Ok, so maybe the headline is slightly exaggerated. Hiring an apprentice will not make a landscape company boss rich, but it’s a great move. Of course, I didn’t find this out until recently. My job is to train apprentices, not to recruit them.

I recall someone asking a New Year’s resolution question in a Facebook group and one response was related to apprentices. Specifically, why weren’t landscape companies sending more apprentices to school? Good question, especially when you consider that companies can get $5,000 cash for sending a male to school for 6-8 weeks.

In a recent move, female apprentices were re-classified as “under-represented” and the cash paid to employers doubled to $10,000. Not bad at all.

Apprentice Linda, who is now a proud mommy!

Win, win

I’ve written about the apprenticeship program before but never from the employer’s angle. Obviously, anyone sent to school must be deemed a decent worker; and their commitment is much appreciated. So, everybody wins.

Yes, the worker loses a bit of cash while at school because unemployment premiums only cover a fraction of their regular pay. However, this is a small price to pay for Red Seal trade papers. I think it’s a great investment. Because I had enough work hours I was able to challenge the exam without going through all four levels. Back then I had two little kids at home and 6 weeks on unemployment scared me. Incidentally, employers prefer job candidates who have gone through all four levels. Now you know.

As for employers, they get cash up-front. Because the school sessions are in winter, the apprentices aren’t really missed in the field. Some companies even lay-off many workers between winter holidays and February.

It’s also fun to see apprentices coming back from school full of confidence. And we also know that they will make fewer mistakes in the field; and, if we’re lucky, they will share their knowledge with their co-workers.

Yeah, occasionally the schooling goes to their heads but overall, it’s very positive. All employers and employees should consider investing in the apprenticeship program. Trust me, Red Seal Vas knows!

Is it lilac or cottonwood?

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A true story

There was a young cottonwood growing in between two strata (multi-family complex) units. And our young landscape foreman panicked, unsure about the plant species. It looked like a lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and he wasn’t about to prune or remove a lilac shrub.

What if the fragrant flowers go missing and the owners blame him for it. So, he let the shrub grow. Until the boss showed up and ordered him to remove it.

What struck me was the dude’s panicked face. This is the same dude who can tell good marijuana from junk full of straw; and we know he has a mobile phone with Google access. Why then is he so shy?

Let’s settle it

As soon as I heard this story, I knew I had a new blog post handed to me. So, I took some pictures and then life and work got busy. But, the idea was written down and saved for later. Which would be today, March 2022, and the blog post will get published in June 2022.

So, let’s settle this, without Google. Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) is a fast growing tree. At maturity it can be over 30m in height. When I photographed it, it was still a manageable baby tree; and fairly easy to remove. When cottonwoods mature, they tend to self-prune by dropping branches. Left to mature in this location, that would mean exposing families to branch bombardment.

This cottonwood is very happy here but it can’t stay.

Since we don’t have pictures of flowers, the key distinction between the two species is leaf arrangement. Cottonwood trees have alternate leaf arrangement.

Alternate leaf arrangement.

Now, when I think of lilacs, I think of shrubs with showy fragrant flowers. As a boy in Prague, I used to climb a mature lilac at my grandpa’s villa. I know the fragrance really well and still find it intoxicating.

Again, at the time, we didn’t have flowers so let’s look at lilac leaf arrangement: it’s opposite and whorled.

Opposite leaf arrangement on Syringa vulgaris. Note the fat buds as well.

Unlike cottonwoods, lilacs don’t get as tall. They might reach something like 5-7m at maturity.

Have no fear

Let’s be honest, most people know what lilacs look like but, if you look quickly, there are some similarities between the leaves. Still, lilacs versus cottonwoods shouldn’t even come up for a landscape foreman with experience.

Have no fear! If you’re not sure about a plant species, look it up and key it out. You might learn something.

How to recycle Hydrangeas

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Unwanted plants

I love rescuing unwanted plants, selling them, giving them away or finding homes for them. This is how I recycled unwanted hydrangeas on one of my commercial sites.

Now, I must confess that this was round two in this particular bed. Previously, I had installed two sedges (Carex) in this bare spot in an attempt to cover up a stump. Unfortunately, without irrigation they failed to establish and died.


Both Hydrangeas show signs of life!

This is a back gate area at a major commercial construction company work yard. It isn’t much but two unwanted Hydrangeas are better than a bare spot. I’m determined to cover up the visible stump to save me the hassle of removing it.

It was nice to see growth on both shrubs. It means they will grow and hopefully bring some colour to this low-profile gate area. The owners pay for basic landscaping service to ensure that the business looks decent on the outside.

The lawns are cut bi-weekly and the bed work is done as well. But there is very little input or budget. Bare spots might stay bare. That’s where my recycling comes in. I get to have some fun while I cover up bare spots that would otherwise get weedy.

Save and share

I love rescuing unwanted plants, the same way some people look after unwanted pets. In the back of my vehicle as I write are two clumps of vinca and one Christmas cedar tree in a pot. Now I’m looking for new homes for them.

Gardeners constantly share plants and seeds; and advice. That’s what makes gardening fun.

Last year, when I gave away hundreds of unwanted Crocosmia corms, I got to meet many women of a certain age. Many happily came to collect their corms late at night. I just wish I could see their Crocosmias in full bloom.

Don’t dump your unwanted plants. Find a new home for them, sell them or give them away.

How to take down a small tree

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You can do it!

Yes, ISA certified arborist Vas says you can take down a small dead tree in your backyard. If you have deep pockets and lots of fears, then hire a tree company. But this blog post will show how you can have some fun and save money by doing the work yourself. Just don’t tell your local tree companies.

Disclaimer: tree work is dangerous so please note that I’m talking about small trees. Giants require permits and professionals.

Dead Amur maple (Acer ginnala).

This dead Amur maple is a breeze to take down. The key is to do it in sections; we’re not loggers, dropping trees in one piece. See the picture sequence below. But, first, safety.

Safety first

You will need a hard hat, gloves, goggles, and ear protection. Don’t fake it. I used a pole chainsaw which allowed me to stand back and slowly reduce the tree to a stump. But you may not have access to a pole chainsaw so using a pole saw or just a sharp hand saw with a small ladder would suffice. It just means you will get sweatier and your arms will burn. However, you won’t have to worry about noise and air pollution, nor any rental costs.

Make sure your kids, seniors in wheelchairs and pets are inside and eliminate any other potential targets. In this yard, I had to move garden lights.

Step 1.

Easy does it! Start at the top, slowly, and work your way down.

Step 2.

Leave the tall stump alone because we need it later to extract the root ball.

Step 3, root ball out.

Note the tools. A shovel is a given, two work best because they tend to snap. The black pulaski tool is very handy for digging and severing roots. The tall stump section allowed me to move the root ball and dislodge it.

Clean up

Remove all debris and get help with the heavy stump. If you’re not planting anything in the hole, cover it up with soil. Then rake over the yard to leave it looking decent. A blower is faster.

I had a lot of fun taking down this Amur maple. I’m not sure why it died. I used a pole chain saw, shovel and a pulaski. As usual, I started at the top of the tree and worked down, until a had a tall stump. I kept the stump because it made the root ball removal easier.

To eliminate accidents, you must backfill the hole, preferably with native soil from the excavation.

There, you just saved a lot of cash and got some (safe) exercise. The green waste might cost a bit of cash.