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Plants

Another Rhododendron massacre

By | Plants, Pruning | No Comments

Power shearing, really?

I get it, in commercial landscaping time is short. Crews have lots of work during the day and it’s not a good idea to get stuck on one task for too long. But there is a price to pay for this rush, especially when it involves plants.

I thought about this as I waited for my son to get picked up by his buddies and driven to a bike park for hours of fun. As I waited, I examined the landscaping in the roundabout and came across freshly sheared rhododendrons.

Now, this isn’t the first time I blog about this. I don’t think rhododendrons are good plants for shearing but I understand why people don’t want to hand snip them into shape. It takes time. And time may be short.

Ugly!

Rhododendrons are woody shrubs. They’re not soft like, for example, boxwood. The power shearing shreds the plant tissues, leaving stubs and shredded stems and leaves. And it looks awful. It’s like punishing the shrub after it does its job of flowering nicely.

Power sheared rhodo

Whenever I see power sheared rhodos, I feel like reaching for my hand snips and cleaning things up. And, considering that this specimen is next to a high-profile sidewalk, that might not be a bad idea. But again, it would take time.

A rhodo injured by power shears
Remove stubs like this

I also observed injured plant tissues and obvious stubs because rhodos aren’t made for power shearing. It’s important to clean things up with hand snips.

Hand pruning

Hand pruned rhodo

The above rhododendron was hand pruned fairly quickly without air and noise pollution. We removed one to two year’s growth thereby keeping the shrub in its available space; and we pinched off any spent flowers so the shrub doesn’t waste precious energy on seed production.

There aren’t any shredded leaves or stems visible and everything looks fine and green. Also, note the timing of our pruning, right after flowering.

Conclusion

For best results, hand prune your rhododendrons right after flowering. Don’t reach for your power shears to save time. The shrubs look awful after power shearing. Save time elsewhere.

The case of shredded Hostas

By | Edging, Plants | No Comments

Shredded Hostas

As soon as you see the client slowly approaching in her car, window rolled down, you know there might trouble coming your way. And sure enough, the poor lady looked distressed.

When her lawn was edged with a vertical line edger, her beautiful Hostas got shredded. She hated it and I hate it, too. It looks awful. She has every right to mention it. Take a look at the photos below.

Does lawn care come first, at the expense of landscape plants? I don’t think so. I can see why the lady would be distressed about her Hostas. It’s spring and they’re finally leafed out and looking great. The only thing left for the Hostas to do is push out their flowers.

Incidentally, this also happens with trees. Do lawn care machines have the right of way? No, they don’t. We have to avoid all tree and lawn care machine conflicts.

If you want to find out why, you can take my inexpensive online course on lawn care mistakes. Click here for details and let me be your teacher.

Solutions

So, what do we do about this problem? We can move the lawn edge out but this would require a lot of extra labor. Plus, the lawn section is already narrow.

We can skip the edging altogether and leave the grass shaggy under the hostas. Until the boss shows up and freaks out.

A better solution would be to use a blade edger but this isn’t a popular choice because it involves a different machine and going back.

My compromise solution was to prune off the shredded leaves so as to remove the source of the lady’s stress. I also pruned off the stems that would very likely get shredded next week. With the lawn edge nicely exposed, the workers should be able to edge the lawn without shredding any plant tissues.

After pruning with the lawn edge exposed.

Conclusion

Lawn care machines don’t have the right of way. Shredding landscape plants is terrible and your clients have every right to express their displeasure. Plants should look healthy; not have their leaves shredded weekly. Be nice to hostas.

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.

Windmill palm magic

By | Plants, Species, Trees | No Comments

I fell in love with palms when I visited Southern California in 2019. So, it’s nice to know that we also have a palm species growing here in British Columbia: Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei).

I got to see one today, still in its 2 gallon landscape pot, waiting to be planted. While the palm got me excited, I wondered about available space. Take a look at the photo and recall that mature windmill palms reach heights of 15-25 feet, and widths from 6-10 feet. Always consider mature sizes before planting your shrubs and trees.

Note the two windmill palms in the middle.

Considering the mature size of this palm species, I wonder what this planted bed will look like years from now. It could be a disastrous jungle too close to the windows or a beautiful tropical corner unlike anything else on this strata site. Personally, I love the look but I would only plant one of the palms. Not two.

Palm features

  1. The windmill palm is tree-like with hairy brown fibers covering the trunk.
  2. The large fan-like leaves are attractive but the petiole which holds the leaves has sharp points which makes pruning and clean-up tricky.
  3. It’s a good accent or specimen tree
  4. I’ve seen people wrap the top in burlap to protect it from cold temperatures. But the four specimens in the courtyard of my complex do just fine in winter. Remember, palms grow from the tip only. When the tip dies, it’s over.
  5. It looks great near a patio or pool.
  6. $40 retail seems like a bargain. If only I had space.

Strata complex pool deck specimen.

Private residence specimen between outdoor kitchen and pool.

Conclusion

I love palms! If you want one as a specimen by your patio or pool, consider planting the windmill palm. It’s an awesome palm. Just make sure you have enough space for it to reach mature size.

Surprises in December landscapes

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

Plenty to see in December

I know it’s sad to see the warm seasons go but there is still plenty to see in the landscape as we hit winter. Come take a look with Red Seal Vas. How many of these plants do you know?

Fatsia japonica flowers in winter which makes it special and very welcome! The huge leaves are hard to miss. Just make sure you give this plant plenty of space to grow.

Like Fatsias, Hellebores also flower in winter. These flowers really pop in dormant winter landscapes. Interestingly, this specimen had up-turned flowers; normally the flowers point down which annoys some gardeners.

Viburnum bodnantense is one of my favorite shrubs. It’s fun to see its flowers on bare branches. I always stop and take photos.

Callicarpa looks awesome in fall. Planted in the middle of a round bed, it really popped with its purple berries. In summer, the flowers are tiny so be careful when you do mid-season pruning. You wouldn’t want to miss this show in your own garden.

I love this Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) holdout! Many people consider these trees “messy”, if that’s even possible. I know that all jam-makers would beg to differ.

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) have tiny but beautiful flowers in summer. You have to get really close to see them. And in the fall, we get these dark berries.

Viburnum tinus looks great in fall when it’s not all chewed up by its enemy, the beetle Pyrrhalta vuburni. I love the metallic blue.

Arbutus unedo are easy to identify because they have spiked strawberries. This one, like the Cornelian cherry above, is holding on in a sheltered place.

When you stop to observe the plants in your landscape, you get nice surprises like these Escallonia flowers. I also like the waxy foliage.

Can you guess the tree species from these fruits? It’s a female Ginkgo biloba tree. When crushed, the fruits have an unpleasant odor but, again, I doesn’t bother me. I love trees!

It’s rare to see female Ginkgo trees so enjoy this photo. The tree is so ancient, it occupies its own tree family.

Conclusion

There is lots to see in our December West Coast landscapes. Slow down and take a good look. You could be pleasantly surprised.

Spring bulbs for beginners

By | gardening, Plants | No Comments

You can do it!

Planting spring bulbs in fall is easy and it doesn’t take much. Just get some bulbs, find a pot or planted bed, and find a garden trowel. Then you just need faith that the bulbs will come up in spring.

Let’s see how Red Seal Vas planted daffodils in his patio pot in minutes.

Shopping

First you need to buy bulbs you like. I love to shop online at West Coast Seeds. They have great products at great prices, and they’re local. Considering COVID-19 problems and the store’s distance from my home, online shopping was a no-brainer, even with shipping charges.

Buy whatever you like. I like daffodils because they last for several seasons and can even be naturalized in planted beds. For this blog, I purchased cupped narcissi because I liked the look. Deer resistance is a nice bonus but I’m not expecting to see deer on my second floor patio.

The beauty of planting spring bulbs is that you can experiment every season. Change things up.

My box from West Coast Seeds

Planting

Normally late November on the West Coast is ideal for planting spring bulbs. I planted my daffodils today (December 12, 2020) because I’ve been busy. But don’t worry: the rule is to plant before frost hits and your soil becomes unworkable. The soil in my pot was fine and I planted in beautiful afternoon sun.

Bonus: while I worked, I enjoyed the look of my Calamagrostis ornamental grass. Since I rule over my patio, nobody cuts back my ornamental grasses in late fall. Nobody!

Planting depth

The package gives you planting depth instructions so don’t stress. The rule is to plant at twice the height of your bulbs. Just make sure you plant at roughly the same level. That way your bulbs will pop-up together. For this reason it’s a good idea to plant one pot or bed yourself. Two or more people will inevitably plant at slightly different heights. Try to avoid this.

Since my pot is bare, I left the package envelope in the pot to mark it. Now all we need is faith that the bubs will come up in spring. Check your bulb flowering time to avoid any panic. Some are early, and some mid or late spring bloomers.

The bulbs I planted can be used as cut flowers but I won’t have too many. But I suppose I could surprise my wife next spring.

Ready for planting.

Conclusion

Spring bulbs are easy to plant in late fall and they give us a nice show in spring when gardens start to come alive. Daffodils can be left alone to bloom for several seasons. Just cut them back once they fade and the stalks turn brown.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Buy different bulbs every fall and try new arrangements. One idea I love is planting tulips with two different heights.

Have some fun with spring flowering bulbs!

Why botany rules!

By | Plants | No Comments

Botany can be super fun and I will prove it with this blog post. The star of this post is a structure called an involucre. The best definition I could find online is:

“a highly conspicuous bract or bract pair or ring of bracts at the base of an inflorescence.”

Don’t worry, it will makes sense right away. I have examples coming below.

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

This is a branch from a Hornbeam tree and right away you’ll notice the three-pronged involucre that partially covers the seeds at the base. That’s the point of involucres: they partially cover the seeds. Now, as for the leaves, they look like birch leaves so it explains the specific epithet “betulus”.

Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) is an attractive landscape tree with good fall colours and its signature involucres give away its name.

Davidia involucrata

So, now after reading the headline above you should know what’s coming.

Ghost tree

The ghost tree (Davidia involucrata) has massive involucres, so conspicuous that they make the flowers, which are partially covered, look like ghosts. This is why it’s one of my favourite trees and why it populates my list of easy to identify trees.

Once you know it you will never forget it.

I took this picture inside a rooftop daycare centre in Vancouver so you can see that landscape architects have a good sense of humour. They planted these trees inside raised cement, bench-like boxes, which guarantees that the little kids must look up at the ghosts. I wonder what the kids think. Perhaps to them the flowers look like handkerchiefs, another common name for this tree.

Eventually, the bracts fall off and all you have left is a large nut.

Conclusion

An involucre refers to a bract or bracts that partially cover a flower. As a structure it makes the trees fun to observe and easy to identify. How many others do you know? Don’t forget to share with a comment and picture.

Hydrangea deadheading

By | landscape maintenance, Plants, Pruning | No Comments

Do you cut off dead flowers from Hydrangeas? This is another burning question online so let’s examine it.

Bad habit

In commercial landscape maintenance workers tend to rush deadheading Hydrangeas and it’s a hard habit to break. There is absolutely no need to rush this task. Why?

The spent flowers can protect the new buds below from low temperatures and, when frost hits, the old flowers look brilliant. Once you cut them off, the show is over until summer. All you get to see is canes.

Recently, I had a client tell me to leave her spent Hydrangea flowers alone because birds like to hide in them. Ok. Done!

I think landscapers enjoy this deadheading task because it’s easy. It’s much easier than weeding and cultivating beds or worse, re-establishing deep-edges. I prefer to have something to look at in winter.

Careful!

If you must deadhead your Hydrangeas, do it carefully. Don’t cut lower than 2 to 3 buds. Since most Hydrangea plants flower on old wood, cutting too low risks removing flowers for next season.

This is where training comes in. It’s important to train all workers on proper pruning techniques. It happens every year. One unhappy client asks me to remove her Hydrangea because it never flowers. It just produces green canes. What a disappointment.

So, yet again, I have to beg her to stop pruning it. Green canes without flowers means that the pruning was too severe. Now all we can do is wait for next year because the flowers appear on last season’s wood.

I used to deadhead everything on my patio and in the landscape but not this past winter. I let the birds enjoy my perennials and I made some of my co-workers angry by insisting that we leave ornamental grasses standing. And the world didn’t end. So try it. Maybe you’ll form a new habit that will help birds in winter.

On the difference between annual and perennial flowers

By | Plants | No Comments

Someone asked this question online: what’s the difference between annual and perennial flowers? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look.

Annuals

Annual plants complete their life cycle in one season. Once they’re spent they get tossed in our green waste. They’re usually showy. When you go to garden centres in late spring, you will see lots of home gardeners filling their shopping carts with brightly colored annuals.

The retailers love it but, personally, I rarely buy annuals because of the associated cost. In strata maintenance work, it’s a great idea to install annual plants in high-profile areas like entrances and walkways. It gives the site an instant lift and the clients notice it.

I don’t recommend it but some people even install annuals in tree circles.

One advantage of having brightly colored annuals in summer is the fun you can have. Change your bed designs every year. Try new plants and see what you can create.

Dahlias are technically perennials but here we treat them as annuals.

Perennials

Perennials last for more than one season; they keep on coming back. They might be a bit more expensive but you don’t have to toss them at the end of the season. All you have to do is cut them back at ground level and wait for next season. It’s simple and cost-effective.

Most of the plants on my patio are perennials. For example, Sedums are succulents and their flowers can stay upright all the way through winter. When you flush cut them at ground level, you will see new growth getting ready for the new season.

Sedums.

In landscape maintenance we normally cut back the spent flowers in the fall. I find that it’s a good idea to leave them standing into early winter. This is just in case it’s frosty and you need easy work to do.

In residential gardens it makes sense to let the flower stalks stand and let birds enjoy them. Sometimes when frost covers them, they look awesome. This winter I was too busy to attend to my pots and then I noticed more birds on my patio!

That’s it. That’s the beauty of perennials. Cut them back once a year and enjoy them all year. There’s no need to spend more money. But if you must have bright colors in summer, run down to your nearest garden centre and buy some.