Rebel Rhododendron rehab

By | Pruning | No Comments

Sheared rhododendrons

This isn’t the first time I have written about power-sheared rhododendrons. Please see my blog post on a Rhododendron massacre.

In large scale commercial landscaping work, there isn’t enough time for hand snipping. So, when several larger specimens need to be pruned, out come the power shears. Unfortunately, the result isn’t pretty. A woody plant like a rhododendron isn’t really made for power-shearing. It makes me cringe every time.

Recently, I found one of these abused rhododendrons in a corner; it was easily accessible and I had time to do some corrections by hand. That’s what rhododendron rebels do when they’re working alone. It felt like a rescue and therapy all in one.

Note stubs and spent flowers.

Bonus if you recognized the Alder (Alnus) cones.

The tall stubs and shredded leaf margins are clear evidence of past power shearing and they don’t look great.

Much better after hand snipping


I hand snipped out the tall stubs carefully so as not to damage any buds. I also pinched off the spent flowers, which is another task there often isn’t enough time for. This is especially true with bigger specimens.

Note that pinching off the flowers means the plant won’t waste energy on seed production.

I couldn’t do much about the shredded leaves.


Finally looking like a regular rhodo

This is much better. All of the stubs and spent flowers are gone and it didn’t take very long. You can easily get away with work like this in late winter, before lawn care starts. Especially on a smaller and easily accessible specimen like this.

Judging from the spent flowers I found, this rhododendron flowers nicely.


If you can, avoid power-shearing rhododendrons. It leaves behind shredded stems and foliage, which look awful. Instead use your hand snips and enjoy your time in the garden. You’ll be rewarded when your rhododendron flowers nicely.

Beware of frugal husbands

By | Pruning, Side-hustle | No Comments

Quote accepted?

Frugal husbands can cut into your landscape company’s revenue. Take this example from last week.

I knew something was up when I tried to schedule pruning work with a residential client recently and there was no reply. Last year we settled on a quote and agreed to do the work when it got warmer in 2022. Now I was ready to go.

So, this week I stopped by to aerate the lawns and the pruning work had obviously been done by someone else. No wonder my kids often go hungry…..

Aeration first

If you don’t do anything to your lawns all year, at least aerate them in spring. This allows more water and oxygen into the root zone and should lead to a healthier lawn. Since this residential client is a referral from a friend, I did the aeration for $50, which includes a courtesy clean up blow. I also blade edged the front lawn edge to give the lawn a sharp look.

Then, when the lady came out to talk to me, she quietly mentioned that her husband brought a friend over and they did the pruning themselves. To save some money.

Beware of the frugal husband!

As an aside, she mentioned that the men were a bit shy about pruning the evergreen cones because of their phallic shape. I smiled politely. I’ve seen worse.

The frugal husband’s pruning work.

A lesson for homeowners

Homeowners can do great work. Yes, Red Seal Vas is a proud professional but I’ve seen homeowners plant and install mulch quite well. It’s nice to see them outside, doing physical work and saving a bit of cash.

That’s why I love to work with clients because you can teach them something and develop a long-term relationship. Customers only care about pricing and will drop you for anybody who is slightly cheaper. I try to stay away from them.

Allegedly, our frugal husband did some of the pruning from his roof, which I don’t recommend. But let’s be honest, he did a decent job and he saved himself a bit of cash. I told his wife, “we’ll keep him”.

A lesson for landscapers

There is a good reason landscape contractors love multi-family (strata) complexes and commercial properties that go all year and come with set contracts: they get paid monthly. Residential clients on the other hand, can decide they don’t need you one week or they save money by doing some of the work themselves.

All good!

I did lose a bit of cash on this pruning job but, at the moment, there is no shortage of work. I did squeeze the lady for aeration and it gave me a great blog post idea.

Homeowners can do decent work on their properties. It’s all good.

Leave frosty Escallonia shrubs alone

By | gardening, Pruning | No Comments


Late January isn’t the best time for shrub pruning. Especially when those shrubs are covered in frost. The season and presence of frost should feel like a stop sign. I don’t recall ever hand pruning shrubs in late January.

But for some dudes it feels fine because they look for an easy shift at work, away from finesse work. It’s super relaxing to stand there, talk non-stop with a cigarette in your mouth and snip away while others weeds and rake up debris.

In this case it was an Escallonia, covered in frost and already looking rough after getting hammered by Christmas time snow events. It’s a terrible candidate for hand pruning.

This is a terrible candidate for hand pruning.

When to prune Escallonias

The best time to prune Escallonias is after flowering in summer. This is a good general rule for most shrubs. Enjoy the show and then get your snips out.

Now, if you want to renovate an Escallonia, the best time to do that is in late spring. That’s when temperatures go up and the shrubs hasn’t fully developed yet.

You might want to do that if your shrub is too big for its space or, like I have to do once in a while, when winter-killed branches have to be removed. This is what should have happened to the shrub pictured above. Wait until it warms up and then renovate it so it’s ready for the new season.

In late January, there is less water and oxygen in the tissues so it’s easier to cause damage. Plus, until the shrub starts to push out leaves, it’s hard to tell how much we’ll have to remove.

One example

Three to four years ago, this Escallonia got hit hard by snow and I had to remove the top half. Note that I did it in early spring, like a pro. This picture is from last week (early February 2022) and the shrub is back to its original size, if not bigger. We’ll see if it comes back fully this spring.


Remember the rule for pruning Escallonia shrubs. Prune them after flowering in summer or renovate-prune in spring. Pruning in late January, when they’re covered in frost isn’t recommended. It’s my humble opinion that you’re just causing more harm.

How to reduce a Burning bush

By | Pruning | No Comments


Alright then.

Late winter is a good time to reduce the size of your burning bush (Euonymus alatus). I got to do it last after a resident sent in a request and posted a note on her fence. She’s right, now in late winter is a good time to reduce the burning bush; and the buds were obviously there. The goal is to do the pruning before bud-break.

I quite like getting pulled from regular maintenance to do a pruning request; especially one that makes sense. I did my best conceal my smile after the site foreman left me there to do my thing.

The reduction was easy to gauge because the owner couldn’t see from her window and wanted the shrub at window height. As for the cuts, I only had my Felco 2 hand snips and I made do. But, it’s always nice to have a pair of loppers for the biggest cuts. That way you eliminate the risk of blowing your wrist.



Aside from reducing the height, I also pruned the shrub off the metal grate. And all green debris went straight onto two tarps which I then hauled out to the road for truck pick up. Note that this is a common procedure: get your own tarps out to where they can easily be seen and picked up. The last thing we want is to forget them and get called back to retrieve them.

Clean-up also included a quick rake so small debris doesn’t show. It was at this point that the owner came out, visibly happy. Now, I’m used to happy clients but I can’t say it like that, because I’m incredibly humble. I also can’t say no to gifts of chocolate so I grabbed both chocolates and happily risked coming into contact with Omicron.


The last step

A final blow with a leaf blower completed the request; and this loud task is best delegated to junior crew members in need of machine practice time. Get this done quickly and always blow away from doorways.

Close the gate behind you gently and look forward to your next pruning request. This one was quick and easy.

If your burning bush is outgrowing its space, late winter is a great time to prune it.

Burning bush, literally burning in autumn.

Bedroom privacy

By | Pruning | No Comments

Obey the signs

I knew right away the strata yard I had just stepped into was special. It was littered with signs asking me not to prune anything. Willows, hydrangeas and Japanese maples, all off-limits.

And it was fine because I was there to do finesse work. My job was to rake up the leaves and maybe cultivate the beds so the place looked decent come spring. But then I had to go see the old man in the woods before my coffee-soaked bladder burst.

I discreetly snuck away through the back patio and rushed into the woods. But on the way back I missed another sign asking me to go around. Oops.

Then the old lady came out so I asked her about the signs. Was she a hard-core home gardener who preferred to prune everything herself? Did people make mistakes in her yard?

Bedroom privacy

When you walk into the yard, the first window you see is her bedroom window. So, the signs were there so people wouldn’t prune the three Hydrangeas. She wanted them to grow so they could cover the view to her bedroom windows.

Now, for a split second I thought, given the lady’s old age, it was unlikely there would be a line-up of degenerates looking into her bedroom window. But this blog post has a point to it, as all blogs must, because time is precious.

The bedroom window.

The point

It’s important to get to know your client’s gardens. You can’t prune everything indiscriminately and ignore all posted signs as you do it. There are people with special plants and special requests. Make them happy.

Here the fix is obvious: leave the hydrangeas alone for a few seasons. If you must remove the mop head flowers, only remove the flowers. Make the owner happy by leaving the height alone.

Talk to your clients and get to know their needs. And if your crews change a lot, inform them so mistakes don’t happen.

Obstruction pruning 101

By | Pruning | No Comments

The one rule

There is one hard rule when it comes to obstruction pruning: don’t wait. Obstruction is usually very annoying for your clients, even if, to you, it seems fine. It’s a huge pain point so it’s good to take care of it as soon as possible.

There’s tons of work in landscape maintenance and crews normally follow a plan. However, when your client wants you to take care of an obstruction at his unit, it’s wise to listen and detour. Don’t be afraid to adjust your day plan.

Driveway example

Let’s look at one example. While we ran to complete lawn care and move on to finesse work, an owner tracked us down. His front tree had low hanging branches and now they were interfering with his car. Now, to me it didn’t look like a big deal but to the gentleman it was a huge deal.

Luckily, we had a new tree guy on site so I delegated this fairly easy task to him. It was a nice break for him from regular lawn care duties and he also appreciated it.

This Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is hanging a bit too low over the driveway. It would definitely interfere with me entering my car. So, we just had to raise it up a bit.

This is much better! It didn’t take very long and the client was extremely happy he caught us. Problem solved and it hardly affected our day plan.

This is just one example. There are, of course, many others but the reaction should be the same: do it as soon as possible.

You might have shrubs growing over windows, walkway plants touch ladies’ skirts after rain storms, tree branches smash against the house on windy days. You get the picture. Take care of it on the same day, if you can. Remove your client’s pain point. He’ll appreciate it.

Go easy on your cedar hedges

By | Pruning | No Comments

Frightening work

Until this season, the work pictured above was by far the most frightening thing inflicted on cedar hedges I had ever seen. The resulting hedge was pencil thin because two workers somehow decided that it would be a great idea to power shear from both sides, simultaneously. It wasn’t a good idea. I think the hedges are still recovering, years later.

The key

Here’s the key to great cedar pruning: make sure the hedge is still nice and green when you finish. Don’t treat it harshly with your power shears. Below I show you an example of my own work, because I’m very humble.

Note that the sides are still green; and the top is tight.

The sides should remain green; and the top should be nice and tight. And level, of course. Remember, the proper motion for your power shears is from bottom to top, every time. That way you shouldn’t make any brown holes in your hedge.

Brown holes

Speaking of brown holes brings me to the worst cedar hedging job I’ve seen to date. Now, I don’t have access to the before pictures but I don’t need them. I know that the hedges in question are older and not very pretty. Some of the stems were protruding from the hedge.

This isn’t good pruning.

Here it would have been better to push the protruding stems back into the hedge and tie them in with arbor tie or wires. Leaving a huge hole like this wouldn’t even occur to me. It may grow back in over time but we’ll have to look at this for a while.

This sort of pruning is too harsh.

Imagine living in this unit and coming home every day to this brown gap. I feel like laughing but that’s not the correct response. We have to train, guide and retrain workers so they can do great, world-class work. This isn’t it. Far from it.

Now you know

Go gently on your cedar hedges. Shear them once a year and make sure the shears move from bottom to top. Leave the sides green and do the top nice and tight.

The clean up should be great, as well.

How to be a good neighbor

By | Landscaping, Pruning | No Comments


It’s important to be a great neighbor by controlling the plants growing at your place. In strata complexes, Proper Landscaping can take care of business, but what about private residences?

People are busy fighting their monster mortgages and sometimes there isn’t enough time for your garden plants. Until your municipality forces your hand with a polite written note to get moving, or else.

That’s where Red Seal Vas comes in to help you and make sure your neighbors still love you. Let me illustrate this with two recent examples.

Dangerous staircase

The shrubs interfere between the lamp and stairs.

The shrubs in this picture are clearly getting out of control, probably because they’re reaching for light and never get pruned. By itself, it’s hardly a disaster but look at the big picture.

Imagine you’re walking by in the evening and just as you reach the top of the stairs, extra light would help. Except the lamp is partially blocked out by the shrubs. You make it down safely, this time. But when you get home you wonder if the dark corner isn’t a perfect place for criminals and podophiles. That’s when you sit down and file an anonymous complaint with your municipality against the homeowner.

Weeks later, I get extra work. Yes, I’m the hero in this made up story.

Now the light can reach the stairs.

Monster hedge

I’m no stranger to this next property but when the owner texted me, there was urgency in his sentences. His municipality had just stopped by his house to encourage him to push the cedar hedge off the sidewalk. It was encroaching at least 30% into the sidewalk.

Now, this wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I had to balance the look of the hedge and still get it off the sidewalk. Remember, cedar hedges should still be green when you finish them. If you want to see some cedar hedge disasters, please read my blog post from December 30, 2021.

I sheared the hedge slowly, making several passes. And I think it worked.

That was tight!

Good neighbors

Check your garden plants once in a while to make sure your neighbors aren’t negatively affected. If you need help, call me. I would love to help you.

Be a good neighbor.

On native fern resilience

By | Education, gardening, Plants, Pruning | No Comments


My Dec 21, 2020 blog post covered the whole fern mutilation affair so please read it to get the whole story. I will only recap the key points here.

Our West Coast forests are full of the native sword fern (Polystichum munitum). It does fine in the wild and in our managed landscapes. Except when experienced landscapers don’t use their heads and power shear it.

Imagine the horror when I discovered that the fronds had been halved by power shears- in winter- and the mess was never cleaned up. And we’re talking about experienced workers, not new dudes. It’s not clear what happened but clearly there was a breakdown somewhere.

Finished product

I’m sorry, but this kind of shoddy work can not be tolerated. Here’s why.

  1. Use hand snips to take out the brown fronds, if they bother you. It does make the sword ferns look neater. Don’t power shear ferns. Ever! I don’t care if it takes longer.
  2. The fronds only make sense when they are intact, not halved. It looks freaky.
  3. Not cleaning things up is the ultimate sin. How people walk away from this carnage is beyond me. Clearly, there were some problems with the crew. Pruning and clean-up go hand in hand. Both should be fantastic.
  4. The timing is awful. If you look at the base of the ferns, you should see next season’s fronds tightly packed together. When they pop up in spring, then you can take out the old brown fronds. Not in winter. Since nothing new emerges until spring, the residents get to look at halved sword ferns all winter. That’s just bizarre.

Good news!

Because plants are resilient, we have some good news to report a year later. I’m happy to report that the sword ferns recovered nicely! And the crews are under strict orders not to touch them until next spring. Hopefully, they learned their lesson.

Like nothing happened.

Left alone until spring, these sword ferns look great all winter.

Now you know how to handle our native sword ferns. Use snips in spring to prune out the brown fronds. That’s it. Then enjoy them for the rest of the year.

Are you nice to your mailman?

By | Pruning | No Comments

Clear path

During a visit to my buddy’s place yesterday, I made a slightly shocking discovery. As we stood in front of his house, I pointed out a small gap in his front bed. And my buddy didn’t skip a beat. Oh, yeah, he prunes his shrubs every year to make room for his mailman. What?

Yes, it’s true, he intentionally prunes his shrubs so his mailman can shave thirty seconds off his route. That’s so nice. Perhaps next year he’ll put in a few stepping stones so the mailman doesn’t step on plants or compact the soil.

The mailman’s gap.

A better man

Clearly, my buddy is a better man. As soon as I heard gap and mailman, my mind started devising ways of blocking off the bed. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one. I know people who are very touchy about their landscape. Sometimes you can’t even touch their garden hose; never mind sneaking through their planted beds on a daily basis. I can just imagine neighborhood Karens rising.

So, if you like your mailman, keep on pruning your shrubs for great access and consider installing a few stepping stones. Adding some perennial color might be a nice touch, assuming the mailman has time to notice them.

But what do you do if shaving thirty seconds off your mailman’s route isn’t a huge priority for you?


I think a great natural barrier that might stop a mailman would be planting Berberis. It has soft prickles that are annoying enough to make you switch course, but not serious enough to draw blood. We don’t really want the mailman knocking on our door seeking first aid.

Pyracantha, for example, has nasty prickles but the shrub wouldn’t really fit into my buddy’s gap. The smaller Berberis would.

We could also install rocks in the bed edge and plant shrubs densely just behind them to deflect the mailman from his destructive path; and to make it obvious that this isn’t a pathway.


Every day gives us a chance to learn something new. Yesterday I learned something about my buddy and about myself.

How nice are you to your mailman?