Seeing red in the garden

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Desperate for colour

Every winter I find myself longing for spring and for some colour in the garden. January seems to drag on and on. And today, with the first real cold and snow hitting the entire province, it was easy to notice the colour red. Let’s take a look.


This prickly firethorn shrub (Pyracantha) is a great choice if you’re trying to keep pedophiles from your backyard. But I noticed it because it was full of birds helping themselves to berries. And those berries were more and more noticeable as light snow fell.

Look closely and you will notice the sharp thorns.


Berberis is also prickly but not as harsh as Pyracanthas. It has nice fall colours and when the leaves drop we really notice the red berries. Especially when the ground is covered with a bit of snow.


Cotoneasters are very popular shrubs. And like the Pyracantha, birds enjoy their fruits. Cotoneasters are cool because they have two kinds of shoots: long ones for structure and short one for flower clusters.


My eyes automatically shifted to Nandinas because of their red berries. Planted in a group, they made an island of red.

Red twig dogwoods

Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have attractive red twigs and as snow fell they stood out even more. Just remember that it’s the new canes that look red. If you allow your shrub to mature, it will lose this red color except for the very top where new growth pushes out. See the picture below.

You can correct it by taking out the old wood. Don’t be shy.

Mature Cornus sericea

Winter blues?

I’m trying to enjoy winters more, now that I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything about them. Today, for example, was a beautiful January day but with -13C temperatures I couldn’t really work outside. But the cold didn’t stop me from taking winter photos and video shorts for YouTube. Spring will come, I know. And until then, try to find some colour in your neighbourhood.

Yes, you can find winter colour in the landscape

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Mild, mild, mild!

As I write this, there are colder temperatures in the forecast. And I have no idea what the weather will be like outside by the time you read this. All I know is that I love mild winters: I don’t ski much and I have side-gigs to do that bring in much needed winter revenues. Snow is my enemy. A mild start to the new year is absolutely brilliant.

Second benefit

Mild winters mean that there aren’t any work stoppages and I can do my side-gigs. But there is also another benefit: we can go out and enjoy whatever colour we can find. Let’s take a look. Seeing some colour on this page might inspire you to head out and find some more in your neighbourhood.

I love seeing a bit of colour in winter.

Hamamelis mollis is my favourite winter shrub. I find the yellow very warm.

Hamamelis x intermedia is also nice. It’s as if the landscape designer couldn’t pick a colour so he put one each at this entrance.

Rhododendron flowers are always great to look at but most of them will pop next summer. As long as you don’t touch the buds. They are set for next season already which means no pruning!

Hellebores are another winter flowering plant we see lots and I don’t mind them, even if many of the flowers look down and are harder to enjoy.

This Camellia is very nice. The shrub is probably in a sheltered spot where it’s warmer.

Viburnum bodnantense is another winter all star. I still remember seeing it for the first time and thinking it was a mistake. But it wasn’t. They flower in winter and the flowers are extra showy on bare branches.

Even this Vinca is a welcome sight. Yes, I know, it’s labelled as invasive in British Columbia but it’s hard to miss in the winter landscape.

Spring is coming but for now enjoy whatever colour you can find in your garden and neighbourhood.

Definitely say “Thank you!” to your landscaper

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Thank you!

It’s a long year outside in the landscape so it’s always nice when a resident shows up with gifts to thank us. Like today. While I was deep-edging and enjoying a beautiful sunny mid-December day a resident “woke me up” from my audiobook.

The lady handed me an envelope with sweets and a card with cash inside. The sweets didn’t last very long; before lunch is the most dangerous time for landscapers because blood sugar levels are low. So I took care of that problem very quickly; and there was enough cash to buy lunch at Tim Horton’s an hour later. That was really nice.

It doesn’t matter who maintains your complex or residential garden, say “thank you” just before the holidays. Your landscapers and gardeners work hard to keep your place looking great. They will definitely appreciate a simple ‘Thank you’.

Bitch, bitch, bitch

It isn’t always rosy like this. Sometimes things go wrong so I fully expect to get several complaints a year. Not that every complaint makes sense. When I was a new landscape foreman every complaint threw me off and many times I lost sleep because of it. Not anymore. Now I’m a working manager and most complaints can be dealt with. I no longer lose sleep over it.

Now it’s also easier to blame junior staff for mistakes…….

A long season

Every Christmas it hits me how long the season is. Landscapers sweat outside all year in heavy rain, 30+ summer temperatures and in freezing temperatures. Every spring is super busy, then comes hot summer weather. When school starts, leaves start to turn and fall and the clean up can drag into December.

December is always a bit sketchy because we never know what we’ll get. This year El Nino is giving us a mild start to winter so it looks like we’ll make it to Christmas without interruptions. I can’t remember the last time I did side jobs the week before Christmas; and I have tree work ready for the new year. I’m counting my blessings.


When you’re enjoying your Christmas holiday this year look outside at your garden or landscape. If it’s in great shape, don’t forget to say thank you to your maintenance workers. They spend a long year outside doing their best.

Ox-days: notes from winter landscapes

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I’m not a fan of winter, which probably shows my advancing age. My Swedish ultra-trail runner friend calls her winter days “ox-days”. It’s dark and cold outside but training doesn’t stop. You just put your head down and work until spring arrives. Now that’s how I approach things: I do my best in the landscape and count the days towards spring and warmer days.

I’ve assembled some notes from my ox-days for you. What did you observe in your own gardens?


I left my Hellebores alone until new flowers and foliage started showing. Then I clipped off the old leaves hugging the soil. I just hope we don’t get any more crushing cold temperatures.

Trees at work

Trees work hard at closing pruning wounds. Otherwise, they risk inviting decay and deadly fungi.

It can take a few years for the tree to cover up a wound.
All covered up!

Thin mulch

Thin mulch application.

I’m not a fan of thin mulch applications. In the above photo the red and black colors clash. A better approach would be to either give up and keep the original dark soil, or, apply a nice two-inch layer uniformly across the bed.

It’s important to remember why thin mulch applications are bad. They don’t keep weeds down because light can still reach them; and they still trap moisture, which then allows the weeds to thrive. Put down at least two inches or give up.

Give up on cedars?

It’s fairly common now with drier summers to forget replacing cedars (Thuja occidentalis) with more cedars. Some people are stubborn and still do it; others give up and plant laurels or yews which seem to do better.

You can see one example above. The cedars didn’t do well under mature Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees and the site managers weren’t brave enough to plant more cedars. Instead, they opted for English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus). I would do the same considering our recent dry summers.


Get through your winter ox-days and your reward will be warm spring.

When January blooms all turn to white

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Can’t stop me!

I was planning to write a quick blog post about color finally showing in our landscape in late January and this morning it snowed!? Now the landscape is all white but trust me, there is color out there. Let’s see what will emerge once the snow melts.


Snowdrops look awesome, especially when mass-planted. Every time I open my UK gardening magazines and see masses of snowdrops under trees, I freeze and stare. What a show! I wish I had a huge garden to do the same thing.

Galanthus by Coquitlam City Hall


Sweetbox adds white flowers and fragrance to our winter landscapes. When it’s planted along walkways, the fragrance will hit your senses before you even notice the small white flowers. With the winter landscape quiet, it’s nice to have sweetbox. Like Galanthus, it’s best to mass-plant Sarcococcas.

When I see obvious spikes pop-up, I snip them off by hand. Larger sections can be lightly power sheared.



Hellebores are also flowering now and bringing some welcome color to our landscapes. Once the new flowers and foliage start popping up, I snip off the old leaves hugging the soil. Some of them can look a bit beat up anyway so snip them off and enjoy the new growth. This is the only action you have to take.

New flowers and leaves

Shrubby honeysuckle

I love these purple berries on shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera nitida). They pop right out when I cultivate the soil around them. Shrubby honeysuckle is a perfect plant for low level hedging. This specimen is planted just behind a parking curb where it creates a nice border but never grows too high as to interfere with site lines.

This honeysuckle will get power sheared periodically to keep it inside the bed.

Witch hazel

Hamamelis mollis

By next week these spider-looking flowers will be fully extended and they will brighten up the entrance area of this residential high-rise tower in Burnaby’s MetroTown area. They will also improve my mood as I work around them.

If the shrub is getting out of hand, feel free to clip it lightly after its done flowering.

Today, January 31, 2023, we have snow on the ground but spring is coming. Once today’s snowfall melts away, look for the plants above in our landscapes. They might lift your spirits.

Give “unskilled” snow labourers some love

By | Landscape Industry, Seasonal | No Comments

LinkedIn post

One landscape contractor mentioned on LinkedIn this week how all emergency, oil rig workers, and others are, correctly, called heroes. Through their hard work under difficult winter storm conditions they make society function properly. But what about his landscape workers? Good question.

His dudes were out there in serious cold, blowing away snow powder in a group of five. Which also means they were sucking a lot of exhaust but, at the moment, there aren’t any other blowers that can handle -35 C temperatures. We’ll leave that for another blog post.

Now, our temperatures during the recent winter storm didn’t go past -15 C but it was still unpleasant. I can’t imagine working in – 35 C. Of course the crew deserves praise. They made money and kept the residents safe.

Also, I’m sure the owner made good coin for the work they did. He can get all the contracts he wants but somebody has to show up to fulfill the terms of his contracts. In BC, people are responsible for clearing their sidewalks. They could be liable for any accidental falls.

I know for a fact that some BC landscape companies need snow work to generate good annual profits and stay in business.

Sub-contractor Vas

I find snow in town extremely tiresome. It prevents me from doing side-work on winter weekends. Now, I used to stay at home and cry into my pillow. Then I found companies that move snow and solved my problem. I still find snow tiresome but now I go out and make money as a sub-contractor. I get paid a straight hourly amount without any deductions. So I get paid and the employer saves money because I’m not a regular employee.

Unlike the dudes above, I used small snow blowers. They’re not self-propelled but they would have moved the powder snow easily. Even in – 35 degrees Celsius.

To be fair, some passersby did thank me for my work as they struggled home from the bus stop. Still, snow removal can be brutal. Some people start very early in the morning so Mrs. Albert can drive out and get her latte; and the long snow days can pile up and leave you exhausted.

When it snows next, be sure to thank anyone outside clearing snow.

When leaf blower isn’t the answer

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Seniors raking

This past Saturday I was at Rocky Point in Port Moody, visiting a used car dealership because our family van started breaking down with alarming frequency. It was time to upgrade.

Just as I was getting back into my car, I noticed a lady next door vigorously raking up leaves under a mature tree. She was obviously a senior but I suspect she could easily pivot into a new landscaper position. She was moving and piling up the debris against the tree, presumably for later pick up.

No blowers for this senior.

Small jobs

Strata properties like the ones Proper Landscaping dudes maintain are too large to clean up with just rakes. Backpack blowers are mandatory evil. Yes, they’re loud and cause air pollution but they’re indispensable.

Now, smaller sites can easily be cleaned-up with rakes and some time. It’s a perfect job for seniors: they need to move to stay healthy and they have time. The lady I photographed -without permission!- was doing a great job. I thought it was really nice to not face a blower on the weekend after using one all week at work.

Globe article

The sweaty senior also reminded me of a Globe and Mail newspaper story. The author, facing leafy debris on his small back patio- somewhere in Toronto- rushed out to a big box store and purchased a blower. Like everyone else in his neighborhood.

It took him a few tries to assemble the machine properly and after a few leaf blowing sessions he realized something. Using a power blower on his small back patio didn’t make any sense. It was ridiculous. He could easily rake everything up in thirty minutes. There was absolutely no need to create noise and air pollution. He could save money by investing some of his own time and energy.

So, he returned the blower and life has been good ever since. He rakes up the leaves every fall and gets much-needed exercise. Just like our Port Moody senior.

How to make the most of your first snow workday

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I hate snow but there’s no point crying about it because I can’t control the weather. You just have to make the most of it, like I did today. It’s still November and regular landscape maintenance work got obliterated by snow. So, I made a few phone calls and got ready for work.

I got picked up by snow mercenaries like me at 8 am and we pushed snow off sidewalks and mailbox areas. Since we didn’t have a snowblower, we just shoveled the useless white stuff out of the way. Yes, it can be tiring, especially when people compact the snow. But, hey, it’s good exercise and we’re making money. We’re also making sure kids and the elderly are safe.

One of my crew members dropped her shovel at 9:30 and declared, ” I need a drink”. She meant juice, not alcohol, so we drove to a nearby mall for Starbucks and a washroom break. Always stay hydrated.

Once the snow was gone, we put down ice-melter which will make it easier the next day should more snow fall.

Observe and enjoy

You can also take in the snowy landscape and enjoy it. It was a nice sunny day and I got to see the bright berries on a Pyracantha shrub.


I also got to see winter annuals I planted in fall, covered in snow. Hidden a few inches below the surface are spring bulbs, patiently waiting for spring temperatures to signal a new season. The bulbs need to feel the cold.

Snow covering ornamental kale.

If you look closely, you can also find stuff that doesn’t work well. Like the water bag (not cheap!) covering a tree stump on a municipal boulevard. I mean, it’s winter, so the water bag is useless. Considering how much it retails for, it should be removed and re-deployed next year.

This isn’t working well.

This picture also shows how tough life can be for city trees. If it’s not drought that kills them, it’s bad drivers.


Just as much fun, if not more, is observing the people on your crew. Some are snow mercenaries like me, ready to shovel snow for cash. Some work for other landscape companies and are now laid-off. One mother of three kept talking about her kids ad nauseam; and the driver showed up on very little sleep because she got stuck in last night’s snow fall.

Once I got home, I texted the office lady with my hours so I could get paid by e-transfer. It was a good day, and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Scanning for late winter details

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Scanning your sites

Whenever I’m sent to a site after several months, I like to take a walk around and catalog any blemishes I see. This is especially easy to do in late winter when it’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. I did this recently and this blog post will show you some of the details I found.

Broken branches

I detest having broken branches on shrubs or trees. It can invite disease into the plants, and it looks awful. One broken Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) branch was right in the middle of a high-profile corridor between two buildings.

Since the cut was too large for my hand snips, I waited until I was able to retrieve a hand saw from the my car. I could have tried it with my hand snips, but blowing my wrist is a bad idea. It wasn’t an emergency; safety first.

Groundcover in check

Groundcover plants do what they’re supposed to: they cover the ground so weeds don’t move in. Left untouched, some groundcovers grow out of bounce. That’s what happened with Rubus climbing into Rhododendrons.

Rubus climbing into a Rhodendron
Much better!

It took only a few minutes and it looks better. The Rubus is cut back down to its grouncover function and the Rhododendron is left unmolested.

Missing ivy

This third example makes me mad because it could have been prevented. Last year, someone made the strange decision to remove ivy (Hedera helix) from this power box. I wrongly assumed that something else would replace the ivy.

That’s why I shook my head last week when I had to weed the now bare ground. I knew it would come to this: nature hates bare spots. Weeds move in and have a great time with plenty of sunlight reaching them. It wasn’t that easy for them when ivy still covered the ground. Groundcover plants cover ground; they look good and they prevent unwanted plants from moving in.

The power box looked much better surrounded by ivy. Only remove it if you have a good plan for the spot. Bare ground is the worst option.

You can see weeds creeping in.
Cultivated by Vas but ivy did the job well before.

Late winter details

Late winter is a great time to scan your gardens for blemishes like the three mentioned above. It’s already nice out but lawn care hasn’t started yet. So, take the time to identify and eliminate little blemishes from your gardens.

Trees: late winter tweaks you can do

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After getting some decent weather, I was annoyed with -4 degree Celsius weather at 8am with a cool breeze. Yes, the white peaks in the distance looked great but I suffered for the first hour on site. Such is the life a landscaper: outside all year, in all kinds of weather.

Since the site looked a bit stiff and frosty, I went for a walk so I could assess it and make a plan. I definitely noted enough leaf debris to keep me busy all day and that’s what I did. But there was more.

Tree adjustments

And by more, I mean easy tree work. Late winter is still a great time for tree work because the trees haven’t broken their buds yet. Once buds break in spring and the trees start to actively grow, it’s a bad time to prune them. However, on a frosty late February morning, it’s a great time to do some minor adjustments.


I don’t like to see branches growing back into the crown and rubbing with other branches. It’s disturbing. I like to see a nice crown with branches nicely growing out. Take a look at the picture.

This rogue branch caught my attention right away.

This is the after picture.

This looks much better. Most of the branches are radiating outwards and we don’t have any big branches rubbing together. And all it took was one quick cut with a hand saw.

Japanese maple

Japanese maples often have dead branches on the inside. They’re the shaded out, unproductive branches; and, lighter in color, they can sometimes be removed with your hands.

I used my snips to take out the dead from this specimen.

Remove the lighter, dead branches.

It was a nice, easy task on a frosty morning. You can almost feel the stiff, cold soil. So, I took my time and cleaned it up nicely.

The dead branches are gone, the maple still has it weeping form and Vas put in some time into his day in unpleasant, -4 degrees Celsius, conditions.


There is still time in late winter to check on your landscape and take care of little details. Like misbehaving or dead branches on your trees. Once the foliage comes out, it will be difficult to see the blemishes.

So, take a look around your gardens for little adjustments you can make. Start with your trees.