Category

Seasonal

Scanning for late winter details

By | landscape maintenance, Seasonal | No Comments

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

By | Seasonal, Trees | No Comments

Brrr

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.

Dogwood

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.

Conclusion

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.

Snowblower 101 for beginners

By | machines, Seasonal | No Comments

Making the best of it

Nobody suffers more from January blahs than I do. I hate January because the landscape is very quiet and snow interrupts my work. I’m also terrified of driving on snow; so terrified, some have started calling me a “snow pussy”, but that’s off-topic.

When it snows, I’m usually stuck at home, creating new blog posts. But I also can’t say no. So, when people are short of laborers and they call me to come help, I do it. I have my daughter’s braces to pay off!

Snowblower

Using a snowblower is surprisingly fun. First fill up your gas tank. Then, put the key in, hit the primer button a few times, engage the choke and pull the cord. Once the machine is running and warmed-up, pull it out by selecting the speed or reverse. The left handle lever drives the unit; the right hand lever engages the blades.

When you’re ready to clear your sidewalk or driveway select the proper speed; 3-4 was ideal for me, 5 was great for moving from one area to the next, 1-2 are very slow and recommended for loading and unloading the machine.

Nozzle fun

The biggest question is where to direct the stream of snow. Slow down and think about it. Burying a public roadway is not a bright idea. Adjust the nozzle as you go. For example, I switched the nozzle stream from right to left when I got close to a bus stop bench.

Warning: there is a warning sticker on top of the nozzle, reminding you that sticking your hands in there can lead to amputations. Once, when an icy column fell out of the nozzle, it dislodged a brush resting on top of the drum, and shredded it into five pieces. You’ve been warned.

A note for prospective fathers

If you hope to father children in the future, watch for sidewalk imperfections. Sidewalks tend to lift around large landscape trees so use that as a hint.

I suspect I will not be having any more children and God gave me very average equipment, but still, not one of my collisions with the machine was pleasant.

Face your fears

Once you get used to the machine, it becomes a fun way to make money and lose weight. And it saves your back and arms from a beating. Normally, I don’t care for machines but this beast of a snowblower gave me hours of fun. And my daughter is happy to finally have her braces.

If you’re in the market for a snowblower, please visit one of the Foreshore Equipment dealerships. Tell them Red Seal Vas sent you!

Make work on snow days

By | Seasonal, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

Vas hates snowflakes

I hate snow. Every time it snows I can’t work or I have to search my snowy sites and make some work. It’s a bit tedious but, hey, at least the kids will get to eat and enjoy high-speed wi-fi.

Let’s start with the obvious: gently get snow off shrubs and trees so they don’t break up under the snow load. Just do it gently so you’re not the source of the damage.

Once the snow is cleared off your shrubs, you can attend to your trees. Some might have broken branches which require immediate pruning and removal. Broken branches already on the ground must be removed as well.

Broken Sweetgum tree branch.

It’s also very common for snow loads to push over cedar hedging so take a good look and correct it, if you can. You can use arbor tie or wires to keep the hedge together.

Snow damaged Thuja occidentalis

We don’t really want the homeowner to look at this all winter. Make corrections as soon as you can.

Small jobs

When you finish your site snow check, you can search for other small jobs. For example, I found a few Bergenia specimens on the boulevard with their flower stalks still attached. Removing them was a breeze.

Remove all Bergenia flower stalks.

Deadheading Hydrangeas is also a good task but some people make the case for keeping the flowers on until spring. They protect the buds and look fantastic when they are covered in frost. Your call. I can look the other way when you are looking for some work on a snow day.

As you make your way through the site, take it all in and just accept it. Some sites are beautiful when they are covered in white snow. You might as well enjoy it and assess the site for future winter work.

Also, do not forget about safety meetings. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss safety issues on slower, snowy days. As long as you are discussing work issues, I do not see any problems with it. Fill out your day and go home.

Bittersweet max leaf drop

By | landscape maintenance, machines, Seasonal | No Comments

Bittersweet

The first time I noticed the word bittersweet used in reference to trees was in Japan. There, the famous cherry blossoms make people delirious; some follow the blossoms from south to north, like junkies craving their next fix.

Why bittersweet? Because like life, the cherry blossoms are beautiful but they don’t last long. Cheery blossoms in Japan are a must-see item for your live it bucket list. Especially if you go to ancient Kyoto in spring.

Leafiness

When it comes to fall leaf clean-up, bittersweet refers to that moment when you get maximum leaf drop and you know you are about to suffer for one more day. It’s also one of those moments when hearing about attempts to ban leaf blowers seems like a cruel joke.

This past fall has been the most difficult of my twenty-plus landscaping career. It rained heavily for months; it was so bad, I don’t even remember blowing any dry leaves. I would call it a suffer-fest.

All at once

When the weather network announced high winds for one of our fall weekends, some of my co-workers lit up the company WhatsApp, excited about all of the leaves falling in one weekend. And they did! Except, it also rained and the resulting Monday morning mess almost broke us.

I had two helpers for mountains of soggy leaves and it was hard. We cleaned-up leaves from 8-6pm and, because my son had soccer practice at 7, I had to leave at 6. Soccer or no, I would have left anyway.

Soggy Katsura leaves covering the entire site after a storm.

Grinding

Knowing that this was our last big day was little consolation. And we used Stihl’s bad boy 800 model leaf blowers which have high air volume and air pressure. They blow away insects and garden gnomes like nothing but on this day, they too struggled.

And right here is the key point: current battery-operated technology isn’t good enough to handle this kind of leafy mess. It would have taken hours longer and I don’t even know how many battery packs we would have gone through.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals recently made this point to the State of California, which is considering a full ban on gas-powered small engines.

Nasty fall

Leaf clean-up on strata properties is hard work and when the weather turns bad, it can get even harder. For now we use gas-powered leaf blowers because they can handle the load. Once the battery operated technology improves, I will be the first one to test it in the field.

As I write, Christmas is one week away and I’m looking forward to some much-needed down time. It was a long, strange year. When this blog post is published in February, 2022, we’ll be closer to spring. Spring! I can’t wait.

Landscape pro becomes a snow subcontractor

By | Seasonal, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

The worst case

It’s possible to go through the entire winter season without much work stoppage on the West Coast. But what do you do when the worst happens? And by worst, I mean no work, because there is snow on the ground. Now what?

This used to stress me out when I lived in pricey North Vancouver, British Columbia, with my wife and two little kids. Now, years later, life is better and I firmly believe in multiple income streams. Having one job and income sucks.

It’s official. Red Seal Vas hates snow.

Options

To make up for lost winter income, I became a landscape blogger. I blog on my own site and for other landscaping companies. It’s a great learning experience, and it provides some extra income.

But what if you don’t want to write about your green work and you don’t have vacation time to cover your lost income? Well, one great option is to become a snow subcontractor. No, it’s not glamorous but it can generate income. I should know because I’ve done it. You can, too.

There are landscape companies with lucrative snow contracts and they usually need help. All you have to do is line up a few and wait for snow to fall.

Now, shoveling snow off sidewalks is heavy labor but a few years ago I pulled off two consecutive twelve hour days. It was long and strenuous, and it covered the two missed days from my regular landscaping job.

I carpooled with two young girls and the area we covered looked beautiful covered in snow. We hit multiple sites and shoveled all sidewalks. Note that strata properties (multi-family complexes) may be liable for any accidents on their unmaintained sidewalks. The snow must go. That’s where you come in.

Worse still are residents who can’t drive out with their BMWs to get their morning coffee. God help you if your run into this type of human.

Money

Becoming a subcontractor makes it easy for the employer. You get paid for your time, without any deductions. It’s up to you to report your income with the CRA when you do your taxes.

No more winter stress

There are work options for landscapers when they get shut out of work by snow. You can become a blogger and a snow subcontractor. Push some snow and when you get home, blog about your experiences. If you have any energy left.

Pushing snow isn’t easy but knowing you can make some cash does reduce your stress. Especially if you don’t have banked vacation hours, savings or other income sources.

Never rely on one job and one paycheck. That’s nuts. Become a snow subcontractor.

Don’t miss the late season color show

By | Plants, Seasonal | No Comments

Leaf clean up over. Now what?

As I look outside on the first December 2021 weekend, all I see are bare trees in the park across the street. Sadly, the fall color show is over. Now what?

Fear not! I’m about to show you some color you can see in the landscape right now. Go outside without your smartphone and pay attention. You might be surprised. Like I was, when I first encountered Viburnum bodnantense in the winter landscape.

At first, I thought it was a mistake. Bare brown branches sporting small clusters of white flowers. Seriously? I had to look it up to believe it.

Viburnum bodnantense

Fatsia japonica also flowers in winter. I still remember entering a sad looking yard on an old strata site and there it was, a specimen of Fatsia japonica with its white flowers. Again, I thought it was a mistake. Something about micro-climates.

Fatsia japonica

Camellias are also flowering now and they’re stealing the show.

Camellia

Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) are also fun to look at with their edible strawberries. No, I’ve never tried them.

Arbutus unedo

Here’s a combination I discovered by a water feature. Red Pyracantha and purple Callicarpa.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is also hard to miss.

Hellebores can lighten up a shady corner.

Cotoneaster

Yew cones (Taxus) are also cute.

Taxus

Rhododendron

I shot the above pictures while working out in the landscape. I’m sure your own gardens have some winter color. Enjoy it while you can.

Do you really need it?

By | health and safety, Seasonal | No Comments

Last week I was doing finesse work with my crew members and the morning was fine, considering it was still winter in mid-February. So, we weeded, cultivated and talked about all sorts of nonsense.

Then, suddenly the weather changed. All of a sudden it got cold and rain fell. Soon I noticed one of my crew mates sporting a different jacket and he seemed to be pressing buttons on his chest, the way you would on a remote control at home.

Do you really need it?

One of my favorite personal finance books by Pierre-Yves McSween is called “Do you really need it?“. I thought about this book when my crew mate told me that his jacket had a heating element in the back. Charged by batteries, it helped him stay warm in the field.

When he pressed the buttons on the front to increase the heat, I had disturbing visions of him self-immolating like a Tibetan monk, and running off screaming into the woods to start a forest fire. Then I came to and asked him how much it cost. $300!! Ouch. At that price, I prefer to layer up; and re-read McSween’s book.

Review

Now, if you think you might want to buy a jacket with a built-in heating element, read on. The dude loves the jacket but, since the arms aren’t heated, he thinks the much-cheaper vest option would be better.

The jacket can be washed but he doesn’t overdo it. This statement was a great source of jokes.

So, do you really need it? Not if it’s just for landscaping. My crew mate loves hiking and wears the jacket when he goes out into nature. Now, that makes more sense. Keeping your back warm as you hike sounds great.

I remember climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan and, upon reaching the top, realizing that I didn’t have any underlayers to change into. All I could do was wait for the sunrise so I bought a can of hot coffee for $10 and held it in my hands.

Conclusion

I had no idea heated jackets even existed. It’s sounds a bit soft and crazy, considering the $300 price tag. But, if you also like to hike in comfort, then save up and buy it. I will layer up at work and use the money I save to feed my kids

How landscapers make money in the off-season

By | Seasonal | No Comments

The landscape off-season deserves its own blog post. How do landscapers make money in the off-season? It’s a good question. I’ve been asked on Quora.com and on the sidelines at soccer matches.

Young lay-offs

Just today one of our younger workers mentioned that he was counting down to his lay-off. Great! He will do some travelling with his friends which is a good plan for a young dude. Many young workers still live at home so their unemployment benefits are adequate. And they escape the worst weather. This is the easiest off-season ride I know.

Veteran pros

But what about veteran professionals with kids to feed? On the West Coast there is no off-season, assuming the weather holds. With Global Warming this isn’t always clear. I use vacation time to cover any missed days due to snow. I hate snow because it causes down time.

Normally we go all the way, except for one week off over Christmas. Yes, the weather sucks but it’s better than taking your kids to a food bank.

Normally we do lots of pruning and we hit semi-wild zones that don’t get regular servicing. We also re-establish bed edges.

 

Image_006

Deep edging redefines bed edges nicely and is a perfect winter activity.

 

I should add that employers want their veteran workers in the field working so they don’t disappear before spring hits. My boss knows that I need to work.

ISA advantage

It helps to have your ISA arborist certification because there is lots of tree pruning to do in winter. When you’re certified you’re more likely to score this kind of work when others are struggling to find work on frosty days.

I firmly believe that all landscapers should be ISA certified arborists.

 

IMG_0426

Post winter storm tree work.

 

Pro blogger

Personally, as a pro blogger, I publish blog posts all year but I find that there is more time for writing and reflection at the end of the season. I make money by selling my blog posts to landscape companies.

The off-season is also great for collecting my best blog posts and publishing them in eBook format. I use the very excellent Designrr software to create eBooks in minutes. The magic is that the software takes the blog post URL and copies the text over without any other website junk like headers and footers. You can literally create a new eBook in minutes. I love it so much, I’ve signed up for the Designrr affiliate program.

 

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This is one of my self-published eBooks.

 

Jobs

Some landscapers find jobs in unrelated fields to get through the off-season. I know of some young dudes working in bars. It depends on how desperate things get.

 

Planning

There is no-off season on the West Coast when the weather holds. With a bit of planning landscapers can make money in winter. I find that with ISA certification landscapers have more options and opportunities.

 

 



Summer versus winter tree pruning

By | Seasonal, Trees | No Comments

Now that our deciduous landscape trees have lost their leaves we can clearly see the branch structures. And as I recently removed one broken branch I had a flashback to summer. And a blog post was born. So let’s consider the basic differences between summer and winter tree pruning.

 

Summer tree pruning

As trees flush out in spring strata property residents freak out about encroaching branches. That’s when I get called in.

Summer tree pruning is light because sunny days are already stressful enough for our landscape trees. Trees also store food in branches so removing too many could pose a problem for the trees. Remember, under drought conditions trees shut down their leaf openings to prevent moisture loss; this also means that they can’t produce food and must rely on reserves.

Most of the pruning requests revolve around crown shape and branch encroachment. Since the branch structure is hidden under foliage it’s best not to make too many radical cuts.

In the first example below you can see what the strata council wants: all birch crowns are to be tightened up. Nothing radical.

 

IMG_8021

 

In the second example below, the owners want this Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) lightly shaped so it’s off the building. Again, nothing radical. The lady loves the finished look.

 

IMG_9219

 

Winter tree pruning

 

Now consider winter tree pruning. Since the leaves are gone we can see branch structures well. And all of a sudden I’m finding broken branches in crowns that were until recently covered up by leaves.

 

IMG_5724

Broken branches must be removed (see white arrow).

 

IMG_5161

Green arrow: broken branch Orange arrow: branch pointing down Red arrow: location of my cut

 

IMG_5169

After shot.

 

Horror show

Not all winter tree pruning is enjoyable. Some strata complexes have their trees topped and, of course, the trees notice it. Then they produce extra sprouts from the cuts and we have to remove them annually. And so the cycle begins.

 

IMG_5841

 

IMG_5843

All done! I’ll be back in 12 months.

 

Conclusion

Leave harsher tree pruning for the winter when the trees are dormant and their branch structures are clearly visible. If you must prune trees in summer, do it lightly.