Why I love & hate memorial trees

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A great idea!

Memorial trees are a great idea. When I die, I’d love to get a tree planted somewhere with my name on it. But sometimes the technical aspect can be troubling, which explains my love and hate relationship with memorial trees.

Scott’s tree

I have no idea who Scott was. I discovered this memorial tree while installing twenty yards of soil amender in the same courtyard. It took me four days to complete the project and every time I wheeled my wheelbarrow by Scott’s tree I counted my blessings. I’m older than Scott and I’m celebrating twenty-five seasons in the landscape industry this year.

I have no idea how much time I have left so I’m counting my blessings.

Scott’s tree is technically a shrub. Prunus lusitanica is a Portuguese laurel from the cherry family. Given its location in a sheltered courtyard, I expect Scott’s tree to do fine. Also, laurels are easier to plant and establish than trees; and they’re also cheaper and.

Eventually the laurel will need some pruning but for now it’s working really well. Note that it’s sitting in a large tree circle where lawn machines can’t injure the bark.

Thea’s tree

Now, when my sister and her partner tragically lost their daughter in a car accident they also planted a memorial tree. But this project was stressful.

I believe they picked a hawthorn because they are on a ranch outside Kamloops where it’s cold in winter and very hot in summer. The soils are also poor and there is limited water in summer.

As soon as the tree was planted, the girl’s grandma planted up the heart-shaped tree well with annuals. Personally, I don’t like the idea this early. We need the tree to establish and annuals can deflect rain drops away from the tree; and they also compete with surface roots. Alas, grandma is an avid gardener.

Then we get to watering. Newly installed trees should be flooded but this isn’t practical on a ranch with limited water resources. I also suspect there might be ashes in the planting hole: I didn’t have the balls to ask. When I poked my finger in the tree well to check on moisture levels I got raised eyebrow looks which more or less answered my question.

Last year the tree had to be moved and I believe it’s doing ok at the moment. Still, every time my sister mentions it I feel a bit of stress.

There is tons of pressure on memorial trees to thrive.

One key to your YouTube channel success

By | Blogging, Trees, YouTube | No Comments


Let me start by saying that my little YouTube channel is tiny; I’m far away from success but the key idea comes from another YouTube video. It’s a great, tested idea. Interestingly, I stumbled upon it by accident: I uploaded some tree videos and watched the views climb quickly. So keep reading.


This is all you have to know: ASQ or Answer Specific Questions. People visit YouTube to find answers to their questions. What’s funny is that I published my most-watched videos without even realizing I was answering people’s questions. It become obvious after the views piled up and the videos stood out. Kind of like my “Aha” moment.


My video on leaf clean-up got 5.7 thousand views. I called it a leaf clean up hack, sort of tongue-in-cheek, because the idea was to simply bury lots of leaves in shrubs for later pick-up. Clearly, leaf clean up is a major pain point for people. Now I’ve given people permission to bury their leaves for later pick up.

Tree stubs

Next comes my video on tree stubs so people obviously like to know how to cut off a tree branch properly. One lady confessed to butchering trees around her campground and promised to do better! I think that’s already success, reaching one viewer.

Tree planting

People love trees! You can’t go wrong by uploading tree videos. The next two most-watched videos were shot on the same day. One shows how to find the root flare before planting; and the other discusses proper backfilling techniques. Both videos sit at 2.5 thousand views.

Tree planting is a science in itself. It’s crucial that we get this part right because it determines the tree’s long-term survival. Tree planting is an investment. Plant the tree at the right level and backfill with the original soil. Water it in nicely and possibly stake it for the first 14 months.

YouTuber Vas

Well not really a YouTuber but my channel is a companion to my West Coast Landscape Pro blog. Some people like to read, some prefer to watch. If I can answer someone’s question, life’s great.

If you’re thinking about starting your own YouTube channel, think ASQ. Answer specific questions.

Easy winter tasks you can do

By | gardening, Grasses, Pruning, Trees | No Comments

Easy stuff

As I write British Columbia is very cold. It’s minus twelve degrees Celsius and it feels way worse when you’re actually outside. But, once it warms up, you can attend to some easy garden tasks.


Broken branches can’t wait. They look awful, they could create a hazard and the last thing we need is diseases getting inside our tree through open wounds.

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Use a sharp pole pruner and take it out nicely.


Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa) can also be snipped because they’re on their way out. Use sharp hand snips and flush cut them at ground level. Just watch your fingers.

Hakonechloa nicely flush cut.

Plant separation

As plants grow and mature, they collide and then require separation when it gets out of hand. One example is the common snowberry being invaded by a mahonia.

When the snowberry is in leaf, this isn’t so obvious. And landscapers also have other, slightly more important, tasks to attend to during the busy season. In winter there is time for separation pruning.

So, one plant has to go. Since the mahonia creeped in and it’s smaller, I elected to cut it completely. This leaves the snowberry alone to do it’s thing. It’s a native plant which produces clusters of white berries, thus the common name snowberry. The botanical name is Symphoricarpos albus and I encourage you to Google it and get one for your garden.

It’s a good native plant. I rescued two specimens a few years ago and planted them at my commercial site. One has white berries and the other has pinkish ones. They’re doing well in their new home.

Enjoy your grasses


This Port Moody homeowner gets a gold star for leaving her Miscanthus ornamental grass standing so it can ornament the neighbourhood. I drove by today and it looked awesome moving in the breeze with fresh snow on the ground. Cut it back in roughly two months before the new growth starts appearing.

Take a good look at your garden in winter and do some easy maintenance when you get a chance. Spring is coming!

Notes on tree planting

By | Planting, Trees | No Comments

Today I spent the day in Burnaby and I made some notes for this blog post. It’s a kind of follow-up because I don’t always come to this part of Burnaby, but it’s nice to see how things change.

Horse chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum

This City of Burnaby planting checked many boxes. The city workers staked the tree, and they made a tree well around it. And, just to make sure lawn care people knew to stay away, they also installed a plastic guard.

Now, months later, there is some work to be done. I would weed the circle and I would get ready to remove the tree stakes. Stakes shouldn’t stay on longer than 14 months: this allows the tree to develop reaction wood in response to wind events, and thus get stronger.

I would keep the plastic guard on, even though the tree circle should make it obvious that lawn care machines shouldn’t get anywhere near the bark.


When I walked by this Styrax japonicus I immediately noticed the cage sticking out. Now, we know that planting trees with cages is totally fine. So far there isn’t any scientific evidence showing that cages cause harm. It’s totally up to you: keep it or remove it. But, it does look ugly.

When you install the tree, bend the top of the cage down or remove it completely. Don’t leave it sticking out like this. I already know that line edgers will get their line stuck in it when they show up in spring to edge the grass.

Also, there is a tiny soil volcano touching the trunk. It’s important to locate the root flare (where the trunk turns into roots) and make sure there isn’t any soil piled above it. These infamous volcanoes kill trees. You can watch my video on this important topic here. It tells you why the volcanoes kill trees.


Tree planting is no joke. It’s a science and we need to get it right if we want our trees to thrive. Take your time, do it well and you will be rewarded with beautiful, healthy trees.

On the pain of planting in clay

By | Planting, Trees | No Comments

Clay is a bitch

What’s wrong with this picture?

As soon as I saw this poor willow (Salix) planted way too high, I remembered the setting. The entire neighbourhood in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia sits on clay soils which are notoriously tough to dig through and keep the soils soggy because they can’t drain. And so I knocked on the door and asked the owner what happened: and just as I suspected, he gave up digging in the clay and planted the willow high. Good enough! I guess.

Is it good enough?

Is this planting good enough? I don’t think so. With one half of the root ball showing, many roots will desiccate and die. It also looks funny. But I totally understand because once I had to prepare three holes for cherry tree planting and it was a bitch. The clay layer is so tough, it’s easy to give up. I remembered it was solid but I should mention that all three cherries are doing well and flowering every spring.

A better solution?

My solution would be this: take another stab at the clay on the bottom of the planting hole with different tools. Then, once I would run out of energy and bad words, I would “massage” the root ball to make it smaller. It’s very likely that those two steps would allow for planting at grade, just the way we want it.

You can fight clay soils with organic amendments. Adding some to the planting hole and to the backfill soil would help over time. Sometimes you just have to accept the conditions you’re given and do your best. There is no point stressing but I do find the willow root ball sitting high very annoying. I would fight to plant it close to grade. The willow would be happier and I would sleep better at night.

People love trees on YouTube

By | Training, Trees, Videos | No Comments

Closest thing to viral

People love watching tree videos on YouTube! I found that out recently through my humble YouTube channel: West Coast Landscape Pro. Normally I post short videos of my work and things I see in the landscape; and I’m lucky to get one hundred views. So, imagine my surprise when one of my tree posts hit 4.6 thousand views and generated seven subscribers. That’s like Christmas for my channel.

Don’t leave stubs

The message is clear: don’t leave stubs on trees. Make nice cuts at the branch collar. In the video, the branch collar is a clearly visible raised section between the branch and trunk. Just beware that not every tree shows clear branch collars.

When you leave stubs the tree can’t cover up the wound. Eventually, the stub dies and it can act as a vector for disease to enter the tree. Once it’s inside, it’s hard to save the tree.

Also, always use a sharp saw to do your tree pruning work. In the video I’m using a brand new Silky Big Boy hand saw and it’s super sharp. It’s so sharp, it puts a smile on my face. Thank you Japan.


Not only did I get 4.6 thousand views, I also got comments. So I did what you are supposed to do: I replied to all of them. One especially was interesting, showing how even one short video can have slight impact on people.

After watching the video, one viewer promised to treat trees better when she goes camping and scours the area for firewood. She can now make decent cuts that the tree can over time cover up. I can only imagine what really goes on around camp sites.

Clear upsell

You can support my channel by viewing and subscribing; and by purchasing merchandise through my companion website: I appreciate your support. Also, remember to leave your comments so we can all learn something.

Danger: broken branch!

By | Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Don’t delay

As soon I walked into one ground level strata unit yard last week, I noticed piles of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seed cones. You can expect to see some but not piles. Then I looked up and saw the problem: a large branch had broken off and now it was just hanging in the tree. It was suspended in the tree, waiting to claim any unsuspecting victim, which isn’t funny. A child playing on the patio could potentially be killed; and adults would definitely end up concussed, or worse.

Large broken branches must be taken care of immediately. Strata owners should call their garden rep or building manager. A direct call to your landscape contractor like Proper Landscaping would also work.

It happens

You can expect some craziness with trees. Weaknesses develop as the tree matures and with sweetgum trees the weight of their seed pods alone can cause headaches. Here there was some weakness in the branch attachment, as indicated by the black tissues. See the picture below. That’s biology. We just can’t tolerate broken branches stuck in trees for safety, and aesthetic reasons. Our landscapes should be healthy, green and beautiful; and free of hazards.

Note the dark tissues, a clear evidence of weakness


Liquidambar styraciflua trees are an awesome alternative to maple trees. The leaves look similar to maples but the distinctive seed pods give it a unique look. The weight of the seed pods gives the tree a workout. Then, add a bit of wind as in this strata example where the two buildings create a wind a tunnel, and you get trouble.

Sweetgum trees also put on a nice color show in the fall; and they hang on to their leaves for a long time. If you plant one, make sure it has room to grow in the future. It’s not a small garden tree. We see it planted along strata complex streets.


Trees lose branches all the time, in wind storms, through disease and decay; or vandalism, and even self-pruning. The key is to quickly identify dangerous broken branches and remove them, especially inside strata complexes where there are targets like kids, pets and pregnant women. Barbecues and glass plates are also targets.

Call your landscape contractor, building manager, strata manager or council member and remove the danger as soon as possible. I pulled down the branch pictured above with my hands and it landed heavily on the sidewalk. Give trees lots of love, water and respect!

How to unload unwanted trees

By | Trees | No Comments


Picture a new house and busy, young owners with a small boy to care for. Their lawn went un-watered and un-cared for for months and now they needed help from Red Seal Vas. It happens all the time. Having a nice green lawn is harder than it looks. You have to water it regularly, fertilize it with product specific to the season, and cut at the proper height. On dry days you can mulch it by letting the clippings drop on the lawn as free fertilizer; and if you have time, you can pop any big weeds with a hand tool.

But this blog post is about two columnar sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) planted in the front lawn. They both looked dry, they didn’t have established tree wells and one had a dry top, a sure sign of water stress. I also did a quick wiggle test by gently moving the main stem. Since I could see the root balls moving, I knew the trees weren’t established.

Unwanted, water-stressed and eventually sold online.


The lady didn’t want the trees. She was sure of that. So I suggested she take a picture of the tree tags, still attached to the trees. (Columnar sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’, $149.99). She can then use the information to sell the trees online. And she did, just before I did a second cut on her weedy lawn.

As luck would have it, I finished work close by so I popped over to help dig up the trees, like some Japanese just-in-time service. Now, since the trees weren’t completely established in their planting holes the extraction was easy. Once the trees were out we transferred them to plastic pots and wrapped them up in plastic so we could put them in the small SUV that showed up.

I always wonder what sort of person buys columnar sweetgum online. The young buyer looked like a techie. He put the root balls in the back and stuck the tree tips out through the passenger window. I hope he didn’t have far to go.


Don’t want your landscape trees? Give them away or sell them online. My client did and she’s happy, even though those two trees were the only trees on her property, if you don’t count single cedars.

When you dig up the trees, keep as much of the root ball as you can, unless you’re confidently planting bare-root. Also, don’t forget to fill in the holes so your mailman doesn’t break a leg.

Never waste perfectly good trees!

Terrified by London plane tree bark

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Calm down!

When apprentices heat up WhatsApp with messages about tree bark, I laugh. It means they still need to spend more time in the field. That’s why the Red Seal program involves school sessions and time in the field. It’s difficult to pass the trade exam without experience. And London plane (Platanus x acerifolia) trees are part of that experience. She’s on the right track by asking questions.

Platanus x acerifolia bark

What about the bark?

The bark on London plane trees is extremely attractive. I have these trees across the street from my place and when I walk by, I peel off some of the bark for the fun of it. I have no immediate use for it. It’s just a bad habit.

Now, should our apprentice worry about the bark on the ground? Or, would it make more sense for her to worry about the sidewalk crack weeds and weeds in the tree wells? The lawn could also use a blade edge; that’s what any good landscape manager would notice. It’s important to cover everything in the landscape.

Of course, there are times when the trees may be diseased but London plane trees shed bark all the time. One reason is renewal: old bark peels off to make room for new, beautiful bark. Another reason is defensive: protect against invading parasites and fungal diseases.

Seed balls

I know London plane trees well because they- they only!-make me cry when I get close to them. I don’t suffer from any allergies but pollen from the seed balls and bark makes my eyes water. In a big way.

The seed balls are as attractive as the bark. They have a hard core to which are attached seeds, making a round seed ball.


If you see your neighbourhood London plane trees shedding bark, chances are they are just renewing their bark or defending themselves against diseases.

Let the monkey puzzle tree surprise you

By | Trees | No Comments

Living fossil

The monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is a living fossil. Because it’s a tree adapted to a different earth, seeing it in our landscapes is a memorable experience. Now, I’ve seen the trees before and I knew they had a bizarre look to them; but I never really looked them up, until now. The trees we see in our landscapes are native to Chile.

Young specimens are spindly and their foliage is made up of spiky triangular leaves that openly advertise to every passerby and animal to stay away. Even the stems are covered in spiky leaves which makes me wonder how people plant the trees. I’m sure you need heavy duty gloves and goggles.

A young specimen of Auracaria araucana.

Branch tip


The young monkey puzzle tree above is well planted because there is ample space for it to develop. It will grow to 30-40 m and it will also get the full sun it likes in this spot. Remember to always consider the mature size of the trees you are planting to avoid future problems.

The monkey puzzle tree is slow-growing. It takes years for cones to develop so until then, it’s difficult to say if this tree is male or female. The cones will tell us.


Mature monkey puzzle trees lose their lower branches and flatten out on top, which gives them an umbrella shape. Self-pruning is common as lower branches are shed. I didn’t know what the tree looked like at maturity until one of my Facebook friends posted a series of photos online.

A mature monkey puzzle tree.

I was also surprised to learn that the trees produce edible nuts. I would love to try one. Allegedly they taste like a cross between cashews and pine nuts but I have no idea what pine nuts taste like. If indigenous people in South America harvest them, they must be good to eat.

Monkey puzzle trees, like ginkgos, are living fossils and I enjoy seeing both species in our parks and gardens. The monkey puzzle tree has a bizarre look with its spiky triangular leaves. Interestingly, it transforms into an umbrella shape as it sheds its lower branches with maturity.

If you have space and time, you can plant one in your garden and give your visitors a memorable experience.