Category

Trees

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.

Let us grow!

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

I spent a Monday working in White Rock recently, and at lunch time I walked to a pizza place down the block. Mask on, of course. As I walked by a bus shelter I noticed a City of Surrey poster. And a blog post was born.

I looked up the Bylaw #5835 and it’s a simple two page document. It says don’t touch city trees and don’t remove them, even if firewood is your family’s only source of heat. You could be fined $500. Simple enough.

A real problem

As a certified landscape professional and arborist, I attend many trade shows and seminars for education credits (CEUs) and to gain knowledge. The coronavirus pushed all of this online but learning never stops. It can’t. It continues even during a pandemic.

I mention trade shows because the presentations with the worst tree abuse cases consistently came from City of Surrey speakers. It became a running joke. As soon as I saw City of Surrey speakers, I signed up; and I can’t think of one single disappointing event.

“Pruning” by residents often meant ugly topping or outright tree removal. That might have been overlooked in years past but not anymore. Now cities care about canopy cover percentages, cooling, beauty, and ecosystem services.

Tree bylaws get drafted and workers get ISA certified so they can take great care of city trees.

Let them grow

I totally agree with the bus shelter poster. Leave street trees alone. We need them to look great and provide us with their many free ecosystem services. Let professionals do the pruning.

However, I do understand people’s frustrations. Municipalities can take months to respond to requests for pruning. I’ve done some pruning on city trees before but it wasn’t anything crazy. In one case, the owner was going bonkers with honeydew secreted by aphids feeding on tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). Her car, sidewalk and patio were covered in sticky honeydew. Her patio was basically unusable. So, I removed whatever branches I could reach but it didn’t solve the problem completely.

Tulip tree flower

Aphids aren’t good enough reason to remove healthy trees. And we know that tulip trees come with summer aphids. Maybe some sort of cover for the patio would be a better solution.

Conclusion

Let city arborists handle city trees.

Why trees are good

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

One picture summary

Now, take a good look and decide which tree owner you are. I am a green industry professional and I own a green blog so I’m the guy on the left, obviously. As an aside, I must say that my wife doesn’t cling me like this while we admire the beauty of trees. That was way before we had kids.

I rarely consider the drop on the ground, until I have to clean it up at work. I never considered trees “messy”. That’s absurd. Just last Friday, we cleaned-up sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seed pods off roadways and it didn’t bother me. I love the way the seed pods look, all spiky, like World War II floating mines.

The real challenge at work and outside is to convince the person on the right that trees are good. They’re not “messy”. You’d be surprised to learn that there are many tree haters. Recently, I went for a site walk with two ladies in White Rock and they proudly informed me of the number of sweetgums they had managed to clear-cut off their property. So, I nodded politely and cringed on the inside, all the while wondering if they enjoyed free oxygen.

Fun exercise

Let’s have some fun. Grab a pencil and some scrap paper and try to think of the benefits trees provide for us, free of charge. What is referred to as eco-system services.

I will do this exercise right now, in this blog post, without any preparation. I will list whatever comes to my mind. No assistance from Google. If you do it, you might change your mind about the trees in your garden or your strata complex.

Don’t look at my list below just yet. Try the exercise first.

We need trees- Vas takes the challenge

  • oxygen production
  • shade
  • bird and animal habitat, including dead wildlife trees
  • cooling in cities which tend to act as heat islands
  • beauty, including fall colors
  • medicinal use, e.g. bark, fruit
  • edible fruit
  • soil and bank stabilization
  • stormflow control (forests absorb water and release it slowly)
  • inspiration, e.g. when you see trees thousands of years old
  • carbon storage, crucial on a warming planet
  • building materials, my least-favorite benefit
  • micro climate, your home climate would be different without trees
  • annual wood production through coppicing and pollarding
  • climbing fun for kids
  • hammock anchoring
  • blog post topics
  • leaf mulch for planted beds
  • lessons, I had no idea there were winter-flowering cherries in Japan

Now I have to stop. How did you do? Remember, we need trees on a warming planet so take care of the ones you have in your garden or common property. Get to know them and plant new ones, if you have space. Maintain them well. Message me if you need help.

Logger for a day

By | Trees | No Comments

Have some fun

Here’s the problem: a tree comes down at the back of a strata property and ISA certified arborist Vas gets a phone call from a panicked foreman. Yeah, of course I will come take a look. Why let full-time tree dudes have all the fun?

I harp on this all the time: all landscape professionals should get ISA certified so they can do some of their own tree work, add value to their companies and get extra job security. All you need is three years in the field -and you don’t have to work with trees full-time-to sit the ISA examination. Unlike my Red Seal, which is an experience-based examination, the ISA examination tests your knowledge. Then comes experience as trees come down on your sites.

Don’t be a cowboy

Full-time tree dudes have fancy protective gear and cool-looking helmets. Be like them, don’t work like a cowboy. I also made sure my chainsaw had bar oil and proper chain tension. Safety first!

Pro tip:

If you’re freaked out about chainsaws, put the chain on personally.

The problem!

This tree was clearly in the way. It’s always a good idea to clear downed trees quickly and clearing this baby tree was a delight.

If you need chainsaw practice- and many landscapers do!- cut the tree into smaller sections. I like to take slices out of the remaining stump; I just don’t talk about it in front of my boss.

The stump came down very easily which means the base was decayed and the recent wind storm made the tree snap. You can see how the stump cross section sports cavities and it’s brown compared to the upper sections. My chainsaw flew through the stump better than a hot knife through butter.

Decay at the base made this tree snap in a wind storm.

That covers the stump.

As for the trunk, simply remove the side branches and then make cuts into the stem without cutting into the lawn. Then, kick the stem over and finish your cuts. This should give you nice manageable logs to take away.

Easy does it

This clean-up job was actually quick. So quick, I was able to help the crew pick up leaf piles and check their work.

You can do this kind of tree work on your sites as well. You don’t necessarily need ISA certification but I recommend it to all landscape professionals. When you get certified, your company can charge nice coin for easy work that would otherwise be delegated to pricey, full-time tree dudes with fancy bucket trucks, confusing ropes and shiny helmets.

Don’t be intimated. You can do jobs like this. I know you can.

Landscape adjustments to consider

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care, Trees | No Comments

100% Vas

With landscape supervisor Vas on site, there are always bound to be adjustments to make because I love to catalogue them. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments on the fly. When tasks get pushed, they may not get done. But not when I’m on site.

Let’s see some examples.

Low branches

Pro landscapers carry good quality snips on their hips for moments like these. As I walked by, I noticed low tree branches. Since we don’t want branches to grow this low, it’s a good idea to remove them.

In the second example, we have a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) branch hanging so low it made it difficult for me to mow in straight lines. The offending branch also affects the shape of the tree, as if it’s attempting to break away from the crown.

Since I didn’t have a hand saw, I had to put this on my list for later.

Aggressive line trimming

These developing ditches scare me. I know vertical line edging is responsible for this because blade edging is sharp and narrow. It would be OK if the crews left it alone but they don’t. They will hit it again next week and the ditch will grow wider. Then we’ll have to pull weeds out of the gap. Use a blade edger, if you can. If you can’t, vertical close to the driveway edge at ninety degrees.

This is the classic “beavered” look and it’s not Ok. You have to slow down and touch the post without chipping it. I know we ask people to get their work done quickly and efficiently but we also need quality. “Beavered” posts invite complaints from clients so take the time to train your crews.

Don’t touch your mow lines

Here the dude was rushing to mow a missed lawn and he took the shortest route right across his mow lines. It’s not a good idea at a high-profile clubhouse used by residents from two different complexes.

Don’t cross your mow lines; and don’t be afraid to make landscape adjustments on the fly. Your site or garden will look much better.

One sad fig tree

By | Trees | No Comments

Why so sad?

When you buy a fig tree, you definitely expect to harvest some figs after three years. And yet, here we are, three seasons in and the tree looks pretty sad. Why?

There are many possible reasons. So, let’s take a look at the most obvious.

Competition

Lawns are known to outcompete young trees planted in lawns like this one. Less water and nutrient availability means less growth.

One way you can help the tree is by establishing a tree well. The grass will not be a factor inside the tree well so the fine surficial tree roots can collect nutrients; and the well itself collects water. Adding a layer of mulch would keep the root zone cool and weed-free.

Speaking of water, it’s not clear how much water this fig tree received after planting. New trees require extra water so they can get established.

The tree well also eliminates any potential tree versus lawncare machine collisions. I can’t say for sure from the photo if the tree sustained any injuries. But, I wouldn’t bet against it. By establishing a tree well, you create a nice buffer between the tree and machines.

When collisions do occur and the bark gets damaged, the tree must use up precious energy for repairs instead of growth. That means no figs for you.

Bamboo out

Nurseries install bamboo stakes so the tree doesn’t get damaged in transport or at the retail center. The bamboo stake should be removed at the time of planting. Or, if you’re really worried, a few months later. I think the Canadian landscape standards recommend stake removal after fourteen months.

Keeping stakes on means that the tree never forms any reaction wood in response to windy conditions. It makes the tree weak and reliant on the stakes.

Also, the cedar hedge behind the tree could be depriving the fig tree of the sunlight hours it needs to thrive.

Case closed?

Be very careful when planting trees in lawns. Always establish a tree well around the tree and mulch it. Remove any staking and never get too close to the tree with your lawn mower or edger.

The owner of the fig tree received a lot of feedback and I hope she makes some changes. Soon.

Tree staking 101

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Tree staking seemed really easy to understand and pull-off. Ever since I started landscaping in 2000, I’ve used two or three stakes with good quality arbortie to stake newly planted trees.

But now, thanks to my landscape professional friends in the United States, I know that there is more to staking than meets the eye. And I love the idea of learning new techniques even twenty seasons later.

Pro tip: Always be open to new ideas and techniques. There’s so much to learn.

Regular staking

I have had lots of practice with tree staking because I have twenty seasons in the field; and because I went through the Landscape Industry Certified program. There, one of the practical stations was tree planting and staking. Let’s ignore tree planting for now. I will cover it in a separate blog.

Depending on the specifications, I had to drive the tree stakes just outside of the root ball or inside. To pull it off, you’ll need a metal stake pounder and ear protection.

First, the pounder goes on the top of the stake and then you stand it up, line it up and drive it in. As the metal pounder hits the stake, it gets very loud quickly. That’s why my failure to wear ear protection during testing cost me points.

Incredibly, I would need three attempts to pass this practical station.

Second, you secure good quality arbor tie to the stakes and loop it around the tree. It should be just tight enough; not too tight and not too loose.

Pro tip: Tree stakes should only stay on for a maximum of 14 months. Beyond that the tree will get “lazy”; it won’t form the reaction wood it needs to grow strong and withstand future wind storms.

One example of standard tree stakes.

Staples

Stapled pine tree in Florida.

This was news to me. Instead of above-ground stakes this pine in Florida is stapled with stakes. First, four stakes are driven into the root ball and then both pairs are connected together.

Obviously, the wood size would increase with a bigger root ball. Here it’s a 2×2″.

Advantages

  • The stakes are mostly hidden so they don’t stick out like regular wooden stakes, which many people consider unsightly.
  • The tree develops reaction wood as it moves in response to wind events. In this example, the pine survived a recent hurricane storm that hit Florida.
  • There’s no need to go back and remove the stakes.
  • Nobody will forget to remove the stakes.
  • There is zero chance of girdling because there is no arbor tie connecting branches to the stakes.

Conclusion

Keep your eyes and mind open to new ideas and techniques. I was blown away by the stapling technique even though it’s not new. It was new to me and I would love to try it one day.

Sucking up to Bartlett Tree Experts

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

It’s common for landscape companies to do their own tree work up to some decent height, like 10-12 feet. Anything higher than that gets sketchy.

So what do you do when your client wants you to remove a giant Pin oak (Quercus palustris)? Well, you call in your favourite tree company. In this blog post it’s Bartlett Tree Experts.

Bartlett comes in and takes the tree down in no time and there is a beautiful up-side to these referrals. Every year, Bartlett Tree Experts invites their clients to a training seminar! Bingo. I live for these moments.

Client seminars

This year the seminar took place inside a Burnaby, BC, private motorcycle exhibit and Harley-Davidson store building. I already knew from past seminars that there would be a gift waiting for me at check-in. Interestingly, this year we received a bento box so I discreetly asked for a second one to prevent my kids from arguing later.

The lecture room was packed and with the coronavirus raging in China, some people were reluctant to shake hands. Hot and cold drinks were provided throughout; and sandwich lunch was included.

Egan Davis

As an introvert, mingling in a crowded room is a lot of work for me. I ran into several old acquaintances and some people from former employers. And every time they see me, they have proof that there is life after their sweatshop.

I gladly shook Egan Davis’ hand. Egan Davis is a plant expert and instructor at the UBC Botanical Garden. Incidentally, he’s my hero because he did the one-day Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist preparation course I took in 2014. As a result, I was able to pass the challenge exam soon after thanks to this indispensable course.

Egan also delivered a great lecture on static versus dynamic landscapes. The idea is that the landscapes we install in British Columbia are static. Once we install them, we just maintain them; we don’t let them evolve.

Egan’s idea is to start with herbaceous plants, let them build up the soil and then, over time, add shrubs and trees. There is no obvious end.

Ph.D.s

The seminars included three lectures by two awesome, articulate, Ph.D.s. One is an expert on plant diseases and one on urban forestry. The fourth lecturer was a citizen master beekeeper and she delivered a lecture on honeybees and her family’s history. I must admit, half-way through I was close to nodding off. But, to be fair, it was the worst time slot right after lunch.

All done

At the end of the day, there was an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) sheet circulated for ISA arborists to sign for education credits. I collected 5 CEUs for this event; and 5 CEUs towards my landscape industry certified designation. Beautiful.

And that’s how I walked out of the building, with CEUs and a notebook full of notes. I also stuffed my pockets with fruit and bars for the kids.

It pays to hook up Bartlett Tree Experts with work. They just might invite you to their client training seminar in 2021. Definitely attend.

Risking arrest to see California’s Eucalypts

By | Events, Trees | No Comments

This past August I found myself in Lake Forest, California because of my son’s soccer tournament. It was yet another sunny morning and it was getting hot. It was too hot for the boys to have a serious soccer practice. So I left the team at the tennis courts and walked across the street.

 

IMG_4030

 

Private property!

My target was a nearby line of beautiful and huge Eucalyptus trees. It was like Christmas for this arborist. The trees looked awesome and as I took more pictures I drifted onto a church parking lot. There I shot many other landscape plants. I was having a fantastic California morning until a voice woke me up from my plant trance.

 

IMG_4050

I love these Eucalyptus trees.

 

“Can I help you? This is private property!” Immediately I thought oh, shit, was this an open carry state? Then I mumbled something about visiting California and loving their church landscaping. “We get all kinds here!” was his reply. So I apologized and told the dude I was leaving. No need to call the police. He then wished me a pleasant visit and I wondered what the Sunday sermons were like.

 

IMG_4048

Note the security camera.

 

Trees in Paradise

I have since learned that Lake Forest used to be an Eucalyptus plantation. Now it’s a master-planned community with beautiful landscaping. I was blown away by the landscaping so much, I walked into the nearest bookstore desperate for some sort of plant guide. And I found a door stopper gem there called Trees in Paradise by Jared Farmer. (I will review this excellent book in a future blog.)

Farmer devotes a one hundred page chapter to Eucalypts and it’s a wild ride. The trees were imported from Australia and became very popular in California. And then it all swung the other way. Eucalyptus plantations in San Francisco were abandoned and the trees were allowed to go wild.

One glitch stands out from this book chapter. Californians wanted to reproduce the success Aussies had with their fast-growing Eucalypts. But what they didn’t notice was that the Aussies were processing old growth Eucalypts.

The new growth Eucalypts in California were extremely difficult to process because the young trees behave badly when they’re run through saw mills. Farmer does a great job of explaining this. Basically the trees break apart at the saw mill so it’s hard to get the nice straight lumber saw mills wanted. Bummer.

I think the Eucalypts I saw in Los Angeles looked great. I can’t wait to see them again in August 2020 but I will be more mindful of private property lines. “Canadian pro blogger dead in California” would be an unfortunate headline.

 

 

Remembrance Day

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Today is Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom today. Unfortunately, I had to work today but I did stop at 11 a.m. to remember those who made their ultimate sacrifice.

A new bed

In 2014, while working for the City of Coquitlam as a park labourer, we created a new bed for Remembrance Day at Blue Mountain Park. And now I drive by the park weekly so I remember fallen soldiers all year.

In subsequent years the municipality redesigned the front planted bed but the plants in the back remain. And I’m glad they do because I planted them with my city gardener boss. We planted yews (Taxus), Astilbes, maples (Acer) and one dogwood (Cornus).

 

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I planted all of the back plants in 2014 with my city gardener boss. They all look fine.

 

First bare-root planting

The dogwood planting was very special because it was my first bare-root planting. Bare-root planting is recommended because when you wash off the root ball you can clearly see the tree roots. This then allows you to arrange them so they look like spokes on a wheel before planting. We want all roots to run out and get established, not keep running in circles. Feel free to prune out any rebel roots.

When you wash off the root ball, hold on to the mud you create. You will use it to plant the tree after your roots are nicely arranged like spokes on a wheel. The mud anchors the bare-root tree in the hole. At the time I didn’t know this. Keeping mud in the back of the truck seemed crazy.

The procedure is to install the muddy soil in phases: soil and water go in and then you wait for it to settle, and repeat the procedure until the hole is filled. The mud cements the tree in the hole.

When we did the planting in 2014 the lawn and soil were wet so I got very muddy but it didn’t bother me. I loved the new experience of bare-root planting.

2019

Now, five years later in 2019, I finally stopped by to take a picture of the dogwood and it looks healthy. I gave it a quick wiggle test by moving the trunk back and forth. The base felt solid which means the tree is established. Yay! Success. The other plants look fine as well.

 

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The dogwood in the middle was planted bare-root in 2014.

 

It feels good to know that my work will be on display for many years to come. I have since done one solo bare-root planting project and I hope to do many more. You should try it next time, too.

I hope you had a great Remembrance Day!