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The Art of Creating Gardens


Pest Control

Planting & Design


We all look at trees differently whether we realize it or not. One of the most challenging things to do for a customer is to paint a picture in their minds of what a tree will look like after it is pruned, or many years after. The best relationships I have with customers involve trust. That is, my customers trust my experience and professional judgement when working on their tree, and over the years, that trust is affirmed by the tree responding to my maintenance and appearing much as I said it would.

Prune Trees Early to Cut Maintenance Costs Later

Ideally, a tree should be pruned the first season after it is planted, as soon as the roots become somewhat established. The rationale is that the younger the tree, the better we can train the branch structure, and as a result, the stronger and more balanced the tree will be as it matures. Pruning a young tree properly is relatively quick and easy for an experienced arborist, and affordable for the homeowner. A few well-placed cuts a year is all that is required for many years, and depending on the species, the mature tree may require little or no maintenance as a result of proper structural pruning when it is young.

Pruning a mayday in Red Deer. S.LePage photo.

The Most Common Scenario (Less than Ideal)

Most often, I get called to look at trees when they are mature, or over-mature, and have been neglected for many years, or even decades. At that point, there is little I can do the tree’s branch structure. Instead, I can improve the appearance and health of the tree by removing dead and diseased wood, repairing storm damaged areas, and improving the tree’s balance and overall shape.

Old, neglected trees take time and money to improve, and it can take many years and several pruning cycles to get the tree to look its best. Is it worth the time and money? That depends on the homeowner, what they want out of their yard, the length of time they plan to stay in their house, how much they value their trees, etc. I always make it clear how much work a tree will need and why, and what the future maintenance requirements will be.

Tree maintenance is kind of like dental care. We don’t have to go to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning every year, and we don’t have to floss our teeth, but if we keep up with our dental care, our teeth will look better and last longer. It’s the same with trees and tree care.

Pruning with a Purpose

We prune trees with the future in mind. We always look at the past and current growth rate of the tree and make pruning decisions based on that growth rate. I always envision the tree 5 to 10 years beyond the time of pruning. Every single cut we make has a purpose and we are accountable for our decisions. I never make cuts for the sake of making cuts. My customers are welcome to question the decisions I make, and I am always happy to explain my pruning rationale.

Removing an old elm in Red Deer. E.Brennan photo.

Be Proactive

Find an arborist you trust. Do your own research to back up his or her claims about your tree. Ask a lot of questions. Young tree maintenance is affordable. Pruning old, neglected specimens the first time can be expensive, depending on your maintenance budget.

It is more affordable to maintain your trees regularly, rather than letting them go for many years. Once again, dental care comes to mind. I’d rather have an annual cleaning and see a smiling hygienist than endure the burden of drills, needles, and crowns.

(c) 2012 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Tree Service, Red Deer, AB (403) 755-5899


Beauty is High Maintenance

Posted by shane - January 15, 2012 - Gardening Tips

One of the most frequent comments I hear from customers is that they want a “low-maintenance” yard.  But they also say they want a nice yard.  In my experience, there are three ways to have a low-maintenance yard:

1) Move to a condo

2) Pave over your entire yard

3) Get used to ugly, also called “natural.”

Folks, natural is the Rocky Mountains, which are beautiful.  “Natural” in a yard is a homeowner convincing himself that his neglect is somehow pretty.  Natural = neglect.  And neglect = invasive weeds, runaway perennials, unruly shrubs, and trees that self-destruct, over time, from poor branch structure.

Unless your yard looks like this, it will need work! R.LePage photo.

Beautiful urban landscapes take time, effort, and money.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of landscapers out there that are selling lies, convincing people that they can install a low-maintenance yard full of beautiful plants.  This just isn’t true.

All that said, there are ways to minimize the amount of required maintenance.  But if you have a yard, you will have to work on it, or hire someone else to do it.  I think the term “low-maintenance” is often heard as “no-maintenance.”  Once again, if this is what you want, move to a condo.

So how does one reduce the amount of maintenance in their yard?  There are a few ways:

1) Plant drought-tolerant species from good nursery stock

More and more, I’m moving toward the native species and those that have proven drought tolerance.  Pine, trembling aspen, dogwood, wild rose, dwarf birch, various willow shrubs, and others, may not be the most showy plants, but thoughtfully planned, you can design a great yard from these trees and shrubs.

Avoid species of trees that are prone to disease, such as mayday, ‘Schubert’ chokecherry (black knot), and mountain ash (fireblight).  Also avoid trees that have annual insect problems, such as birch (leafminers, aphids, bronze birch borer.)

2) Plant trees and shrubs in the right place

Very few, if any, people seem to read the labels on the plants they buy.  If they did, they would be able to determine the mature height and spread of the tree or shrub, thus saving themselves a lot of pruning  later on, trying to make their tree fit their yard.

Properly planted crabapple. S.LePage photo.

Pick the right tree for the right place, and you will have very little future maintenance.  I recently drove through the new Vanier neighbourhood in Red Deer to have a look at what new homeowners were planting in their tiny, postage-stamp yards.  What I saw was a disaster.  Almost every  yard had the wrong tree species planted in the wrong place.  In 5 to 10 years, those trees will have over-grown their spot and will become a problem.  In 20, most trees planted in their current locations will be gone, removed as nuisance trees.  I suspect these new neighbourhoods won’t look like much in 20 years, which is too bad, because gone are the days of the big yards, with all those big shade trees, which make up what we call the urban forest.  Careful planning is a must.

The rosybloom crabapple in the centre of the above picture was planted such that when it is mature, its spread will only reach as far as the fences that surround it.  It will not encroach on the neighbour’s yard, or the parking area behind the fence.  It will need structural pruning each year for a few years, but essentially, it is a low-maintenance tree.

Also, plant your trees and shrubs properly.  Do some reading beforehand to make sure you’re doing it correctly.   A lot of my maintenance work is a result of improperly planted trees.

3) Don’t over-prune & stop “shaping”

Professional high-maintenance pruning in White Rock, BC. S. LePage photo.

There is a disease in the urban landscape that I call “Bored Man Syndrome.”  It’s everywhere and I pray I never get it.  This is where guys get really bored and continuously, and indescriminately, cut and shape their trees and shrubs, such that everything is short and round.  Ironically, these are the same people that want a low-maintenance yard the most.  No wonder!  They are slaves to what they’ve done!

Trees and shrubs respond to hard pruning by putting on a new flush of growth to replace what has been cut.  In a low-maintenance yard, with good nursery stock planted in the right place, little pruning is needed, except to remove diseased or deadwood every several years.  As soon as trees and shrubs are shaped, they will need to be re-shaped, and re-shaped, and it never ends.  Hard pruning, without understanding the nature of the plant, can also ruin the structure and natural beauty of that particular species.

4) Create mulched areas, or beds, around all your trees and shrubs

Mulch is so important.  It holds in soil moisture and greatly reduces watering requirements, prevents competition between the lawn and the trees, and breaks down slowly to provide nutrients to the plants.  It will also slow down weeds, and make the weeds that do grow through it easier to pull.  Simply, mulched trees are healthier and “low-stress”, and that’s what you want.

Don’t waste your money on expensive landscape fabric.  It doesn’t work, and its a nuisance to deal with if you have to pull out plants later on.  And it’s plastic!  Do you really want to bury a bunch of plastic in your yard?

5) Don’t go after the “perfect” lawn

I’ve seen a lot of yards.  The nicest lawns are meticulously cared for by people who have the time to devote to it.  They need constant water, fertilizer, and weed control.  For low-maintenance types, that’s insane.

Minimize the amount of grass in your yard by expanding the mulched tree and shrub areas.  Trees are far less maintenance than lawn.  If you are putting in a new lawn, I recommend using low-maintenance grass species: fescues as opposed to Kentucky bluegrass.

Taller grass is lower maintenance than short, constantly mowed grass.  Reduce the amount of irrigation and fertilizer.  Last year, in Sylvan Lake, I only watered my lawn once.  By summer, it was just as green as my neighbour who had a fertilizer company come out every 3 weeks.

These are some helpful hints to lower the cost of your yard maintenance.  If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start with your yard, it is best to call a professional arborist or hoticulturist for a consultation.  A couple of hundred spent on an assessment and some advice can save thousands later on.

(c) 2012 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Oystershell Scale

Posted by shane - February 6, 2011 - Insect Pests, Insects, Diseases & Other Problems

Of all the pests that I work with in Calgary and Red Deer, the scale insects are doing the most damage.  And while European Elm Scale is now familiar to homeowners and tree professionals, oystershell scale is still largely unknown to people, and its potential for damage grossly underestimated by arborists, landscapers, and government bodies.  It attacks over 120 species of ornamental trees and shrubs, many of which are commonly planted on the Prairies.  Without proper recognition, this pest will destroy countless plant material in Alberta.

Oystershell scale on hawthorn in Douglasdale, Calgary, 2016. S. LePage photo.

Oystershell scale on hawthorn in Douglasdale, Calgary, 2016. S. LePage photo.

A fellow arborist first called my attention to oystershell scale in Calgary in 2006.  He had a number of clients in the Inglewood neighbourhood, with dying cotoneaster hedges.  We didn’t know what it was at that time.  I looked at the hedges, took a sample, and soon identified it.  Since then, oystershell has spread throughout the city, particularly severe in some neighbourhoods, such as Riverview and Douglasdale, and just getting started in others. Cotoneaster is the preferred host, but we have now seen it infesting common lilac, crabapples, apples, hawthorn, and green ash trees.  Entire streets have lost their cotoneaster hedges in some neighbourhoods.  As of late 2015, the owner of another tree service in Calgary told me that virtually every yard he works in is now affected.


Infested cotoneaster hedges die-back in patches, leaving large voids in the hedge.  Close inspection of the twigs reveals thousands of adult oyster-shaped insects encrusting the stems.  In early to mid June, if an infestation is not obvious, take a piece of black paper or similar sized piece of black leather (I use a leather folder), and shake the branches over it.  Look closely.  If scale is present, you will see many tiny yellowish “crawlers”, which is the immature stage of the insect.  A few crawlers might not warrant control measures.  A heavy infestation will require a spray.  The main predators for oystershell scale are ladybugs and lacewings, but from what I’ve seen, not in sufficient numbers to control the scale.

Pest Control

Oystershell scale insects are straightforward to control using conventional insecticides.  They appear to have one generation per season in Calgary.  The crawler form is active in early to mid June, depending on weather conditions.  Inspect the leaves as described above.  If the infestation level is moderate to high, you can spray the entire canopy, thoroughly, with any contact insecticide.  I recommend hiring a licensed pesticide applicator, as they have an arsenal of different chemicals, as well as appropriate spray and safety equipment.  I have successfully used permethrin, malathion, and others to control these pests.  Dormant oil spray in late winter to early spring, before bud break, may offer some control as well.  Spray all other infested trees in the same manner.  In order to avoid the use of conventional insecticides, some municipalities and community associations are recommending the use of dormant oil spray in June.  I do not recommend this practice as dormant oil sprays can cause foliar damage (that’s why they call it DORMANT oil).

Renovation of Infested Hedges 

Heavily infested, or patchy hedges, are unsightly and will never recover as well as homeowners would like.  In this case, the best thing to do is 1) cut the hedge back to about 8″ above grade in late winter, before bud-break.  You may get away with cutting back sections of the hedge only; 2) in June, spray the sprouting stumps with a contact insecticide (oystershell will attack stems right to the base of the plant); and 3) as your new hedge grows, monitor pest populations in early June and spray with a contact insecticide, if necessary.  Through careful monitoring and appropriate spray treatments, this insect is easily controlled.  Exception:  If you hedge is “nearly-dead” or devoid of vigour, you would best remove, grind the stumps, and replace the plants.

To book pesticide applications, please call early in the season, as spray timing is very important.  As of 2016, we will be starting a dormant oil program in Calgary.


We have just concluded our seasonal spraying for oystershell scale in Calgary, and this year has been, by far, the worst season for oystershell scale in the city.  Besides cotoneaster hedges, we have identified the insects on the following plants:

Apple, crabapple (especially purple-leaved rosybloom crabs; the ‘Dolgo’ crabs are much more resistant), hawthorns, common lilac, mountain ash, green ash (especially in Douglasdale and Inglewood), amur cherry (Douglasdale), and ‘Schubert’ chokecherry (Inglewood).

I expect to see a high rate of tree mortality among the ornamental species in the next 3-5 years.  The vast majority of plant material in Calgary goes untreated, and our control efforts are not even statistically significant.  To date, I have not seen or heard of a response by The City of Calgary.  The problem is getting so severe, that I’m not sure what the City would even be able to do about the problem at this point.  We’ve now seen scale in every neighbourhood in Calgary.

Our research indicates that oystershell has the potential to infest many more species, including elms (already infested by European elm scale), willows, and all poplar species.  I will update this blog as the situation progresses.


Unfortunately, many people are receiving poor advice about how to deal with oystershell scale.  Even more distressing is that the advice is coming from tree services, landscapers, and garden centres, whom people tend to trust.

The most common piece of advice is to cut down the hedge.  Well, ok, that’s fine if the hedge is half dead and looks terrible, but I’ve seen plenty of people cutting their beautiful hedges to the ground, when you can’t even tell that they have scale at all.  This is a mistake.  First of all, if you catch the infestation early, it can easily be controlled with properly-timed sprays.  Second, many people are cutting their hedges down when the plants are in full-leaf, which is a big mistake, because it robs the already weakened plants of stored energy.  If you must cut down your hedge, do it during the dormant season, from November until early April.

Ok, so you’ve cut down the hedge.  Now what are you going to do?  Well, nobody seems to have any advice at this point.  I can tell you from plenty of experience that a hedge that was cut to the ground in April, will be re-infested with scale by June, if proper control measures aren’t taken.  The scale infests the plants right to the base of the stems.

So cutting back a hedge is fine if required, but the cutting back does nothing to stop the advance of the scale.  At some point, if you want to keep your cotoneaster hedge, you will have to start a control program, which will involve at least one, and probably two applications of some kind of insecticide, in late May to mid-June.

Not many people want to talk about spraying anymore, and colleges and government agencies tend to avoid mention of chemicals altogether.  The fact is that proper insecticide use is part of a well-rounded integrated pest management program, a “tool in the tool box”.  Sometimes, sprays are necessary.  For many insect problems, they can be avoided.  For proper oystershell scale control, in an ornamental urban landscape, they are necessary.

(c) Shane LePage 2011/16, Wild Rose Tree Service & Pest Control, Red Deer, AB

Wolf Willow

Posted by shane - February 1, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs, Uncategorized

Eleagnus commutata


Native to Alberta, wolf willow is a common site in natural areas such as streambanks, dry slopes, and open fields.  It is aggressive and often invasive, and I would not recommend planting this shrub in an ornamental setting.  It looks best in its native environment, on acreages, and in large, park-like settings.  It is an interesting contrast plant, with silvery foliage, yellow flowers, and a strong fragrance.

I rarely see this plant in the ornamental landscape.  It is used in reclamation and slope stabilization projects.


Full sun.

Pruning Time

Anytime of year.


Not normally necessary if used in a mass planting.  This plant spreads by suckering, so if used in an ornamental garden (not recommended) it would be necessary to control the suckers.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB





Powderface Willow

Posted by shane - January 26, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

Salix commutata ‘Powderface’

Powderface in a row at Bow Point Nursery in Calgary, AB. Ken Wright photo.

Powderface in a row at Bow Point Nursery in Calgary, AB. Ken Wright photo.

Powderface willow is an attractive shrub, native to Alberta.  It features dense, upright stems with silvery-grey foliage.  I was impressed with this plant becuase it thrived in the harshest, dustiest spot in my yard.  My only complaint was that it lacks appeal in the fall, as they leaves just turn brown.  Like other willow shrubs, older specimens often suffer infestations of poplar borer near the base of the stems, causing them to fall over.  A healthy plant will regenerate a new shrub from the energy in the existing root systems.  Powderface willow would look nice as an informal hedge or low screen.


Full sun to part shade.




Rarely needed.  Remove dead and infested stems, if needed.



Avoid.  Looks best in its natural form.  Shearing would diminish its appearance.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.



Posted by shane - January 26, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Populus x ‘Northwest’  Northwest Poplar

Populus deltoides x Populus x petrowskyana  Griffin Poplar

Populus balsamifera  ssp. balsamifera  Balsam Poplar, Black Poplar, bam tree

Populus balsamifera Paskapoo  Paskapoo Poplar

Maintenance pruning on a Northwest poplar at Gull Lake, AB. S. LePage photo.

Maintenance pruning on a Northwest poplar at Gull Lake, AB. S. LePage photo.

Poplar are very common species in Alberta, due to their high success rate and relatively quick growth.  They make excellent shade trees in large yards, acreages, and parks, and are a good choice for shelterbelts.  Northwest poplars are frequently found on city boulevards.  They are reasonably long lived, and relatively insect- and disease-tolerant.

At one time, Northwest and Griffin poplars were commonly planted in residential areas, and I believe that was a mistake.  Obviously a lot of homeowners would agree, because these are one of the most commonly mutilated and/or removed tree species. Northwest poplar limbs get very broad and far-reaching, and heavy limbs often end up over the house and garage.  While a well-structured tree can stand against most storms, poplar is by nature a weak tree, and unpredictable in foul weather.  It is best to leave this shade areas that can accommodate its height and width.

Some people, particularly some arborists, disagree, and believe that the tree can be contained through regular crown reduction.  My argument is that if a tree requires that much maintenance, it probably doesn’t belong in that spot, unless the homeowner has a very large maintenance budget and really likes the species.  There are better choices for residential yards in urban areas.

Balsam poplar, commonly referred to as bam tree in rural areas, and black poplar to the lake folk, seems to be a generally hated tree in Alberta.  They often grow in mixed stands alongside trembling aspen.  Older specimens often develop dead tops.  They have a reputation as weak trees prone to failure.  The female trees also disperse their seed in clumps of undesirable silky tufts, for a few weeks from late May into June. Balsam poplar are commonly mutilated by homeowners and tree toppers in lakefront communities.  They are uncommon in urban yards.

'Pascapoo' in fall colour. Courtesy of Ken Wright, Bow Point Nursery

‘Paskapoo’ in fall colour. Courtesy of Ken Wright, Bow Point Nursery

I like balsam poplar in the wild, in parks, and around lakes.  It has nice fall colour, attracts nesting birds, and the young saplings are browsed by moose and deer.  It has several medicinal qualities. That said, it is not a species I consider for urban plantings, with the exception of the ‘Paskapoo’ poplar, a dwarf variety developed at Bow Point Nursery in Calgary.  Paskapoo is an excellent tree for small yards, has large, glossy leaves, nice fall colour, and virtually maintenance-free.



Full sun

Pruning Time

Dormancy is best, from late October to early April.  If less than 10% of the live crown is to be removed, anytime is fine.


Mature trees can be pruned every few years to remove dead, diseased, and storm-damaged limbs.  Width reduction may be required to decrease the end-weight of long lateral limbs, thus preventing storm damage.  As poplars are large trees, professional arborists are normally required to perform the work.


Poplars are host to a number of fungal diseases and the occasional insect problems.  Pest control measures are rarely required.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB

Ponderosa Pine

Posted by shane - January 26, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa pines at Bow Point Nursery. Ken Wright photo.

Ponderosa pines at Bow Point Nursery. Ken Wright photo.

This is one of my favourite pines.  I was first introduced to this species when I used to walk in the hills on the west side of Okanagan lake between Vernon and Kelowna, BC.  It is a supremely drought-tolerant tree, with the ability to thrive and grow to massive heights and diameter in an area that, during the summer months, receives only 50% of the rainfall we receive in Central Alberta.

While ponderosa doesn’t get nearly as large in Alberta, due to a shorter growing season, it can still do very well.  It is widely under-utilized in the province, and due to its hardiness and drought tolerance, should be considered for mixed plantings in medium to large yards, acreages, parks, and shelterbelts.

Ponderosa pine makes an interesting addition to the character and texture of a mixed planting. It has very long needles and cones, and despite the sharpness of the needles, adds a fluffy softness to the overall garden texture.  Like other pines, ponderosa allows filtered light to come through, and doesn’t darken the yard the way a thick, Colorado blue spruce might.  They also thrive in full some from the time of planting, unlike spruce, which prefers to grow up under the part shade of other tree species.  I have seen only a few shelterbelts of this species, and they are very impressive.

Also like other pines, ponderosa is very low-maintenance if planted in the correct location.  You can expect a growth rate of 1.5′ per year in good soil.


Full sun.

Pruning time

Anytime, but rarely required.


Remove dead or storm-damaged branches.  Clear back branches that interfere with structures and walkways.

Crown Reduction & Shaping

Inappropriate for this species.  Allow room for the mature form when planting.  Do not top.


Only necessary during the initial establishment period after planting.  Do not plant this tree in low areas that receive a lot of moisture, as ponderosa pine is intolerant of saturated conditions.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.


Posted by shane - January 25, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Fruit Trees, Trees

Tree Work Oct 18 2011 026 (640x480)

Pruning old plums on an acreace near Morningside, AB 2010. R. LePage photo.

Prunus spp.

We can grow several varieties of fruiting plums on the Prairies.  That said, they aren’t commonly planted, and our pruning experience with these trees is wildly variable, from newly planted stock to overgrown and old neglected varieties.  I haven’t pruned enough of any one variety in 14 years to make many generalizations for the edible plums.  Like many tree species, growth rate varies dramatically depending on location, soil, and available water and nutrients.

I think these trees are worth growing, but do a bit of research to determine the mature spread and height of the tree.  Plums tend to stay relatively short on the Praries, but can get wide.  In addition to fruit, they can have a very ornamental appearance, well-suited for oriental-themed gardens, or in areas next to ponds or moving water.

Spring flowers vary from white to light pink.  Fall colour is often in the reds and oranges.


Full sun.

Pruning Time

Dormancy is best, on the Prairies.  Late October to early April.


There are many ways to prune and train fruit-bearing plum trees.  I find that some varieties can be high maintenance when young, producing a lot of water sprouts, suckers, and rapid upright growth.  For the most part, they can be pruned in the same manner as a young chokecherry or crabapple, but for those of you who want to prune the for fruit production, I suggest you seek out further reading on the subject.  I recommend Pruning & Training, by C. Brickell & D. Joyce.

Crown Reduction

Not recommended.  Allow enough space when planting to accommodate the mature form.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.


Ohio Buckeye

Posted by shane - January 25, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Fall colour.

Fall colour

Aesculus glabra

Ohio buckeye is the Prairie answer to horse chestnut.  I like this tree and I think it is underutilized.  It can be the ideal specimen for very small front yards.  It has interesting palmate foliage, unusual fruit in summer, and excellent and variable fall colour, which ranges from yellow to peach to deep orange.  The tallest specimen I’ve worked on was in Calgary, at fewer than 20′.  I expect that there would be larger specimens in the Edmonton area.  My only complaint with Ohio buckeye is that it is prone to leaf spot diseases in late summer, which are unattractive and can take away from the fall beauty.  Ohio buckeye grows about 1′ per year on average, requires minimal pruning, and is easy to maintain.




Full sun.

Pruning Time

Dormant season, from after leaf drop to before bud break.


Ohio buckeye is intolerant of pruning, especially heading cuts, and will often die back from the cut node back to the next heathy bud.  I leave a very slight stub on some cuts to avoid damaging tissue near the bud.  I generally train trees to a central leader standard, with well space scaffold branches.

Crown Reduction

Not suitable.  This tree will quickly decay from hard cuts (large wounds).


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Norway Spruce

Posted by shane - January 25, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees

Cones of Norway spruce.

Cones of Norway spruce.

Picea abies cvs.  Norway Spruce varieties

Picea abies pendula  Weeping Norway Spruce

Norway spruce are large, coniferous shade trees, uncommonly planted, but definitely hardy for Central Alberta.  They grow very wide at the base, similar to large Colorado blue spruce, and are not the best choice for most urban yards, as they will tend to dominate once mature.  They are easily recognizable from other spruce species by their cones, up to 6″ long.  The only problems I’ve seen with Norway Spruce are spider mites and nitrogen deficiency, both of which can be managed.  The trees can provide interesting texture and form for park and acreage plantings.



The weeping Norway spruce is becoming much more common, and makes a nice accent to a shrub bed.  This variety seems to be easy to grow and very low maintenance.


Full sun to partial shade.

Weeping Norway spruce in shrub bed.

Weeping Norway spruce in shrub bed.


Not required if planted in appropriate location that willl allow for the mature specimen.  Mature trees can be deadwooded to improve their appearance.  Clearance pruning from walkways and structures may be all that is required.  I don’t recommend lifting the crown on these species. Plant in mulched beds where possible to avoid interference with lawns.

Crown Reduction and Shaping





(c) 2016  Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB


Posted by shane - January 24, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

'Helsinki' rhododendron, Zone 3.

‘Helsinki’ rhododendron, Zone 3.

Rhododendron is a beautiful and common shrub of the BC Coast where I grew up.  It is much less common in Alberta, and there are few varieties that will grow here.  I’ve only seen a few successful specimens: a very nice one in Calgary that was about 3′ high and 2′ wide, and a few in Edmonton. In 2016, I am going to trial all available Zone 3 varieties in my south-facing front yard in Red Deer.  I’ll update this entry as I learn more about these plants.



Part shade to full sun for most varieties.


Moist, well-drained.


Lets’s see if they grow first.



(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.

Mountain Pine

Posted by shane - January 22, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs

Young mountain pine. S. LePage photo.

Young mountain pine. S. LePage photo.

Pinus mugo uncinata

Mountain pine is essentially a large mugo pine.  It is under-utilized, and when it is used, most often neglected such that it develops a scraggly, undesirable appearance.  Properly and creatively trained, it has huge potential as a specimen tree, especially in smaller spaces.


Full sun to partial shade.  I often encounter this and other shrubby pines in shady locations.  While pines do seem to tolerate some shade, they grow best in full sun.  Shade tends to make them leggy and sparse.

Pruning Time

Early june to direct new growth and encourage density.  Anytime to clean out dead branches, thin out the crown, or make clearance cuts away from walkways and structures.  If a natural form is desired, the the plant is positioned such that it has the room to mature, little pruning is required except for the occasional removal of deadwood.

Crown Reduction

Pine is exceptionally well-suited to crown reduction and creative training.  I do not recommend shearing any pine species, unless it has been done so regularly, and to new growth only. Reduction on pine species should be done by hand, with had pruners, at the proper time of year.

For a better understanding of pine pruning, pick up a copy of Niwaki, by Jake Hobson.


As with most tree species, pine prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil.  A fine wood chip or bark mulch is recommended to conserve moisture and encourage root growth.


(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.


Mountain Ash

Posted by shane - January 22, 2016 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees


Winter berries on American mountain ash. S. LePage photo.

American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)

European Mountain Ash & cvs. (Sorbus aucuparia cvs.)

Showy Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora)

Mountain ash is one of the most commonly planted ornamental shade trees in Alberta.  It is also one of the last species to survive its original planting in older neighbourhoods, commonly found nearby elm, green ash, manitoba maple, and spruce of the same age.  It is a true, four-season tree, with nice white flowers in spring, red or orange berries in summer, excellent fall colour, berries that persist throughout winter, attracting birds.  Most homeowners with mountain ash trees tell stories of drunken waxwings banging against their living-room windows after ingesting fermented berries.

Properly planted with the correct exposure, mountain ash makes an for an excellent tree in most yards, provided you don’t mind cleaning up what’s left of the berries in early spring.  Mountain ash has few pests and disease.  Stressed and older specimens most commonly catch fireblight, a potentially devastating bacterial disease that is bad some years, and almost non-existent in others.  Mountain ash is a preferred species for eriophyid leaf mites, which cause unattractive protuberances on the leaves, but do not seem to affect the health or vigour of the tree.  I have also seen light infestatations of oystershell scale on mountain ash in Calgary.  This can be a more serious problem, and heavy infestations can be effectively treated with properly-timed insecticides or dormant oil sprays.

The main killer of mountain ash trees is poor branch stucture, which can easily be avoided with proper sructural pruning of young trees.  Left to their own devices, mountain ash will eventually self-destruct, as poorly attached limbs fail from the tree.


Filtered sunlight is ideal, to preserve the olive-coloured colour of the outer bark.  Unprotected trees in full southern exposure will develop scorched, orange-coloured trunks, that can later lead to ‘cat-faces’ or dead areas of trunk tissue.  If young mountain ash must be planted in full-sun as young trees, consider using a bio-degradabe trunk wrap to prevent sunscald.  Older trees manage well in a southern exposure as their canopies shade the trunks.

Pruning Time

Dormant season, preferably after leaf-drop, from late-October to April, before the buds break.  This will prevent the spread of fireblight, which is especially important in older specimens.


Prune these trees in the same manner as other medium-sized, flowering, ornamental trees, such as the chokecherries (‘Schubert’, mayday, and amur cherries).   Train as a central leader standard, with well-spaced scaffold limbs.  Do not allow multiple trunks to form from the base or from other areas on the main trunk.  While this is the most common scenario in the landscape, and perhaps the only form you will see in older trees, it ultimately is the reason for their early demise.  I suspect that properly trained mountain ash trees will outlive their predecessors by one to two decades or more.

Remove dead, damaged, and diseased limbs on an annual basis for young trees.  Older trees can be pruned on a 2-3 year rotation, depending on their appearance.  If fireblight develops, be sure to remove it during the dormant season of the year it is first noticed.

Crown Reduction

Generally inappropriate.  As with most tree species, mountain ash does not tolerate topping.  It is best to plant this tree allowing for its mature size and shape.


Normally unnecessary after the first year or two after planting if the rootzone is covered in a natural, moisture-conserving mulch, such as fine wood chips or pine mulch.  Mountain ash do not like ‘wet feet’, so do not plant at the bottom of a hill or in an area that is subject to standing water.

(c) 2016 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.