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.
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 Guy Syndrome.” It’s everywhere and I pray I never get it. This is where people 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.
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.
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 established in others. Cotoneaster is the preferred host, but we have now seen it infesting crabapples, apples, hawthorn, mountain ash, green ash, common lilac, yellow-twig willow, saskatoon, dogwood, amur cherry, and ‘Schubert’ chokecherry. 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.
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. Dormant oil spray is largely ineffective during the dormant season, because the eggs are protected beneath the waxy dead adult shell. Infested trees can be sprayed in the same manner as hedges.
In order to avoid the use of conventional insecticides, some municipalities and community associations are recommending the use of dormant oil spray in June. The only product I know that is registered for such use is Purespray Green oil. It is also effective to spray with oil later in June, when the crawlers are in the “furry” nymph stage between crawler and adult.
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.
UPDATE Spring 2016 – EPIDEMIC
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
Some varieties of weigela are marginally hardy in central Alberta, and it is uncommon in the landscape. On the rare occasion when I do see a specimen in a client’s yard, it usually looks pretty dismal.
I trialled a couple different varieties the past couple years, and my favourite is ‘Red Prince’. It gets through winter fine, and has showy red flowers. The above picture was taken September 2nd. Die-back was minimal, even with the harsh winter of 2017-18.
I chose a southern exposure, with some light shade cast from surrounding trees. I gave this plant supplemental watering during dry periods and it is doing well.
Exposure – Full Sun
Pruning – Very little is required. Cut out any dead stems. Deadheading may extend the bloom period.
(c) 2018 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB
I just got back from Montana, and was somewhat surprised with how much more variety they are able to use with trees and shrubs, only a few hours south of us. Oaks and maples, that barely make it through winter in Alberta, make majestic street trees in towns like Bozeman, Missoula, or Livingston.
Unfortunately, our choices for street trees are limited in Alberta, and many of our staples face ever increasing threats from invasive insect pests, such as European elm scale, oystershell scale, and inevitably, Emerald Ash Borer and Dutch Elm Disease, both lingering just east of the province as of this writing (Sept 2018). Whenever I meet a fellow arborist, be they municipal or residential in specialization, we drift to the same topic of, “What are we going to use for street tree options?” But that’s the subject of another article.
So the same tree that grows to a height of 40′ or more in Montana, might make it through the winter here, and put on one to a few inches of growth per year, maxing out at a much shorter height and width. But so long as it’s hardy (ie. makes it through the winter intact), it can be a useful accent in our ornamental landscapes, or a welcome addition to our short list of small trees.
In the picture above, I used a serviceberry (basically a single-stem Saskatoon tree) as an accent in a bed of mature daylilies and irises, planted close to both my house and my neighbour’s. And even though this tree is sitting in 24″ of black dirt, and gets all the loving care it needs, it barely puts on new growth, maybe 1/4″ per year. But it flowers nicely, leafs out, bears fruit, and has excellent fall colour. What do I care if it grows? It’s perfect as it is.
In the above pic, I used a norther pin oak as a small tree to add height and contrast next to a heavily trained ‘Royalty’ crab and some dwarf hybrid lilacs. The slight nitrogen deficiency in the oak creates a lovely chartreuse colour that contrasts nicely against the deep purple leaf of the crab. The oak is growing at such a slow rate, I can keep this look and balance for many years.
My suggestion for people who want to create a bit of new interest in their tree and shrubs beds is to experiment with some new marginal trees (avoid zone 4, however, unless you like wasting money). So long as the tree makes it through winter, it is hardy. Worst case scenario is that you rip it out and try something else. For the hard-core gardeners, this can prove to be quite a bit of fun.
(c) 2018 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.
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.
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
Earth-moving equipment in a new development in Sylvan Lake, AB, 2016. S. LePage photo.
Soil is probably the most overlooked part of the landscaping process, and likely results in the majority of plant death, or at least lack of vigour.In my 1950’s neighbourhood I was lucky to inherit about 24” of good black dirt in both my front and back yard.There isn’t a Prairie hardy plant I can’t grow in that.
If you drive a few kilometres out toward suburbia, its a completely different world.Homeowners are lucky to get 4” of mediocre black dirt, and often less, which barely grows turf.I lived in a newer area of Sylvan Lake for a few years and the soil was so thin in my front yard I only had to mow my lawn twice per summer.Is it any wonder the trees on the boulevard haven’t grown in 10 years?
Tree roots need a deep, well-drained, loamy-type soil to grow well.For shade trees like elm, 18” – or more – of good black dirt is best.Most roots grow in the top few inches of soil, but if you’ve ever seen a cut-away of the soil on construction projects in mature neighbourhoods, you’ll know that some roots go deep.And since roots anchor the tree to the earth, having a good quality growing medium will help to ensure a healthy root system, and probably a longer-lived tree.I like the idea of a stable 50’ shade tree next to my house.
Why Thin Soils?
When a new field is developed for residential properties, the developers remove the top layer of soil, the “black dirt”, and pile it up for re-distribution later.Roads are built, lots are developed, and the remaining clay soils are heavily compacted by heavy construction equipment.In the building stage, the ground is further compacted by excavation equipment, and countless vehicles from tradespeople coming and going.
Notice the highly compacted clay. Not going to be useful for growing plants. S. LePage photo.
Prior to the new homeowners taking occupancy, what is to be the new yard is graded by skid-steer equipment, a skiff of black dirt is spread out, and sod is laid down, with a token discount tree in the front yard.A white vinyl fence is put in and, boom, the landscape is complete.Next house!It amazes to see these beautiful million-dollar homes with five hundred dollar landscapes.
But that’s not all.Often the clay and the black dirt are either worked when wet, or extensively driven on when wet, which turns the clay rock-hard, almost like a concrete.Roots have a very hard time penetrating those kinds of soil conditions.So plant growth is slow, leaves look washed out and sickly, and twig die-back is common over the winter.Combine poor soils with improper planting practices and poor plant selection, and whatever money homeowners have spent on their landscape has been a waste.To a large degree, this can be prevented with proper soil consideration prior to planting.
Oh look! There’s the black dirt that used to be on the field. Homeowers will get a bit of this with there new house. S. LePage photo.
Knowing all this now, if you are planning to have a house built, or are thinking of buying a new one, get involved in the building process with your builder in the early stages, let them know you want 18” of black dirt.It’s the cheapest part of the construction process and the most overlooked!Plan on having a lot of the dirt delivered as late in the building process as you can, to avoid compaction.Source high quality black dirt or garden mix.If you’re truly ambitious, get a soil sample done and find out what the nutrient profile of the soil is, and add amendments as required.
If you’re renovating a landscape in a neighbourhood with thin, poor soil, be prepared to remove it and replace with better dirt.
Compaction can be broken up with tillage equipment.Don’t work the soil when wet.I’ve never seen any examples of “gitterdun” landscaping that looked good.Do things when the timing is right.Make a plan, have it drawn out, and get it looked at by a third party professional, such as an experienced arborist, landscape gardener, or landscape designer.Take the time to do things right.Spending a couple hundred on professional advice can save thousands in wasted plant material.
Good soil to a tree is what a warm, comfortable home, with a stocked fridge, supportive family, and good friends does for us.It provides a good foundation for living, allows us to thrive, put down roots, and live stable lives.Don’t overlook the importance of soil when designing your new landscape, or renovating an older one.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.
I live in the 60-year old neighbourhood of Grandview, in Red Deer. It recently occurred to me that I should walk around the streets and alleys of my neighbourhood to see what remains of the original trees in my area. Surely, the best shade trees must be the ones that are still around after 6 decades. So which species have endured?
By far, my community is dominated by mature spruce trees, and we have some very beautiful specimens. Most are probably middle age, so without significant in-fill activity, the neighbourhood should be well-treed with mature spruce for a long time.
Most of the remaining elms still look good after 60 years. Quite a few of the city elms have a cabling system in the tree to correct for poor structure. Not much was known about structural pruning 60 years ago, so trunk weaknesses are common. Both species of elm, but especially Siberian, spread by seed, and there are many elms that have matured close to structures and fences and odd places, that were clearly not planted there. From a survivability standpoint, if we were to abandon the neighbourhood, these self-seeding trees would be here long after we left.
Another self-seeder. It is difficult to determine which maples were originally planted by homeowners, and which came up as volunteers over the years. Needless to day, Manitoba maple is a very tough, adaptable, and enduring shade tree for our region. Many people consider them weedy, and they definitely are, but easy to grow, and if properly maintained, a valuable, long-lasting shade tree.
There are no shortage of old mountain ash trees in the neighbourhood. Many are starting to look a bit ragged and decayed, but that is mainly due to neglect and lack of structural training in their early years. With proper maintenance, I believe many of these trees would be longer-lived. Mountain ash also spreads by sucker and seed.
Similar to mountain ash, I found many examples of old crabs and rosybloom crabs, neglected and messy, but otherwise healthy. One of the oldest crabapples I’ve maintained is in Mirror, on the oldest residential property in town, and it is close to 100 years old, maybe more. It is still in excellent health. So I’m really not sure how long these trees will live, but barring an outbreak of fireblight, these trees are a good choice for longevity.
Although few in number, the ones I saw were in excellent health, and, like the spruce, probably around middle-age. Lots of good years ahead for those. A nice sight in a large, old back yard. I even saw two old white pine, not in the best of health, but surviving.
Many of the original cedars, planted right next to the house, are still around and in good health. I suspect they are probably nowhere near the end of their lives. Cedars can be a challenge to establish, but once they do, they can do well in shady, dry environments. Most of them are growing in the dusty dirt next to the foundation.
Most of the old willows in my area have been mutilated at least once over the years, which has undoubtedly shortened their lifespans, and made them more hazardous. Despite that, many still remain. Our oldest willow in town is over a 100 years old and looks fine.
I was surprised to see so many old, healthy balsam poplars. This is typically a hated tree species in Alberta, but despite their reputation, many of them are long-lived and in a lot better health than many of the surrounding trees.
Old cutleaf weeping birch are non-existent in my neighbourhood, but a few really great specimens of the native paper birch remain. A friend, and long-time native plant grower, explained to me that the reason for good longevity of the paper birches is that back in 50’s, the plant material came from good local seed sources, and was better suited to our region. I’m reluctant to plant birch of any kind anymore, due to the high incidence of birch leaf miner and bronze birch borer in Red Deer. However, paper birch is much more resistant to both insects than weeping birch.
Native spruce and aspen along a ridge in Grandview, Red Deer. S. LePage photo.
Interspersed among all the above-mentioned trees, I found a few excellent specimens of old (probably original) silver maple, bur oak, linden, and tatarian maple.
If you’re thinking of using any of the trees I’ve mentioned in this blog, keep in mind that the mature size of many of these species are not appropriate for the smaller yards of today’s neighbourhoods, with the exception of flowering crabapples, mountain ash varieties, certain pines, cedars, certain cultivars of spruce, tatarian maple, and possibly ‘Patmore’ elm, due to its tight vase-shape.
Kind of makes me wonder what these newer neighbourhoods are going to look like 20 years from now. Probably not great. Which brings me to my next blog.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB
Viburnum lantana ‘Mohican’ – Mohican Sun Wayfaring Tree
Wayfaring tree berries
I didn’t pay much attention to this plant for the first decade as an arborist. It’s a nice shrub, but not spectacular, and it can easily go unseen for most of the year in the back of a large shrub bed. A few years ago, I started to notice just how hardy and tough this plant is, as it manages to get through winter almost unscathed. Then I had the chance to work on a few specimens and realized it really makes a great border at the back of a bed, grows well in alkaline soil, and is malleable (which is to say, it responds well to pruning and can be easily trained). I now try to incorporate this plant into designs where appropriate.
Wayfaring tree exhibits nice white flower clusters (cymes) in spring, and has an impressive display of berries in late summer, that changes in colour from green to red, and finally to black. The plant attracts birds and butterflies to the garden. It is a useful shrub to consider, and not overly common on the landscape. The mature plant can reach a height and spread of about 6′.
Full sun to part shade
Dormancy is best (late October to early April), so you can see the framework of branches.
Although it is a shrub, I prune it like I would a miniature tree, by removing crossing/rubbing branches, deadwood, disease, and broken limbs. I manage the overall shape by reducing wayward limbs as needed. If planted in the correct location, this shrub shouldn’t need hard pruning, just a few cuts each year to manage the structure and form.
Crown Reduction and Training
Although unnecessary, wayfaring tree responds very well to shaping (not shearing) with secateurs.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB
Virginia creeper is a hardy, resilient, fast-growing, and generally easy-to-grow vine on the Prairies. It is best known for its incredible fall colour. It’s only major drawback is annual infestation by whiteflies. This insect feeds on the leaves, leaving them stippled and sickly, and early defoliation is common. We have successfully controlled whiteflies with insecticidal sprays with appropriate timing. Even if left alone, an established creeper will withstand attack from insects.
We look after a specimen that is 90 years old in Red Deer. it is about 25′ tall and about 4′ thick, with a pretty massive main trunk.
Virginia creeper is most commonly planted on chain-link fences, arbors, and along trellises on houses. They get heavy so they will need sturdy support. They will also get away on you. I’ve had to dig them out of eavestroughs and out from under roof shingles, so keep an eye on them.
Dormancy (so you can see what you’re working on!)
Normally, all that is required is pruning to contain the plants as they grow beyond their desired reach. It’s fine to cut them back as needed, but be careful to follow back the limb that you’re cutting, so that you don’t inadvertently sever a much larger area of branches than you want.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB
Pear is one of my favourite trees for the Prairies. It has an excellent flower display in spring, dark, glossy green foliage througout summer, and outstanding fall colour, which varies according to conditions in the fall, but often in the oranges, peaches, and reds, and purple hues. It take them many years to reach mature height, and their size and form are appropriate for today’s size of residential landscapes.
Pears are uncommon, especially compared the apples, crabapples, and the ornamental crabs. They are supremely hardy and deserve more attention. We plant them regularly, when they are available. Pears are useful in commercial plantings, where an upright oval form is preferred to a broad, or circular tree form. We use them at condo-type plantings because they are less likely to be mutilated by the lawn maintenance contractors.
Fall colour in Sylvan Lake. S. LePage photo.
Structural pruning is a must on young trees, for several years after planting. Pruning a pear effectively, without leaving 90 degree angled cuts, is a challenge, simply due to the growth habit of the tree. As with most trees, pears perform well in a moist, well-drained loam. They are drought-tolerant once established. Growth of 18″-24″ per season is not uncommon in good soil with adequate moisture.
We haven’t had much incidence of disease with pears, but like apples, they are subject to fireblight.
Dormancy is best (late October – early April)
Prune as a central-leader standard, with well spaced scaffold limbs. Reduce co-dominant stems.
A natural form is pest for pears. Allow a 10′ radius around the plant when choosing a planting site.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.
A young serviceberry in a mixed planting in my front yard. S. LePage photo.
I really like serviceberry, because it’s basically just a single-stem, saskatoon tree. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is 100% right for our region, even though it technically is hardy and gets through the winter. It basically just sits there all season, flowers well, leafs out, barely grows (maybe 1″ in last two years in good soil), sets berries, goes into fall colour, and survives another winter. The canopy remains sparse.
Despite its lack of vigour, I still think serviceberry has a role to play in small gardens, for the same reason, that it stays small and you won’t have to worry about it taking over the area you first planted it. Just don’t expect it to grow into the 20′ tall by 16′ wide tree that is advertised at the garden centre. I think I’ll be lucky to see this tree reach 8′ in Red Deer. Fellow arborists in Calgary have told me this tree doesn’t work there. I’d give it a shot in Edmonton. If you can make it work, it’s a pretty tree.
Dormancy is best, and there won’t be much to prune as it doesn’t put on much growth. It also doesn’t seem to die-back either.
Train as a central-leader standard. Remove dead or diseased wood as needed. Subordinate co-dominant leaders.
(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB
This is a common shrub in older neighbourhoods and boulevards. It has pretty pale, pink, or reddish flowers, nice leaf shape and grows to about 10′. It tends to get leggy with age, but despite that can look nice as an accent, surrounded by various perennials in a garden bed. The flowers are a welcome addition to spring.
Cats love the bark of this plant. Cutting a few small rounds for your cats to maul will keep them happy.
Tatarian honeysuckle sometimes suffers attack by honeysuckle aphid, which disfigures the growing tips, and leaves the shrub looking terrible.
Dormancy is best, so you can see what you’re working on.