Using natural organic matter to improve soil fertility in your garden.

Improving soil fertility is as easy as adding natural organic matter to your yard. The benefits include:

  • Improving soil structure, allowing soil to hold air and moisture in pockets
  • Allowing roots to grow easily through the ground
  • Providing nutrients for insects (worms) and micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi) that contribute to plant health

Your garden’s soil fertility will be able to be maintained simply by adding natural organic matter regularly, about every one or two years.

What types of organic matter can increase your soil fertility?

  • Recycled Green Waste
  • Composted Manure
  • Leaf Mould
  • Nutrient Crops
  • Bark Mulch

Below is a description of each type of natural organic matter. Choose the one that best suits the space in your garden and the time you have.

Recycled green waste from the kitchen or garden

What we are talking about is making your own compost. The main challenge with this method of improving soil fertility is that there is an excess of kitchen material compared to garden material in many small space gardens. One solution is to break down kitchen waste before adding it to the compost pile.

Worm composting can quickly break down kitchen waste. Provide your worms with bedding made of shredded newspaper or leaf mould inside a container. Feed them with waste, though keep in mind that they do not break down weed seeds or diseased material like a hot compost pile would.  Keep your bin in the shade during summer months. Insulate the bin in winter. When you are ready to apply some natural organic matter to your garden using your worm compost, be sure to use the soil from the bottom of the bin. Leave the top layer with the new kitchen waste as this is where the most worms are and dig out the soil below this valuable layer.

Compost pile, compost heap or compost bins.  In the compost bin kitchen and garden waste is broken down by bacteria and fungi. Provide a variety of waste by including leaves, chopped branches, kitchen scraps and grass clippings all together. Grass clippings activate the composting process because of their high nitrogen content. It’s important to have a big enough pile to generate enough heat to kill weed seeds and diseases. A great size for a compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet.


Manure can be added to the compost bin, or left in a pile on its own to break down. Manure works well in combination in the garden with the natural organic matter that a worm compost bin produces.  Manure is best when composted for a year or from spring through fall before being added to garden beds.


Leaves can be added to the compost, or left in plastic bags to rot. This creates leaf mould. Although leaves do not add many nutrients in your quest for soil fertility, they do add essential structural elements to the garden’s soil.

Nutrient Crops

If you are growing vegetables or leave patches of soil bare through the winter months, growing your own nutrient crops will help to prevent the leaching of nutrients from the soil. Heavy rainfall and precipitation during the winter months strips the soil of available nutrients, leaving soil fertility lower in spring than it was in the fall. Some crops, such as mustard, buckwheat or fenugreek can be grown as quick cover crops between your fall harvest and spring seeding. Choose cover crops that grow quickly in a five to six week period for best effect.

Bark Mulch

Bark mulch is made up of partially decomposed, shredded bark and compost made from recycled green waste. It is a by-product of the lumber industry and greatly beneficial to garden beds. It acts as a natural organic matter by gradually breaking down into rich soil.  This is a great source of organic matter that also protects your plants, prevents water evaporation from the soil and prevents weed seeds from establishing themselves in garden beds.

Any parts of the garden that have been growing plants continually will benefit greatly from the addition of natural organic matter. Shovel in composted materials before planting and use mulch covers to increase plant health.

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Q & A: Hedge Trimming Vancouver

Q: How often do you need to trim your hedges in Vancouver?

A: Most formal hedges require two trimmings a year. Rapidly growing plants can require four to six trimmings a season (privet, English laurel). It is recommended to trim hedges on at least a bi-annual basis to encourage tight, full growth and provide a neat, well-established hedge.

Hedges requiring careful maintenance

When you are trimming a cedar it is important to know that cedars will not generate new growth from the old wood. One wrong cut and you can end up with a big black hole that will not recover. Cedars will not sprout out new growth from old wood. For proof, take a look at the large cedar hedges along Granville St. that have been topped or cut back to clear the sidewalk. Cedars, if not kept trimmed and maintained, can quickly grow beyond the point of recovery. Do not let more than 15 cm grow before hedging.

Hedges that can be hard pruned for renovation or rejuvenation

It is possible with some types of plants to cut into old wood or to cut back severely and still have the hedge push out new growth. English laurel, rhododendrons and yew will all grow from old wood. If your English laurel is out of control, too tall, or overhanging the alley – it is completely possible to cut it back to the exact shape you would like. Its dark black branches will be exposed, but after a year or two, the hedge will have grown in new glossy green leaves. Rhododendrons can also be cut down to their desired size, as can yew hedges.

With Higher Ground Gardens, your hedge trimming service will include:

  • Professional service
  • Commercial machines
  • Detailed, tidy clean up of clippings
  • All debris removed from your property
  • Uniformed landscaping staff
  • Trained horticulturists, landscape technicians and certified arborists working on your property

 Benefits of Hedge Trimming:

  • Keep your hedges clean, tidy with straight lines
  • Train hedges to grow how you want them
  • Keep unwanted growth away from house walls, eaves and gutters
  • Prevent hedges from getting too wide with regular service


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Easy Spring Gardening Techniques

Top 4 Easy Spring Gardening Techniques to quickly clean up your yard in spring.

Quick Cut Backs

Give the garden a spruce-up by removing dead branches from shrubs and cutting back ornamental grasses and perennials that were left over winter. The garden will have an instant tidy look. Ornamental grasses prefer to be cut back in spring. The only grasses to leave alone are Carex, or evergreen sedges.

Garden Fertilizer

We never use fertilizer in the garden beds! After years of testing and amazing results, using shredded, composted bark mulch on garden beds is all you need. This wonderful bi-product of the local forestry industry decomposes into rich compost.

Dig Out Weeds … With A Kitchen Knife

The straight blade of an old kitchen knife digs straight down around tap roots. Cut a small square into the ground around a dandelion root to loosen soil and pop the entire root out easily. This works lawn areas as well.

Hack the Winter Blues Away

If you love to prune, cut and saw your way through the garden, spring is a joyous time. Keep shrubs healthy and maximize flowering by hacking down to a simple framework. Buddleja (butterfly bush), Cotinus (smoke bush), Cornus (dogwood), Spiraea (Bridal wreath), and Salix (willow) benefit most.

2014 is the year to end Nature Deficiency Disorder. Get out there, get dirty and get the kids and grandkids involved. Make mistakes and watch the garden recover. Grow some food and keep the neighbourhood gorgeous.

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Landscaping Encroachment: City of Vancouver Gardening Guidelines

Did you receive a “Landscaping Encroachment” letter from the City of Vancouver requiring you to trim back a hedge that is impeding the city sidewalk? You have 30 days to get the work done yourself before a City crew comes in and hard prunes your garden themselves. Landscaping Encroachment notices are served when people can’t walk by on a sidewalk without touching the hedge.

landscaping encroachment sidewalkHigher Ground Gardens has provided this type of hedge trimming and pruning service to homeowners, with great satisfaction. By hiring a professional contractor, you gain control over the final look of your encroaching hedges, plants or trees. If the pruning and trimming is left to be done by a city crew, your hedge may get hacked without regard for the final appearance of the hedge. The City crew’s priority is to provide a safe passage along the sidewalk, nothing else.

Following are the City of Vancouver Gardening Guidelines concerning landscaping encroachment. Outlined are the types of encroachments that are unsafe (impeding public lands) and acceptable (planting of boulevards).

Boulevard landscaping encroachments
When trees and bushes are overgrown, they can impede streets, curbs, and boulevards. Similarly, fences and gates can improperly impede the street.
This is called a boulevard landscaping encroachment.
“Encroachment” is defined as any type of vegetation, man-made object, or personal property that exists on, or extends from a person’s premises, on to public lands.

Unsafe boulevard landscaping encroachments

Unsafe landscaping encroachments may include:
• Unsafe fences, gates, hedges, rockeries, and bollards installed or constructed
• Vegetation (trees, hedges, bushes, and so on) that are impeding traffic or pedestrians
• Trees on City boulevards that need maintenance (unstable trees, hanging or fallen branches, and so on)

NOTE: Planting on City boulevards is permitted if it follows City guidelines and does not impede traffic or pedestrians.

Acceptable landscape boulevard encroachments of sidewalks and utilities

encroachment boulevardTo make sure sidewalks and utilities are accessible:
• Maintain a clear path to sidewalks
• If there is no sidewalk, leave enough space so that pedestrians do not have to walk on the street
• Leave passengers room to get out of their cars
• Confirm where underground utilities are located, and avoid interfering with utilities

Maintain a clearance of 1.5 m so that fire hydrants, utility poles and permanent structures can be seen from the street and sidewalk


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Pressure washing for decks, driveways, walkways and concrete stairs.

Looking for a pressure washing service for your deck, driveway, walkways or concrete stairs?

Our pressure washing crew uses commercial machines with high-PSI cold-water power washing nozzles and surface spinners to clean your property. Pressure washing is the most effective method of removing moss, mould, mildew and dirt from your concrete surfaces.

Pressure washing on sidewalkAs the gardening season finally gets under way in Vancouver, after a high rainfall winter with several snowfalls, it’s noticeably slippery on sidewalks, driveways and decks. Professional pressure washing is a service that’s usually done in one day or less for a typical residential lot in Vancouver.  The real bonus of driveway cleaning and sidewalk cleaning is knowing that your property is no longer a liability to you. Slippery surfaces can easily lead to falling accidents, and this year is no exception.

Just last week, I was backing our truck down an inclined driveway and noticed my front wheel was slipping. I carefully applied the brakes and parked near the client’s house. The driveway was so slick with moss and mildew that had built up over winter that one of my front wheels couldn’t even gain any traction on the concrete pavers in the driveway. What a dangerous situation! Every day, the family drives their cars in and out of the property, taking kids to school, and risking an accident. Pressure washing the driveway with a high-PSI cold water system, such as the one we have, would leave the driveway clean and clear.

In addition to reducing liability on your property, pressure washing increases your curb appeal. Thinking of selling your home? Driveway cleaning and sidewalk cleaning can add value to your final sale price. You can also curb costs by cleaning decks. Surface mould and mildew left on wooden decks gradually breaks down the decking material. Pressure washing every one to two years helps to save you money on deck repairs in the future.

Call Christian today for a free estimate: 778-323-1502 or fill out the online form on the right side of the page to send an email estimate request.

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Gardening Vancouver: Adding Lime and Manure to Garden Beds in Spring.

Gardening in Vancouver has its unique challenges, one of which is the effect that high rainfall has on gardens and lawns. High rainfall causes gardens to become acidic as the rains of winter gradually wash away nutrients from the landscape. The solution is to apply lime first, and manure or compost second. But be forewarned that any manure used must be well composted.

What is Lime? How will lime benefit my garden?

Lime is that powdery white substance most often used on lawns which helps to bring the pH level of your soils back from an acidic state toward a more neutral one. There are various forms of lime available, but note that both Rapid lime and Doloprite lime will have the most rapid effect in the garden. Other forms may take up to four months to be absorbed into the soil and change the pH of the soil. Rapid lime and Doloprite lime can be effective in as little as six weeks.

Where do I apply lime? And are there areas where I should not apply lime?

dolomite-lime in spreader

Dolomite lime in spreader

Lime is excellent for lawns, perennial garden beds, around deciduous trees and fruit trees. And yes, there are definitely areas that should not be given an application of lime.

Do not lime cedars, rhododendrons, azaleas, broadleaf evergreens, conifers and heathers. All these plants thrive in acidic conditions, which is why they look so good all the time in our heavy rainfall climate.

What type of manure should I use? When should it be applied?

Composting Horse Manure 3 bin system

Composting Horse Manure 3 bin system

If you are also applying lime to areas of your garden, be sure to put manure down a minimum of seven days later than the lime application. In spring there are various community organizations that sell manure for use in residential gardens. Mushroom manure is usually available and is the bi-product of horse manure that has been used to grow mushrooms. Bovine manures are available, as are pig, chicken and sheep manure, all are bi-products of our local farming industries. If you get fresh manure (clumpy, wet, visible grass strands), then this must be composted for six months before going on the garden beds.

Mature composted manure

Mature composted manure

If composted manure is available, this is your best bet. You will know it has been composted because it will have a crumbly texture. Composted manure can be added to garden beds or around trees in spring. Non-composted manure must wait until fall to be applied, after a good six months of decomposition.

What are the benefits of using well-composted manure in my garden?

Well-composted manure adds vital nutrients and micronutrients to the soil. It’s a natural way to fertilize perennial beds, fruit trees and deciduous shrubs and trees. By adding lime first, the pH of the soil is adjusted so that the soil is prepared to better absorb all the nutrients available in the manure. Compost can be used just as effectively as manure in providing nutrients to garden beds.

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Primp and prune the garden in spring to reap the rewards come summer.

Treat your plants to some TLC. Check for dead branches or winter damage and prune them cleanly. Trim perennials or grasses that have been left through winter. Formal hedges benefit from a trim and look clean with manicured, straight lines.  This can be done by hand with shears or using powered trimmers. All’s clear now to rake leaves (including the ones left on top of shrubs), debris and clippings.

Lawns love spring because they get tons of attention again. Rake out dead grass blades and debris from your lawn then use an aeration tool to remove plugs of soil.  Once the turf is aerated, then you can re-seed bare patches using a west coast seed blend. We’ve found that Kentucky blue grass blends perform best in our conditions. High rainfall in Vancouver causes soil below lawns to become acidic. Apply lime and a spring fertilizer after all the prep work.

Spring is the perfect time for pruning deciduous shrubs that reward you later with a vigorous show of flowers or colourful new branches.  Shrubs such as Buddleja (butterfly bush), Cornus (dogwood) and Cotinus (purple-leafed smoke bush) get cut right back to where they come from for a grand show in summer.  Hydrangeas will greatly benefit from having one third of existing branches cut out. Remember, on remaining branches, to leave the top buds that were formed last year as they are this year’s flowers.

Next, get the weeds out while they’re babies.  The monster weeds of summer are easily avoidable. While working through garden beds, cut a nice neat edge in the lawn for an estate-worthy look. Top up with compost or bark mulch and summer will be a breeze.  Adding mulches helps conserve water (join a growing gardening movement) and suppress weeds while adding nutrients to the soil.  Now that’s what we like to call a gardening triple threat!

This year may well be the year of the front yard.  Green thumbs are creating gardens out in the open to add to the neighbourhood’s beauty or to use spaces where the sun shines best for growing vegetables.  Whatever your style of garden, the plants and your lawn will reward you for your early season efforts.

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Play Dirty and Let the Kids Dig In

2014 is the year to end Nature Deficiency Disorder. Get out there, get dirty and get the kids and grandkids involved. Make mistakes and watch the garden recover. Grow some food and keep your neighbourhood gorgeous.

Nature Deficiency

Nature Deficiency Disorder is the term that has been coined for humans who are losing touch with the natural world, by spending more time indoors or in hygienic environments than is healthy. While a fear of dirt, the natural world, and being outdoors is leading to sedentary lifestyles, our children are increasingly suffering from stress and anxiety disorders. And nature is just the remedy they need.

Spending time outdoors can include a day at the beach playing with sand and water, going hiking or simply digging in the garden. Babies even benefit. Let them eat dirt! Babies instinctually grab a handful of dirt and put it in their mouths. Doing so is a crucial part of developing a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that children growing up in hyper clean environments are likely to develop allergies and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Getting Children Gardening

Kids love being a part of the family, and giving them jobs in the garden secures their sense of belonging to the family unit. Provide them with kid-sized gloves, tools and watering cans for safe and enjoyable play. Fun tasks that kids love include watering, digging holes, planting seeds, staking tall plants and growing vegetables. They are fascinated by the cycle of life that is evident in the garden. Learning about earthworms that turn debris and soil into rich garden matter is sure to bring up many, many questions. Hunting for harmless insects under rocks and logs is the ultimate natural treasure hunt. Picky eaters have been known to taste just about anything they grow themselves. Try planting green beans, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, salad greens or kale.

Make Gardening Mistakes

For years now, I’ve been gardening professionally and have realized that as a general rule it’s really tough to beat plants at their own game. They just keep growing! To remove unwanted weeds from garden beds, it seems to take about three years of consistent digging. Removing the plant and its roots every two weeks for ten months a year for three years is what it takes to get rid of weeds. So if you accidentally dig out part of something you wanted to keep in the garden, don’t worry! Chances are it will keep growing.

Grow Some Food

Plant some crazy vegetables. All new vegetable gardeners make the mistake of planting too many vegetables. But the neighbours will love you for the bushels of cherry tomatoes and zucchinis that you bring over to their house. Try bitter greens such as kale, chard or radicchio. And get the kids involved so they’re keen to taste the fruits of their efforts. And if you don’t like them, or grew too much, many food banks have programs for collecting the bounty from home gardens. And they can always go in the compost bin, returning to the cycle of fertility in next year’s garden.

Let’s let kids and ourselves get dirty while we get happy. Spend lots of time in nature this year and ditch the little white pills prescribed to reduce your stress. Trade in the meds for a set of garden seeds, some new garden gloves and your own organic garden.

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What To Do When Garden Series: Fall

October Gardening Weeks 1, 2, 3 & 4

Garden Beds:

Kale winter-color▪ Continue to keep all garden beds weed-free.

▪ Water plants as required. This is necessary if the fall is dry, and will help plants overwinter.

▪ Adjust automatic watering systems: reduce watering frequency, especially on the lawn!

▪  Leaf removal should be done throughout the month. Read this blog post for City of Vancouver regulations concerning leaf pick up.

▪  Plant annuals: pansies and mums add splashes of colour, and kale is a great way to add colour that’s also edible!

 Hedges & Broadleaf Evergreens: 

▪  Trim hedges for a tidy look all winter long.

▪  Apply a slow-release granular fertilizer to early flowering broadleaf evergreens including Rhododendron, Azalea, Sarcoccoca (sweetbox), and Choisya (Mexican mock orange)

Lawn Care:

▪  Continue to mow your lawn so long as it is required.

▪  Water only if the autumn is dry, and reduce watering on saturated patches.

Property Care:

  • Have slippery pathways and concrete surfaces pressure washed to remove moss and mildew build-up.
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Fall Hedge Trimming

Cutting established hedges

A properly maintained hedge should have a relatively light amount of growth to be trimmed in fall. This is easily done with a pair of well-sharpened powered hedge clippers. Powered hedging shears are very effective when used to cut large hedges bordering property lines.

driveway-hedge-trimmedThe first part of a hedge to cut is the top and make it level. While you are up on the ladder, a  light rake can be used to sweep off any clippings that remain on top of the hedge. They may be green now but can become unsightly when they dry up and turn brown. If you are able to follow the straight line of the previous cuts that were made, then you should be able to simply take off any short new growth that extends beyond the previous hedge trimming service.

Next to be trimmed are the sides of the hedge.

Hedges that benefit from powered hedging shears:yews-hedge-trimmed

  • cedar hedge
  • yew hedge
  • boxwood hedge
  • hemlock hedge
  • holly hedge.

Hedges that look best when the sides are pruned by hand:

  • English laurel,
  • Portuguese laurel,
  • Arbutus hedge and
  • Deciduous hedges such as spirea hedges, dogwood hedges and privet.

Boxwood hedge trimmingHedge shape: Though many Vancouver homes have hedges that are straight and square at the tops and bottoms, some may consider trimming into a more rounded shape. Rounding the top corners of a cedar or boxwood hedge maintains a formal look while creating a softer effect.

Click here for hedge trimming services.

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