New You Tube Post: Video Presentation

Our design staff is constantly experimenting with new technology to better communicate our creative vision.  This new video is presenting a virtual experience for a large scale community in Burr Ridge that is implementing a multi year redesign and installation that will be focused on making the landscape more beautiful and sustainable.

When creating sustainable landscape options for our customers, we achieve not only the satisfaction of doing the right thing for our environment while creating an atmosphere of plants native to Illinois, but help reduce long term maintenance costs for our customer.

Why I do it might be simpler than you think

I think when I started working for my dad 24 years ago, he thought, “she’ll get bored, find something she loves and move on.”  What I think both of us didn’t expect is that I did, find something I loved.

There is so much that I love about our company.  I was first struck by how hard our men work, and what they can accomplish!  I love when our customers tell us how much they appreciate how kind our people are.  I love the smell when you walk into a green house.  I love the moment when the sun is rising and the trucks are rolling out.  But I think what I love the most is that I get to spend time with my dad, because when I was growing up, he was spending time growing the business.

My dad has a tremendous work ethic.  He gets it from his Italian immigrant parents, Mary and Corrado Vignocchi.  Their home was a modest farming town in Northern Italy.  They fled Italy before the war, both to escape the terror and find much needed work.  What they found here was hope, but it wasn’t easy.

I remember those afternoons with my grandparents, when it was just the three of us, I would say, “tell me.”  “Oh silly girl.  Tell you what?”  “Tell me what it was really like.”

They would tell me stories about a time before they could communicate in English, how people would treat them, with harshness and disrespect.  It still makes me heavy of heart when I think of it, and I think of it often, to remind myself.

They would tell me although it was hurtful they didn’t care.  They were here and wanted to provide a better life for their children.  A life of possibility, which proudly, they did…look at my dad.

Owner ILT Vignocchi

This brings me to the ultimate reason I stay, through a recession, through climate change and even through our current labor shortage.

You see, dad and I, like many in our industry, are a product of immigrants.   My dad has always been conscientious of that.  In our 49 years in business my father has made helping the people that work for us as important as helping our customers.

That’s something I want to carry forward, a higher purpose for working as hard as you can for something bigger than yourself.  Hopefully in honoring my heritage I will hear of yet another college graduation that fills yet another family with pride.

Donna Vignocchi Zych

New You Tube Video: Our office…SO much more than where we work

We are more than excited to debut our You Tube page!

ILT Vignocchi is going to utilize drone technology to share gorgeous, educational and sometimes just fun videos so you can get to know us better.  So subscribe now!  You don’t want to miss out.

Our first video introduces you to our main office, sister nursery Montale Gardens as well as our production facility.

Enjoy!!

ILT Insider: Stink Bugs

Our Core Values:  Quality  Honesty  Pride  Teamwork  Cleanliness  Safety  
I recently came across an article in The New Yorker titled “Home Invaders” about the history and increase of stinkbugs in homes. You know, those lazy, ugly bugs that look like little brownish gray shields. Since I am in the landscape industry I have a pretty good working knowledge of insects, skeptical this would enlighten me even more, I delved in.
Boy was I wrong, it was fascinating! If you are like me anyway and think bugs are fascinating…
The brown marmorated stinkbug (halyomorpha halys) was brought over from, most likely, East Asia, China, Taiwan, Japan or South Korea. The first sighting of the insect in the United States was on September 21, 1998 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. From that first discovery the insect population has grown in insurmountable numbers. This is not a good situation because the stinkbug does not have one food source it damages, like the emerald ash borer, but many. Sweet corn, soybeans, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, peaches, to name just a few. The article states “In orchards, they were crawling by the hundreds on every tree; so many had invaded corn and soybean fields that farmers had to turn on the windshield wipers in their combines while harvesting. Afterward, it wasn’t uncommon to find stinkbug damage on every single ear of corn.”
Insecticides do very little to rid these bugs due to their shape, the way they feed and the way their legs hold them above the top of a leaf (which prevents contact with the insecticide). Those characteristics that make insecticides non-effective in farm fields are what make spraying them in your home ineffective as well.
So, calling “The Orkin man” might prove costly and do nothing to rid your home of these pests. And a quick note, don’t squish or squash these guys as means of elimination, they got that name for a reason.
My question? “So why do so many show up in my house?” Well, that is the same reason there are thousands of them in farm fields. When the stinkbugs find food, or a place to overwinter in your attic, they release a pheromone that summons their friends. That pheromone can last for a year which can attract further generations into your home.
Is there good news? Yes, in summer the insects leave your home to reproduce and eat and in winter they enter, unfortunately in your home, a state called “diapause-a kind of insect hibernation.” This makes them extremely easy to catch in a cup and release back outside when they are hanging off your drapes or your walls.
The article is completely worth the read, if you have time on a Saturday morning while enjoying a cup of coffee. At least that is what I did.
Aaron Zych, RLA
Certified Arborist

ILT Insider: Changing the conversation on pruning

Our Core Values
Quality  Honesty  Pride  Teamwork  Cleanliness  Safety
TO SHEAR OR NOT TO SHEAR…
With spring right around the corner, those of us in the environmental services industry are happily ready to leave winter in the rear-view mirror and prepare for the new growing season. Over the next couple of months, here in the Midwest, deciduous trees and shrubs will come back to life and flush out their first new growth of the season. Typically, that is when most property managers and building owners expect to see their contractors break out the power shears and go to work shearing and shaving the plant material around their communities and office parks. We at ILT would like to ask you to consider supporting the movement to reverse that trend. In case you were wondering what that movement is all about, read on…
For many years now, we have been advocates of the anti-shearing movement, recommending to our customers that it is in their best interest, and ultimately in the best interest of their plant material, for our crews to leave the power shears in the truck and opt for the use of the hand pruners. Tree topping and unsustainable shrub shearing is, for the most part, ruining commercial landscapes and this practice needs to be replaced predominantly by natural selective pruning programs.

Shearingis the all too common landscape maintenance practiceof non-selectivepruning that forms plants into shapes that differ from theirnatural growth habit. Unsustainable shearing, i.e. the shaping of trees and shrubs into the endless balls and boxes that are seen on most commercial and many private landscapes, is resulting in less attractive landscapes, unhealthy growing environments, and expensive replacement costs for plants that cannot live out their normal life span.

Shearing creates a twiggy outer shell that gets ever denser and collects more deadwood and dead leaves every year, causing the condition commonly referred to as witches’ broom. These clusters of witches’ brooms create the perfect protected place for pests and diseases to flourish and they detract from the health and longevity of the plant. The weakened plants now require more water, nutrients, and pesticides just to survive, driving up irrigation and material costs. Eventually, as the plants succumb to this unsustainable shearing, more and more dead wood becomes exposed, detracting from their natural beauty. Ultimately, the plants either die prematurely, or get so bad that they cannot be saved and need to be replaced well before their normal life span.
Shearing also encourages water sprout regrowth; those straight-up, skinny, rapidly growing shoots that are a nuisance, breaking the natural architecture of the plant with weak unproductive growth. Water sprouts need to be cut off or re-sheared frequently to keep the plant looking neat. But shearing those off just creates more sprouts, locking the plant into a high maintenance routine. While many people like the look of a tightly sheared plant, the reality is that the sheared plants only look good for a short while before they need to be sheared again; promoting this unsustainable cycle.
Selective pruning, on theotherhand, promotes the health and natural shapeof a plant, saves money byreducing overall maintenance, and extends the life span of the landscape. Selective pruning techniques open up the center of the plant, with precise targeted cuts, allowing air and light penetration to create a stronger, healthier growing environment.  In addition to being bad for the plants, shearing of non-hedgeplants is counter-productive,resulting in higherlaborcosts since shearingrequires multipleoccurrences every season. Although selective pruning is much more labor intensive, selectively pruned plants need to be pruned only once every one to five years; so, in the long run, selective pruning practices will save on labor.
For the selective pruning movement to catch on, we need to address this common misconception that many people have that a plant needs to be sheared tightly to make it look like it is being well maintained. Under most circumstances, shearing actually subverts a tree or a shrub’s natural beauty.Every plant in a professionally designed landscape has been chosen because it adds something special to the overall design. It may have nice flowers, interesting texture, or artistic branch structure. Whatever the feature may be, it should be accentuated with pruning, not destroyed by shearing. A landscape designer’s skill is in creating a natural but interesting, seasonally changing, and aesthetically pleasing picture. Untimely shearing done by untrained contractors destroys that picture, making everything look the same-smooth and round, square and boxy, etc. Shearing continually chops away the new, fresh growth leaving old decaying or dead wood in its place. Additionally, this frequent, undisciplined shearing will often remove flowerbuds that are ready to bloom or those hardening off to provide next season’s color display.
Admittedly, some designers do get carried away with their own desire to be unique or unduly creative, calling for incompatible plant varieties to be placed in areas where they are doomed to be sheared back constantly (under windows, along sidewalks, against foundations, etc.). Then after the designer is long gone, the landscape crews are held responsible for maintaining the un-maintainable. In places where plants have been placed in unsustainable spots in the landscape, they should be systematically removed and replaced with more suitable varieties whose natural growth patterns are better suited to the space. Formal shearing should be reserved for “pruning art” like topiary or formal hedges, and only with plant varieties that are selected because of their ability to withstand frequent shearing.
As a customer, you must understand that most contractors are happy to accommodate your request to tightly shear everything on the property. Maintenance is a business, and most lower priced contractors will be happy to grab the shears and power through all of the pruning needs to be able to move rapidly on to the next task or their next property. Quick shearing fits nicely into a profitable regimen and helps them keep their prices low. However, what they don’t tell you, because they probably don’t know, is that selective and rejuvenative pruning, done properly either in-season or over the winter months, can all but eliminate any need for frequent shearing. That reduction of labor can often lead to saving you money or allowing for even more time on your property for other maintenance operations.
Almost anybody can shear plants without training, but selective pruning is more complex.  Crews require training to understand how this kind of pruning is done. Trained and experienced crews know what to do with each variety of plant in terms of the timing and execution of pruning operations. That type of knowledge is what separates the professional landscaper from the landscape laborer. A laborer simply does what he/she is told; a professional knows what to do. Those professionals get paid better wages so consequently the companies that employ those professionals need to charge a little more. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.
If your doctor were to tell you to stop eating spicy foods to help ease the stomach pain that brought you to his office, would you tell the doctor to go ahead and remove your gall bladder anyway because that is what you think should be done. Probably not. You take the doctors professional advice because that is what you are paying for; and so it is with the professional contractor you hire to manage your landscape. If your preconceived expectations do not align with the sound horticulture practices your contractor is recommending, take a moment to reconsider and allow the professionals to provide the service for which you are paying. As a property manager or building owner, paying a little more for professional service will result in long term cost savings on premature replacements and unnecessary maintenance, and provide you with a more appealing marketable property.
In order for the anti-shearing movement in the landscape maintenance industry to get the necessary traction to affect real change, customers and contractors alike must adopt selective pruning as the new normal.  Landscape business owners must buy into the need to train crews in selective pruning techniques and wean them off the shearing default. Property managers and building owners must adjust their expectations, embrace the natural growth habits of the plants in their landscapes, and take the final step to demand selective pruning be done on your properties.

The purpose of this piece is to promote the demand for better pruning by getting the information out to you, the professional property manager or building owner. Reconsider your expectations. Tour your properties. Examine your landscaping. Talk to your contractors. Specify selective pruning to be done on all of your new plantings; urge your contractors to rehabilitate the previously over sheared plants where possible or replace them where necessary. If you demand that your contractors leave the power shears in the truck, over time, your landscapes will be transformed into the lush, healthy, low-maintenance, natural looking gardens that nature intended.

– Kevin Block

Memories of rain and trains

This morning one of my two favorite moments happened simultaneously…laying in bed while it is still dark out listening to the rain and hearing the distant sound of a train’s horn.  It might seem like a simple thing, but simple things can transport us back to simpler times.

The sound of a train blowing it’s horn in the early moments before daybreak bring me back to time spent at my mother’s family farm in Indiana.  It conjures a picture in my mind of crisp red and white, an apple orchard, and my grandfather sitting alone in the kitchen before dawn with a cup of coffee, his profile illuminated by the small light on the kitchenstove.

My family is very proud of our small farm and their father, mother, brothers and sisters, who worked so hard to provide the necessities.  You see, they were tied to the land.  Growing to feed their families.  They were prey to the same things we are prey to in our business…the weather, pests, disease, and ah yes…little critters.

I remember my grandfather had a book that outlined how and what he would plant each year, and how he intended to rotate those crops annually to get a better yield.  Thinking back I wished I had had more interest, asked more questions.  Maybe he had some secrets I could have used, not scientific research like we have abound today, but something he knew in his gut.

I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents come from a place and time that held enormous respect for the land’s ability to provide beauty and sustenance.  They only bought what they could not grow and they worked painstakingly hard for what they had to buy.

When my husband and I started a family, one of the first things we did was create a vegetable garden.  I would constantly seek my mother and my grandmother’s advice.  I would create a book, like my grandfather and make certain to rotate my crops.  I made certain it was pretty as well.  We also battled bunnies, pests, weather and disease.  Although that garden fills me with immense satisfaction, joy and pride, it pales in comparison to the gardens of both of my grandparents and my mother’s.

But I do it, not just because it makes me think of my family, but because it reminds me and teaches my daughter…or as my mother says, “the land will always provide.”

Donna Vignocchi Zych

vegetable gardening

Donna’s Garden

Why to choose container plants first

One of our invaluable assets is our sister company, Montale Gardens.  Located in Wauconda, Illinois, Montale is a wholesale nursery celebrating its 23rd birthday this year.  With each year we increase our diversity of products.  One of our most successful lines are our container shrubs.  The quality cannot be rivaled, in our humble opinion…here are some highlights of what make them and our other products so special.

Montale is a container nursery. What does ‘container nursery’ mean, exactly?

It means that we grow our plants in POTS.

Our shrubs and ornamental trees are not field grown – meaning dug out of the field, then balled and burlapped (B & B).  Our plants’ lives are started and nurtured in their containers, and that is the way you purchase them.

Benefits of container grown plants

  • A substantial root system develops first – tops are important, but are second priority.
  • It’s all about the root system when you are producing a plant. The container is its own mini-nursery for that plant to grow strong roots in, so that its foundation is sturdy when it’s time to plant it.
  • Our pots are not smooth-sided, but have vertical grooves.
  • The grooves on the sides of the pot direct the roots to grow down the sides and toward the drainage holes, encouraging rooting and root mass.
  • You get all the roots the plant ever grew.
  • No roots are lost in the process of digging the plant out of a field. Everything the plant had from the beginning is right there.
  • Container plants receive and drain water more easily than B & B plants.
  • They also benefit from a good dose of slow-release fertilizer, which is contained in the pot, and continues to keep the plant strong and healthy.
  • Containers are easy to transport, handle and plant.
  • Just grab the edges of the pots and go!
  • Containers made of plastic are recyclable.
  • It matters to respect the earth, so recycle them on your own, or return them to us.
  • Transplant shock is reduced or eliminated.
  • Less concern about returning to the site to solve problems later.

How snow accumulation affects your landscape

Our Core Values   Quality  Honesty  Pride  Teamwork  Cleanliness  Safety  
It has been years since we have to wait until the middle of January in Chicagofor the first significant accumulating snow of the year (+2″), but here we are.  It is often right after the first significant snowfall of the season that we hear from many concerned customers about the potential damage that snow may do to their trees and shrubs.  While snow is vital to the winter survival of plants and trees it can create some problems for your plants under extreme conditions.  In case you were wondering how to avoid damaging your plants this winter, read on…
  • Heavy, wet snow and ice can often cause branches on deciduous plants to bend or even break because they are frozen and brittle.  On evergreens such as arborvitae, junipers, yews, etc., which have a broader surface on which snow and ice can accumulate, branches can be stretched and bent, disfiguring the shape of the plant and causing damage below the surface of the bark that will not become evident until Spring.
  • If you are concerned about a heavy accumulation of snow on your landscape plants, carefully brush the snow aside by hand to avoid causing damage.  Avoid shaking or striking the branches with brooms or shovels as this can cause more damage than it prevents.  Bear in mind, that natural snowfall or windblown snow seldom results in plant injury. It’s usually the devices we use to remove snow that cause the most damage.  Snow that is plowed, blown, pushed into, or thrown over plants is denser than natural snowfall and tends to stick together, so as it settles, it can rip branches or snap buds from limbs.
  • Snow serves as a great natural insulator because snowflakes have small intricate spaces within their structure which are filled with air. These spaces trap air in between the flakes as they pile up. These tiny pockets of air prevent circulation, thus preventing heat from being transferred by convection.  As a result, the daily temperature penetration into the snow is minimal and plants are protected from frost and freezing conditions.
  • Snow on the ground acts as an insulating blanket of mulch that prevents injury to roots, which generally can’t withstand extreme cold. The roots of most landscape plants can be damaged when soil temperatures fall below ten degrees F.  Some perennials, whose roots are far more sensitive than woody plants, can be harmed when soil temperatures dip just below freezing. The snow cover will moderate temperatures, and once the snow melts, the moisture is beneficial to the plants.
Of course, the best solution is not to cover plants with excessive snow at all.  Avoid plowing, blowing, or shoveling over the top of your plants.  Mark your beds in Fall with posts or reflectors if necessary to make them more visible under extreme snow conditions.
Avoid piling “salty” snow near plants or on lawns.  If you choose to use ice melt products such as rock salt on your walks and drives, keep in mind that this, mixed with the snow and slush that is piled around plants, can leach into the soil and harm roots.  Plants will absorb these contaminants in the Spring which may cause die back and even death.  If you must “salt”, use one of the more environmentally safe products such as calcium or magnesium chloride or an ordinary, inexpensive garden fertilizer, sand, or kitty litter mixed with equal parts of “safe” salt.
Consider these plant care tips now before the snow really starts to fly as it is easy to forget them in the throes of one of Chicago’s blizzards or ice storms.  By taking extra care now when removing snow or melting ice you can keep your trees and shrubs safe from snow injury and you will find them to be more hearty and healthy come Spring.
Kevin Block
RLA
Certified Arbotist

ILT Insider: Overwintering of Insects

No one is really enjoying this latest prolonged blast of cold weather.  We are all stuck inside doing our best to keep ourselves (and our kids) entertained and warm.  We must have been due for this as we have been spoiled with mild winters the last few years.  So, those mild winters, along with other things, have encouraged an increase in insect populations we have seen in our trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns, right?  This arctic blast will surely help reset those bloated insect populations, correct?
The answer to those questions is complicated. This is because many insects have adapted ways of making it through a cold, harsh winter. Migration, hibernation, freeze tolerance (insects can produce an anti-freeze to keep them safe) and freeze avoidance are just some of the ways insects make it through.
In many cases it is the spring weather and not the winter weather that can determine the fate of insect populations.
For example, warm early springs can encourage insects to leave their winter hiding spots to search for food. If this is done too early there is not enough new plant growth for insects to feed on.  This can lead to insect starvation. On the other hand, a cold spring will keep the insects in hiding longer which means they could miss one or two reproduction cycles.  This leads to lower populations until summer.  Just like baby bear’s porridge and rocking chair the conditions have been “just right” the last few springs for insect population growth and has not been greatly affected, one way or another, by our mild winters.
Heavy spring rains can also impact insect populations. Spring rains will increase mosquito and aphid populations that need the water to reproduce. However, heavy rains will decrease grasshopper (because their dormant eggs laid in the ground get saturated with water and rot before they hatch) and spider mites populations.
The, sort of, good news is this prolonged artic cold should cause some insect die back. The issue is, when talking about dieback, is this dieback not only effects “bad” insects, but the “good” ones as well. To make it through the winter bees flutter their wings, shiver and are in constant motion in the hive to produce heat for the hive and most importantly, the queen.  Due to this constant motion bees need to eat a lot.  A bee hive can go through thirty pounds of honey in a winter.  If they run out of honey or it gets too cold the hive could lose their queen which effectively kills off the hive.  So, where the mosquitos and aphids might experience some dieback so might the bees.  Nature is a balance and we must be careful what we ask for.
Every year brings something different and it is our job here at ILT Vignocchi to study those treads so we know what to look for from year to year. We will know more when spring arrives what these temperatures did to the overall insect populations.
Aaron Zych
RLA
Certified Arbortist
Project Manager

The Mysteries of Fall Color

In case you were wondering…
Every autumn in Illinois brings with it a breathtaking change of color in the leaves of our trees, but although it’s late September, temperatures have been steadily topping out in the nineties every day.  Not a traditional sign of Fall, yet the trees are changing color and dropping leaves as if they were not aware of the hot and humid weather.
Aren’t the leaves supposed to change when it gets cooler and we see some frosts overnight?
Do the trees know what time of year it is despite the unusually warm temperatures?
One explanation, according to Native American myth, is that the hunters in the Heavens killed the Great Bear in autumn and its blood dripped over Earth’s forests coloring some of the leaves red.  As the hunters cooked the meat, fat dripped from the Heavens and colored some of the leaves yellow.
Not scientific enough for you? Need a more botanical answer?
In case you were wondering what actually initiates the changing color of the leaves and their eventual fall to the ground, read on…
Most people think that cool weather or frost causes the leaves to change color. It is true that there is usually a correlation between the cooler air and the onset of the autumn show.  However, while temperature may impact the color intensity, it has less impact on the timing of the color transitions we see in the Fall than do other factors.
A quick trip back to high school Botany 101.  During the spring and summer most of the foods necessary for the tree’s growth are manufactured in the leaves.  This food-making process takes place in the numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs the energy from sunlight that is used in photosynthesis, the transformation of carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch.
In late summer or early autumn, the days begin to get shorter, and consequently, the nights are longer. Like most plants, deciduous trees and shrubs are rather sensitive to the length of the dark period each 24-hour cycle. When nights get long enough, the cells of the leaves begin to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. They also block the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves. Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal.
The fact is, the vivid yellow and orange colors have actually been there throughout the spring and summer, but we haven’t been able to see them. The deep green color of the chlorophyll, which helps plants absorb life-giving sunlight, hides the other colors.  In the fall, fewer hours and less intense daylight prompt the leaves to stop the food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow and orange colors already in the leaf become visible again to the human eye.  As the trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves they are shuttled into the roots for reuse in the spring.
Along with the green pigment of chlorophyll are carotenoids, yellow to orange pigments, which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. At the same time other chemical changes may occur which produce red anthocyanin pigments resulting in even more variation in the Fall color scheme.  Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods and sumacs, while others give the sugar maple its brilliant orange. For most of the growing season these colors are masked by the great amounts of green coloring.
The variations in Fall color are due to the mixing of varying amounts of chlorophyll residue and the other pigments in the leaf combined with a varied response to weather conditions. For instance, as the nights become cooler, the sugars trapped in the leaves of some oaks and maples will often form a red pigment.  The degree of color will also vary from tree to tree.  Leaves directly exposed to the sun may turn red, while those on the shady side of the same tree or other trees may be yellow.
As the fall colors appear, other changes are taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the tree, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. At the same time, the tree seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight, it leaves behind a leaf scar. Most of the broad-leaved trees in Illinois shed their leaves in the fall. However, the dead brown leaves of the oaks and a few other species may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring.
In general, autumn weather conditions favoring the most brilliant colors are warm sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights. When there is mainly warm, cloudy and rainy weather in the fall, the leaves may have less red coloration.  A few hard frosts can cause the leaves to wither more quickly and drop to the ground.
So, in case you were wondering, with all due respect to the Native American myths, it is a combination of temperature, light, and water supply that have an influence on the onset, the degree, and the duration of fall color.
Enjoy it while you can, because it doesn’t last long!