Category Archives: ILT Vignocchi

Morton Arboretum Troll Hunt

This past weekend, on a particular hot sunny Chicago day, our family thought it would be an adventure to visit Chicago’s Morton Arboretum to see the Troll Hunt Exhibit…with our 9 year old daughter.  Did I mention it was very hot, very sunny, AND that the trolls in some places are 3/4 of a mile from parking areas?  It was really fun for the first half hour, let me tell you.

But although nature became a bit of a bore to our darling daughter, the Arboretum is a marvel to me.  It is nothing like a Botanic Garden, it is more like an organized forest for one.  Another shocking revaluation?   There are weeds, lots of them, which I found mind blowing but very refreshing.

The Arboretum was founded in 1922 buy the son of the man who founded Arbor Day.  It spans a tremendous 1,700 acres holding more than 222,000 live plants representing nearly 4,300 taxa from around the world.  What is so wonderful is that it made me feel so small, so unimportant, yet so at peace.

The Trolls, although fantastic, were such a secondary draw to all of the different species, elegant groves, and meandering walkways.  One thing I did appreciate about the Trolls is they were fashioned to completely meld into nature…as if they lived there in harmony in what felt like the most peaceful place on Earth.

During these times when tensions always seem to run high and meaningful personal interaction is on the decline, I encourage you.  Take your family, take a friend, go with a neighbor.  Walk around and take in the splendor.  Talk to one another.  It’s good for your soul.

-Donna Vignocchi Zych

Suburban Sanctuary NEW You tube video

On a sprawling 3 acres in Itasca, Illinois this property includes several relaxing vignettes, a putting green and tennis court.  Perfect for entertaining it also boasts a custom fireplace and spa.

In case you were wondering: Has spring sprung?

OK, so May has finally arrived, and it looks like maybe Spring has finally sprung. But up until this week, it would have been hard to tell that spring was already here while walking around outside and observing the greenery, or lack of it.
Normally we would be seeing a lot more green this time of year in the way of leaf out on the deciduous trees and shrubs, but those buds are a little more reluctant to open in 2018. In case you were wondering when we can say Spring has actually started, read on…
Depending upon which definition you use, there are actually two different dates that the mark the scientific first day of spring.
 
1 March 2018 is the first day of the meteorological spring season
20 March 2018 is the first day of the astronomical spring season
Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun, taking into account equinoxes and solstices. Meteorological seasons are instead based on the annual temperature cycle and measure the meteorological state as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.
Since the astronomical seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. This makes it difficult to compare seasons between different years and resulted in the introduction of the meteorological calendar. This splits the calendar into four seasons of approximately the same length. The astronomical seasons run approximately three weeks later than those of the meteorological calendar.
All this scientific and statistical information aside, for most of us, and particularly those of us in the horticultural industries, the emergence of leaves on deciduous trees and the greening and growing of the grass signals the transition from winter to spring and the onset of the growing season. The flora that we are surrounded by does not know about our Gregorian calendar or the astronomical/meteorological movement of the planets. It is air temperature that is the most important factor in the “leaf out equation” regulating the budburst in woody plants; and the aspects of air temperature that most influence leaf-out timing can be broken down into two components: sufficient chilling in the winter, and warming temperatures in the spring that allow for the subsequent development of buds to the point of bursting. The term ‘chilling requirement’ refers to the exposure of plants to cold temperatures for a prescribed period of time before they will break dormancy. The specific amount of exposure to cold temperatures required to meet this chilling requirement differs among species but prolonged temperatures in the low fifties is the general threshold here in Chicago to initiate dormancy in late fall and to signal the plants to break dormancy in the early spring.
Temperatures here typically average around 51 degrees in the first half of April and 62 degrees for the last two weeks of the month, generally creating enough prolonged warmth to revive dormant plants and initiate the budburst. However, in 2018, we saw one of the coldest Aprils on record for the Chicago area; fourth coldest to be specific, with an average temperature through April 16th of 36.5 degrees; not conducive to helping plants break dormancy.
And for the record, that’s the coldest it’s been in Chicago to begin April since 1926, when the average temperature for April 1-15 was 36.4 degrees. The coldest first half of April on record was in 1881, when the average temperature for the first 15 days of the month was 33 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Warm temperatures are only part of the Spring equation that leads to the much-anticipated greening of our landscapes. Photoperiodism, the response of an organism to seasonal changes in day length, also plays a role in regulating the leaf-out of some woody plants. Not all species respond to photoperiod cues, and not all populations of a species have the same requirements. However, photoperiodism is directly associated with the movement of the planets, so it remains pretty consistent year to year in any given geographic region.
Rainfall is the other variable part of the “leaf-out equation”. If April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, we may have to wait a bit for those too. April was not particularly rainy this year. As a matter of fact, we actually had ten times more snow than rain this April; approx. 2″ of snow fell and only .02″ of rain, (compared to an average of approx. 2″ of rainfall).
So now you can put all of these fun cocktail party facts aside and don’t be alarmed if your trees and shrubs are not leafing out yet, or if your hostas, daylilies, and other perennials have not broken ground. The late hard frosts and light snow cover we saw in April may have spoiled the show for some of the very delicate early emerging flowering perennial plants, but for the most part, there will be no lasting damage as a result of the cold weather. Mother Nature has a way of protecting these plants by keeping them in dormancy until temperatures are tolerable for the newly exposed tender growth as buds open up. So be patient, and do not start pulling plants or planning replacements yet. Temperatures appear to have moderated and we are in store for a lot of sunshine in the short-term forecast so what you may have already written off as winter kill may surprise you and break bud in the next couple of weeks.
Kevin Block
VP

How snow accumulation affects your landscape

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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!

Find a little peace in what nature provides

Recently I had an interesting experience…

It was a Sunday morning after a particularly stressful week and I decided to wake early and make our weekly grocery store run, by myself, for some piece and quiet.  I was seeking some room for my mind to wonder, relax, only contemplating freshness of produce and what to make for our family’s dinner.

The trip through the store was pleasant enough.  The store seemed to be populated with those of us trying to achieve the same thing.  Getting away from the chaos.

As I was leaving, feeling calm and refreshed, I noticed a couple that might intersect me at a walkway.  I proceeded because I thought I had plenty of room to turn before they reached the intersection.  After I turned I glanced in my side mirror to make certain that the couple had enough room.  It seemed as though they did not as the woman violently gestured to me, and as a result I gasped and held my mouth agape.  She must have seen me because she smiled wide and waved, as though immensely satisfied her blow had struck home.

I was devastated.

I could not comprehend in that moment how someone could have so much anger at 7 am on a Sunday morning on a relaxing stroll with their spouse.

But what is true today is that there are a lot of people with so much anger.  It is as if we have forgotten to see the best in situations, the best in each other and are reluctant to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  I was, and still am, greatly saddened by that situation.  So much so that I am writing this on our company’s blog in order to put something positive into a world that has become one I no longer want to recognize.

Those of us that have stress, have hardships, have pain…those of us that may not have the strength or support to get through it with positivity…consider this…

Start by finding beauty in the nature that surrounds you.  Take time to walk, sit and drink up the colors, textures and serenity of public parks and nature preserves.  Consider planting a garden, it is such a labor of love and provides such a feeling of accomplishment.  Seek a little peace in that which provides boundless beauty.

Each night I say to my family, “let’s go on a garden walk!”  Sometimes I get resistance of why or I’m too busy, but on the nights when we spend 20 minutes looking to see what is blooming, what is changing, what smells gorgeous, we find commonality and peace.

That is what we should all be looking for.

  • Donna Vignocchi Zych, President

Landscape Architects, Designers, Contractors – what’s the difference?

ILT Vignocchi, Inc. Landscape Architects and Contractors…it’s part of our name because it’s that important.   Landscape architects, landscape designers, landscape contractors, etc.; in case you were wondering what the difference is, read on…

While there may be a lot of overlap in these professions, the distinctions between them can make a world of difference in the planning, execution, and ultimate functionality of the outdoor spaces around your office building, campus, park, or HOA community.  To fully understand the distinctions between landscape architects, landscape designers, and landscape contractors you need to look at both the technical and the functional aspects of the job.

A Landscape Architect must have a professional license issued by the registration board in the state in which they are performing work. In order to become licensed, they must have a degree in Landscape Architecture from an accredited school, some years of experience working for a licensed Landscape Architecture firm, and pass a qualifying exam. Landscape architects must adhere to a code of professional standards, actively participate in continuing education, and be current with state-of-the-art developments and trends in the landscape design field.

A rendered landscape plan by ILT Vignocchi

Landscape Designers may have varying levels of knowledge and expertise; however, they are not required to be licensed or certified, and are not regulated by the state.  The “credential” for Landscape Designers has no legal bearing.  While many Landscape Designers do have some level of professional training, they can call themselves such without any formal educational or experience requirements.

Finally, the Landscape Contractor is the team that is responsible for physically building, installing and maintaining the landscape conceived by the architect or designer. They are not government regulated beyond typical local business licensing requirements, and their insurance and liability coverages vary widely. Dependent upon their levels of expertise, they may be able to furnish and install the plant materials and build the structures, hardscapes, and water features called for in a given design.

Licensed Landscape Architects use their technical and artistic talents to create drawings, construction documents, and specifications that dictate the allocation, arrangement, and construction of planting schemes, land elements, water resources, and integrated structures.  They usually work on larger scale projects such as commercial buildings, public parks, recreation facilities, institutional buildings, clubhouses, and multi-unit residential communities, and complex residential work. They are trained to document design concepts and plans on paper as a visual, graphic means of communicating their designs. This is especially important for complex projects that require permitting through city planning or building departments.

Because Landscape Architects have a responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of the public in the work they do, they need to be licensed and are required to have professional liability insurance.  By contrast Landscape Designers have no legal responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the public, are not required to carry liability insurance, and are generally only allowed to design simple, single-family residential gardens.

Thoughtful landscape architecture adds value to a commercial development, public spaces, or an HOA community by considering both the aesthetic and practical aspects of the landscape.  A landscape architect is conscious of the environmental issues with which today’s society is faced and has the expertise and training to plan around and manage the challenging issues on both commercial and residential sites, including:

  • Use of space, traffic volume, and human impact on the landscape
  • Appropriate plant selection and placement for long term impact
  • Elevation, grading, and land usage
  • Hardscape elements such as retaining walls and paving surfaces
  • Water movement, Irrigation and drainage systems
  • Outdoor structures
  • Placement of recreational features, utilities, service lines, entryways, driveways, parking, etc.

At ILT Vignocchi, we are licensed, certified landscape architects, proficient in the “big picture” planning, design, construction, and maintenance of both public and private landscaped environments. We can help you develop your project from the “ground up”; providing initial concepts, finished designs, construction plans and specifications.  Additionally, as contractors, we can build your outdoor environment to the exact specifications of the design, then maintain it to maximize your return on your investment.

Whether you are starting a project from the concept phase, interested in a large-scale renovation, or a simple redesign of a courtyard or monument sign, give us a call today and find out how ILT can help you.

Old Concepts, New Technology, Sustainable Results

Growing plants on rooftops is not a new concept. Centuries ago northern Scandinavians harvested sod from their surrounding landscape and placed it upon structures to create effective insulating and water resistant roof systems.  The Vikings who explored the upper Atlantic built grass-covered homes where they settled and in Iceland sod roofs and walls have been used for hundreds of years.

Although the living roof or green roof has been in use for a long time, modern green roof technology has helped to elevate this building method from a crudely effective construction element to an aesthetically pleasing, ecologically responsible building solution for age-old building problems and current environmental concerns.

green roof or living roof is a roof of a building or other structure that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. It may also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems.

Green roofs can be very basic, known as extensive green roofs that incorporate drought-tolerant, self-seeding native ground covers such as sedums, grasses, mosses and prairie flowers that require little or no irrigation, fertilization or maintenance. These green roofs are lightweight, inexpensive, and can be retrofitted onto existing buildings, often without significant alterations or additional structural support.

Intensive green roofs are more elaborate roof gardens designed for human interaction. They generally have a relatively flat roof surface or mild slope and allow for a larger selection of plants, including shrubs and trees and require specific engineering to be able to conform to the weight load requirements.

Today, the green roof is gaining in popularity as an environmentally conscious architectural expression that is a viable element of any sustainable landscape management plan; and here is why:

  • Storm-water runoff will be greatly decreased with the utilization of a living roof. The growing medium and the vegetation of a green roof retain large amounts of storm water and release it back into the environment. A typical green roof can absorb 30% of the rainwater that falls on it, reducing the amount of water that goes through our waste water systems.
  • It is a common misassumption that a green roof system will have a deleterious effect on the integrity of the roof system. Quite the opposite.  A well designed, correctly installed green roof will protect the waterproof membrane that lies beneath it and, in turn, will extend the overall life of a roof.  Recent studies indicate an increase in life span of almost double.
  • Green roofs absorb carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming; and the slow transpiration of water back into the air creates a cooling effect that helps reduce the heat retention and emanation in and around your building.
  • In addition to the energy saving features described above, the actual mass and density of a living roof will provide excellent sound insulation for a building as well.
  • And let’s not forget the aesthetic benefits of the rooftop garden. The roof garden intermingles the pre-construction environment with the built environment creating a sustainable cooperation between development and nature.  People love to interact in the relative secluded natural setting created by the intensive garden on a rooftop space.  Additionally, they benefit emotionally and psychologically from the ability to even look upon the greenery of an intensive or an extensive roof top garden.

Green roof technology was re-invented in Germany in the mid-20th century and quickly spread throughout Europe mainly due to its restorative environmental impact.

Today, Chicago has been a leader in green roof installations with up to 7 million square feet on approximately 500 rooftops; the most of any city in the United States.  The benefits of the green roof have not been ignored by suburban businesses and multi-family residential buildings either.

Green roofs add beauty, sustainability and longevity to buildings

Corporations, commercial building owners, and homeowners associations are looking for solutions to increase employee well-being, decrease their carbon footprints, increase their LEEDS scores, and differentiate their properties from their competition.  The rooftop garden has proven to be just such a solution.

Reach out to ILT Vignocchi today to inquire about the potential for your headquarters, office building, clubhouse, or other structure to benefit from a green roof installation.