Category Archives: Maintenance

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
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
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!

Maintenance – frequently asked questions

We receive so many questions about our maintenance program, especially from people who are hiring a professional service for the first time.  What follows is a detailed account of what it is we do as well as some tips about those extra items that are beneficial to consider.  What is included in your maintenance program? Regular weekly maintenance includes:

  • Spring cleanup
    • Fall cleanup
    • Mowing and Line Trimming
    • Weeding and debris removal
    • Turf Fertilization, Pre and Post Emergent Weed Control Applications
    • In-season pruning
    • Perennial bed management and rose care

Available services:

  • Annual Flower Design and Installation
  • Watering
  • Core aeration
  • Seed and Sod Installation
  • Mulch and Compost Installation
  • Buckthorn Removal
  • Transplanting
  • Small garden design and installation
  • Native restoration

Will I receive service each week? You will receive a weekly site visit except during our spring (April) and fall clean up (November) operations.   Who is my contact person for Maintenance questions? An Account Manager is assigned to each customer.  They are there to answer any questions you may have, solve problems and address issues on your property as they arise.  They can also assist in any new ideas for improving the property.  Who can I talk to when there is a crew working on my site? Your crew has a crew leader who assures all operations are completed weekly.  You may speak with the crew leader or call your account manager should you have questions.  Do you collect grass clippings after each mowing? No.  Clippings contain water and elements that are desirable for soil and turf.  Your soil contains microbes and fungi that break down the clippings to a form usable by the plants. As the clippings decompose, they return organic matter to your soil, helping create tiny spaces (macropores and micropores) for water and air, improving percolation and fighting compaction. What are your pruning practices? Most landscape plants require some form of pruning, whether to preserve a loose, natural form, or to create tight, compact shapes. Each individual tree or shrub has its own, unique pruning needs, depending on variety, exposure and desired result. Unless you have formal hedges or topiaries, our pruning philosophy is to encourage the natural form of the plant.   What if it rains on my scheduled maintenance day? In the event of a rain day, we determine if our operations will be harmful to your landscape (i.e. create ruts, tracking of mud, etc.).  If we decide we may cause harm then we will not perform maintenance that day and schedule you the following day.  Make certain you are signed up for our e-newsletter.  We will send out notifications of rain delay.  When do you install seasonal color? We offer four possible rotations of annual flowers (or seasonal color): spring, summer, fall and winter.  The timing of each installation depends solely on the weather.  A rough time line follows: Spring: bulbs late October / early November, spring plantings Late March-Early April Summer: before Memorial Day Fall: September Winter greens: before Thanksgiving Should I core aerate my lawn? Because every lawn is different, that is a question to ask your account manager.  Aeration punches deep holes through thatch, turf, and compacted clay soil. Core aerators then deposit these plugs on top of the turf, where they eventually decompose. Over time, this process will de-compact soil, allowing for greater percolation. It also increases the surface area of the turf, encouraging beneficial aerobic bacterial and fungal growth.  Why do I need to mulch my beds? Mulch is an organic covering applied to tree and shrub beds. Mulch beautifies your property. Mulch reduces weeds. Mulch retains ground moisture.  Mulch protects roots from heat damage. Mulch enriches the soil as it decomposes.