Tag Archives: horticulture

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!

Benefits of Fall Planting

Most of us love fall, but plants love it even MORE!
 

Most people think of fall as the end of the growing season and the beginning glimpse of another Chicago winter.  Well try to look at it as an ideal time to plant!

Fall is a perfect time for planting shrubs, trees, grass seed, and even perennials if they have a developed root system. Fall planting gives plants time to develop roots before winter’s blustery conditions.  The conditions are also less stressful and there may be more reliable precipitation.

What happens during fall conditions is a plant’s leaf and flower production is usually slowing down and approaching dormancy. Therefore, a plant can focus on root production.  Roots continue to grow when other parts of the plant are not. Generally speaking, root systems will keep growing as long as the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees.

Although we generally get more rain in fall, the good news is that plants use less water then.  Because days are increasingly shorter and cooler in the fall, plants are going to be photosynthesizing less and using less water.

Fall is also when depleted nurseries can begin to dig plants again, so varieties that were either unavailable or just downright unsightly in July and August, may become available.

Finally, don’t forget about BULBS!  Its often surprising why more people don’t take advantage of this relatively inexpensive way to welcome in Spring.  To achieve a gorgeous Spring show bulbs are planted in late fall.

Spring Tulips

If you’d like to start planning a fall project, it is right around the corner, so call us now and we will be happy to assist you!

Perfect Pansies

I have a deep love of pansies.  I adore that they come in every color of the rainbow, which is unusual for an annual flower.  It is wonderful that they can be pure, or blotched or multicolored all on the same plant.  Have you ever looked at pansies when it is about to storm?  Try it, they absolutely glow.

Pansy Delta Premium Pure Lemon

What really sets them apart though is how charming cheerful they are.

Pansy Matrix Clear Mix

What can be seen as a drawback?  They are a cool season plant and in the Midwest we only get to enjoy them in spring and fall.  Oh I’ve done the experiments…transplanting them to the coolest shadiest parts of my yard to no avail.  They just peter out.  I actually like that they only shine twice a year.  It makes them all the more special.

It is thought that pansies are a close cousins to the viola, which has roots in Greece in the 4th century B.C.  However, they believe the first pansies were first found in France, because the word pansy is traced back to the French word pensee, meaning thought or remembrance.

Pansy Delta Lavender Blue

In the early 1800’s an inquisitive Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson began experimenting with crossing different varieties of pansies.  It is William Thompson who is accredited with removing long lines and created large blocks of color on the lower petals, created what is now known as “the face.”

Today popularity booms and most innovations are being made in Germany, Japan and the United States.

Pansy Matrix Midnight Glow

What is interesting is the amount of passion to innovate in this area.  It isn’t to create a drought free plant, or even one that is resistant to diseases or animals (which they are NOT).  The innovation, is to take something that was beautiful to begin with and make it even more so.

I for one am glad they are.

Donna Vignocchi Zych

President

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.

Natural Environments and Mental Health

Spiritual and emotional health are a huge part of succeeding in business and in life in general.  Much has been written about the potential benefits of incorporating specifically designated meditative environments, or mental health rooms, into the landscaping surrounding commercial office buildings or in the common areas throughout multi-family communities.  There is growing evidence to suggest that exposure to and use of these natural environments can be associated with mental health benefits that include lower levels of tension, increased potential for attention restoration, and reduced anxiety.  Additional evidence suggests that interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and helps individuals coping with depression.

Meditation in the workplace can help lower a company’s health-care costs by reducing chronic stress, a major risk factor for illness.  A company can improve employee morale, mental focus and sense of well-being. This can reduce the number of sick days and workplace injuries while increasing productivity.  Offering a natural space for employees to meditate, relax, reflect, unwind, ponder new ideas, or even just think, helps companies empower employees to manage their own stress and well-being.  By providing a space for these practices, the company sends a message that the well-being of its workforce is a priority, which enhances its image; aiding in the recruitment and retention of high quality talent.

By offering natural outdoor meditative rooms, a residential multi-family community can improve their marketing appeal and increase their property values, separating their association from their competition.  These separated spaces are designed to encourage restorative reflection in which a person or family can escape from the stressful demands of daily life.  Potential owners and tenants will see a benefit from having access to calm and peaceful spaces in which they can get away from the pressure of the office or home environment; to recharge and refocus.

Today’s modern work force and residential communities include people with a wide diversity of beliefs, cultures, and traditions so it is important to consider whether your outdoor “mental health” space should be tied to a specific religion or culture.  Meditation spaces can be constructed to replicate a specific cultural model or they can incorporate and combine various aspects of any number of ancient or modern cultural derivations.  While they can reflect many different themes, they usually include the use of plant selections and hard elements of varying colors, textures, and aromas.  Zen gardens use rock formations, statuary, koi ponds, and sand/gravel arrangements, or sometimes with no growing plants or water features at all.  Planted labyrinths or mazes are meditative tools serving as a metaphor for the inner maze that leads to the authentic self.  The ancient Asian philosophical practices of Feng Shui are often incorporated into the arrangement of plants, rocks, water features, benches, etc. to promote the harmony between individuals and the surrounding environment.

Whatever thematic elements you decide upon, the space needs to create a sense of separation from the rest of the landscape.  The meditative room doesn’t have to provide actual privacy so much as to feel secluded; distinctly apart to provide that feeling of “getting away”.  A different surface can accomplish that, or some form of a structural enclosure.  Running water can separate a space and its sound is a soothing way to cover up traffic or background noise.  Understated plantings around surface changes can be designed and positioned in a way to lead the visitor to a sense of arrival that psychologically isolates without necessarily creating a distinct physical separation.  A well thought out combination of these elements can often provide the most effective and enduring results.

If you like the idea of incorporating outdoor meditative spaces into the landscaping around your building or in your community, or if you simply want to start with re-creating a calming view from a conference room or lunchroom window, give ILT a call today.  You can start with a simple conversation to discuss the concept and its possibilities.  One of our experienced landscape architects will work with you through every phase of your project, from its conception to the design and construction of your meditation space, to the sound maintenance practices and periodic updating that will keep your space current, relevant, and attractive to your employees, tenants, residents, and visitors.

Call or email ILT today and let’s get you thinking about thinking!

The Virtues of Compost

After reading a wonderful article in Lawn & Landscape Magazine about the value of soil amendments, I decided to spread the word.

We as landscape professionals tend to do and not teach.  Although constantly educating ourselves through articles, books and seminars, we don’t pass that information along to our customers as much as we should.

Many years ago we began using leaf compost for the following:

  • To amend beds where perennials, groundcovers or annuals were to be planted
  • Topdressing lawns before core aerating and/or overseeding
  • Topdressing of perennial and/or groundcover beds

These practices made notable differences in our customer’s landscapes overall heath.  For those customers with struggling lawns or lawns with a considerable amount of shade, we have found that performing core aeration, overseeding and topdressing with compost annually makes a huge difference in a lawn’s appearance.  Introducing that organic matter greatly improves turf root health.

At Virginia Tech University they are doing some very interesting testing comparing plots of turf.  One is treated only with synthetic fertilizers and lime, and the other is also amended with compost.  In the short term, the plot treated with simply synthetics thrived.  Over time however, it began to decline and the one treated with compost greatly surpassed it in quality and health.

In terms of perennials, annuals and groundcovers, they are tender in nature and our frigid Chicago winters and clay soils take a toll.  Utilizing compost as an amendment and topdressing those beds annually helps break up soils, introduces more nutrients, and gives those plants a happier medium to grow in.

Leaf Compost

Leaf compost

Booming economic prediction results in more blooms

Economic forecasters are predicting positive news for the commercial and multi-family residential real estate markets.  Multi-family residential construction is booming; vacancies will drop and rents will rise in office buildings, shopping centers, factories and warehouses; and as job growth continues, activity in the retail and office sectors is expected to rise.
Commercial landscaping activity (which includes multi-family residential communities) should experience a resurgence over the next several years. This growth is expected to motivate those property owners/managers who were holding off on landscaping improvements to make those enhancements to remain competitive.
A recent issue of Turf Magazine identified the Top 5 Commercial Landscape Trends for the next decade and beyond.  Here’s a summary of where Turf says owners and property managers will be spending their landscape improvement dollars.
More Time is Being Spent and More Work is Getting Done Outdoors
Building owners, property managers, and multi-family associations today want to do everything they can to attract tenants/visitors/residents and that includes providing spaces with more meeting/gathering areas.
Consequently, outdoor meeting areas are growing, giving properties a differentiation factor from nearby competition. And providing wireless internet at outdoor sitting and gathering areas expands the work space, taking employees from their desks to the outdoors for work, as well as play.
LEEDing the Way
Green practices and energy efficiency will become even more of a priority in the 21st century and the focus on new green building design will shift to greening existing buildings. LEED is a consideration in landscape maintenance practices as well. As cost becomes less of a deciding factor in the decision-making process for owners/managers, landscape maintenance companies with a greener approach to their operations will be a more attractive alternative.
Efficient Water Use
Water conservation continues to be a major issue, and responsible water use has become a hot topic for commercial properties.  One easy way to conserve is to incorporate more drought resistant, native plantings into an overall design.  Container planting is another way to provide colorful, vibrant plant displays that minimize water usage.
Closer monitoring of automated irrigation will be important to maximize water usage on a large property.  Installation of rain sensors that limit the frequency of operation, conversion of spray head systems to drip lines, and regular irrigation system checkups to look for broken sprinkler heads, clogged lines or other irrigation problems all contribute to a more responsible use of water and a greater return on the investment in an automated irrigation system.
Multifamily Properties Are Booming
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the National Association of Home Builders, construction of multifamily residences, specifically structures with five or more units, has been growing faster than construction of single-family homes.  Millennials who show a preference for living in walkable, urban areas continue to feed this demand because a majority of today’s millennials rent vs. buy.  Baby boomers are also selling their homes to rent apartments within walking distance of downtown areas or moving into areas for active older adults.
Because of this growth, the multifamily market is becoming even more competitive. Besides a great location, people are looking strongly at the amenities each site offers as a major driving factor in their final decision.  Curb appeal, landscaping, and usable outdoor spaces have an even greater impact on that decision-making today.
Investment in the Design Process
As a result of the popularity of interactive social media and sites like Pinterest and Houzz, commercial property managers and building owners are exposed to trends, concepts, and design ideas that they can share with their landscape architects to more specifically communicate their preferences.  This is making the design process even more of a team effort between architect and owner resulting in outdoor spaces that are even more creative, customized, and reflective of the trends in any specific marketplace.
A positive economic forecast is generally good news for everybody, particularly in the real estate business.  It will allow owners and managers who have been extremely budget conscious during the recession to once again look to contractors who provide higher quality maintenance and more creative property enhancements to help them separate their properties from their competition.

Favorite Plant Series: Taxodium distichum

One of my favorite trees is Taxodium distichum, or Baldcypress (also Bald Cypress). Once you recognize it, it’s always a delight to see. Baldcypress has the rare distinction of being a stand-out tree in virtually any type of setting or application. Alone or in groups, in formal or naturalistic settings, urban or wild, Baldcypress often becomes the focal point of a well-thought-out planting design. Part of that distinction arises from the fact that it has yet to have been overplanted – at least in Chicagoland-area landscapes – and is often greeted with delightful curiosity by the uninitiated.

While such a versatile tree, there are limitations to Baldcypress’s use given its eventual size and habit. Growing 50’-70’ by 20’-30’ wide, Baldcypress takes on a mostly pyramidal shape. While tall, it may not perform as a traditional shade/canopy tree for many years, if at all. Although the northernmost portion of Baldcypress’s native range is technically southern Illinois, the tree does quite well in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Baldcypress does well in wet, dry, and well-drained soil conditions and is relatively salt-tolerant.

Leaves in springtime are a bright yellow-green and eventually turn a medium sage green come summer. The leaves turn orange-brown in autumn and hold for a while before dropping as winter approaches. Interestingly, Baldcypress (along with its cousin Dawn Redwood, also hardy in this area) is one of only a few varieties of cone-bearing trees that lose its leaves in the winter. Seeing the small ½” – 1” cones Baldcypress produces adds to the surprising nature of the tree. The reddish-brown bark with a fibrous nature can be striking in winter.

Famed modernist landscape architects such as Dan Kiley and Peter Walker used Baldcypress in formal, urban settings (see Fountain Place in Dallas and water features outside UBS Tower in Chicago – see picture). Locally, the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden features a pruned baldcypress hedge, now several decades old. Such formal cues can be also adapted to residential settings, as well as using Baldcypress as a standalone specimen tree or loose grouping. With such versatility, Baldcypress might be the “problem solving” tree for your landscape.

Taxodium form

baldcypress_chicago

Bald cypress in the landscape

Up close of the leaf

Written by Ken Horinko, ASLA
Landscape Architect

In case you were wondering…

You rely on your snow removal vendor to make sure your roads, driveways, and parking lots are plowed; your sidewalks and entrances are clear; and your property is always safe and passable for your residents, guests, employees, and tenants. But in case you were wondering about the process that leads to making all of that happen, read on: PART 1 of 3: Understanding the snow removal contract. It all begins with the contractual agreement between the vendor and you, or your property management company, building owners, or HOA board members. Snow removal contracts are usually customized to meet the needs/specifications of the employees, tenants, or residents of the subject property, according to established budgetary considerations. (The financial parameters of the snow contract is a subject for a future post). But all snow removal contracts do have certain common elements. • The tolerance level (or trigger) determines the minimal amount of snow that must accumulate before plowing operations are to be initiated. The most typical is 2”, but 1” is not uncommon. Less common is a zero tolerance contract by which clearing is to be initiated after any snowfall. • The vendor’s arrival on site will usually depend on the timing of the storm. Daytime storms can create a need to keep main aisles, arteries, and entrances clear throughout the day until a more thorough clean up can be performed overnight. Evening storms offer a bit more flexibility on start time provided operations commence in time to have everything clean and passable by early morning, whenever possible. It is important to understand that plowing operations do not necessarily begin as soon as the trigger amount is on the ground. The start time for the clearing operation will depend on the expected total accumulation of the storm. If a given storm is forecasted to drop 3” – 4” of snow, ILT will likely wait for the storm to end before we commence our operations, then clear all of it in one push. However, if a storm is expected to drop more than that, we will likely do a clearing at 3”- 4” and repeat as often as needed to leave the property clean at the end of the event. • Deicing operations are not necessarily performed automatically after a plow event or an ice storm. Most of our customers put this decision in our hands, i.e. we are to use our discretion as to when and how much material should be applied to keep conditions safe. Others customers prefer to notify the vendor on a case by case basis when they would like them to apply deicing materials. • Operations such as return visits to clear drifting, checking for ice issues, cleaning up after Village plows, etc. are addressed specifically in the contract but are generally customized to the needs and budget of the property owner(s). Understanding ahead of time, the expectations set forth in the snow removal agreement between your property manager/building owner and your vendor can save lots of anxiety if you find yourself asking questions like: “Why are the snow removal crews not here yet?” “Why was no salt put down?” “The Village plowed my driveway/parking lot entrance closed, when will that be cleared?” Feel free to contact me directly with questions about your specific contract terms or contact our property manager/building owner. Kevin Block, Sales Manager @ ILT kblock@iltvignocchi.com Coming next time, PART 2: The process of mobilization; from forecast to flakes to finished.

Favorite plant series: Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Blue Ice’

During a meeting discussing seasonal color displays, when phones were set on vibrate and the focus of our discussions was solely about plants, I was reminded how passionate and opinionated our staff is when it comes to what they love the most.

I decided it was important to celebrate that our employees each have their favorite species and that those favorites tend to change and evolve.  Hence our favorite plant series.  First up might as well be me, Donna Vignocchi Zych.

Easy and carefree, ‘Blue Star’ is an outstanding long blooming selection. I look forward to several weeks of deep, glacial blue blooms on this compact, shrubby-like plant. It forms a mound of green, willow-like leaves, bearing clusters of interesting dark blue buds that open into dainty, star-shaped, medium blue flowers from late spring into early summer. The dark green, compact foliage remains attractive all summer and forms the perfect backdrop, for colorful annuals and bold perennials. In fall, the willowy foliage turns a rich shade of yellow complementing my favorite fall blooming perennials: sedum, hardy mums and purpled-leaved heuchera, to name a few.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Well-Drained

Height: 12-18”

Spread: 12-18”

Growth Habit: Dense, Mound, Shrub-like

Uses: Specimen, edging, or massed in perennial or mixed shrub borders

Problems: No serious insect or disease problems.

Companion Plants: Sedum, Allium, Blue Hosta, Purple-leaved Heucheras

Dark blue buds open to ice blue blooms

Dark blue buds open to ice blue blooms

Amsonia spring blooms

Spring blooms and neat dark green foliage

Amsonia fall foliage

Dark green foliage turns to golden yellow in fall