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Turf Management: Adjusting to Drought

If your property does not have an automated irrigation system and you have not watered your turf regularly this summer, you may have noticed it is turning brown, indicating it is reacting to the impact of the summer drought we are in the midst of here in the northern Chicagoland area.  Your grass has a natural drought defense system which shuts down the expendable parts of the plant in an effort to keep its roots alive, hence the brown coloration at the surface. The good news is, turf grasses are resilient plants and can survive a long time without water. The bad news is, not only does the brown grass not look good, the dormant grass will become more susceptible to invasive weeds and crabgrass which tend to find room to root and grow in the stressed turf.  Generally, though, once moisture returns, most grasses will recover without leaving permanent damage.  The weeds and crabgrass can be treated, and your once beautiful lawn should be restored.

The simplest and best practice that we have found for helping the turf survive and recover from the effects of a drought, if regular watering is not an option, is to make some simple adjustments to our mowing operations.  We raise our mower blades slightly, to 3″ – 3.5″, to minimize the heat/sun exposure of the root systems of the turf that results from mowing too low in these hot, dry conditions.  Additionally, you will find that we will forgo mowing whenever warranted, on a given visit, if the grass has gone dormant and has not grown sufficiently to necessitate a mowing.  This will prevent the potential damage that could be done to the dry, brittle grass blades as the heavy mower wheels roll over them.  The added benefit of not mowing is the extra time we can spend on your property detailing and performing more labor-intensive gardening operations.

Furthermore, the longer grass blades will shade the ground underneath, keeping it cooler and inhibiting water evaporation. The granular fertilizer we apply during your lawn care visits will stimulate new growth once rain returns or the lawn is watered. If you are going to water your lawn, you must be consistent. If you cannot deeply water your lawn one inch or more per week, it is better to let your lawn go into a state of dormancy.  Light, infrequent watering can do more harm than good as it encourages shallow root growth which then makes the turf even more susceptible to disease and insect infestations during periods of stress.  So, it is best to commit to keep up with the watering or let it go and wait out the drought.

When temperatures start to cool down and rainfall increases, your lawn should come out of dormancy and begin to recover. The turf plants will start growing new roots and new plants will germinate to replace those that were damaged or even killed during the summer. Core aeration and over seeding in the fall are two great ways to help your lawn recover from a tough drought season, like the one we are currently experiencing. Strengthening the roots is critical to maintaining healthy turf, and the core aeration process will open the lawn to provide more air, water and nutrients into the turf root zone.  Following up the coring operation immediately with over seeding will help to generate new seedlings to fill in sparse areas. Grass seed needs to come in contact with soil and receive adequate moisture to remain viable once the germination process begins. A good portion of the seed will end up in the core holes, which ends up being a great place for the seed to germinate. The soil in the core holes will remain moist and cool, and the seed will have a much better chance of germinating.

Kevin T Block

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.

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

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

There’s no business like snow business

They all look the same from a distance but show subtle differences when examined closely.
The same might be said of snow removal contractors.  We may all look the same at first glance, (trucks, tractors, plows, etc.), until you take the time to find out a little more about what we do and how we do what we do;
and you should take that time.
The subtle (or sometimes extensive) differences in capabilities, commitment, and conscientiousness will have a significant impact on the performance on your property; and that performance can make you, the property/facility manager, look like a hero to your residents, tenants, and employees…or not.
Here are five important lines of questioning to help you ensure that you are hiring the contractor best suited to make you look like a hero.
  • CONTRACTS:  What is your contract structure and how are fees applied?
Contract terms have many variations (per plow, per inch, lump sum, time & material, etc.).  You need to have clear terms that suit your specific needs, with reliable pricing, and no surprises. While cost is always a factor when making contractor choices, the less obvious consequences of using a lower priced but ultimately incapable snow removal contractor can cost you much more than money if that contractor fails to perform during one of Chicago’s challenging winters.  Additionally, if those less expensive contracts are peppered with “extra” charges, you can find yourself paying much more than you would have had you chosen a more comprehensive service provider.
  • CAPABILITIY:  What is your company’s policy in regard to the amount of snow removal business you will commit to in any given winter and where will my property fall in your list of priorities? How do you determine the maximum thresholds that you can manage?  How do you allocate your resources during a weather event?
Do you handle the snow removal work in-house with your own employees or do you need to rely on the help of outside subcontractors who may not offer the same level of commitment to the work?
Who are some of the customers you work with now that I can talk to about their experience with you?
  • PLANNING: What is your specific operational plan for my property?  Are you familiar with properties like mine and clear on our specific needs? What resources are you willing to commit to this property?
  • TECHNOLOGY:  Do you subscribe to a reliable weather forecasting service that will provide site specific forecasts on a real-time basis, daily operating forecasts, snow and ice warnings that are geographically targeted to our service area, and snow accumulation reports to assist us in the management of your force?
How are your crews dispatched and monitored throughout an event?
Do you rely on media broadcasts, airport reports, your own production yard, or will you send a representative out to my property to assess conditions on the site prior to mobilization?
  • ACCOUNTABILITY:  How do you measure and document snowfall to determine commencement triggers, billing parameters, and mobilization?
What is your reporting process to ensure that I will be kept informed of progress and problems throughout a weather event?
Who will be available to me for communication regarding issues and special needs?
What is your policy for repairing or resolving damage that occurs as a result of the snow removal efforts?
Taking the time now to find out a little more about the differences between contractors by asking these important questions will help to ensure that you are using the company best suited to satisfy your needs.
At ILT Vignocchi, we welcome your scrutiny; and if you become a customer, we will make you look like a hero.
Call or email us today and find out more about the ILT difference.

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!

Water and why you have to plan for it

After an uncharacteristically hot and dry June, Mother Nature just sent us a harsh reminder of her ability to restore rainfall statistics rapidly.

Unfortunately for many homeowners and businesses, this reminder came in the form of a seven-inch downpour over a 24-hour period that is still causing overflow and flooding around local rivers, lakes, and retention ponds.

Gurnee, IL experiences massive flooding

While it is difficult to predict and prevent the kind of flooding issues that are created by such catastrophic weather events, these events serve as a reminder to property owners, both commercial and residential, to be more aware of the impact that water flow has around your property.  Having a well-conceived and expertly executed drainage system around your buildings and grounds can mean the difference between staying high and dry through any weather event, or dealing with flooded yards, basements, parking lots, and roadways.

Generally, rainfall is the catalyst for creating drainage issues but ground water, specifically the location of the water table, can also play a role in the ability of water to move by design.  Where land is flat, soils are dense (clay), or the water table is high, a well-designed drainage system is a priority.  Consideration of grading, water flow, and proper drainage is essential to prevent minor issues during normal weather and to minimize major damage during catastrophic events like the one we experienced here in northern Illinois last week.  Without proper drainage systems in place, water can enter and undermine structures, damage drives and roadways, cause erosion issues, and drown expensive plant material.

It is not always enough to rely on the original drainage plans that were created for your property when it was first developed and constructed.  Typically, the more recent the development took place, the better the chances are that the drainage systems were designed and constructed to effectively move water around the property.  Older properties may have experienced settling, ground shifts, changes in water tables, neighboring development, or many other factors that can influence the effectiveness of these systems.  New or old, it is a good idea to observe and review the water flow issues on your property before a major problem occurs.

SURFACE WATER is one of the more common problems associated with improper or inadequate drainage systems.  Sites with clay soils will likely have issues with lingering surface water. By design, developed land should be graded to drain so that water flows through swales or sheet drains across turf or pavement to the curb or storm drain. The reality is that builders don’t always get their grades right and water becomes trapped, causing puddles on pavement, backflow against foundations, soggy zones in lawns, and muddy planting beds.

Downspout/sump pump discharge is a huge contributor to surface water issues.  Enormous amounts of water can come off a building’s roof or be channeled into a sump pit during a typical rainfall.  This water is often just re-directed back along the foundation of a building where it can go right back into the sump pit or collect on the surface of the ground around the structure.

SUB-SURFACE WATER collects underground, and becomes trapped when there’s poor drainage due to the existing soil structure or high water tables.  When it freezes and expands, the potential for damage increases. The frozen water pushes against your foundation and paved surfaces, causing heaving, cracking, and structural damage.

Solutions to improper site drainage can range from the very simple to much more complex depending on the nature of the issue and its underlying cause.  Conceptually, solutions fall into two basic categories.

  1. Capture the runoff and store it for reuse or allow it to percolate back into the soil.  Rain barrels and cisterns are used for storage of runoff water for use later as manual watering sources. Dry wells, French drains, rain gardens, and specific soil amendments can be used to collect and redistribute water back into the surrounding soil.These solutions have many environmental benefits such as reducing runoff from your property, filtering runoff, watering your yard, and recharging groundwater.
  2. Intercepting and redirecting runoff provides an opportunity to safely discharge high volumes of water to a place away from the problem area(s). This can be done using swales, French drains, catch basins, underground pipe assemblies, or downspout/sump pump extensions with splash blocks. These methods of rerouting water can also be combined with other capture and storage elements to provide even more benefit.

Please make note that whenever you are redirecting runoff, you must send it to a suitable outlet. Discharging runoff to an unsuitable area will just move the problems downhill. Be aware that redirecting runoff without collecting it or allowing it to percolate into the soil can negatively impact neighboring properties.

The first step in solving drainage issues on any property is discovering that they exist.  Problems like foundation seepage and erosion might not be obvious until a major issue develops at which point resolution can be expensive and complicated.  To become aware of potential trouble spots, walk your grounds after a rainfall event and look for places where water has collected.

Does it take more than an hour or two to dissipate after a heavy downpour?

Are there signs of erosion around the downspouts or sump pump discharge points?

Are you finding soft, wet spots in the common turf areas that do not dry out readily?

Are you seeing a decline in the health and appearance of plant material located in the collection areas?

These are just a few of the signs that water is not percolating or moving appropriately around the grounds of your development or commercial property.  Time to consider having an expert come out and assess the problems.  ILT can do simple visual inspections or accurately read existing grades by laser transit to establish the exact topography no matter how flat the site may seem.and determine precisely where and why water is moving the way it is on your property.  From that information, we can evaluate and present potential solutions for your consideration.

While last week’s flooding can serve as a reminder of the devastating impact heavy rainfall can have, it does not take a seven-inch downpour of water to cause damage around your property.  Finding and resolving water flow issues before they become expensive problems is always a better solution.

Call ILT Vignocchi today and we can start a conversation about resolving water flow issues at your HOA or commercial building.

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.

Spring Orientation and Training

We have been holding spring orientation and training for years.  It is a time not only to make certain our staff understands our expectations and our standard operating procedures, but also a time to get their feedback and say thank you.

This season, due to extensive self reflection and customer feedback, we are overhauling our training and quality monitoring system.  Our quality coordinator, Aaron Zych, along with the aid of our sales and supervisory staff has created a comprehensive system of checks and balances.

Our new quality monitoring board

We are excited to start our season and are reminded that it is invigorating to constantly challenge yourselves to learn, improve, have FUN, and most importantly be the best.

Below are some photos from our event!

Bed edge training

Small Equipment Training by Juan Nunez

Classroom orientation by Aaron Zych

New pad for rack deliveries by Juan Miquel Ortiz, Miquel Ortiz, and Juan Morales