Tag Archives: landscape

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.

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

ILT Insider: Stink Bugs

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

Memories of rain and trains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Vignocchi Zych

vegetable gardening

Donna’s Garden

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

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.