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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.
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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
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
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.
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!
In Case You Were Wondering…if this current snow drought that we are in sets a record for longest period between snow events of 1” or more, read on.
Chicago’s official snowfall records began with the winter of 1884-85. Over these 134 years, Chicago’s longest spell without a snowfall of at least 1 inch occurred twice: 64 days from Dec. 3-Feb. 4, 1905-06, and Dec. 23-Feb. 24, 1953-54. On Dec. 17, Chicago recorded 1.7 inches of snow, the city’s most recent snowfall of at least 1 inch. As of Feb. 16, that would be 61 days ago. Our streak must persist for at least one more week to have a chance at setting the record.
Lest you think that my interest in snow seems self-serving (after all I am one of the managers of the best snow removal company in Illinois), there are important benefits from regular winter snowfall that we all share.
The most obvious is the moisture. The following equation varies based on the density of the snow which is determined by the temperature, but generally, every ten inches of snowfall melts into the equivalent of one inch of rain. Chicago has received, on average, about 36” of snow annually over the last three decades, which translates into 3.6 inches of equivalent rainfall or about 10% of our annual rainfall total. Granted, much of our snow melts and runs off in the spring, but the snow cover prevents evaporation during the winter, conserving soil moisture. Plus not all the snow melt runs off, further adding to soil moisture for the upcoming growing season.
Another major benefit of a good snow cover is that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs. The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and other shallow rooted plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.
And, lastly, snow is aesthetically pleasing. A snow-less winter in Chicagoland is drab, dreary, and gray. Snow brightens everything, bringing out the colors and textures of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and tree and shrub bark. Snow cover just makes a Chicago winter more complete.
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!
One of the advantages of doing great work for nice people is that they share the excitement of their new landscapes, with their families and friends…and with us through photos and videos.
These are not professionally staged photos by acclaimed photographers. These are real photos that depict daily life, taken after they finished their cup of tea while enjoying a seat by a fire on an Autumn evening.
I love it when our customers send me these moments, because there is great satisfaction in helping them have a more enjoyable and hopefully more serene, relaxing interaction with the outdoors.
Here are two photos of a bluestone patio and custom fit pit sent to us from a customer in Long Grove, Illinois. The landscape architects on the project were our very own Harry Vignocchi and Ken Horinko.
A great thank you to our customer for sharing them.
-Donna Vignocchi Zych