Tag Archives: planning

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.

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

 

 

Rain Gardens

In Case You Were Wondering…how to get rid of the soggy areas around your property that never seem to dry out and create a muddy nuisance where grass won’t grow, read on.

Rain Garden Diagram

Most commercial buildings and multi-family communities have storm drains and retention/detention ponds to accommodate the water that is trapped when the natural landscape is replaced with buildings and impervious surfaces such as asphalt parking lots, streets, and sidewalks; and rain can no longer be absorbed by the ground.

These solutions work well to divert or capture large volume runoff, provided the drainage systems are designed effectively to carry the water to the drains and/or holding areas.

But what about the areas around your property that never seem to drain off?  When water is diverted into a low area that has no outlet or is not suitable for drainage, water will begin to pond, and over time the weight of the water will compact the soil and create a deeper pool, allowing more water to sit.  A rain garden can be a very practical and effective means of addressing these drainage issues; particularly where downspouts are not placed appropriately or do not run off properly; settled ground has created depressions that trap water; or the ground has become so compacted that water simply no longer infiltrates the soil.  Grass, ornamental plants, and trees eventually die off from the excess moisture leaving you with wet, unusable areas around your property that never dry out.

A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures rain water and holds it for a short time until it is absorbed into the ground, evaporates, or is taken up by plants.  The rain garden is an innovative and eco-friendly landscaping solution that’s gaining in popularity, particularly in office parks and multi-family communities. An increasing number of property managers and commercial property owners are discovering how a rain garden can be an inexpensive and effective solution to these unsightly, unusable areas; while at the same time help to decrease erosion, improve water quality, create wildlife habitat, and provide aesthetic benefits.

Rain gardens were originally developed to slow down the flow of storm water runoff created when buildings and pavement cover the ground and prevent water absorption as soil becomes compacted and the natural landscape changes from diverse native vegetation to mowed and manicured lawns. These factors decrease the amount of water that soaks into the landscape after a rain and increases the volume of water that flows across the terrain and into storm drains that empty into local streams.  This increased water flow (both in terms of volume and velocity) leads to more erosion, more flooding and

more pollutants being washed into streams and reservoirs. Rain gardens provide a solution to these problems by helping to slow the flow.

Additionally, rain gardens provide a practical and effective solution to the smaller scale drainage issues described above.  A well-functioning rain garden traps and cleans storm water and reduces its volume (through rapid absorption) once it enters the garden.  Properly designed and maintained, rain gardens are also attractive landscaping elements that function like native ecosystems and can look as naturalistic or as formal as you like.  The plants in the gardens absorb excess water and provide important habitat for pollinating insects, birds and other wildlife while also adding visual appeal to the land around your community or your business.

But you’re not merely building a catch-basin that’s going to turn into a pond every time it rains. Far from it. With sound design, (the appropriate soil/gravel, knowledgeable plant selection, and correct installation), water is absorbed quickly – usually within a few hours.

And, in case you think your rain garden will provide a new breeding area for mosquitoes – think again. A rain garden doesn’t retain water long enough to make it a viable area for mosquito development. Depending on temperature, it takes 24-48 hours for mosquito eggs to hatch. After the eggs hatch, the larva must live in water for several days.  A properly installed and maintained rain garden does not hold water long enough to accommodate the development of mosquito larvae.

Contact ILT today and find out how the installation of rain gardens can help you solve some of the drainage issues around your community or business.  By creating a rain garden(s) you can eliminate those problem areas of your landscape while helping to keep some of the rain that falls on your site contained on site, the way nature intended.  And in addition, you can help improve water quality in local streams/rivers, save water, reduce pollution, and help wildlife.

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…

Last week we offered some interpretation of the terms of a typical ILT snow removal contract as they relate to the service provided to your facility or community.

But in case you were wondering about the mobilization process that takes place prior to a snow event, read on…

PART 2 of 3: The mobilization process: from forecast to flakes.

It starts with our people; dedicated, capable, accountable people who care about the work they do and take ownership over the properties for which they are responsible.

While snow removal is an occasional topic of conversation at ILT throughout the landscaping season, the conversation starts to get serious as early as August into September. At that point, the Sales Manager, Snow Commander, and Zone Leaders finalize contractual arrangements, take inventory of equipment, confirm staffing, and review property needs. By October, our assessment of the workload and the assignment of our resources is all but complete. Crews are confirmed and assigned their properties (repeating from year to year wherever possible) and equipment is allocated.

The Sales Manager and Snow Commander then discuss our capacity to accept additional snow customers. Unlike landscape maintenance, snow removal requires a very concentrated effort over a relatively short period of time. Therefore, we believe we should limit the number of customers to whom we offer snow service so as to never be over extended. We make a commitment to our customers to only accept as much snow business as we can manage under the most adverse of conditions, ensuring that all of our customers will be serviced in a timely manner during the absolute worst of circumstances. That said, now it’s November and we are ready.

The key to making sure we are always equipped with the data we need to make informed, effective decisions lies in accurate, proactive forecasting. General media outlets can provide a good overview, but they do not offer much specific information. ILT hires a private forecasting firm to provide us with periodic and highly refined updates on every impending winter weather event, often 24 – 72 hours in advance, and then as frequently as conditions warrant. Specific information is sent to us for (90) different villages in the geographic area we service, containing data on precipitation, accumulation, icing conditions, freeze/thaw cycles, etc.

When a weather event becomes imminent, our Snow Commander talks with this forecasting service to open a dialogue about the details of that event. She contacts our zone leaders to inform them of the forecasted conditions in each of their specific geographic areas. Additionally, every zone has an individual who is responsible to physically inspect and measure accumulations on each of our properties and report back on conditions. Once it becomes clear that service will be necessary, they agree on a mobilization plan which includes property specific start times, unusual manpower needs, special equipment status, material usage, etc. Snow personnel are then notified of the plan and of what will be expected of them. The information is also relayed to the Sales Manager to handle customer inquiries.

No two snowstorms are exactly alike so each event must be analyzed independently. Our mobilization response must be organized specifically to address the characteristics of each storm by considering the following information.

o What type of precipitation is expected?
o When is the precipitation expected to start and stop?
o How much accumulation is expected over that period of time?
o What are the temperatures going to be like throughout the event?
o Will there be freeze/thaw conditions; high winds, drifting, etc.?
o What are any customer specific or event specific needs for this storm?

The plan is in place, men and equipment are ready, and the storm hits at the exact time as was forecasted and behaves in exactly the manner that was expected. RIGHT??? The only thing we can really be sure of when it comes to Chicago weather is that you can be sure of nothing and you better be ready for anything.

Coming next time, PART 3: The operational process from flakes to finished.

Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush Buckeye

If you’ve ever seen Bottlebrush Buckeye in bloom, you’ll agree it’s aptly named. This dense, multi-stemmed shrub with picturesque, ascending, candelabra-like branching typically grows 6-12’ tall. It features palmate dark green leaves (5-7 leaflets) turning to yellow-green in fall. In late June-early July, this plant “wows” me with its gorgeous white bottlebrush-like flower spikes that grow 8-12” long. Its showy flower spikes burst onto the scene just around the fourth of July, I deem them as Mother Nature’s 4th of July celebration! This broad-spreading, shade tolerant shrub appears to flow across the landscape. It can be used to great effect for massing, clumping or placing in shrub borders. It also performs well under shade trees and other shady areas. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and will grow in full sun to partial shade. It’s also very deer resistant.

Mature massing

Mature massing

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Well-Drained

Height: 8-12’

Spread: 6-12’

Growth Habit: Clumps, Spreads (at a rate of a foot a year)

Uses: Excellent specimen, group or mass in shrub borders or woodland areas.

Problems: No serious insect or disease problems.

Fall color

Fall color