Category Archives: Maintenance

What is Scilla?

What is Scilla?

We have probably all marveled at the beautiful fields of blue that pop up around this time of year.  Customers ask me all the time in wonderment, “What is that?!”

Scilla is a member of the lily family.  Most varieties bloom in spring whereas a few are fall bloomers.  It is coveted for it naturalizing tendencies.  So year after year they will slowly multiply to form that lovely blanket of blue.  I always warn that they aren’t for the faint of heart.  These are a true gardeners plant.  As seen below, if they love their home they can take over.

 

A mass of ScillaThey like full sun locations with well drained soil.  Plant them en masse for the best show.  you can even pair them with a Tete e Tete daffodil, which is a lovely dwarf variety in a creamy yellow.  Once they are done blooming, they are similar to other bulbs and do best if you let the leaves wilt.  Other plants like ferns and hosta can be used to help mask the withering leaves as they come up as the scilla is nearing the end of its season.

See how tiny the Scilla bulbs are?Once the Scilla have put on their show they disappear completely, back into dormancy for their next display the following year.  If you have never noticed this unique plant, take the time to look around…you won’t forget it once you see it.

Corporate Woods, Vernon Hills, IL

Benefits of a Spring Clean Up

A spring clean up for the inside of your home can mean different things to different people.  To some it is as light as cleaning off the patio and the grill and to those Martha Stewart enthusiasts it can be so so much more…washing curtains, emptying cabinets and giving them a thorough wash and possibly even power washing the roof.  Everyone’s need are different.

The same can be said for a landscape but there are some things that absolutely need to be accomplished.  First removing any branches, sticks and leaves from the property.  Doing a good fall clean up can help make this an easier task, but it still needs to be done.

You also want to cut back any Hydrangeas, grasses or perennials that were left in tact for winter interest to make room for new growth.

 

 

At this time we also like to cultivate, edge and fertilize the beds with a product that also contains pre-emergent (to help keep down those nasty weeds).  This function can prove difficult in Spring and sometimes needs to be chipped away it because of Spring’s wet conditions.

Next is turf.  It is important to be gentle with turf in Spring, again those wet conditions can make situations worse by tearing it.  That being said we rake wherever possible to pull up dead grass and snow mold, then topdress with a combination of grass seed and peat moss.

Activating your irrigation system is equally important, making any necessary adjustments.  But we tend to turn systems off when turned on in early Spring.  Running them only aggravates already wet conditions, which can encourage turf fungus and other problems.

Once all of that is complete and all your hardsurface areas are cleaned and tidy, your landscape is ready for the season.

March in to Spring with the Crocus

When diving into the history of different plants it more often than not more interesting than the actual biological development of the plant. If you delve deeply enough it is about how the plant has moved throughout the world and it fits into history.

The crocus is no different. It was first cultivated and grown for a very precious commodity. Saffron. Crocus sativus is a fall blooming crocus that has been grown for over 3,500 years
starting in the Mediterranean, as seen in a fresco in Crete. In fact, according to legend the Greek Gods Zeus & Hura loved each other so passionately that the land where they lived burst open with crocuses.

The crocus first made its trek to the Netherlands from Constantinople via the Holy Roman Empire’s Ambassador in the 1560’s where it continued it’s cultivation throughout Europe. So coveted were they that they even made an appearance in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

There are approximately 80 varieties of Crocus, 40 of which that are cultivated. Each variety takes on the appearance of its ancestors where they were first grown. The alpine species, C. vernus, is the chief ancestor of the common garden crocus. Dutch yellow crocus (C. flavus), from stony slopes in southeastern Europe, is another popular spring species, as is C. biflorus,tinged purple and with yellow throat, sometimes striped, from the Mediterranean.

As winter slowly recedes and spring creeps to occupy its space these lovely darlings make their debut. A little wink at what bursts of life and color are yet to come. So keep a look out for natures promise for spring.

Custom fire place

Hire a Professional

You hear it all the time. If you are gong to hire someone for a project in your place of business or you home…hire someone who knows what they are doing. Think about it, if you received the news that you required surgery, would you hire someone who had not been to medical school? Probably not.

The perception of the landscape industry has always been an uphill battle. Consumers often don’t consider the importance of professional degrees and certifications as a necessity. I assure you, I have heard enough horror stories to know that hiring an individual or organization with the correct qualifications will save you money and peace of mind in the long run.

We get at least two phone calls a year inquiring if we can fix something that a consumer has already paid for. Perfectly good money wasted for all sorts of reasons…drainage issues were never considered. Water can be one of the most quickly damaging elements to your property. There is always the frustrated person complaining about a walkway or patio that after one winter are failing, most probably because the base layer was improperly considered and installed. Oh and that one year warranty they told you about…good luck getting them to return the call.

Maintenance is a huge issue. If pruning isn’t correctly done it can and mostly likely KILL your plants. When you invest in a new garden and don’t cultivate and weed properly, the weeds WILL win. And believe it or not, there is a correct and incorrect way to mow grass.

I could go on and on, however I won’t. What I will do is let this wonderfully created and produced video do the talking. ILT Vignocchi and Montale Gardens are proudly featured in a branding video for our industry. It shows my fellow contractor’s pride in what they do, a down right love for their crafts. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO. I know you will enjoy it.

Boxwood Trivia

Boxwood are one of the most versatile and elegant of evergreen shrubs.  They have very shallow roots, can tolerate most conditions and be used in both formal and informal settings.  It are theses characteristics that make them so desirable today.

Their popularity is not new.  Although grains for a species was found in England as far back as 7,000 B.C., they were destroyed during a Glacial epoch.  They resurfaced around 4,000 B.C. in ancient Egyptian tombs.  Their popularity surged at the height of the Roman Empire and throughout the Dark Ages, used as hedges and topiaries in Royal gardens.

One of the Boxwood’s most delightful and interesting facts is that it has historically been used to make boxes, chess pieces, printing using woodblocks, and musical instruments and parts, particularly form the strings and woodwind class and is still used for many of these purposes today.

It is a plant that seems almost too good to be true!  Well almost.  As of late our dear friend has had some issues, that many of you might have experienced.  Several years ago we had an extremely cold Chicago winter with unusually light snow cover…and plants with shallow roots really rely on their winter blankets.  As spring sprung, we noticed the loss of a lot of plant species…especially boxwood, yews, junipers and roses.

Boxwoods suffered another hit.  Boxwood blight.  It is a fungal disease that really has no treatment.  The only course of action is to remove them from the nursery or landscape.

These plants of course need to be replaced, and replace them we are.  Why is having to replace them so important to our tale?  Well because Boxwoods are extremely slow growing, and as the demand increases due not only to popularity but a need to replace them, growers just cannot keep up.  It is a difficult concept to explain to a property owner, but our current reality.

There are alternatives.  They are not boxwoods, but they are options…”Green Mound’ Alpine Current, ‘Karen’s’ Azalea, Deutzia, and our owner’s favorite… Barberry.  Peruse some of these favorites on our nursery’s website.

Many people say everything happens for a reason.  Maybe this did.  I like to think utilizing a different palette challenges our creativity and encourages diversifying our monoculture.

Benefits of Dormant Pruning

As landscape architects and arborists we often find that plant material on our new residential, commercial and HOA sites have been left to get overgrown and mismanaged. The key to getting the plant material looking healthy, vibrant and growing properly again is of course dormant pruning.

Dormant pruning takes place during the winter months and this is valuable for many reasons. With the leaves absent precision pruning is much easier. Cutting the plant in the right spot helps the plant heal better and faster in the growing season. It also allows us to see the shape of the plant better and see limbs and stems that are either damaged, diseased or crossing. The colder months also mean less airborne diseases that could affect the fresh wounds of plants.

A sure sign that dormant pruning needs to be done is the evidence of witches broom which is a dense mass of shoots growing from a single point. This happens when the plant is perpetually pruned or sheared on the top and never in the middle or base of the plant. This type of pruning leads to a plant that is top heavy with leaves, but looks bare and leggy on the stems and base.

Dormant pruning removes the witches broom, allows us to remove overgrown stems at the base of the plant and makes it easier to remove unwanted growth. These fixes allow sunlight and air to get to the entire plant and not only to the top sections. Heights of plants are also much more easily controlled during dormant pruning allowing the plant to take on a natural shape during the growing season without blocking windows or doors.

-Aaron Zych

Landscape Architect  & Certified Arborist

Tulip Trivia

As I sit on this blisteringly cold January day my mind drifts to our lovely friend, the tulip.

You see my mother loves tulips.  Even though we lived in Riverwoods and had to contend with deer feasting on them she would plant them.  Not en masse but in charming little bundles that would cheerfully pop up in spring.  She would sometimes even pair them with Allium, in order to deter our beautiful yet hungry friends.

Her love affair continues today, although now she must battle chipmunks and squirrels who enjoy digging them up and moving them around.  This year I finally convinced her to even try my favorite tulip blend created by a most trusted vendor.  It’s called French Blend.  Wow, wait until she sees her spring display!

French Blend Tulip

The French Tulip Blend

It’s difficult to think of spring on such a snow covered day, but it will come.  My contemplating of the tulip has led me to some poking around.  I’ve found some interesting tidbits that I thought I’d share…

  1. Origin Story:  Thought that tulips originated in Holland?  They did not.  It is widely believed that they were first cultivated in a corridor along the 40° latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe.
  2. Tulips travel to Turkey:  When the tulip first made its way to Turkey it was revered by the Sultan and was cultivated solely for his pleasure and that of his entourage.  He forbid tulips to bought or sold outside of the capital.  The punishment?  Exile.
  3. A Status Symbol:  Tulips were cultivated to be curated.  They became a symbol of status and power for both Royalty and the very wealthy.  Mirrors were placed around arrangements and in gardens to create the appearance that the owner could afford more than they actually could.
  4. A Bricklayer’s Wage for 15 years:  At the height of what is called “Tulip Mania” once they had reached Holland, a single bulb would go for the price of a homepurchased in Amsterdam, or… a bricklayer’s wage for 15 years.
  5. There is an actual Tulip Museum…Outside:  Keukenhof is worth the visit in May each year.  I have been and I will never forget it.  It is display garden after garden that is painstakingly designed and installed annually.

And that my friends, is just some of the fun facts around out delightful spring friend.

Donna Vignocchi Zych

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

New You Tube Post: Video Presentation

Our design staff is constantly experimenting with new technology to better communicate our creative vision.  This new video is presenting a virtual experience for a large scale community in Burr Ridge that is implementing a multi year redesign and installation that will be focused on making the landscape more beautiful and sustainable.

When creating sustainable landscape options for our customers, we achieve not only the satisfaction of doing the right thing for our environment while creating an atmosphere of plants native to Illinois, but help reduce long term maintenance costs for our customer.

How snow accumulation affects your landscape

Our Core Values   Quality  Honesty  Pride  Teamwork  Cleanliness  Safety  
It has been years since we have to wait until the middle of January in Chicagofor the first significant accumulating snow of the year (+2″), but here we are.  It is often right after the first significant snowfall of the season that we hear from many concerned customers about the potential damage that snow may do to their trees and shrubs.  While snow is vital to the winter survival of plants and trees it can create some problems for your plants under extreme conditions.  In case you were wondering how to avoid damaging your plants this winter, read on…
  • Heavy, wet snow and ice can often cause branches on deciduous plants to bend or even break because they are frozen and brittle.  On evergreens such as arborvitae, junipers, yews, etc., which have a broader surface on which snow and ice can accumulate, branches can be stretched and bent, disfiguring the shape of the plant and causing damage below the surface of the bark that will not become evident until Spring.
  • If you are concerned about a heavy accumulation of snow on your landscape plants, carefully brush the snow aside by hand to avoid causing damage.  Avoid shaking or striking the branches with brooms or shovels as this can cause more damage than it prevents.  Bear in mind, that natural snowfall or windblown snow seldom results in plant injury. It’s usually the devices we use to remove snow that cause the most damage.  Snow that is plowed, blown, pushed into, or thrown over plants is denser than natural snowfall and tends to stick together, so as it settles, it can rip branches or snap buds from limbs.
  • Snow serves as a great natural insulator because snowflakes have small intricate spaces within their structure which are filled with air. These spaces trap air in between the flakes as they pile up. These tiny pockets of air prevent circulation, thus preventing heat from being transferred by convection.  As a result, the daily temperature penetration into the snow is minimal and plants are protected from frost and freezing conditions.
  • Snow on the ground acts as an insulating blanket of mulch that prevents injury to roots, which generally can’t withstand extreme cold. The roots of most landscape plants can be damaged when soil temperatures fall below ten degrees F.  Some perennials, whose roots are far more sensitive than woody plants, can be harmed when soil temperatures dip just below freezing. The snow cover will moderate temperatures, and once the snow melts, the moisture is beneficial to the plants.
Of course, the best solution is not to cover plants with excessive snow at all.  Avoid plowing, blowing, or shoveling over the top of your plants.  Mark your beds in Fall with posts or reflectors if necessary to make them more visible under extreme snow conditions.
Avoid piling “salty” snow near plants or on lawns.  If you choose to use ice melt products such as rock salt on your walks and drives, keep in mind that this, mixed with the snow and slush that is piled around plants, can leach into the soil and harm roots.  Plants will absorb these contaminants in the Spring which may cause die back and even death.  If you must “salt”, use one of the more environmentally safe products such as calcium or magnesium chloride or an ordinary, inexpensive garden fertilizer, sand, or kitty litter mixed with equal parts of “safe” salt.
Consider these plant care tips now before the snow really starts to fly as it is easy to forget them in the throes of one of Chicago’s blizzards or ice storms.  By taking extra care now when removing snow or melting ice you can keep your trees and shrubs safe from snow injury and you will find them to be more hearty and healthy come Spring.
Kevin Block
RLA
Certified Arbotist