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How bad has this winter been?

OK, raise your hand if you are one of us that feels like it is never going to stop snowing this winter.  Mother Nature started us off with a bang in November with some light accumulations leading up to the big Thanksgiving blast that left seven to eleven inches on the ground in the northwest suburbs.  Then she seemed to take a nap in December but woke up crabby and ready to wage weather war again in January; and she has been relentless ever since.

Snow accumulation totals for this winter are already more than a foot over our average for an entire winter, and we still have a month left before we can even start talking about spring.  Along with all of this snow we have had more than our share of all of the other nasty weather elements Mother Nature keeps in her bag of tricks.  Historic ice storms, a polar vortex that crushed century old temperature records, rain, sleet, freezing rain, hail, and yes, even graupel.  In case you were wondering what graupel is, read on…

Ice storms don’t hit the Chicago area often because they require just the right combination of cold upper air, warm air above ground level and cold air right near the ground. But when they do happen, ice storms that leave less than an inch of ice on the ground can be much more disruptive than sleet, freezing rain, or snowstorms that leave similar amounts of precipitation. 

But what exactly is the difference between rain, freezing rain, sleet, ice, etc. and why do we need so many terms for this winter precipitation.  Whether or not precipitation remains snow or transitions to rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, or graupel by the time it reaches the ground hinges on the temperature fluctuations the snowflakes may encounter as they travel through the layers of the atmosphere.

When the temperature between the ground and the clouds remains at or below the freezing mark (32F), precipitation will fall in the form of snow. It is possible for snow to fall when temperatures are above 32, as long as the layer of above-freezing air near the surface is rather shallow, not allowing the snowflakes to melt.

Sleet and freezing rain occur by a similar process but are different forms of precipitation.  Sleet occurs when snowflakes melt into a raindrop in a wedge of warm air well above the ground and then refreeze in a layer of freezing air just above the surface. This results in frozen raindrops, or small ice pellets.  Freezing rain occurs when the wedge of warm air aloft is much thicker, allowing the raindrop to survive until it comes in contact with the cold ground.  A coating of ice then forms on whatever the raindrops contact. Freezing rain is by far the most dangerous because it forms a solid sheet of ice, as opposed to sleet that just has small ice pellets that quickly bounce off of the surface.  Interestingy, sleet can even provide a little bit of traction for drivers, as opposed to the obvious dangers of a solid sheet of ice that forms from freezing rain.

And I have not forgotten, in case you were wondering what graupel is, graupel (snow pellets) forms when snowflakes are coated with a layer of ice. Graupel is typically white and opaque. Unlike hail or sleet, graupel is soft and can fall apart easily in your hand. Graupel is also usually smaller than hail, with a diameter of around 0.08-0.2 of an inch.

The demand for ice melt applications to remedy this onslaught of frequent, diverse precipitation has been high, exacerbated by the intermittent freeze/thaw cycles we have also seen that create melted runoff that refreezes overnight.  The need for more salt/chemical applications has resulted in some difficulty on the part of the suppliers keeping up with the demand of contractors.  Typically, suppliers are required to supply municipalities and transportation authorities first to ensure that the road ways are kept safe, leaving a high demand from contractors to take care of private properties.  Higher demand can also mean higher prices, which you may see in the future. 

If your budget has been blown up by the cost of clearing snow and keeping up with these applications, you are not alone.  Commercial building managers, retail mall owners, and HOAs alike share in the budget pain that this winter is creating.

However, the safety of employees, residents, visitors, etc. and the ability of vehicles to effectively navigate around your property should always be paramount when balancing the cost considerations that must be confronted in the midst of a winter like this one. 

Hang on though, two weeks ago, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow around 7:30 a.m. ET and did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring for us all.  A member of Phil’s Inner Circle read from the groundhog’s prediction scroll to the cheers and applause from the crowd;

“Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me and a beautiful spring it shall be.”

As the legend goes, if Phil sees his shadow, he considers it an “omen” of six more weeks of bad weather and heads back into his hole. If it’s cloudy and he doesn’t, you can put away that winter coat sooner than expected.  But of course, his predictions aren’t always correct.  Statistically, you’re better off trying to decide what the rest of February and March will look like by flipping a coinsince Phil’s accuracy record is only 40%.  At least with a coin you will be right half of the time.

Kevin T. Block

Happy 50th Birthday ILT Vignocchi!!

Turning 50 is such a milestone for any business.  Dips in the economy, increasing regulations, labor issues and shortages.  There are so many ways a company can get off track.  As I contemplate where we have been, of course I think of our unwavering reputation for integrity, artistry and quality.  You consider the massive golf courses, Chicago Botanic Garden installations, as well as corporate and municipal work.  I regard those residential projects that not only won awards but gave our employees such satisfaction and our customers heartfelt joy.

But to me it is more than that.

I don’t know if I have a memory when ILT didn’t exist.  You see, as ILT turns 50, I will be turning 47.  The memories of our company are like fabric woven into my life.

When I watch the countless trucks and trailers roll out of the yard at sunrise each and every morning I indulge the nostalgia of our company’s youth.

I remember Sorney Leahy who let me sit inside his desk drawer when I was very small and let me play with his phone.  Or going to a job site with my dad on a Saturday.  He’d hoist me up on his shoulders and then put me down so I could hug my Nono who was working with our men.  A favorite is my mother who would spend hours picking up sticks before the maintenance crew came to our house so they would not have to bother.

50 years ago there were no computers.  Dad used to spend countless nights drawing plans, scrunching up vellum with discarded ideas and yes, taking calls from his customers on his home phone.

I think life is different when you are in a family business.  Of course it is hard and there are arguments, lots.  But there is a short cut with family that makes it easier, because you know in the end, you will always love one another.

  • Donna Vignocchi Zych

Owner ILT Vignocchi

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

Suburban Sanctuary NEW You tube video

On a sprawling 3 acres in Itasca, Illinois this property includes several relaxing vignettes, a putting green and tennis court.  Perfect for entertaining it also boasts a custom fireplace and spa.

ILT Insider: Overwintering of Insects

No one is really enjoying this latest prolonged blast of cold weather.  We are all stuck inside doing our best to keep ourselves (and our kids) entertained and warm.  We must have been due for this as we have been spoiled with mild winters the last few years.  So, those mild winters, along with other things, have encouraged an increase in insect populations we have seen in our trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns, right?  This arctic blast will surely help reset those bloated insect populations, correct?
The answer to those questions is complicated. This is because many insects have adapted ways of making it through a cold, harsh winter. Migration, hibernation, freeze tolerance (insects can produce an anti-freeze to keep them safe) and freeze avoidance are just some of the ways insects make it through.
In many cases it is the spring weather and not the winter weather that can determine the fate of insect populations.
For example, warm early springs can encourage insects to leave their winter hiding spots to search for food. If this is done too early there is not enough new plant growth for insects to feed on.  This can lead to insect starvation. On the other hand, a cold spring will keep the insects in hiding longer which means they could miss one or two reproduction cycles.  This leads to lower populations until summer.  Just like baby bear’s porridge and rocking chair the conditions have been “just right” the last few springs for insect population growth and has not been greatly affected, one way or another, by our mild winters.
Heavy spring rains can also impact insect populations. Spring rains will increase mosquito and aphid populations that need the water to reproduce. However, heavy rains will decrease grasshopper (because their dormant eggs laid in the ground get saturated with water and rot before they hatch) and spider mites populations.
The, sort of, good news is this prolonged artic cold should cause some insect die back. The issue is, when talking about dieback, is this dieback not only effects “bad” insects, but the “good” ones as well. To make it through the winter bees flutter their wings, shiver and are in constant motion in the hive to produce heat for the hive and most importantly, the queen.  Due to this constant motion bees need to eat a lot.  A bee hive can go through thirty pounds of honey in a winter.  If they run out of honey or it gets too cold the hive could lose their queen which effectively kills off the hive.  So, where the mosquitos and aphids might experience some dieback so might the bees.  Nature is a balance and we must be careful what we ask for.
Every year brings something different and it is our job here at ILT Vignocchi to study those treads so we know what to look for from year to year. We will know more when spring arrives what these temperatures did to the overall insect populations.
Aaron Zych
RLA
Certified Arbortist
Project Manager

Find a little peace in what nature provides

Recently I had an interesting experience…

It was a Sunday morning after a particularly stressful week and I decided to wake early and make our weekly grocery store run, by myself, for some piece and quiet.  I was seeking some room for my mind to wonder, relax, only contemplating freshness of produce and what to make for our family’s dinner.

The trip through the store was pleasant enough.  The store seemed to be populated with those of us trying to achieve the same thing.  Getting away from the chaos.

As I was leaving, feeling calm and refreshed, I noticed a couple that might intersect me at a walkway.  I proceeded because I thought I had plenty of room to turn before they reached the intersection.  After I turned I glanced in my side mirror to make certain that the couple had enough room.  It seemed as though they did not as the woman violently gestured to me, and as a result I gasped and held my mouth agape.  She must have seen me because she smiled wide and waved, as though immensely satisfied her blow had struck home.

I was devastated.

I could not comprehend in that moment how someone could have so much anger at 7 am on a Sunday morning on a relaxing stroll with their spouse.

But what is true today is that there are a lot of people with so much anger.  It is as if we have forgotten to see the best in situations, the best in each other and are reluctant to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  I was, and still am, greatly saddened by that situation.  So much so that I am writing this on our company’s blog in order to put something positive into a world that has become one I no longer want to recognize.

Those of us that have stress, have hardships, have pain…those of us that may not have the strength or support to get through it with positivity…consider this…

Start by finding beauty in the nature that surrounds you.  Take time to walk, sit and drink up the colors, textures and serenity of public parks and nature preserves.  Consider planting a garden, it is such a labor of love and provides such a feeling of accomplishment.  Seek a little peace in that which provides boundless beauty.

Each night I say to my family, “let’s go on a garden walk!”  Sometimes I get resistance of why or I’m too busy, but on the nights when we spend 20 minutes looking to see what is blooming, what is changing, what smells gorgeous, we find commonality and peace.

That is what we should all be looking for.

  • Donna Vignocchi Zych, President

There’s no business like snow business

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

Benefits of Fall Planting

Most of us love fall, but plants love it even MORE!
 

Most people think of fall as the end of the growing season and the beginning glimpse of another Chicago winter.  Well try to look at it as an ideal time to plant!

Fall is a perfect time for planting shrubs, trees, grass seed, and even perennials if they have a developed root system. Fall planting gives plants time to develop roots before winter’s blustery conditions.  The conditions are also less stressful and there may be more reliable precipitation.

What happens during fall conditions is a plant’s leaf and flower production is usually slowing down and approaching dormancy. Therefore, a plant can focus on root production.  Roots continue to grow when other parts of the plant are not. Generally speaking, root systems will keep growing as long as the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees.

Although we generally get more rain in fall, the good news is that plants use less water then.  Because days are increasingly shorter and cooler in the fall, plants are going to be photosynthesizing less and using less water.

Fall is also when depleted nurseries can begin to dig plants again, so varieties that were either unavailable or just downright unsightly in July and August, may become available.

Finally, don’t forget about BULBS!  Its often surprising why more people don’t take advantage of this relatively inexpensive way to welcome in Spring.  To achieve a gorgeous Spring show bulbs are planted in late fall.

Spring Tulips

If you’d like to start planning a fall project, it is right around the corner, so call us now and we will be happy to assist you!