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.
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…
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”