Tag Archives: maintenance

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

Memories of rain and trains

This morning one of my two favorite moments happened simultaneously…laying in bed while it is still dark out listening to the rain and hearing the distant sound of a train’s horn.  It might seem like a simple thing, but simple things can transport us back to simpler times.

The sound of a train blowing it’s horn in the early moments before daybreak bring me back to time spent at my mother’s family farm in Indiana.  It conjures a picture in my mind of crisp red and white, an apple orchard, and my grandfather sitting alone in the kitchen before dawn with a cup of coffee, his profile illuminated by the small light on the kitchenstove.

My family is very proud of our small farm and their father, mother, brothers and sisters, who worked so hard to provide the necessities.  You see, they were tied to the land.  Growing to feed their families.  They were prey to the same things we are prey to in our business…the weather, pests, disease, and ah yes…little critters.

I remember my grandfather had a book that outlined how and what he would plant each year, and how he intended to rotate those crops annually to get a better yield.  Thinking back I wished I had had more interest, asked more questions.  Maybe he had some secrets I could have used, not scientific research like we have abound today, but something he knew in his gut.

I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents come from a place and time that held enormous respect for the land’s ability to provide beauty and sustenance.  They only bought what they could not grow and they worked painstakingly hard for what they had to buy.

When my husband and I started a family, one of the first things we did was create a vegetable garden.  I would constantly seek my mother and my grandmother’s advice.  I would create a book, like my grandfather and make certain to rotate my crops.  I made certain it was pretty as well.  We also battled bunnies, pests, weather and disease.  Although that garden fills me with immense satisfaction, joy and pride, it pales in comparison to the gardens of both of my grandparents and my mother’s.

But I do it, not just because it makes me think of my family, but because it reminds me and teaches my daughter…or as my mother says, “the land will always provide.”

Donna Vignocchi Zych

vegetable gardening

Donna’s Garden

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

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

Landscape Bracketology

It is time for the March Madness to begin and whether you are an avid college basketball fan or you don’t know a Blue Devil from a Boilermaker, chances are you are going to be filling out a bracket and making your picks for the winners.  But what kind of strategy are you using?  Do you study the records, pore over the difficulty of the team’s schedule, analyze the star player stats, listen to the hours of prognostication on the TV and internet?  Or do you pick by your favorite uniform color or the most endearing team nicknames.  No one can tell you that your strategy won’t be effective and even having no strategy (random selection) is actually a strategy in and of itself and can sometimes produce winning results.
However, more often than not putting some thought into your choices and actually reasoning through your decisions will produce the greatest chance of being alive in your pool when the Final Four teams face off.  The same holds true for the selection process for your landscaping and snow removal vendors.  Selecting the right firm for your building or your community is a big decision that will have a direct impact on the value and marketability of your property to residents, potential buyers, customers, employees, visitors, etc. To ensure that your landscape maintenance/snow removal team has the right level of expertise, resources, and experience for your property, make sure you conduct a thorough review process. The more quality information you can consider, the more informed your choices will be when making these extremely important decisions.
Know who you are hiring and how long have they been in business?  Don’t just look for longevity.  Many mediocre companies have survived a long time by churning and burning through customers.  Look for the ones that have long standing relationships with similar customers to tell you who is providing the best level of comprehensive, responsive service over the long run.
Know their professional affiliations and certifications.  Members of established and respected trade organizations are more likely to promote honest and ethical business practices.  They are also more inclined to be current in their licensing and certifications, and more aware of industry standards and technological advances to be able to handle all of your ancillary needs safely, legally, and cost effectively.
Bigger is not always better.  National and even large regional companies can talk about their size and status, but how much “hands on” interaction are you going to have with one of them?  How many layers of phone calls will it take to reach your contact, and how long will it take to get a call back?  How important will your single contract be in the scheme of a multi-million, or now with recent mergers, billion-dollar company?  A local company will more likely provide the personal contact most clients are looking for so ask for their references and find out if they answer their phones.  Will they available to you when you need them?  Is there a decision maker accessible to you when you have issues?  Will they value your business or are you just another number on a spreadsheet?
And of course, cheaper is not always better either: Landscape maintenance and snow removal contracts are by and large service based and the chief part of that service is labor.  A contractor’s hourly labor rates are a factor of how much they are they paying their people; and the overall cost of the service contract is based on much time those people will be spending on your property.  Consequently, lower priced contracts usually mean lower priced labor (less experienced/less talented) spending less time servicing your property at each visit.
Be sure you have shared expectations.  Some contractors will do whatever is in the best interest of your property while others will look to charge you for every “extra” item they can.  Many contractors offer low prices up front then make back their money by flooding you with bills for extra work that they say was not included in the contract.  Contracts are more than words on a piece of paper.  They are an extension of a relationship that must be built on trust.  If you do not trust that your contractor is treating you fairly and giving you the best value for your money, why would you be doing business with them?

Nothing like a walk in the park

For all intents and purposes, the winter that came in like a lion is going out like a lamb.  It is time to start thinking about using the landscaping around you again.  Yes, I said “using” the landscaping.

In case you were wondering how you can personally benefit from using the landscape around you today, read on…

Stress and stress-related illnesses, as reflected in medical records, have increased dramatically among adults and children in Western societies. We have probably all heard of one study or another linking exposure to nature to reduced stress, lower anxiety levels, and help with symptoms of depression.  The studies all underscore what we already intuitively know.  We can relax in quiet, natural settings much more than we ever could in our offices or typical urban settings. Consequently, in addition to being a huge contributor to the overall value of your commercial property and providing significant marketing appeal, well designed and accessible landscaping can provide a valuable oasis for your employees and residents.

The simple fact is that our fast paced, plugged in, always “on” lifestyles give us brain fatigue.  It makes our brains tired of constantly being alert and aware (how many times did you check your smart phone since you began reading this piece?).  A “walk in the park” can go a long way to clear up the resulting brain clouds. 

While natural settings do still engage our brain, the engagement is effortless.  You don’t even necessarily have to enjoy nature or walking to get the benefit.  Exposing oneself to nature, even during the winter, or even looking at images of nature engages our so-called involuntary attention, which comes into play when our minds are inadvertently drawn to something interesting that doesn’t require intense focus, like a pleasing picture or a pleasant landscape feature. We can still talk and think while our brains are noticing and appreciating the element, but it holds our attention while it induces reflection.

AS THE SAYING GOES – YOU DESERVE A BREAK TODAY!

The science behind this theory is real, and probably nothing new to you so allow this to serve as a reminder.   Go for a walk in a green space around your building or in your community, or find a window where you can just sit and gaze out at some greenery.  This is not unproductive lollygagging.  On the contrary, it is likely to have a restorative effect on your brain, recharge your mental batteries, calm your nerves, and make you more productive.  If nothing else, a walk in the park will give you the ability to stop “doing” all the time and start “being” some of the time.

“Take a walk outside, it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.”

–Rasheed Ogunlaru