Now’s the Time to Start Thinking about your Plan for Spring Landscaping

Although it may still be winter in Chicago, this doesn’t mean that it’s too soon to start making plans to prepare your lawn and garden for the upcoming spring in a month or two. After all, a beautiful garden doesn’t grow by itself – a fair amount of planning and work will be needed to have it looking the way you want. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Get Started with Cleaning Up

The first thing you’ll need to do before making any specific landscaping plans is get your lawn and garden bed cleaned up. Start by picking up larger branches and twigs and then raking up smaller bits of debris and leaves that have accumulated in garden beds and the rest of your yard during winter.

Debris that isn’t picked up and removed will not only get stuck in your mower; it will prevent fertilizers and other plant foods from being able to be thoroughly absorbed by your lawn and plants.

2. Don’t Dig or Walk on Wet Soil

Soil should never be worked when it’s wet because this will cause it to form extremely hard clumps over time – and this can take several seasons to rectify properly. Even if soil appears to have thawed at the top, chances are that it could still have a hidden layer of ice lower down.

The easiest way to determine if soil is dry enough to work is to take a handful and squeeze it. If it crumbles through your fingers easily, it can be worked safely. However, if it forms a solid lump after being squeezed, you’ll need to wait a few days before doing anything.

3. Sharpen those Mower Blades

Although several avid gardeners diligently service their mowers by changing the oil and sparkplugs annually, many forget to deal with one of the most important parts – the mower blade. A blunt mower blade will not only make cutting your lawn more difficult; it will tear your grass instead of cutting it cleanly. This can cause your lawn to turn brown and also result in the development of fungus over time.

Various hardware stores offer mower blade sharpening services, but it is possible to sharpen it yourself in some cases. If you intend performing this as a DIY project, be sure to remove your mowers sparkplug before taking the blade off.

4. Mulch is your Friend

Once your garden beds have been cleaned, it’s time to apply a layer of mulch. This will not only help protect delicate plant roots; it will help prevent weeds from springing up between your prized plants. If any weeds make an appearance, pull them up gently by hand to prevent any damage from being done to the plants you want to keep.

Getting the basic preparation work done in your yard now will help ensure that you can go ahead with those landscaping plans you’ve been thinking about during winter. If you would like to enlist the help of professional landscapers in the Chicago area, contact us today to schedule an appointment with our team.

Protect your Plants against Winter Temperatures in Chicago

As a Chicago homeowner, you’ll want to ensure that your plants and garden are as well protected as possible against the harsh winter temperatures. While it makes sense to initially choose plants that are as hardy and resilient as possible, there are a few other steps you can take to ensure that your garden turns lovely and green again when spring finally arrives.

Be Extremely Generous with the Mulch

Although many gardeners don’t give mulch a second thought, the truth is that placing a generous layer of it over the surface of the soil in your garden will help to keep the plants at a consistent temperature throughout winter. This will also keep plants dormant and prevent them from starting to grow prematurely, especially during that time when temperatures fluctuate wildly before spring officially arrives.

Cover Delicate Plants before Dusk and Overnight

Ensuring that delicate plants are properly covered before nightfall will keep as much stored heat around them for as long as possible. Items that can be used to cover plants include cardboard boxes, plastic bottles that are cut in half, plant containers or even old household linens that may no longer be good enough to use indoors.

When covering your plants, ensure that whatever is being used is large enough to cover the soil on all sides of the plant as well. Once the frost has thawed, you can remove the covers.

Don’t Wrap Trees

Although it used to be a common practice to place paper tree wrap around the trunks of small trees, this is no longer recommended because it can cause more harm than good. Wrapping tree trunks can cause excess moisture to become trapped between the bark and paper, which can cause the tree to crack during a freeze cycle. In most cases, frost cracks on tree bark will heal themselves over time.

Protect against Salt Exposure

In many cases, shrubs end up turning brown and dying on the side that faces the sidewalk, driveway or street and this is caused by the salt that is used to melt ice and snow.

One option for protecting your road-facing plants and shrubs during winter is to erect a temporary fence that will help prevent salt spray from reaching them. An effective and affordable way to do this is to plant a few poles in the ground and stretch burlap sacking between them. Keep in mind though, that the plant itself should not be wrapped in the burlap.

Although it can seem tedious and time-consuming to implement the above-mentioned measures so that your plants can be protected against harsh winter weather, your garden will definitely reap the benefits when spring arrives.

If you would like to find out more about ensuring that your plants will be able to survive the upcoming winter or you’d prefer to enlist the help of a professional residential landscaper to assist with this project, contact our team today to set up an appointment.

Points to Consider when Planning your Next Landscaping Project

Freezing winter and often scorching summer temperatures can wreak havoc on plants, gardens, and landscaping in general in the Chicago area, especially if they haven’t been adequately prepared ahead of time. Below are a few tips that will help ensure that your next landscaping project is a tremendous success.

Choose Plants that are Best Suited to the Chicago Climate

If you intend having your plants blooming and looking good for many years to come, ensure that you choose varieties that are best suited to the specific planting zone you live in. Chicago is usually classified as zone 5, meaning that plants will need to be able to withstand temperatures that run as low as -20°F.

Plants available at most garden centers and hardware stores will carry a label indicating that it will be, “Hardy up to zone x.” Always pay attention to this, as plants that have higher zone numbers on will not usually survive or even grow.

Consider the Amount of Sunlight your Yard Receives

It’s crucial to determine how much sunlight each part of your yard receives every day and how much of it will be required for the plants you’ve chosen to engage in photosynthesis. While some plants won’t require much direct sunlight, others may only thrive upon receiving several hours of it each day.

When searching for plants, be sure to check their labels. They should indicate whether full sun, medium to low sun, partial shade, or even full shade would be required for them to grow and thrive.

Determine your Desired Level of Privacy

Most property owners spend time in their yards as a way of relaxing, decompressing and spending time in nature, and while some individuals want their yards to be as open as possible, others prefer to enjoy a higher level of privacy while outdoors.

You may want to enhance the view of a lovely pond that’s close to your property or even create an outdoor oasis where you, friends and family can enjoy some time outdoors without being spied on by nosy neighbors. If you’re unsure of the type of plants you’ll need to create additional privacy, it may be an idea to enlist the help of a residential landscaper.

Consider your Budget

Although it may seem tedious, it’s essential to determine how much you’ll be able to afford to spend on your upcoming landscaping project. This will help you choose plants, trees, shrubs, and other required items that will fit into your budget.

While you may think it’ll be cheaper to purchase all the plants you need yourself, it can often be more cost-effective to work through a professional landscaping company. In many cases, landscapers will obtain larger discounts because of the amount of plants they are purchasing at a time.

If you’d like to have landscaping performed in your yard, but feel too intimidated by everything that will be needed, our team of professionals will be more than willing to assist you. Contact us to schedule an appointment today.

Benefits of Professional Residential Landscaping

As a property owner, you are ultimately responsible for maintaining your yard and all other areas immediately surrounding your home. However, many homeowners simply don’t have enough time to ‘do it all’ – that is, keep their home looking good, while also ensuring that their yards don’t become overgrown. Times like these are when you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of hiring a residential landscaper.

Boost your Property’s Aesthetic Appeal

One of the main reasons why so many homeowners are now hiring residential landscapers is so that they can keep the outside of their properties looking attractive all year round.

Professional landscapers have the ability and knowledge to not only place a few plants and shrubs in your garden; these experts will do this in such a way that it will transform your average looking home into one that screams luxury – all year round. They will also know how to keep plants healthy and correctly trimmed to promote optimal growth and longevity.

They will Save you Time

After working at a full-time job, very few homeowners want to go home and still have to deal with cutting the lawn, trimming the trees and raking up leaves – especially over weekends, which is the only free time many people have.

Hiring a professional landscaper will help protect the little precious spare time you have during the evenings and on weekends because they will be able to take care of aspects like these – even when you aren’t at home.

It’s More Cost-effective than you Think

Believe it or not, hiring a residential landscaper to take care of your yard and plants will end up being far more cost-effective than if you attempt to do it all yourself. A qualified and experienced landscaper will know exactly what is needed in your yard throughout the year, and will also possess all the correct tools and accessories needed to keep your property looking great.

Landscapers can get Quite Creative

A number of different creative aspects will be involved in the landscaping process, which is why you’ll benefit substantially by hiring someone that knows what they’re doing in this regard. A professional landscaper will not only be able to determine which color palettes best match the outside of your home; they will even be able to make an idea you’ve seen online or in a magazine become a reality.

Preserve your Plants

Another reason why professional landscapers are worth their price is because they will only work with high quality plants, lawn and shrubs. This will allow them to last a lot longer than if you had to attempt to trim or maintain them yourself.

Residential landscapers will also know how to weed your lawn and garden correctly and ensure that the quality and pH levels of your soil are correct. If you’re losing the landscaping battle on your property and would like to hand this task over to qualified experts, get in contact with our team today.

Questions to Ask before Hiring a Residential Landscaper

Once you’ve decided to have landscaping performed in your yard, it will be time to choose a company that will not only be able to provide you with what you’ve requested, but that will also be available afterwards to keep your property looking good. Keeping the aspects below in mind and asking the right questions will help ensure that you choose a landscaping company that is reliable and well known for providing excellent customer service.

Are you Insured and Bonded?

Landscaping is extremely labor-intensive work, meaning that specialized equipment and a number of employees will usually be needed to get the job done. As such, you will need to know if your chosen landscaper or company is appropriately insured.

Any reputable landscaping company will carry general liability insurance that covers mishaps or accidents that cause damage to your property. In addition, they will need to provide proof of having workers’ compensation insurance for any employees that will be working on your property. If they cannot provide proof of these forms of insurance, you’ll be better off working with another company.

How Long have you been in Business?

It’s crucial to ensure that the company you’ve chosen has the required manpower, experience and skills to see your project through to completion. You don’t want to be stuck with a project that has been partially completed because of an insufficient number of employees or a landscaper that has taken on more than they can cope with.

Although there is nothing wrong with hiring a relatively new landscaping company, keep in mind that those that have been around for more than a decade or two must be providing clients with excellent end results if they’re still in business.

What is your Lead Time on my Project?

It’s essential that you know when your chosen landscaping company will be able to start your project. While many companies may promise to get started ‘right away,’ they sometimes end up putting your project on hold to go and work elsewhere because they’ve over-committed their services to too many clients at the same time.

Although you may sometimes wait a little longer for some companies to start your landscaping project, it’s better to know that it will be worked on from start to finish without standing for long periods of time in between.

What will Happen with Outdoor Pets while Work is being done?

Owing to the fact that many homeowners have pets living in their yards, it’s crucial to inquire what your landscaping company’s protocol will be in this regard. However, in cases where significant changes are going to be made to the yard, or where there’s a chance of pets escaping out into the street, it will be better to have them staying elsewhere until the project has been completed.

If you’ve been considering having your yard landscaped and would like to obtain a professional opinion or even an estimate of the costs that would be involved to do so, contact us today to set up an appointment.

 

How to Fight Weeds in Your Flowerbeds

Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence. It seems like no matter how hard you try and how often you pull them out by the roots, they just keep coming back. Unfortunately, these weeds can steal nutrients, water, and even sunlight from your flowers, causing them to shrivel and wilt in time. Weeding is an important plant caretaking skill, and the tips below can make it much simpler and more effective.

Use Mulch Appropriately

One of the best things any home or business owner can do to keep their flowerbeds pristine and weed-free is spreading a two-inch layer of mulch directly over the soil. Though some weeds can still poke through, especially if there are roots beneath the surface, the mulch does prevent new seeds from germinating. Mulch can also make it much simpler to remove any weeds that do break the surface.

Pull Weeds After Rainfall or Irrigation

You probably already know that you must remove the entire weed – root and all – to prevent it from coming back. Certain weeds have incredibly large and strong roots, which can make the removal process difficult. To simplify things and save your back, weed your flowerbeds immediately after a good soaking rainfall. If rain isn’t in the forecast, irrigate thoroughly and then pull weeds. It makes a big difference.

Create a Schedule

If your flowerbeds are large or extensive, weeding might feel like an overwhelming task. To prevent burnout or anxiety, create a schedule for yourself. Focus on one part of your lawn or yard every other day instead of aspiring to remove all the weeds in a single afternoon. Over time, you may find that the weeds start to grow back more slowly, so you can schedule weeding tasks less frequently.

Discard Weeds Properly

Many people choose to leave the entire weed (including the root) on the ground to wilt for a few days before moving the remains to a bin or compost pile. Though this can make the job easier, it may also make your weed problem worse. Some weeds go to seed very quickly, and they’ll grow new roots where they lie. The best thing to do is immediately discard pulled weeds with the regular lawn waste. Don’t allow them to lie on the ground and avoid putting hardy weeds in a home compost pile. Very few home compost piles get hot enough to kill resilient weeds, so it’s best to just discard.

Invest in the Right Tools

Aside from a few basic landscaping tools that every home gardener should have on hand, you should also invest in a handful of tools for weeding. Some tools are designed for cutting through weeds with ease, but others, such as an oscillating hoe, have sharp blades designed to allow you to remove many small weeds in a large area, such as a vegetable garden. A fishtail is a homeowner favorite; a V-shaped tip at the end of a long handle makes it easy to simply pry a root from the soil without having to bend over.

When weeds get out of control, not only are they unsightly, but they can also have a negative effect on your flowerbeds by stealing the water, nutrition, and sunlight from their neighbors. By following these tips, you can make the task of weeding your flowerbeds simpler and more effective.

Getting Ready for the Fall Planting Season? Read This Expert Guide First

Though most of the popular flowers and vegetables are at their peak during the summer, it is not too late to start planting for late fall, winter, and spring, even in the cool Chicago climate. Below is a quick and easy guide to the best options for the fall planting season and some tips for getting the most out of them.

Do the Prep Work

Because summer is the peak growing season, there’s a good chance you’ll have some cleanup to do before you can really get to work on your fall plants. Before you begin planting, carry out the following steps:

  • Remove debris. Dead leaves, bits of fruits and vegetables, twigs, and even lawn clippings should be removed from your flowerbeds and vegetable gardens as soon as possible. Numerous destructive insect species overwinter in this leftover debris, so removing it is ideal.
  • Till or break up soil. Breaking up the soil in your garden and bed now will make things much easier for you when it’s time to plant. Even if your beds will be bare until spring, if you break up and aerate the soil now, it will be much easier to work with come spring.
  • Swap fertilizer for organic nutrients. Fall is a great time to fertilize the soil in your flower and vegetable gardens, but it may be even better to try using leftover organic matter instead of expensive chemical fertilizer.
  • Spread mulch. Mulching your beds in early fall will help keep the soil moist and warm for much longer. If you will plant flowers or vegetables in the fall, wait until afterward to spread mulch.
  • Save your seeds. As you go around your garden removing debris, remember to save any seeds that you might want to plant again in the spring.

Choose Your Fall Crops

Now that you’ve prepped your vegetable garden and flowerbed areas, it’s time to choose some plants. Some of the best options for the cool Chicago fall weather include:

  • Greens known as “salad plants.” Mustard greens, arugula, radishes, and similar plants are wonderful for fall. Be sure that you plant them at least a month in advance of the first frost to ensure their survival.
  • Numerous herbs will thrive in the fall, including cilantro and parsley. You might even choose to add some edible flowers like nasturtiums to your herb garden for a pop of delicious color.
  • Get your edible bulbs in the ground now. If you want to harvest things like garlic or onions come early summer, now is the perfect time to get them in the ground.
  • Consider using accessories to protect plants. There are several ways to make growing season last a little longer in the fall. Some options include things like garden blankets, raised beds, and even row covers just to name a few.

Though Chicago’s fall planting season is not quite as extensive and diverse as spring and summer, there is still plenty of time to get the most out of your garden space. Prep the area early on and then choose the flowers, shrubs, and vegetables that will provide you with the best visual appeal and harvest.

 

5 Plants that Attract Chicago-Area Wildlife in the Fall

Gardening is a wonderful hobby that allows you to add color and style to your home exterior, and in Chicago, planting the right flowers can also attract wildlife like bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Below are five flowers that you can plant this fall to make your yard a haven for Chicago wildlife both now and in the spring. In fact, most will thrive in containers, which can make maintenance and care a breeze when the weather is unpredictable.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod is a classic autumn flower that is available in more than 100 different species. Though it can certainly attract insects, goldenrod is also notorious for attracting spiders and birds that feed on those insects. As such, adding goldenrod to your fall gardening plan might provide some all-natural pest control. It’s a hardy plant that is exceptionally easy to grow directly from seed in full-sun areas.  

Asters

There are two main types of asters: those that bloom in spring and those that bloom in fall. You can sow seeds in the ground in spring, but most Chicago-area residents prefer to purchase potted asters as they tend to bloom later in the year and can be brought indoors. They perform best in full-sun locations, but a handful of varieties will survive partial shade – albeit with fewer blooms.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are typically associated with summer thanks to their huge golden-yellow blooms, but it’s entirely possible to start, grow, and enjoy them throughout the fall months, too. Aside from their abundant seeds, which are a favorite among many of Chicago’s native bird species, they also offer a treasure trove of pollen and nectar for bees. These giant flowers are also relatively easy to care for and grow, and they make an excellent focal point when planted along the sides of garden sheds or garages, too.  

Zinnias

Zinnias are beautiful spherical blooms that come in colors ranging from pale yellow to hot pink and even crimson red. They are widely regarded as some of the simplest and best annuals for beginners since they require very little in the way of care. They perform best in full sun, and while they will still bloom in part shade conditions, they will have fewer blooms and be more susceptible to disease. Like other flowers on this list, zinnias are simple enough to grow from seed in the spring, but they can also thrive in containers. Try placing potted zinnias on porches or near windows so you can watch the dozens of hummingbirds they attract.

Bee Balm

Last, but most certainly not least, bee balm is another excellent option for attracting wildlife. As its name might suggest, bees are especially drawn to the beautiful purple, red, pink, or white flowers, but it’s also a favorite among hummingbirds thanks to its abundant sweet nectar, and butterflies seem to love it, too. It performs best in full sun, and while you can grow it in only part sun, the blooms will be fewer and more lackluster. It’s important to note that bee balm can be somewhat invasive in home gardens because its seeds grow quickly and easily, but this can be managed by keeping bee balm in containers.

Bees, insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other forms of wildlife are often drawn to a wide variety of flowers found in Chicago-area gardens. Though goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, zinnias, and bee balm are some of the most well-known, this is only a partial list. Other options include butterfly weed, coneflowers, wild quinine, elderberries, and various forms of hydrangeas.

The Key Differences between Morning and Evening Sunlight

Whether you’re growing vegetables or enjoying the beautiful colors and aromas of a flower garden, it’s important to ensure that they receive the right sunlight. Below, you can learn more about the differences between morning and evening sunlight so that you can make the best decisions for your unique garden and create the perfect landscaping plan.

Sun vs. Shade

First things first, it’s important to understand that some plants need a lot of sun while others need little if any at all. The best way to determine the amount of sun or shade your plants need is to do some research online. You can also read the back of the seed packet or the small plastic tag that comes with most plants. There are several degrees of sunlight to familiarize yourself with.

  • Full Sun – This indicates that your plant will require at least six hours of unobstructed sunlight each day. Most “full sun” plants thrive with eight or more hours of sunlight, however.
  • Part Sun – A plant that is labeled “part sun” requires anywhere from three to six hours of sunlight each day.
  • Part Shade – Again, these plants will require anywhere from three to six hours of sunlight. The difference here is that you will need to protect plants labeled as part shade from the intensity of the late afternoon and evening sun.
  • Full Shade – Finally, these plants should be exposed to no more than three hours of direct sun per day, and they should be protected from late afternoon and evening sun when possible.

Morning or Evening Sun?

Now that you understand how much sunlight your individual plants need, there are a few other considerations to make. Morning sun is less intense and somewhat filtered, so it is considered the safest bet for plants that require part sun or part shade. On the other hand, the late afternoon and evening sun is strong and less filtered, so it’s best for plants that require full or part sun.

Once you can accurately determine how much sun individual plants require, and once you understand the difference between morning and afternoon or evening sunlight, you can plan your garden based on the amount of sun exposure certain areas receive during the day. For example, if there’s a part of your flowerbed or garden that is always in shade, plan to put your “full shade” plants in this location. If there’s a part that is in shade most of the day but receives a few hours of sunlight in the morning hours, this is perfect for “part shade” or “part sun” plants. Finally, it’s important to always remember that the only plants that should be exposed to hours of afternoon and evening sun are those labeled “full sun.”

Learning more about the differences between morning and evening sunlight is an important first step in planning your vegetable or flower garden. When you choose the perfect locations for specific plants based on the type and amount of sunlight they receive throughout the day and combine it with good irrigation and nutrition, your landscape will be healthier, your yields will be higher, and your flowers will be more numerous.

How to Pair the Right Plants, Shrubs, and Hedges with Your Home’s Exterior Design

Your home’s exterior design is what provides its curb appeal and makes it attractive to others in the neighborhood. Pairing different types plants, shrubs, and hedges with your home exterior can create a more cohesive look and amplify your style. Below are the most important factors to consider when making sure the plants you choose are right for your home.

Height

One of the first things to consider is the height of the plant or shrub when it is fully grown. Depending on your home’s architecture, placing taller plants near the entrance or at the corners can help provide a more natural, purposeful look. If you live in a three-story Victorian home, for example, you can choose plants that grow as high as eight to 10 feet for this purpose. On the other hand, if you live in a ranch-style home, plants of that size would look out of place. It’s all about ensuring that the height of the plants or shrubs complements the height of your home without dwarfing it.

Color

Many homeowners utilize specific color schemes in their home exterior design. Many prefer to keep the colors of their siding and roofing relatively neutral but use lawn décor and floral accents for pops of color. If your home’s exterior is gray with dark gray trim, for example, you might choose to plant flowers that offer bright pops of red and yellow for a pop of color contrast. You might even opt for some flowering shrubs at the corners of your home to help bring it all together. Another option involves choosing flower and shrub colors that complement your exterior design for the front yard but allowing yourself to enjoy the full spectrum of color in the rear.

Shape

Plants come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, so taking the time to plan ahead will help you achieve better pairings. Grasses, for example, can grow in a variety of different shapes. Some may be almost spherical while others are almost all height and virtually no width at all. Look at the front of your home from the street or the curb – or use a high-resolution photo – and try to visualize different shapes in different areas. Exterior design is all about catching the eye, so try to think of different ways to create focal points with plant and shrub shapes.

Functionality

Last, but most certainly not least, homeowners should always consider the functionality of anything they plant in their yards. A beautiful oak tree is certainly a sight to behold, but it’s much more than just aesthetic. An oak tree can provide shade in the summer that makes your backyard more comfortable for children and even reduces your energy bills by deflecting direct sunlight. A tall hedge is more than just a statement piece; it can provide ample privacy in lieu of a traditional fence. In both cases, these options can provide homes for local wildlife and make your lawn a much more interesting place to spend time.

Choosing the right plants, shrubs, and hedges to pair with your home exterior design doesn’t have to be tricky. It’s all about choosing things that appeal to you and perhaps even provide some functionality or benefit while creating focal points with height, shape, and pops of color. A landscaped lawn is much like a work of art, so be sure to look at plenty of inspiration, decide what appeals to you, and then allow your creativity to flow freely.

 

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Contact Info
To contact a landscape company who raises the bar of service and design, you can call Martin John @ 847.634.2184 .
MARTIN JOHN COMPANY

507 East Park Ave.
Libertyville, IL 60048

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847.634.2184