Ornamental Grasses that Grow Great in Winter

Did you know? The Chicagoland area falls within the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone 5, which is one of the cooler parts of the United States. Though some plants certainly struggle to thrive outdoors, particularly in the late fall, winter, and early spring, others will thrive year-round – including ornamental grasses. Below, you can find some of the best and most beautiful wintertime ornamental grasses for your landscape.

Preparing for Ornamental Grasses in Your Landscape

Before you plant ornamental grass in hopes it will thrive in Chicago’s cold winters, it’s important to understand these plants’ typical requirements. 1. They prefer to be rooted in soil that drains very well and is low in nutrients. 2. You’ll want to look for cool weather grasses that can withstand subfreezing temperatures, layers of ice and snow. (If you need some help choosing a grass to start with, you can always find native options in your local nurseries and home stores.)

Non-Native Ornamental Grasses that will Thrive in Zone 5

If you don’t like the look of native species, or are ready for the “next adventure” in ornamental grasses, there are plenty of non-native ornamental grasses that will absolutely thrive in Zone 5. These include:

  • Japanese Silver Grass – This is an Asian transplant that offers gorgeous, clumping, silver plumes. You can find several varieties, including some that have pink and/or reddish flowers in the warmer parts of the year.
  • Purple Fountain Grass – Fountain grasses form beautiful “balls” or “mounds” when trimmed appropriately, which makes them truly unique, ornamental pieces for your landscape. Purple fountain grass shows reddish hues in its leaves and flowers, and grows to about four feet tall.
  • Ravenna Grass – Though most of the Pampas grasses won’t survive long in the harsh Chicago winters, Ravenna grass is an unusual variant. This grass can survive (and even thrive) all the way up to Zone 4. This is a huge grass; in its foliage phase, it can reach five feet. And when the flower stalks start to grow, it can grow as high as 12 feet. This is phenomenal for corners, as it fills in the space, and can be used to provide privacy.
  • Miscanthus Maiden Grass – Finally, there are several miscanthus varieties. These are well-suited for year-round beauty in the Chicagoland area. They range in color, from bronze to deep burgundy, and can grow as large as 10 feet tall by six feet wide. This is an excellent choice for containers, or hard clay soils, where other grasses may not grow well.

As you can see, despite Chicago’s freezing temperatures during winter months, there are several beautiful ornamental grasses that will thrive in winter’s frost. Japanese silver, purple fountain, Ravenna, and miscanthus maiden grasses are all phenomenal choices. For assistance with planting these beautiful grasses, guidance in landscape design, or even year-round care and maintenance, contact a landscaping professional.

Winter Landscaping Tips to Get Your Property Ready

Spring is just around the corner; that means your foliage will soon start coming back to life, and early bloomers will show their colors for the world to see! Maximize the beauty of your landscape by following these simple winter landscaping tips below.

Clean Up

One of the best things you can do to keep your property looking beautiful into the spring months involves keeping it clean. Use a bag to pick up any twigs and debris that may have accumulated around your lawn during the winter. Rake dead leaves and, either compost them, turn them into mulch, or throw them out. If you have an air blower, first move the leaves into a manageable pile. It’s always a good idea to clean up, to eliminate rot, and so that fertilizers and nutrients you may apply will penetrate the ground more readily.

Apply Your Lawn Treatments

Late winter and early spring are great times to apply fertilizers, pre-emergent (if necessary or desired), and herbicides (for weed prevention). Some weeds, such as crabgrass, are easier to prevent than they are to kill. You may often find these products in combinations, designed to make them easier to apply. Always feel free to call a professional, who will apply it for you in just the right amounts.

Choose a Mulch

After you’ve treated your lawn (and mowed, if appropriate), now is a great time to focus on your flower beds, dead shrub branches, and mulch. You’ll want to spruce up your edging, and then carefully trim back any dead or out-of-place branches on shrubs and bushes. Choose a nice, heavy mulch, made of hardwood if possible. Though it will cost more, it will also last far longer, and provide a much better aesthetic look.

Get Your Trees Trimmed

In late winter, it’s often difficult for you to really determine which branches are dead and which are dormant, so this is a job that is almost always best left to the professionals. It’s also one of the most important tasks on this list, since dead branches can pose a safety hazard to residents and passersby. Most professionals recommend pruning for safety once every couple of years. These experts tend to agree it’s best to conduct these pruning sessions before the leaves sprout, since it’s easier to find branches that have broken away from the tree.

Don’t Seed Yet

It’s very, very tempting to get out into the lawn with a bag of grass seed to cover up any bare or brown patches. But seeding your lawn is a fruitless endeavor if you’re applying lawn treatments. They simply won’t allow the new seed to germinate properly. Focus on fertilizing for now. There’s a good chance that, over time, the brown or bare spots will fill themselves in. Or, rather than seeding, consider sod for the especially bare or brown areas.

Preparing your landscape in winter will ensure your property looks beautiful and fresh for spring. Though property owners and their maintenance crews typically can handle some of these tasks on their own, it is best to leave some – such as the application of lawn treatments – to the experts for safety. Happy landscaping!

A 3-Month Landscaping Plan to Get Ready for the Spring

Preparing for the spring thaw (and subsequent bloom) requires a bit of a plan. It’s important to keep up with your landscaping during the winter months – or hire a landscaper to do it for you – in order to really reap the benefits. Here’s what you should do in December, January, and February to ensure that your landscape is beautiful and bountiful this spring.

December

December often marks the first major snow for most people in the local area, so it’s important that the following tasks are completed beforehand:

  • Mulching beds and tree roots – This will ensure that frost cannot penetrate the stems of small plants or into tree roots, causing serious issues when springtime returns.
  • Moving plants indoors – If you haven’t already, this is the perfect time to bring plants that are hardy but cannot tolerate long periods of cold indoors.
  • Pruning – Trim your trees and shrubs of old-growth or dead limbs so that you can make way for beautiful new growth come springtime.
  • Mow the lawn – December is also the perfect time to ensure that you’ve mowed your lawn to a length of 1” to 2” (or even 3” for some less tolerant species). This will keep the grass healthy, but it also prevents pests from calling your lawn their home.

January

January is all about keeping up with anything you did during December and the previous fall, but it also adds in a few tasks that help to ensure a better spring. They include:

  • Checking mulch depth – Every month or so, be sure that you check the depth of the mulch in your beds and around your trees. It should be at least 3” in the wintertime to provide ample insulation from the cold.
  • Watering at above 40 degrees – If it hasn’t been snowing or raining much, wait until the temperatures are above 40 degrees for a time and water your grass, trees, and plants Even though it’s cold, they still get thirsty.
  • Give your mower a tune-up – Finally, if you mow your own lawn during the warmer months, there’s no time like January to give your mower a tune-up. You can do it yourself relatively easily, but if you rely on a pro, they won’t be very busy in January – and you may even get a discount because of it.

February

February is often the coldest month, but it’s also the last full month of winter and the time when you want to make sure everything is ready for the big March bloom. You should:

  • Clean your tools – If you do your own landscaping (or even a part of it), then you likely have a collection of tools that you use for this very purpose. February is the perfect time to scrub and oil them (if necessary).
  • Plan your spring layout – The big thaw is coming, and that means it’s almost time to get your bulbs back in the ground. Take some time to look around your yard and figure out where you want various plants to go.

December, January and February aren’t quite as busy in terms of landscaping tasks, but there are still a few things that must be done. Use this handy list to keep up with them, or feel free to call a professional who will take care of it for you. In the end, a beautiful spring lawn with no dead grass and plenty of color is yours for the taking, but only if your winter maintenance is spot on.

How to Keep Your Landscaping Looking Nice Even During the Winter Months

During the spring and summer, landscaping is a big focus for many home and business owners. However, once winter sets in, this seems to change. You might think that making your landscaping look nice during the winter is impossible, but the tips below can do just that.

Don’t Stop Raking

If you stop raking for the season after the first snowfall, you certainly aren’t alone. However, even though there aren’t quite as many leaves on the ground during the cold of winter, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist at all. When snow piles on top of those leaves and dead plant matter, the resulting environment can breed mold and fungus. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to rake your lawn now and then – especially where you can readily see the buildup.

Wrap Trees with Thin Bark

Trees with especially thin bark are susceptible to damage in the winter. This applies not only to certain species of trees but also to saplings and very young trees. A phenomenon is known as “sunscald” is a very real thing, and it occurs when there are large temperature fluctuations during the late fall and early spring. Use a light-colored wrap – even burlap – to prevent it.

Cover Shrubs to Protect from Salt

If your home or business is close to the road, and if any of your shrubs or plants are in what is known as “high-traffic” areas, it is worth your while to cover them with a tarp or sheet to protect them from road salt. In fact, if you are going to apply salt to a sidewalk or walkway near your plants, be sure to use it sparingly, and avoid using it near tree roots unless there’s no other choice for safety reasons.

Mulch Your Beds (And Check Them Often)

Mulch is much more than just a means to make your flower and plant beds look pretty. In fact, it can go a long way toward preventing frost from reaching plants’ roots. You can choose mulch in any color you prefer, or, if possible, you can even use the leaves you collected during the fall as mulch. Make sure your mulch is at least three inches deep to really protect the plants.

Keep Your Grass Cut Short

If you haven’t already mowed your lawn for the last time this season, now is the perfect time to do it. Just be sure that you lower the blade on your mower so that grass is no more than 2” tall – and ideally 1”. Grass can get frostbite just like your fingers and toes, and this results in dead patches or brown grass in the spring. What’s more, keeping your grass short through winter can also prevent pests like field mice from calling your yard home.

As you can see, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure your landscaping looks nice all winter long. Though many of these tips aren’t directly aesthetic, they will protect your trees, shrubs, plants, and flowering plants so that when spring rolls around, everything blooms as it should and nothing appears brown or dead.

Landscaping Mistakes Homeowners Make During the Winter Months

Homeowners have the best intentions when it comes to winter landscaping. In some cases, they just don’t want their lawns to look desolate and bare, but in others, they’re willing to accept a less-than-attractive winter lawn in exchange for bright green and beautiful blooms this spring. Below are five landscaping mistakes that many homeowners make during the winter months and some tips for doing the right thing instead.

Failing to Water the Lawn and Plants

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your plants won’t dehydrate. While they don’t need as much water through the winter months, they do still need at least some. Whenever your area isn’t getting rain or snow, and whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees, make sure that you are giving your lawn and your plants a good soaking water. They will thank you for it come springtime.

Skipping out on Raking

Homeowners think that once all the colors of fall have disappeared, they no longer need to rake. This is simply not the case. Though it may be tedious, and while it may not be your favorite job, it must be done. Mold and fungus can grow rather easily under leftover leaves and other debris, so be sure that you’re raking them up whenever you have the opportunity. Better yet, save them, and you can use them as free mulch! If you don’t feel like raking, you can always hire a professional to do it for you.

Not Checking Mulch Depth

Many plants struggle to tolerate subfreezing temperatures, and once frost hits the base of the stem or the roots, they may never recover. Building up mulch around these plants to a depth of about 3” is ideal. Though, between winter storms and wind, and thanks to your neighbors’ pets, you need to check your mulch throughout the winter, to make certain the depth is still correct. If it isn’t, just add more – or use some of the leaves you raked up! If you have a professional landscaper, this is something he or she should check for you regularly, too.

Forgetting About Pests

Homeowners mistakenly believe that when the cold air sets in, pests are a thing of the past. This isn’t the case, especially for rodents like mice, who rely on your lawn and, ultimately, your home to stay alive when it’s freezing outside. Keeping your grass cut short (1” to 2” – or a maximum of 3” for certain varieties) can prevent mice from nesting in your lawn. It will also keep them off your property altogether, so they are less likely to make their way inside.

In short, failing to water your lawn, skipping out on the raking, skimping on your mulch, or forgetting all about the existence of pests like mice can really wreak havoc on your landscaping. The best way to avoid these issues is to call a professional landscaping service who can handle these tedious tasks on your behalf and provide you with the peace of mind you need and deserve.

Don’t Wait for a Snowstorm to Worry About Your Multifamily Unit – Find a Solution Now

Do you own or manage a multifamily residential unit, like an apartment building? If so, winter probably presents some very specific challenges for you- especially snow and ice. Waiting until that snow and ice are already on the ground to figure out a removal solution is not beneficial in any way. Finding a solution now – long before the first snow hits – truly is.

Reduce Slip-and-Fall Injuries

Every single year across the US, there are a staggering 12,000 deaths due to slips and falls caused by ice and snow. Many of these are among older adults. Fortunately, there are things everyone can do to reduce it. When Mother Nature decides to come, in full force, at your multifamily complex or building, make sure you have a plan in place to keep things under control. Preventing slips and falls before they happen is always better than reacting to them after the fact, and your tenants will undoubtedly thank you for it.

Reduce Auto Accidents

If your apartment building or multifamily complex is served by a parking lot for residents, then this presents a brand new set of challenges. Parking lots are notorious for wintertime accidents, especially with snow and ice on the ground. All too often, property managers fail to prepare their parking lots for the incoming snow and ice. Ideally, you should keep a close watch on the weather, anticipate wintry precipitation, and prevent accumulating ice whenever you can. For large snowfall events, hire a professional snow removal company to keep things clear.

What Professionals Can Do for Your Multifamily Buildings

Whether you own just one apartment building or several buildings spread across the city; there are numerous advantages in hiring a professional right now to help you when the snow starts to fall. Some of the services they provide include:

  • Salt Application: Apply salt to parking lots, walkways, and sidewalks in anticipation of a winter weather event. Your tenants will be more comfortable, and safer without the accumulation of salt and ice. Your employees will also be grateful.
  • Plowing: Removing snow from parking lots and curbsides can be time-consuming. Yet hiring a company once the snow is on the ground can put you in a long, long queue. This means your tenants will likely be waiting a while before they can go anywhere. The earlier you find a solution, the better off you will be in this case. Did we mention your tenants will be happier, too?
  • Snow Removal: Sometimes there simply isn’t enough room on your property for the piles of snow that result from a professional’s plowing efforts. Make sure that the company you choose also offers complete snow removal.

Hiring a company that will salt, plow, and remove snow from your multifamily property this winter is a good idea. But you should not wait until Mother Nature unleashes frozen fury. In fact, doing it right now will help you ensure that your property is a priority – and that makes your tenants and your employees a priority, too.

Why Now is the Time to Think About Your Snow Removal Needs

If there’s one thing that can be said for winters in the Midwest – especially in Chicago and near the Great Lakes – it’s that winters can be incredibly harsh and unpredictable. It is not uncommon for a foot or more of snow to fall overnight, blanketing everything from your front steps to your car in a pile of pure white. It is always beneficial to start thinking about your snow removal needs prior to the first snowfall, and there are plenty of reasons to hire outside help, too. 

You’ll Need to Get In and Out of the House Safely

Snow is definitely beautiful, but for many homeowners all across the Chicagoland area, it can be quite dangerous – especially when it comes to leaving your house. You can use rock salt to help prevent the front steps from freezing, but this only works up to a certain point, and it won’t stop inches of snow from piling up. Unfortunately, numerous injuries occur each year when people attempt to make their way out the front door after a snowstorm. Securing snow removal services now is a great way to prevent this. 

You Have to Keep Your Sidewalk Clear

Plenty of HOAs and areas of the Chicago area (and its suburbs) require you to keep your sidewalk clear of snow for public safety reasons. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to clear the snow on their own within the given timeframe. Snow removal services respond on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you choose to hire someone, the better off you will be. 

You May Need to Get Your Car Out of the Driveway

When snow really piles up, you might decide to park your car in the garage overnight to spare yourself the cleaning in the morning, but if the snow has built up on your driveway just outside the garage, it may be difficult – if not impossible – for you to even get your car on the road. Snow removal services will clear your driveway from the road or street to your garage, making it much simpler and safer to get to your destination. 

You Don’t Have the Time or Ability to Do it Yourself

Finally, it is important to remember that not everyone has the time or the able body required to remove snow on their own. Elderly homeowners may not have the ability to go outside and hook up a plow or use a snowblower, and people who work long hours simply do not have the time between work and sleep. If either of these scenarios sounds familiar to you, or even if you simply prefer to hire a professional to remove snow, now is the best possible time to make the call and learn more about the services that are available to you. 

Winter is on its way, and that means cold temperatures and wintry precipitation are just around the corner. By securing a snow removal service early on, you can ensure that your driveway, front step, or even sidewalk – or maybe all three – remain clear and safe despite the weather.

Protect Plants and Bushes for the Upcoming Nightly Frosts

With frosty weather just around the corner, now is the time to think about protecting your plants and bushes from the cold. There are numerous tips for doing just that, but the ones you will want to use depend on the exact species of plant and the materials you have on hand. Below are some guidelines you can use to provide your plants with a home in which they can thrive.

Why is Frost Bad for Plants, Anyway?

Plants, like people and animals, are comprised of living cells encased in cell membranes. For these plants and bushes to survive, their cells must remain intact to allow for the movement of water and other nutrients through the leaves and stems. Frost is nothing more than ice crystals that form on plants. Depending on how cold it gets, the plant itself could also freeze, resulting in ice crystals both on the plant and inside the plant. These ice crystals have jagged edges that pierce through cell membranes. If frost has damaged a plant in your care, you will likely notice leaves that look shriveled and darker than usual. Eventually, the leaves will die.

Understand Your Plants’ Classifications

Plant classifications can help you determine which plants are more resilient to frost and which ones are most susceptible. If a plant is labeled as “tender,” this means it will suffer a serious injury or even die if left out in freezing temperatures. If a plant is labeled as “hardy,” it can tolerate some frost as long as it is short-lived. Because it gets incredibly cold for long periods of time during Chicago winters, it is crucial that you bring your tender plants inside to protect them before the first freeze.

Tips and Tricks for Defending Against Cold and Frost

When there are plants that you cannot bring inside for protection, there are a few steps you can take to help them survive the frosts.

  • Keep the soil watered. Wet soil is better at retaining heat than dry soil. By keeping your plants watered, you can keep the roots protected.
  • Cover vulnerable plants. The coverings don’t need to be fancy. You can use a drop cloth, a blanket, or even a sheet of plastic. Do what you can to ensure the material does not touch the foliage. By leaving space between plant and covering, you effectively trap heat, giving plants a better shot at surviving the cold.
  • Use an anti-transpirant spray. Coat the leaves to seal in existing moisture. It won’t prevent the formation of ice crystals, but it gives plants an extra boost to help them live.
  • Move plants in containers to a sheltered part of your home. Container plants will retain more heat when they are placed closer together. Bunch them up and put them in a part of your home that gets more daily sunlight and retains more heat than areas always in the shade.

Chicago’s frosts are tough on plants. The best option is to bring them inside for the winter whenever you have the option. When that is not an option, the tips above can absolutely help you keep those plants alive for much longer – and in some cases, they may even thrive.

Why You Need to Mulch the Base of Your Trees in Early Fall

Mulch is a staple in many Chicagoland gardens and landscapes, but the real purpose of mulch is often incredibly misunderstood. If you think mulch is utilized as weed control, or perhaps as a way to make landscaping look more appealing and refined, you will be surprised to learn these facts. The real uses and importance of mulch are much different than these. Below, you can learn more about mulch and why you should apply it to the base of your trees in early fall.

What Mulch Is Not

Despite the common belief that mulch is used to prevent weed growth, this is not the case at all. There’s a very good chance that you (or your landscaping company) spend some time fighting weeds that grow between gaps in your driveway or sidewalk. If weeds can grow in those locations, they can surely grow through soft organic matter, like mulch.

It would be incorrect to say that mulch is not a decoration, because it very much is. Numerous colors can be found at your favorite home stores; including red, brown, green, black, blue, and various other hues. This can create focal points in your yard, separate individual flowerbeds, and much more. With that said, mulch is not designed to prevent weed growth, but it can improve aesthetic appeal a great deal. This is not mulch’s primary use, however.

What Mulch Is Meant to Do

Three outstanding benefits of mulch for trees and shrubs include:

  • Providing Protection to Roots: When gazing upon a tree, you can tell what’s happening above-ground. You can observe the tree through its many stages, watching it grow from a sapling to a towering giant. What you cannot see is the root system. Now, imagine years of soil compaction around the tree’s roots, and you can easily see how a tree may not get the nutrients it needs. By removing the soil above the roots and laying down loose mulch instead, the entire root system – and therefore the tree – is protected.
  • Providing Protection to Tree Trunks, Bark, and Stems: Mulch can damage tree bark over time. Be careful not to make a huge pile around the base of a small tree. Tree mulch retains moisture, and it will ultimately cause the bark, stems, and trunk to rot. Piling mulch on top of a tree’s root system is no different than planting the tree far too deeply in the ground.
  • Defining the Edges of Beds: Finally, mulch is important for defining the edges of planting beds, as it allows excellent definition without incredibly deep cuts and edging that can cause lawn “scalping” during mowing season.

The Most Important Reason for You to Mulch Trees in Fall

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a revered expert in tree care, proper mulching offers five very important benefits. First, it insulates the soil around the tree, which protects the roots from the cold of winter. Second, mulch retains rainfall and any moisture that may fall during autumn. This will supply a tree’s roots with moisture, even during the arid winter. Third, mulch slows the growth of weeds (to a degree), which reduces competition for nutrients and moisture. Finally, mulching your tree or garden will prevent the soil from being compacted and choking out the roots. It can even help you avoid damage to your (or you landscaper’s) lawnmower. (We appreciate it!)

As you can see, mulch is a highly misunderstood landscaping tool that is crucial to the health and longevity of trees in more ways than one. Mulching your trees in early fall will provide all of these benefits, and provide some aesthetic appeal on the ground – at least until the snow begins to fall.

September Landscaping and Gardening Tips for Chicago Homeowners

September is upon us, and that means the temperatures will soon start falling, the cool breezes will blow, and homeowners across the Chicagoland area will need to start their early fall landscaping and gardening. Below is some information that can help you prepare your lawn and garden for fall to ensure its health and beauty all year round.

Lawn Care

Early September is the best time of year to seed your lawn with an appropriate mix of grass seed. You may choose to fill in any bare or thin spots, but you might also want to seed your entire lawn depending on your unique needs. If your lawn is brown and lifts off the ground easily, this is a sign that you may have grubs, which look like white larvae in the shape of the letter “C”. Be sure to check for these and use the appropriate treatment early in September or wait until the middle of June to use a pesticide called imidacloprid. Application during the fall will prove ineffective since the cool forces the grubs down into the ground and out of reach of any chemicals you might apply.

Caring for Plants in General

If you’ve been thinking of starting a compost pile but haven’t yet gotten around to it, there is no time like September. Things like dead leaves raked from your lawn and grass clippings make a great start, but be sure to add some soil, fertilizer, and water to get things moving along. September is also the perfect time of year to have your soil tested. Remember that you shouldn’t add anything to your soil until you know exactly what it needs; otherwise this can negatively affect the plants during the winter months and prevent growth come spring. 

Trees and Shrubs

If you want to plant or relocate trees to improve or change your landscaping, it is important that you wait for them to change colors or drop their leaves completely. This means they have gone dormant and they will not experience the same level of shock during the transplant process, which helps to ensure their health. You should remember to water all of your larger trees and shrubs until the ground freezes completely, and this is especially true for evergreen trees and shrubs prone to winter burn due to lack of moisture.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs

Late summer is one of the most abundant times of the year for your herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Keep close watch over your garden and check it every single day for ripened produce that needs harvesting. If crops like tomatoes or peppers are still ripening when the first frost threatens, you can prevent damage by covering them with light blankets until the frost has passed. Wait until after the first frost to harvest your leafy green vegetables like kale and Brussels sprouts for a better overall flavor and harvest your second crop of cool-weather produce like peas, spinach, and radishes that you planted last month. Finally, continue to snip herbs, but don’t harvest any that have gone to flower or seed.

Fall landscaping is important not only for improving your home’s aesthetic appeal during the fall months, but also for ensuring a healthy spring season filled with color. These September landscaping and gardening tips will help you keep your lawn, plants, trees, and shrubs healthy while improving the harvest from your fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

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To contact a landscape company who raises the bar of service and design, you can call Martin John @ 847.634.2184 .
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507 East Park Ave.
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