Category Archives: Blog

chicago-annuals-heat

5 Annuals That Will Survive the Harsh Chicago Heat

Chicago is in a unique part of the world that gets freezing cold during the winter but scorching hot during the summer. As such, finding plants that can withstand these extreme temperatures may seem tricky. Fortunately, there are plenty from which to choose. Below are five annuals that are hardy enough to survive the sweltering Chicago summers.

#1 – Cannas

Cannas is a tropical plant that will require full sun in your garden, but it makes an incredible statement. The bright orange-red flowers stand as high as six feet tall and, like daylilies, they grow in clumps. If you plan to utilize cannas to bring some unique interest to your flower garden, remember that you’ll need to store the root clumps in the winter months to keep them alive.

#2 – Coleus

Coleus is common in Chicago-area gardens because of its hardiness, texture, and colorful eye appeal. It ranges from a bright almost neon yellow-green to dark burgundy and royal purple in color, and because it is shade-tolerant, it’s perfect for ground cover. It’s important to note that coleus will produce flowers late in the season, but because they are far less impactful than the foliage, most gardeners simply pluck them off to redirect energy and nutrients back into the leaves.

#3 – Dahlia

Believe it or not, the common dahlia is also incredibly heat tolerant and perfect for Chicagoland flower beds. They come in dozens of different varieties, too. Some grow as tall as five feet, and the aptly-named “dinner plate” dahlia’s massive bloom is a sight to behold. Dahlias grow best in super fertile soil, so ideally, you’ll want to add compost to their beds. Remember to give them space as they need plenty of air to thrive, too. Plant them six to 18 inches apart, giving more space to the taller varieties and less space to the “dwarf” varieties.

#4 – Geraniums

Geraniums are always a great idea because they absolutely thrive in hot, dry conditions. Certain varieties, such as Regal geraniums, fare much better in the Chicago climate than others. The good news is that geraniums are incredibly easy to take care of, so they’re perfect for beginners. Immediately after planting, water them well – early in the morning – then allow the soil to dry out completely before watering them again. To get the most color out of your geranium spreads, pinch off any wilted or withered blooms.

#5 – Marigolds

Last, but most certainly not least, marigolds can be a welcome addition to any backyard. They thrive in the heat, and they’re exceptionally tolerant of neglect, too, which makes them ideal for those who want pops of color without an exceptional amount of work. They produce blooms that range from light yellow to bright orange in hue for a period of about three months, and they can be planted almost anywhere – along the edges of your house or building, in between vegetables, or even in containers.

Though Chicago’s climate can be harsh at times, there are plenty of annuals that can absolutely thrive in the heat of summer. Whether you prefer simple blooms like marigolds, the beautiful complexity of a dahlia, or even the striking foliage produced by coleus, it’s possible to design a beautiful garden with dozens of different heat-tolerant annuals.

 

 

lawn-watering-tips

Irrigation will be Important with the Summer Heat – Try Following These Watering Tips

Of all the things you do to take care of your garden, watering may seem like a no-brainer. Now that summer is in full swing, irrigation is more important than ever – especially if you live in a drier part of the country. Below are some watering tips from the pros that will help you improve your yields and blooms throughout the season.

Only Water When Necessary

This may seem simple enough, but the truth is that many people water their gardens automatically – without even thinking about it – whether or not the soil is actually dry. The best way to determine whether your plants need water is to use your finger to test the soil. The top may appear especially dry, but if you feel moisture in the top two inches, wait another day before irrigating. You should also pay close attention to the weather and avoid watering if good soaking rain is in the forecast within 24 hours.

Water Early in the Morning

Watering your plants in the heat of the day can do more harm than good. Water droplets amplify the heat of the sun, which can actually burn your plants and have a drastic impact on their beauty or their ability to produce fruits or vegetables. The best time to water your garden is early in the morning. This way, the water has the opportunity to evaporate from leaves and soak down into the soil before the sun rises too high in the sky. Watering at night can be problematic, too; if there’s no opportunity for the droplets on the foliage to evaporate, fungus may develop.

Water More, Not More Often

When your plants do need water, make sure that you’re thoroughly soaking the soil around their roots and not just dampening the ground. After all, the water needs to get to the plant’s roots, which are often just as large as the plant itself. Though aiming the hose directly at the root and soaking the soil definitely works, it may save you time to utilize a soaker hose or drip irrigation system, instead. Ideally, with each watering, you’ll want to moisten the top five to six inches of soil.

Stop Watering if the Edges of the Foliage Turn Brown

Finally, if you notice that the edges of your plants’ leaves are starting to turn brown, this is a surefire sign that you are overwatering. Usually, when a plant’s leaves begin to turn brown, people believe this is due to lack of moisture. If entire leaves are turning brown and wilting, this is true; however, if it’s just the edges of the leaves that look brown, this is a sign that there is too much water. Remember that plants take in nutrients through water, and if those nutrients are too diluted, the plants won’t be as healthy and strong.

If you want to get the most out of your flower or vegetable garden this summer, it’s important to follow these watering and irrigation tips carefully. Water your plants only when the first couple of inches of soil feels dry, and make sure you’re watering during the early morning hours when you do. Rather than watering a small amount daily, give your garden a good soaking every few days as needed. These things all work together to create a beautiful, bountiful garden. 

 

chicago flowers

5 Chicago-Area Places to Visit to See Flowers, Plants, and More for Design Inspiration

As the weather becomes warmer, many homeowners start thinking about redesigning and landscaping their gardens and yards. If you’re eager to start working in your garden, but need some ideas or inspiration, there are a few great venues in the Chicago area that you can visit if you’re eager to get your creative juices flowing.

Wicker Park Community Garden

Spread over more than 10,000 square feet, plants in these gardens at 1425 N. Damen Avenue are maintained and designed by volunteers from the Wicker Park Garden Club. Visitors to the garden will be able to enjoy seeing a fantastic array of plants and colorful flowers, along with several native bird species. Visitors can stroll through these gardens as often as they like to obtain inspiration or to simply enjoy the relaxing environment. Various activities are available to partake in as well.

Cornell Oasis Community Garden

Located at 5491 S. Shore Drive, this community garden is home to numerous varieties of wildflowers, ferns, woodlands species, birds and butterflies. Spread over 42 impressive garden plots, visitors will not only enjoy a relaxing walk through the grounds; community members grow many different organic vegetables on some of the plots as well. Guided birding and butterfly experiences are also available for members of the public to enjoy.

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse

Situated at 3501 N. Kilbourn Avenue, visitors can enjoy seeing a wide variety of beautiful and attractive plants, while also learning a lot about tending their own gardens at home. Several opportunities are available for members of the public to volunteer their time and expertise here virtually all year round and various events are held such as plant swaps, demonstrations on growing various vegetables, flowers and other plants in the most sustainable ways possible.

The Bahá’í House of Worship

Located at 100 Linde Avenue, the temples on this property are surrounded with lush, beautiful gardens that visitors are able to spend time in every day of the year. Plants and trees that can be found in these gardens include more than twenty-four flower varieties and Chinese juniper trees. Some of the main aspects that these gardens are known for are their superb arrangements of more than 10,000 individual tulip flowers.

Chicago Botanic Garden

This garden can be found at 1000 Lake Cook Road and it has become well known for its extensive collection of bonsais, along with 26 gardens that have been dedicated to four separate habitats such as lakes, woods, shores and prairies. The master plan for this garden was originally designed in 1890.

Each of the above-mentioned locations will not only be a pleasure to visit; you will be able to learn a lot about the various plant, bird and butterfly species that abound in them, as well as gain inspiration for your next large garden or landscaping project. If you would like to find out more about the best types of plants to have in your garden, contact us for professional advice.

protect flowers rain

Ideas to Protect your Plants during Summer Downpours

After spending hours or even days planting your new flowers and shrubs, the last thing you’ll want to experience is having your hard work decimated by heavy summer downpours. Below are some tips that can be used to help provide your plants with a little extra protection.

Proper Runoff is Essential

Before attempting any of the measures below, it’s important to check that your garden has sufficient runoff. This means that rainwater needs to be directed away from your garden instead of damming up in the center.

Start by Protecting Roots

The quickest and easiest way to protect the roots of plants against a downpour is to spread mulch around them. Apply a two to three inch thick layer around the roots area of each plant, but ensure that it doesn’t cover any of the foliage. Ensure that the mulch is spread generously.

Provide Coverage wherever Possible

Individual plants can be covered with overturned bowls, pots, buckets or virtually any other containers that are large enough to protect them against heavy rainfall. You may need to weigh each of these coverings down with pieces of rock, brick or even old cement pavers to ensure that they don’t blow away or overturn when the rain becomes heavy.

Some Plants can be Wrapped

Some plants will benefit from being wrapped in durable fabric, such as burlap sacking – this will provide them with much needed protection against heavy rain. Ensure that the burlap is securely tied with twine and plant a few additional garden stakes for extra stability if needed. Where there are newly planted trees, these should also be wrapped in this manner.

Plant Row Covers

Beds of smaller plants can be covered with a floating row cover or frost blanket before heavy rains start, and this will provide adequate protection in most cases. If you intend using a cover like this, it’s essential to ensure that a little extra room is left on each side of the row cover so that it can be fastened down or weighted with heavy objects in the event of strong winds picking up.

Provide Anchors for Shrubs and Trees

Newly planted shrubs and trees could suffer severe damage as a result of a heavy summer downpour if they aren’t provided with adequate protection. Young shrubs and trees can be anchored by pounding two to three foot long stakes into the ground until they are about 20 inches deep. Ensure that these are angled away from the plants before tying the twine and securing it to the stakes.

Keeping up with weather reports in your area will enable you to plan ahead with regards to protecting your most delicate plants from the after effects of heavy rainfalls. If you would like to find out more about providing your plants with adequate protection and the best possible level of care, our professional team will be able to assist you in this regard. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with us.

plant caretaking

No Green Thumb? Here are 5 Tips to Improve your Plant Caretaking Skills

Are you a homeowner who dreams of having lush lawns and gloriously gorgeous gardens, but don’t seem to have fingers that are green enough to make this happen? If this is the case, the hints and tips below have been compiled especially to help property owners like you to not only learn how to plant your garden, but how to provide it with the best possible care over time as well.

Less is More where Water is Concerned

Most plants will recover quicker if they have been deprived of water than if they have been overwatered. If one of your plants has been overwatered, it may need to be repotted and have any unhealthy-looking roots trimmed off. If the plant is in your garden outside, it will need to be relocated to another spot that is drier.

Keep a Sharp Eye out for Bugs

Although most novice gardeners think that bugs will only cause cosmetic damage to their plants, this is not the case.  Damage caused to leaves and other parts of a plant by bugs provides the ideal opportunity for harmful bacteria and viruses to enter them. Bugs also act as carriers of various plant-related diseases, so it’s important to eliminate them as quickly as possible.

Use the Right Fertilizer Correctly

It’s often thought that all fertilizers are he same. However, different varieties have been specifically formulated for various types of plants and soil, so it’s essential to use it only as directed.

Using too much fertilizer can cause plant roots to burn, which will affect their ability to withstand bad weather. Plants with damaged roots will also not be able to absorb as much water as they need, resulting in premature wilting.

Before using any fertilizer, it’s recommended that you have your garden soil tested by a reputable garden center or extension agency. The level of acidity or alkalinity in your soil will help determine the best types of fertilizer products to use.

Consider a Self-watering Planter

If you’re constantly busy or simply don’t have as much time to spend tending your plants as you’d like to have, it may be possible to ensure that they are at least watered at the recommended intervals. Place a potted plant into a container that is slightly larger than the one the plant itself is in, put a little water at the bottom of the larger container and run a piece of string up into the plant pot. Water will travel up the string and provide liquid refreshment for your plant.

Drainage is Important

After bringing new plants home, ensure that the containers they are being placed into have sufficient drainage. This will prevent overwatering and save plant roots from rotting as a result of standing in too much water.

If you’re new to gardening and would like to learn more about caring for the plants you’ve chosen, don’t hesitate to contact us right away. Our team looks forward to assisting you.

 

colorful flowers

The Importance of Color Contrast in your Flower Garden

While planning your garden, one of the main aspects you’ll most likely be considering is how much color you’d like it to have. Although it may seem easy to simply place assorted colored plants and flowers at random throughout your garden, it’s important to take color contrast into consideration as well.

Considering Warm and Cool Colors

Flowers and plants in cool colors will provide you with a completely different effect when compared to those that are classified as being warm colors. Reds, yellows and oranges are warm colors and they are known for being highly expressive. They also tend to catch the eye quicker than cool colored flowers in most cases.

Purples, violets and blues are classified as cool colors and they are usually a little less conspicuous, but more subtle than their warm counterparts. Cool colors will produce a relaxing effect on their own, but will make for a vibrant show if paired with flowers in warm colors.

Personal Preferences

Using color contrast to create various combinations of flowers and foliage is what will give your garden the personal touch you desire. If you’re aiming for a garden with various contrasting color combinations, it’s recommended that you combine colors that are further away from each other on the color wheel.

Combining contrasting colors from opposite ends of the color wheel will create exciting color combinations that are sure to attract everyone’s attention while they’re admiring your garden. For instance, planting red and violet flowers next to each other, or yellow and blue, orange and purple or even violet and white flowers alongside each other will provide beautiful contrasts throughout your garden.

When using your color wheel, it’s important to remember that the further away from each other two specific colors are, the more of a contrasting result will be obtained.

Don’t Forget that Foliage

Although the flowers you choose will be the most eye-catching component of your garden, it’s just as important to give consideration to the foliage plants that you’ll be planting to accompany them.

Many perennials or plants that are used as foliage have leaves in various colors such as yellow-green, deep purple, spotted or striped patterns and even silvery-colored varieties. Taking these into account when working with your color wheel will help you create nothing less than a spectacularly colorful and well-designed garden – which will be the envy of family and friends.

Also keep in mind that some flowers will grow just as well if used in containers that are placed throughout your garden. These can also be moved around from time to time for some added variety if they aren’t too large or heavy.

If you’ve been considering planning your flower garden and require a little professional help with regards to selecting the correct flowers and foliage plants for your hardiness zone, we have professionals on hand who will be able to assist you. Contact our friendly team today to schedule an appointment with one of our experts.

 

Plants that Grow Well During Cold Chicago Spring

Whether you are brand new to the Chicago area or you have been here for years, you have likely been introduced to the freezing cold temperatures that come with being so far north – and so close to the Great Lakes. Though it can certainly get too cold for many species, there are numerous flowers, trees, and shrubs that can thrive – even in Chicago’s freezing spring months.

Pansies

Pansies are long-time Chicago area favorites. They might look delicate, but they’re incredibly hardy and they come in a wide range of colors to suit your landscaping preferences. While most flowers wither away in winter and don’t show themselves again until late spring or even mid-summer, pansies are early bloomers – particularly when winters are relatively mild. To optimize growth, plant them in highly visible areas where people will be certain to notice the pretty blooms, even when most everything else is still dormant.

Moss Phlox

Pretty ground-covering plants are always great for lining walkways and patios, and moss phlox is a fantastic choice for Chicago’s cold spring months. It has numerous cultivars from which to choose: some have white flowers with bold pink stripes, some have white-tipped flowers that fade to deep purple centers, and still others are pale pink or even lavender. 

Ornamental Onion

Ornamental onion, also known as alliums, can be found growing wild in some parts of the region – especially along shorelines. They’re colorful, long-lasting, and relatively large, so they make a great piece to add to the back of your flowerbeds where the bright heads will contrast nicely with the walls of your home or building. If you have issues with wildlife like rabbits or even squirrels digging at your flowers for their next meal, ornamental onion could very well keep them away. Consider using them as a protective barrier for the plants that these critters tend to favor the most.

Japanese Black Pine

If you’ve avoided pine trees in your landscaping because you believe them to be boring, the Japanese black pine may surprise you. Not only does it come in a full-size form that can grow as high as 50 feet and provide a great deal of shade year-round, but it can also be found in a dwarf cultivar known as “Thunderhead” that stays small and grows very slowly – only to about six feet tall in 10 years. When properly cared for and pruned, you could use the full-sized version as a canopy for an outdoor seating area, and you can keep the smaller variety in a large pot to decorate gazebo entries and patios.

Blue Oat Grass

Finally, if you’re looking for a clumping grass that you can use to accent bright colors from ornamental onions, pansies, and other early bloomers this spring, blue oat grass is a phenomenal addition to your landscape. Not only does it thrive in the early spring, but it offers something of interest all year round. It grows in a rounded-off mound that grows to two to three feet in height, and while the traditional cultivar is a green-gray blue color, it can sometimes be a bright teal blue or even a pinkish color. It’s a great option for planting along sidewalks, but it will require some trimming here and there.

Each of these plants grows incredibly well in Chicago’s early spring months, and some, such as the Japanese black pine and blue oat grass, will provide interest and greenery throughout the coldest winter months, too. To learn more, or to design a landscape that includes these and other hardy plants, contact your trusted landscaping professional today.

5 Shrubs that Produce Fruit or Flowers in the Wintertime

The Chicago area falls within the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone 5, and while there are many plants that simply cannot tolerate the cold winters, others certainly will – especially shrubs. Below, you can learn more about some of the most beautiful fruiting and flowering shrubs that will give your landscape some color or texture during the coldest winter months.

#1 – Black Chokeberry

Black chokeberry can add pops of color to your landscape – long after all your other plants have stopped fruiting and flowering. It exudes fragrant, pinkish white flowers in spring. In the late summer, these flowers reveal gorgeous black berries that last well into winter months, and contrast nicely with the bright pinkish-red foliage. The best part? You can even make jams and jellies with chokeberry for a wintertime treat!

#2 – Red Osier Dogwood

This is a medium-sized shrub that looks incredibly interesting throughout the year. In the summer, gorgeous foliage is often variegated for interest. Once foliage is gone in winter, the shrub reveals stunning red stems with brilliant, white berries that add texture and fun to any wintertime landscape. It grows as high as nine feet tall, and can get as wide as 12 feet, but gardeners find the Red Osier dogwood is easy to trim into shape.

#3 – Winterberry (Red Sprite Variety)

As its name would suggest, winterberry (namely, the Red Sprite variety) is a very small shrub that provides color and beauty all year round. It’s a holly bush that offers gorgeous greenish-white flowers in warmer months. Following, insanely bright red berries show in winter. If you’re a fan of birds (and who doesn’t love their sound in dreary winter months?), this is the shrub for you – birds that don’t migrate can’t seem to get enough of the winterberry fruits.

#4 – Oregon Grape Holly

The Oregon Grape Holly is a unique shrub that you won’t see very often, and makes an ideal conversation starter in your landscape! It grows best in the shade; up to six feet tall and five feet wide. In winter, the leaves turn a deep, dark burgundy. In spring, you’ll notice bright yellow flowers with a bit of fragrance. In summer, blooms fall away to reveal blue-purple berries. These will stick around until the cold sets in for good, and can be plucked and eaten or turned into delicious jam. How lovely!

#5 – Snowberry (Hancock Variety)

Finally, if you love bright colors, it’s hard to go wrong with the Hancock variety of the snowberry shrub. First, this shrub provides phenomenal ground cover, and is particularly adept at preventing weed growth. But its real appeal is made evident in late summer, fall and winter. Starting in late August, pink bell-shaped flowers will begin to sprout from the tips of the branches. Then, the flowers are delightfully replaced with white fruits with red speckles, that attract numerous bird varieties in fall and early winter.

Though Chicago winters can be downright cold, there are still plenty of shrubs known for their ability to produce flowers or fruit (even in January and February)! We hope you explore and enjoy all of these are great options, and if you need help planting or caring for your chokeberry, dogwood, winterberry, snowberry, or holly bushes and shrubs, Martin John Landscaping has the tools and expertise to keep your shrubs looking amazing all year. Happy landscaping!

Don’t Forget to Cut Back Your Perennials Now

In gardening terms, “cutting back” refers to reducing the size of a plant. Some perennials fare better through the winter when they are trimmed back prior to the colder months. Others rely on their foliage for protection, so they should be trimmed only in spring. Below, you can learn more about which perennials should be cut back in the springtime to ensure their health and create a beautiful home garden.

What Does “Cutting Back” Really Mean?

Cutting back is the act of reducing the size of a plant for various reasons, including to help promote better branching, to control the plant’s size, or even to help a plant rejuvenate and become healthier. When it comes to perennials, the act of “topping” – removing material down to two inches above ground level – is ideal, but only for some plants. Though some perennials fare better when topped in the winter, there are some – including asters, black-eyed Susan, campanula, foxglove, hostas, and more – that should be left alone in winter and trimmed back in spring. 

Which Perennials Should Be Cut Back?

The list of perennials that should be left to go dormant in the winter and trimmed back in the spring is exhaustive, but some of the most common include:

  • Asters – Asters require a bit of work during the blooming season. They must be pinched and forced in order to get the gorgeous blooms seen on television and on magazines, so by the time winter rolls around, they’re best just left alone to rejuvenate. Come spring, they can be trimmed back to your liking.
  • Black-Eyed Susan – These are incredibly resilient flowers. While you absolutely can cut them back in the winter, many hobbyists choose to leave them alone because the seeds found on their heads are fantastic for feeding non-migrating bird species. If you leave the heads on during the winter, be sure to cut them back in the fall.
  • Campanula – Campanula is fairly fast-growing. Many gardeners find themselves tending to the foliage in the summertime to remove any dead or damaged leaves and encourage more blooming. But because campanula continue to grow through fall, it is best left alone in late fall and winter, and only trimming back in the spring.
  • Hosta – Hosta foliage is quite delicate. Leaving it alone through the winter for frost protection is ideal. In the spring, trim it into the desired shape. Remove any dead or damaged leaves.
  • Mums – Leave the foliage alone through the winter; it will do an excellent job of protecting the crown.
  • Valerian – Valerian is a beautiful addition to any garden. If you’re going to cut it back, it’s best done in late summer months. Then, leave it be through winter. Valerian struggles in colder zones, but if you can avoid cutting it back once fall rolls around, it’s much more likely to survive.

Understanding which perennials to cut back in spring is sure to help you enjoy your garden all throughout the year. Of course, you may also prefer to leave your grasses, foliage, and blooms to expert professionals who can provide all the services you need to keep your garden looking fresh throughout the year!

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.