Native Plant Highlights for the End of June

With all the rain and warm weather this week, the plants in the home landscape are doing well!  Lots of flowers on the native plants throughout my yard, from the backyard meadow, to the front yard prairie garden. View the slideshow below to see some of the garden worthy wildflowers in bloom this week:


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Connor Shaw Presents at the Will County Forest Preserve Native Plant Sale

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Midwest native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses were available at the plant sale.


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The landscape beds around the district headquarters contained an interesting mix of prairie plants and trees. Shown here are Baptisia australis, or Blue Prairie Indigo, in flower


Connor Shaw gave an informal presentation at this spring’s inaugural Will County Forest Preserve’s native plant sale on June 1st, 2013.  Owner of Possibility Place Nursery, in Monee, Illinois, Connor grows Midwest native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses.

In his presentation, Connor touched on how to properly plant a tree, the best time(s) to plant, and how to care for the tree after planting.

For field grown trees, otherwise known as balled and burlapped (or, B&B), he suggested that the best time to plant is early spring (March and April) or after the month of July, up until the ground freezes solid in the fall.  Connor also stated that “August is the best time to plant anything, roots can grow 24 inches by the first freeze.”  Evergreens were the exception: “Plant those in July, the candles (new branch growth) are grown out by then.”


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Connor Shaw, with a young oak from his nursery set on the table behind him. Note the shape of the pot. These stepped pots with small, 5/64″ holes along the ridges help to prevent circling roots.

When setting a tree in the ground, and determining how deep of a hole to dig, Connor explained that the root flare, literally where the roots flare away from the base of the tree trunk, should be visible after planting and elevated one to two inches above the surrounding soil level, or up to six inches above the surrounding soil, in areas that become inundated for 24 hours, or more, after a rain storm.

Connor expressed that, if planting more than one tree, the spacing between trees can vary from one foot to 25 feet or more.  Multiple trees can be planted in the same planting hole to form a “clump” or multi-stemmed tree. 

Overhead obstructions, including power lines need to be noted and the mature spread of a tree’s crown should be taken into account, when determining a planting location.

Holding a #5 pot (a pot which holds approximately five gallons of soil), containing a three foot tall Bur Oak, Connor explained how choosing to plant that young oak is most often a better choice for homeowners, than a tree three times its size.  Simply stated, larger trees require a longer period of after care.  As a general rule, it takes a tree one year to reestablish its root system for every inch of trunk caliper.  Therefore, a tree with a three inch caliper is going to require hand watering  once a week for three growing seasons, for any week that there is less than one inch of rainfall.  So that young Bur Oak will only need to be hand watered during its first summer. Or, Connor assured the audience, if the oak in the #5 pot is planted between September 15th and October 15th, it can be watered once at planting time, then forgotten, as far as hand watering goes.

An oak, once established, will typically grow two feet a year, in Connor’s experience.  I commonly have observed oaks that have grown as much as that and more in a season.  Oaks tend to push out new growth throughout the summer, as long as they are happy.  Connor noted, that while the larger caliper oak will be occupied with establishing its root system for several years (since most of its roots were lost, when it was dug from the field), the container grown oak (which had 100% percent of its roots from day one) will soon surpass it in height within three or four years.  Planting smaller trees is definitely the way to go, at least in a home landscape.  A street parkway, or other high pedestrian traffic public space may require that larger trees be installed due to other considerations

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A young oak (in my backyard) shows the amount of growth possible in just a three year period. Also note the trunk girth at the soil line in the current picture, compared to 2010. Leaving the lower branches on the tree also allows for faster growth, overall.

Finally Conner noted the importance of applying wood mulch, a few inches deep, around newly planted trees.  This helps to keep moisture in the soil and weed growth down, reducing the chance of mower or weed trimmer damage to the delicate bark.  The mulch should most definitely not be built up to form a “volcano” around the base of the tree, and in fact, it should be kept from coming into contact with the bark of the tree.  In addition, he strongly suggested protecting the trunks of newly planted trees with chicken wire to keep gnawing animals at bay, including beaver, explaining how he lost several newly planted River Birch, the first night after planting, to these critters.  To add to that, I would (and do) surround any young tree with four foot high wire fencing where deer are present and would likely eat the tree buds in winter and new spring growth.  Deer also seem to like to rub their antlers on the trunks of young trees, doing a great deal of damage in the process by way of girdling the tree and ripping off branches.  This wire fencing will protect the tree from this damage.

Connor’s  years of experience in growing a wide variety of plants was in evidence as he offered insight on what to pay attention to when planting trees, how best to approach the idea, and finally how a little care and protection goes a long way to getting the trees on a good start to a long life of providing shade, beauty, and habitat for wildlife.



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Pizzo & Associates, LTD. Celebrates 25 Years of Natural Areas Restoration


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On what started out as a lovely, sunny, start to the official summer season, I began my journey west on Interstate 80.  I was on my way to an anniversary celebration at  Pizzo & Associates, LTD in Leland, Illinois, when, 50 miles into my drive, and with 30 more miles until my exit (thank goodness for Google maps and GPS!), the skies turned ominous – YIKES.

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But there was no turning back now, I was too far invested to give in to a “little” storm.

A few minutes from arrival, I could see that the clouds were clearing, and the sun was going to try to make an appearance that afternoon.  And so it did (sort of), the rain passed and the celebration went on.

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Jack Pizzo, center left, enjoying the celebration

Pizzo & Associates are ecological restoration contractors and native landscape specialists, including green roofs, bio-swales, and ecologically sound stormwater detention basins.  In the words of Jack, himself,  he’s “connecting landscaping to the landscape.” 

Some folks gathered in the propagation house where a few outside vendors set up tables and liquid refreshments were served.

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There was a book signing by landscape architect, Daniel Weinbach, for his newly published book, Trees 4 Seasons – A Visual Guide , and the beverage area had a nice selection of beers, wine, and ciders made by Jack himself, and a friend or two.

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While I grabbed a sample of the Jack’s (potent)Pear Cider, I joined Kyle’s tour of the facilities, which started in the newly constructed propagation house.

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Here, seeds are started in flats, holding 128 plants each.  These will soon be potted up in to flats of 34 and grown on until ready for sale.

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Upon exiting the protection of the greenhouse, umbrellas were opened and we checked out the seed collection plots.  Most of the 40, former farmland, acres that make up the nursery, have been restored to wetland and prairie, and are under a conservation easement that will keep the land in its current, restored, condition in perpetuity.

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Another stop on the tour was a plant sales area.  Here, one could purchase individual plants, or trays of preselected “NativeScape” kits.  Included where  kits of salt, drought, and shade tolerant plants, as well as , rain garden, butterfly garden, prairie garden, and rock garden kits.  The rock garden kit looked especially interesting, as the plants selected were of a shorter stature – a good choice when adding native flowers and grasses into an existing landscape bed.

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The plants in this kit could find a home in any front yard landscape.

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A green retaining wall system was also on display.  Here, different plants, including strawberries, various sedges (Carex sp.), and Alumroot (Heuchera americana) were tucked into the nooks of soil between the concrete, interlocking blocks.

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On top of the wall, Prairie Dropseed grass (Sporobolis heterolepis) was planted.

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However, a twining vine, Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana), seemed to be the all out winner when it came to coverage.  A very exuberant grower to be sure.  It made me wonder how our native Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus/ H. americanus) would do in this situation.  In my garden the hops form a solid wall of green on my four foot high, vegetable garden fence. It has the ability to grow 20+ feet in one season, before fall frosts knock it back to the ground, only to come back the following spring with renewed vigor!

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Back inside, and at the end of the half dozen, or so, speakers that afternoon, State Representative, Bob Pritchard recognized Jack’s 25 years in business in Illinois, by presenting a him with a certificate of achievement.

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Finally, just after 6pm, the roasted pigs, along with corn on the cob and a variety of salads, where ready to feed the mass of hungry well-wishers.

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So Midwest cloudburst be damned, it was a great afternoon of speakers, tours, games, food, and drink.  Congratulations to Jack and his staff for not only putting on a great event, but for the work they do throughout the year.  Thanks!


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