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updated: 5/14/2012 2:45 PM

Industry Insider: John Heaton, Knupper Nursery and Landscape

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  • John Heaton owns Knupper Nursery and Landscape in Palatine.

      John Heaton owns Knupper Nursery and Landscape in Palatine.

  • Knupper Nursery conducts gardening classes on Saturdays during the growing season so homeowners get the most out of plants they buy.

      Knupper Nursery conducts gardening classes on Saturdays during the growing season so homeowners get the most out of plants they buy.

  • In general, homeowners should spend more on soil preparation when buying landscaping for their yards.

      In general, homeowners should spend more on soil preparation when buying landscaping for their yards.

  • Heaton advises customers to be economical by focusing on entrances if they have a limited budget for landscaping.

      Heaton advises customers to be economical by focusing on entrances if they have a limited budget for landscaping.
    Photos Courtesy of Knupper Nursery

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

No one wants to waste money, especially during these tight financial times. This holds true for landscaping around a new or existing home.

That's why John Heaton preaches common sense to those seeking to beautify their yards. For instance, plant selectively in places like around your patio or deck and near the front entrance, he says, because those are areas where landscaping gives the most pleasure to a homeowner.

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It is also wise to strategically plant small ornamental trees to screen windows and outdoor spaces, said Heaton, longtime owner of Knupper Nursery and Landscape, 1801 N. Rand Rd., Palatine.

You need to protect your investment, too, by making sure your new plants thrive. Two-thirds of a homeowner's landscaping investment of money and effort should always go into soil preparation, Heaton said.

"If you prepare the soil correctly, you can always purchase fewer plants and, in the end, get better results. We provide the expertise to do that, both through our free seminars and by offering our professional landscape installers to those who want to use them."

The average Knupper's landscape plan, Heaton said, is installed over a three-year period for the benefit of homeowners who want to budget their expenditures.

"I like to say that we don't plant less than one plant, but other than that, we are flexible," he quipped. "Our customers range from those who come in to buy some annuals, which they take home and plant themselves, to those who come to us for a full landscape plan that they have one of our crews deliver and install."

Heaton said landscapers can also revitalize an older yard.

"We just had some homeowners come to us who have been in their home for five years with landscaping they planted and designed themselves. They are not happy with how it looks and came to us for a plan," Heaton said.

He sees his mission as helping everyone get a beautiful landscape around their home within their personal budget. So Heaton makes himself available to Knupper Nursery shoppers, offering the wealth of experience he has gained since first managing the business for the original owners in 1968.

"I do things like talking people out of buying more grass seed because they feel that their lawn is too thin. I convince most of them that buying more seed is a waste of money. What they need is better fertilization, not more seed," he said.

"Those coming in constantly to buy shade grass seed instead need to thin their trees in order to successfully grow grass. If they don't want to thin their trees, then I tell them to either give up on growing grass in that area or to get used to the idea of buying new sod once a month. I try to use humor to get my point across," Heaton said.

In every encounter with customers, Heaton tries to understand their goals and then make sure that their expectations are realistic. That extends to Knupper's seminars held Saturdays and sometimes during the week during the planting season. A schedule can be found on the store's website,

"I stress the importance of loosening and preparing the soil around new plantings so that your plants can thrive and not struggle in their new environment," Heaton said. "For instance, you can't plant perennials in heavy clay soil and expect them to come back the next year. It is all about the proper preparation of the soil and we teach that to our customers so they don't waste their investment of time and money."

This principle was taught at a recent container gardening class where customers paid only for the materials they used but they were taught the correct way to prepare a pot for flowers and were taught tricks of the trade to make the finished product as healthy and attractive as possible throughout the growing season.

Homeowners' landscaping tastes and interests naturally evolve along with their preferences in every other area of life, Heaton said.

"When I first started, we were primarily selling annuals. If anyone was interested in a perennial, we went out to the fields and dug it up," Heaton said. "As they became more popular, we started selling small containers of perennials and the growers have gradually developed better and better perennials that are longer blooming and more compact.

Tastes in trees has also evolved among suburban homeowners.

"Last year and so far this year, we are seeing much more interest in smaller, ornamental trees than in larger shade trees," he said. "They don't offer tremendous shade but they are beautiful and are great for screening windows."

He has also noticed that fewer people today want evergreens. They realize that green in the winter really doesn't matter because people tend to ignore it anyway. They are more interested in buying trees and bushes that offer changing textures and colors throughout the year.

Perennials are continuing to grow in popularity because people are too busy to spend a lot of time planting annuals and because, even though perennials tend to bloom for a shorter period of time, growers have developed plants with more colorful foliage for garden interest when they aren't actively blooming.

"Most homeowners are looking for a balance between perennials and annuals because the annuals do provide more of a profusion of color during the growing season and people want color in their lives," Heaton said.

Finally, he said, he is noticing more and more people dabbling in vegetable gardening.

"They see it as a nice family or individual activity, which has a great soothing effect on people and gives children great experiences and memories, as well as delicious, healthy food that they know they helped to grow," he said.

"We always advise people to start slow so they can experience success with vegetable gardening. If they find they enjoy it, they can always expand their garden the next year," Heaton said.

For more information about Knupper's, call (847) 359-1080 or visit

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