Picking the wrong plants ensures your plans are flawed

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted5/27/2018 7:00 AM
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  • Jenny Balanoff is the lead landscape designer at Lurvey Garden Center.

    Jenny Balanoff is the lead landscape designer at Lurvey Garden Center. Courtesy of Lurvey Garden Center

  • Select plants that will add a variety of texture and color to your shade garden.

    Select plants that will add a variety of texture and color to your shade garden. Courtesy of Lurvey Garden Center

  • Many suburban homeowners leave their landscaping projects to the professionals.

    Many suburban homeowners leave their landscaping projects to the professionals. Courtesy of A Garden Guy Inc.

  • When installing new shrubs or trees, make sure they have room to grow and account for their full size at maturity, says Matthew Mylinski, owner of A Garden Guy Inc. in Glenview.

    When installing new shrubs or trees, make sure they have room to grow and account for their full size at maturity, says Matthew Mylinski, owner of A Garden Guy Inc. in Glenview. Courtesy of A Garden Guy Inc.

  • Many homeowners are adding a water feature to help them better enjoy their yards.

    Many homeowners are adding a water feature to help them better enjoy their yards. Courtesy of Lurvey Garden Center

  • If you are going to update your own landscaping, professionals advise you pay close attention to the information tags that tell you how to care for your new plants.

    If you are going to update your own landscaping, professionals advise you pay close attention to the information tags that tell you how to care for your new plants. Courtesy of Lurvey Garden Center

The difference between winter and summer is not just a lack or an abundance of sun and warmth, but also the lush, colorful leaves and beautiful flowers that abound in the summer, then are totally lacking once the snow flies.

So choosing plant materials that decorate your property and give it its unique personality is very important, as is choosing the materials and placement of the hardscape areas -- patios, fences, fountains, statuary and arbors that punctuate landscaping to make it your own private respite.

"Today people are seeking to spend more of their lives outside," said Matthew Mylinski, owner of A Garden Guy Inc., a Glenview-based landscaping company. "So they are calling on us and our competitors to design and build outdoor living areas with barbecue grills, full outdoor kitchens, fire pits, seat walls, pillars and fountains and to install beautiful landscaping throughout the lot."

A Garden Guy plants and maintains yards and also installs hardscape patios, walkways, driveways, water features and low-voltage, outdoor LED lighting that accentuates the property and improves safety.

"Homeowners today want plenty of outdoor space so they can entertain out there, not just sit outside occasionally after work," he said.

Mylinski advises homeowners on their landscaping and installs whatever they wish.

"I advise homeowners to look for ideas at a local nursery -- not on the internet -- because local nurseries know what will survive and thrive in our Chicago-area climate. Even big box stores are more likely to sell plant material that may not do well here," he explained.

In conferring with clients, Mylinski has found that old-style foundation plantings such as junipers and yew are out of favor with millennials. And fruit trees are less popular, as well, because young homeowners do not want to spend their free time cleaning up the dropped fruit. Ash and elm trees are also out of favor because of disease issues, but birches are becoming popular again.

Knockout roses that bloom abundantly and need to be drastically cut back each fall are extremely popular with all ages, as are spirea.

When planting trees, Mylinski cautions homeowners to study the tree's height and circumference at maturity and plant it so that it will not crowd your house or your fence. That type of information should be listed on its tag at the nursery, or you can consult a knowledgeable staff member.

Shrubs, on the other hand, should be chosen and placed based on their natural color, unique texture and when they bloom (if they do). Other than that, they seldom need to be maintained except when they need to be trimmed. Privacy shrubs like arborvitae are particularly popular for planting along fences and property lines.

Beyond trees and bushes, Mylinski suggests the planting of perennials, which will save on expense and labor since they come back each year. Only plant a few annuals in selected areas of your yard or in containers on your patio or deck, he advised.

Jenny Balanoff, lead landscape designer at Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines, strongly suggests taking an assessment of your yard in terms of how wet or dry the soil is, which areas get strong sun, partial sun or full shade and so forth. In the Chicago area, she suggested you only buy plants rated for Zones 1 through 5.

Higher-numbered zones indicate warmer places, she cautioned, unless you have a microclimate at your home that stays warmer than normal, such as a courtyard.

When choosing plant material, you also have to know what you don't know, as they say! Balanoff suggested that only experienced gardeners take on the challenge, for instance, of planting and maintaining azaleas and rhododendrons. "They need even moisture, have to be kept out of the wind and want acidic soil. In short, they are just too easy to kill," she said.

Balanoff suggested that novice gardeners instead opt for viburnum, spirea and boxwood, plants that don't need as much tender loving care.

"And be sure to read the plants' labels or do a little research online to see exactly which environments work best for the plants you are considering. You can even find that information on the Lurvey's website," she said. "And if the tag says something needs 'full sun,' that means it needs a minimum of six hours of direct sun."

You also need to beware of plants or ground covers that have overrun your neighbors' yards, which they offer to share. Something that they are willing to share is probably invasive, Balanoff cautioned.

Millennials tend to gravitate toward native plants like coneflowers, little bluestems, liatris (Gayfeather), prairie smoke and Jacob's ladders, as well as trees like serviceberries and redbuds, she continued. "It is important to talk to someone about these plants because unless they are paired correctly, they can take over. You need to pay careful attention to keep them in check," she said.

Other popular trends include rain gardens that alleviate flooding in areas that tend to hold water, edible gardens and shade gardens that can be lovely when planted with shade plants like hosta, kone grass, sedges and oak leaf hydrangea, which provide a variety of textures and colors to the shady areas of your yard, Balanoff said.

Fences can be enhanced with columnar evergreens such as arborvitae or fastigit, or some of the new deciduous bushes in a similar shape. What you choose to plant depends on the amount of space you have and if you need privacy year-round or just during your summer patio season.

"When planning your yard, also remember that trees are great for providing shade, cutting your cooling costs, cleaning the air and providing habitats for birds and other wildlife. Millennials, in particular, like to provide habitats for wildlife," she said.

If you are looking for something to act as a focal point in your yard and give it some pizzazz, consider a Japanese maple, a tree peony or some tri-color beech foliage, Balanoff suggested, or consider adding a statue, large rock, arbor, bird bath or fountain.

But remember about the dangers of Zika and West Nile viruses. If you choose a bird bath, it must be emptied and cleaned once or twice a week, Balanoff warns. A fountain or an aquabasin, on the other hand, can be kept mosquito-free with "mosquito dunk" tablets or with a bubbler that keeps the water moving.

For more information, call A Garden Guy (www.agardenguylandscaping.com) at (708) 288-8008 or Lurvey Garden Center (www.lurveys.com) at (847) 824-7411.

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