Landscaping is the process of designing, installing and performing maintenance tasks for a residential or commercial property or for a public area such as a park or the front of a municipal building. Landscaping can be performed by adding or modifying hard features or gardening elements with a help of a process called landscape design.
We offer Chicago landscaping services to select residential, commercial and landscaping clients in the Downtown and Northside Chicago areas.
The purpose of landscape design is to improve usability and the enjoyment that an outdoor space can provide to its users, but also has some very practical applications, such as grading and flood prevention.
Landscaping can also be defined as the sum of softscaping, which means adding plants and living features to an area, hardscaping, which means adding hard elements such as architectural features ranging from walkways and fences to patios, water fountains and grading, which is preparing the land by modifying the terrain.
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Chicago Growing Zone
A ‘hardiness zone’, also called a growing zone or a landscape zone, is a ranking system which divides the US in 11 individual zone, based on the average minimum temperatures in the winter months. The temperature difference between one growing zone and the next one is of 10 degreed Fahrenheit.
These are some very useful general guidelines, but each particular garden can be host microclimates, based on elevation, rainfall, wind and hardscape elements such as walls and fences. Lake Michigan also influences the Chicago climate, resulting in more snowfall, cooler summers and warmer winters.
It is simple to find out which plants to buy, as its recommended hardiness zone is usually printed on its label or packaging. Do not forget to check each time you buy a new plant as some garden center may sell plants that are not fit for the Chicago plant hardiness zone.
The soil type in your garden is very important to your plants’ well-being. The dirt in the Chicago area is mostly a mix of clay (about 85%) and a small amount of loam soil. This influences the soil texture, its ability to retain water and nutrient availability.
Chicago soil is also a between neutral to a little bit alkaline, between 7-7.5 pH. The pH of the soil influences the availability of nutrients to your garden plants and most of these plants thrive in slightly acidic soil, between 6-6.5 pH. In this case, plant growth and health might suffer because they will not be able to get enough nutrients through their roots.
Soil testing kits are widely available at garden centers, specialty stores and online. You can also hire a professional company to test your soil.
If you notice pools of water standing on soil for several days after precipitation, you might have poor soil drainage. This can lead to soil compaction which deprives the dirt from oxygen and hurts the plants.
Debris and pollution
The unpleasant and sometimes dangerous truth is that soil contamination is a real issue in some areas. Moreover, digging in some spots will uncover debris, such as construction debris. You cannot possibly predict these issues, but debris will increase your landscaping costs because it need to be removed and more topsoil added.
There are 2 ways how you can improve your Chicago garden soil:
Improve Soil Composition
You can do it by adding mulch or compost to your dirt. This will provide it with organic matter which provides your garden or lawn with nutrients, but it also improves water retention capabilities, helping with drainage issues.
It is very important to work the soil deep, 6-12 inches, because that is where the roots will need to have nutrient availability.
Improve Soil pH
If you need to increase soil acidity a little bit, you can do that by mixing in aluminum sulfate or sulfur (in the fall or spring). Sulfur may take months to convert, so most gardeners choose aluminum sulfate.
Before and after you do that, do not forget to test.
A lot of people choose to use raised garden beds. This method of gardening has a lot of benefits, including the ability to use the best possible soil, but it still needs to be fertilized periodically.
Dealing With Chicago Weather
The capricious Chicago weather influences more than the growing zone. From strong winds, to hot summers and frigid winters, you need to make sure that your landscape will be able to withstand whatever Mother nature throws its way.
The trees are the most affected by heavy winds, probably because any structural issues or cracked branches pose an imminent risk to their surroundings. They will also have to adapt to a changing climate and to be able to handle both warmer summers and frigid winters. For example, to address the climate changes, the USDA released a new plant hardiness map in 2012, which shifted the boundary between zone 5 and 6 with about 60 miles to the North and removed zone 4 from Illinois.
Choosing the right plants
Kentucky bluegrass – moderate to high maintenance. This grass species is the most popular lawn grass in the Chicago area. Best used in full sun to light shade areas, it has a beautiful appearance and recovers easily.
Fine fescues – less maintenance. It can be used in shaded areas, even in poor quality soils. Fine fescue also tolerates foot traffic better than other species.
Tall fescue – low maintenance. It can tolerate foot traffic pretty well and it is also drought resistant. Tall fescue is less susceptible to pests and disease issues.
Perennial ryegrass – moderate to high maintenance. It is a quick establishing grass and deals with foot traffic well. Does not tolerate the winter temperatures in Chicago so well.
Using grass mixes is a popular practice for many Chicago gardeners and landscapers, because they provide diversity and an increased resistance to diseases and adverse growing conditions.
Choosing a tree to plant on your property can be overwhelming, just because there are so many factors, such as soil types, different levels of sunlight exposure and available space for the tree. Luckily, there are a variety of tools online, such as the Morton Arboretum Tree Selector, which will help you choose the best tree for your yard. Keep in mind that, generally, trees increase property value so you can look at your choice as an investment into the future.
Other Landscaping Elements
All of these elements are meant to be enjoyed by people living on the property, or the ones that are visiting it. However, while some of the landscaping work can be performed by almost anyone, such as gardening and lawn mowing, others need to be performed by experienced landscaping professionals.
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Historically, lawns appeared when people in countries such as Europe and France started clearing the area around medieval castles to prevent unwelcome visitors to come through the forest, unseen.
As time passed, lawns became a symbol of power and wealth. In present time, they provide and delimit a miniature oasis for homeowners and their families.
Some lawns are high maintenance and require specialized help to identify and deal with various issues and to keep them rich and vibrant.
See our lawn care services.
It is both a way to keep fresh, delicious vegetables, fruits and herbs on your table and a relaxing activity for many people.
However, it requires a lot of planning and physical work, from tilling to weeding and watering.
Patios are a type of outdoor flooring. They provide your yard with a hard area for lounging, grilling, building a fire pit or outdoor kitchen, etc. They reliably add value to your property and keep out mud and dirt that you would otherwise pick up from the ground.
See our patio installation services.
Fences serve multiple purposes:
- They provide your property with enhanced privacy;
- they keep your property safer from unwanted visits from people or animals.
- They delimit your property and your landscape from those of your neighbors.
See our cedar fence installation services.
Of all the landscaping services, hardscaping requires the most amount of materials and labors, but it also provides your landscape with high value and endless possibilities. These are some of the most popular hardscaping features:
- Pavers and stepping stones
- Retaining walls
- Firepits and fireplaces
- Paths and walkways
- Water fountains
It is the practice of incorporating of native plants and decorative grasses into landscaping. Some of its benefits are reduced maintenance, natural hardiness and adding a wild beauty to any property.
See our native landscaping article.
We will work with you to design the landscape of your dreams.
Chicago Landscaping Permits
The City of Chicago has a program called the ‘Easy Permit Program’. It allows obtaining a permit without supplying architectural plans:
- Fences higher than 5 ft. -Chain link or masonry walls require permits even if they are below that height
- Sheds (more than 70 sq. ft)
Some of the things you do not need a permit for are:
- Repairing or replacing playground equipment
- Repairing or replacing fences, other than chain-link or masonry and shorter than 5 ft
- Construction or alterations of some of the sheds up to 70 sq. ft. at residential buildings with 1-3 dwelling units
- Construction or alterations of some gazebos up to 150 sq. ft. at residential buildings with 1-3 dwelling units
This is not an exhaustive list and it regulations might change at any time, so it is always best for you or your Chicago landscaping contractor to check if a permit is needed.