Ecological Assessments

Successful ecological restoration begins with properly assessing a site. What kind of plants and animals are there? What is the topography? Is there water and how does it move? Walking a site allows landscape architects and planners to get to know its special characteristics and how to maximize resources to restore its natural beauty. Sometimes, we find threatened and endangered species or particularly valuable remnant ecosystems.

Some natural areas are more challenging to navigate through restoration than others. For example, wetland regulations can be particularly tough to tackle without expert help. First, you need to determine if your site qualifies as a wetland. We can offer assistance. Our certified wetland specialists will walk you through the process.

We believe in using science to drive our ecological restoration activities. When we assess your site, we use the most recent technology to accurately measure and monitor the flora and fauna. This creates a bedrock of solid data to build and evaluate the restored ecosystems and make realistic performance criteria to determine the long-term success of the project.

Once an assessment is in place, it’s time to dive into restoration. Are you ready to discover unexpected treasures on your site?

Late Season Pollinator Partners

With autumn’s arrival, Aster and Goldenrod have taken the stage to not only dazzle with pretty flowers, but also offer rich nectar sources for pollinators. These staples of gardens and natural areas are an important late-season stop for bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and more. You may have noticed the bright golden flowers of Goldenrods in fields and roadsides. Asters’ small daisy-like blooms come in white, blue, lavender, purple and sometimes pink. They pair beautifully together and with the rich fall color of native grasses.

Many people confuse Goldenrod with Ragweed, but Goldenrod is insect pollinated, so their pollen is heavy and falls to the earth. Ragweed is wind pollinated, so its pollen is light, fluffy, and floats in the breeze, much to allergy sufferers distress. The brilliant yellow flowers of Goldenrod offer a striking late-season show and are a larval host for several moths. There are many species native to our area and you can find them mostly in sunny prairie conditions. However, there are a few Goldenrod that light up in the shade.

b_solcae.jpgBlue Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)

A short, elegant goldenrod for part shade situations, Blue Stemmed Goldenrod forms groups of single stems topped by a cluster of bright yellow blossoms. Blooming into October, it does best in average soils and is named for the gray to bluish cast on its stems.

 

 

 

 


b_solfle.jpgZigZag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)

A Goldenrod found in part to full shade, ZigZag Goldenrod thrives in nearly any soil and reaches about three feet high. Its flowers tend to zigzag between the dark green toothed leaves. Its clusters of yellow florets bloom August through October.

 

 

 


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Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia)

Wide-spreading panicles of yellow florets appear beginning in July and bloom into October on this Goldenrod. Found in part to full shade, Elm-leaved Goldenrod reaches about three feet in height and does well in average soils.

Asters bloom for months and charm us with their abundant flowers. They are beautiful season extenders in a perennial garden or natural area. Tough and pretty, Asters are host species for numerous moths. There is a broad array of Aster species native to Illinois and you’ll find one suitable for every site.


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Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)

Heath Aster can be found in sun to part shade in average to dry soils. It explodes into clouds of tiny white flowers all along its stems in August and blooms well into October. Heath Aster has needle-like foliage and a bushy to sprawling habit.


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New England Aster (Symphyotrichum nova-angliae)

Large purple daisy flowers with yellow centers cover New England Aster in late summer. A robust, bushy aster, it can reach around five feet high. New England Aster may also sport lavender or light pink blossoms. It’s commonly found in sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soils.


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Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii)

An aster for part to full shade, Short’s Aster thrives in average to dry soils with good drainage. This makes it a good choice for dry shade situations under trees. It features large light blue or purple flowers that bloom August through October.

 

 

 

 

Plant Availability

Fantastic Native Ferns

Some of our loveliest native plants are ferns. We have almost 20 species native to Illinois and we’re very excited to offer some in the nursery. Ferns add a particular grace to shade gardens or woodland areas and blend well with wildflowers and sedges.

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Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

One of the loveliest of the native ferns, Northern Maidenhair Fern can reach up to two feet high and wide. Its wiry black stems allow the foliage to almost float, providing a delicate texture for the shade. This fern prefers moist, rich soils and is deer resistant.

 

 

Fern Sale DRYMAR.jpgMarginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)

Reaching about two and a half to three feet high, Marginal Shield Fern is evergreen. Its bright green fronds do best in average to moist soils with good drainage and protection from wind. An erect foliage forms an elegant vase shape.

 

 

 

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Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

A tall, upright, vase-shaped plant, Ostrich Fern reaches around four feet high in ideal conditions and can spread aggressively. In spring, its tightly furled fiddleheads may be harvested and enjoyed while its feathery fronds punctuate the garden during the season. Ostrich Fern does best in moist to average soils and is very adaptable.

 

 

 

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Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

The only member of an ancient genus, Sensitive Fern forms loose clusters of open fronds and reaches about a foot high. It is named after its sensitivity to frosts in the fall. Sensitive Fern thrives in wet to moist soils, rich in organic material and protected from wind.

 

 

 

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Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas Fern features leathery deep green fronds about two feet high that form large clumps. An evergreen fern, it does best in average to dry soils that are high in organic matter and well-drained. The common name refers to the practice of gathering fronds at Christmas time for decoration.

 

 

 

 

Ready to try a fern? Contact Mandy at mandyl@pizzonursery.com or 815.981.8000 to order. Check out our availability to see all of our available native ferns!

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Milkweeds for Monarchs

monarch1Are you ready to welcome butterflies? Monarch populations are doing better, but they could still use some help! Try planting milkweed this year and be rewarded with monarchs and more. Their showy flower clusters also attract moths, skippers, bees, and beneficial wasps. Set your landscape to buzzing with milkweed!

In general, milkweeds are prairie plants, so plan on them putting on a show in summer, when butterflies are most prevalent. Look for monarch eggs and larvae and be tolerant of damaged foliage as the caterpillars feed. Reduce or eliminate pesticides and herbicides when you are planting for pollinators. There are several species of milkweed native to Illinois. We’ve chosen five favorites that will take root and thrive in full sun.

Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed

As you might guess from its common name, swamp milkweed can thrive in moist soils, but it will happily grow in average soil, too. Reaching about four feet high, it makes a good weaver plant in a garden bed as it tends to send up a single stem or a small cluster. Swamp milkweed flowers are deep rose in color and are held in a flat cluster beginning in August and blooming through September.

Asclepias sullivantii or prairie milkweed

Prairie milkweed is a shorter, stouter, less aggressive cousin to common milkweed at about three feet high. It boasts bright pink globular flower clusters held upright near the top of the stem. Lightly fragrant, it blooms June through August. Tolerates a wide range of medium moist garden soils. Named for William Starling Sullivant, a 19th century American botanist, prairie milkweed features smooth seed pods for winter interest.

Asclepias syriaca or common milkweed

A classic prairie plant and often found along roadsides, common milkweed can reach up to five feet high. Its hanging clusters of deeply fragrant lavender flowers bloom June through August. Tolerant of a variety of soils and light shade, common milkweed can spread readily from seed or rhizomes. The dried seed pods are valued for winter arrangements.

Asclepias tuberosa or butterflyweed

Butterflyweed is a showstopper in the landscape. Brilliant orange flowers bloom atop two foot clumps of bright green foliage from June through August. This milkweed requires sharply drained soils and will not tolerate heavy mulch or wet sites. Combine with Echinacea pallida for a striking contrast of vibrant color.  Enjoy its slender seed pods in winter.

Asclepias verticillata or whorled milkweed

Whorled milkweed is a lovely addition to any garden. It’s delicate, needle-like foliage reaches between one and two feet high and weaves through other plants. Small clusters of creamy white flowers bloom June through September. Plant this where you can enjoy its subtle beauty.

Stewardship: What does it mean?

You may have noticed the trucks and crews of Pizzo & Associates, Ltd. out and about in natural areas. The beautiful native plantings in common areas require regular stewardship to keep them looking their best. What is stewardship? We define it as the routine actions required to sustain the aesthetic and ecological integrity of a restored natural area. This includes weed management, prescribed fire, and monitoring. Traditional landscapes are maintained; natural areas are stewarded.

Some of the activities we perform on your site include:

  • Herbicide application – We use a targeted approach to kill only the weeds, not the wildflowers. Our staff is trained to recognize weed species and stop them in their tracks.
  • Monitoring – We track plant diversity, wildlife present, and water quality to ensure that the ecology of your area is in peak condition.
  • Mowing – The first few years of a natural areas establishment, mowing is essential for controlling annual weeds.
  • Prescribed fire – Fire is a key tool for keeping weeds at bay, eliminating woody saplings, and encouraging plant diversity.
  • Seed collection and supplemental seeding – Sometimes supplemental planting is needed to establish particular grasses or wildflowers.

These specialized activities keep your natural areas looking great and functioning efficiently.

 

Spring Planning for Fall Burns

In the midst of spring, you might not think of autumn and the controlled burn season. However, spring is the perfect time to plan for your fall prescribed fire project. With permitting taking up to 90 days, it’s a good idea to get a jump on the process.

Why prescribed fire?

  • Control weedy tree and shrub saplings, some invasive plants, and clean up the site for ease of control later in the season.
  • Stimulate the growth of native plants by getting sunlight to the soil and encouraging greater diversity of plants, insects, and animals.
  • Kills ticks.

The Illinois Prescribed Fire Council recently completed a study finding that in Illinois, not enough natural areas are being burned and those that are should be burned more frequently. With proper management using controlled burns as one of the tools, our natural areas become more rich and vibrant.

At The Pizzo Group, safety is our top priority! We don’t cut corners when it comes to the welfare of people and property. Every crew member and supervisor is trained and certified.

  • All Illinois burn sites must have an Illinois EPA Open Burn Permit. Let us handle your paperwork!
  • Burn permits average 30 to 90 days for processing. NOW is the time to start the process.
  • A map of the burn area must be submitted with the application. A site visit is a required element of any burn plan.
  • Our companies are licensed and insured.
  • All projects are supervised by a Certified Prescribed Burn Manager who carries out the actual burn in addition to managing the site’s Burn Plan.

Let’s plan your prescribed fire today!

Spring Clean-up

Spring is a special time in the Midwest where we shake off the weariness of winter and Mother Nature celebrates with a burst of color. Have you walked in the woods looking for spring wildflowers? Have you experienced the magic of Jack-in-the-Pulpit or carpets of Virginia Bluebells? Midwestern woodlands should be open so you can see through the trees. Birds forage from the tips of the branches to the ground layer covered with wildflowers and grasses.

Invasive plants are crowding out the native wildflowers that used to call our woodlands home. Their aggressive growth is smothering native plants and choking out the birds and animals that depend upon them. Some of the worst include:

Restoring a woodland starts with a restoration plan that evaluates the existing plant species and makes recommendations for removal or preservation. Next, an ecological contractor will map out the work and determine when restoration activities should take place to maximize their effectiveness. In winter and early spring, we cut brush and remove invasive trees. We spot-treat the cut ends to ensure these tough species won’t grow back. During the growing season, we selectively use herbicides on perennial weeds or hand pull them. In fall, we apply prescribed fire to knock back invasives and encourage native species.

By clearing a woods of invasive species, we allow life-giving light to reach the ground so native wildflowers and grasses can bounce back. We also add species back to create diversity to support wildlife. We seed with custom blends and plant plugs appropriate to the type of woods and its soils. Once a woodland has been restored to its natural beauty, maintaining it with regular stewardship is key to keeping it healthy.

Are you ready to fight the invasives and bring back the wildflowers? Contact us!

Rain Gardens: A Sustainable Solution

Rain gardens can be a beautiful addition to your site and will attract beneficial pollinators while controlling storm water and run off. By choosing a wide range of native plants, you can enjoy flowers from spring into fall, stunning fall color and unique winter interest. You’ll also create habitat for butterflies, bees, birds, amphibians and more.

Rain-Garden

Some native plants are particularly suited to a rain garden environment where they may be inundated for periods of time and then experience drought. Deep roots hold soils in place and allow for greater drought tolerance. For a sunny raingarden, consider swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), wild bergamont (Monarda fistulosa), swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), to name a few. For a shadier site, don’t forget the sedges! Their cascading foliage and handsome seed heads add dimension in a shade raingarden. Try palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis), awl-fruited sedge (Carex tribuloides) or brown fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea).

Look for a low spot on your property where water naturally collects. Observe how water flows across your land. Sometimes a problem area near a drain or in a swale offers the perfect situation to plant a rain garden. Some questions to ask as you begin evaluating your site include:

  • Is it a sunny or shady spot?
  • Is it hidden or an area that will become a focal point?
  • Does water collect and pool for days or a few hours?

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We’re ready to help! Contact us!

Controlling Muskrat and Beaver Populations

Populations of Muskrats and Beaver have been rapidly increasing across the Midwest. These wetland-loving rodents have adapted to urban and suburban sites. They are particularly destructive to engineered stormwater solutions such as retention/detention ponds.

Muskrats are named after their tendency to leave scent markers to identify their territory. They become an issue when they burrow into shorelines, loosening soil and causing erosion. They have become particularly problematic in areas with once-stable shorelines. Muskrats will readily consume water plants, eating foliage and destroying roots. They can have several litters a year.

Beaver choose sites with shrubs and trees, consuming twigs and leaves and cutting trees for their homes. They build dams and block the water course to create ponds. This can lead to flooding, extensive tree damage, and erosion. We’ve found them living in basins, blocking drainage pipes and impacting the effectiveness of engineered stormwater structures and natural areas.

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The best solution to these large rodents is initial trapping to reduce the population and then maintenance trapping if they return. For Muskrat, it is important to plant the native species that they do not eat. We have a selection of unpalatable plants we can include on your site. For Beaver, it is important to clear any brush and wrap the trees with chicken wire to deny the beaver food and building materials for their lodges and dams.

If you’ve got a Muskrat or Beaver problem, we’re here to help!