Landscapes of the Month: Overcoming Microclimates at the AON Center - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Overcoming Microclimates at the AON Center

Photo: Moore Landscapes, LLC

The AON Center is the fourth tallest building in Chicago at 83 stories. The landscape around the 3.6 million-square-foot tower was designed to create intimate, peaceful spaces within the large-scale site.

The landscape was also redesigned several years ago to align with LEED sustainability guidelines. The planting beds that were once filled with annuals now feature native and sustainable plants with low water requirements. Annual color is limited to the entrances and interplanted with the perennials at the main entrances.

Photo: Moore Landscapes, LLC

Moore Landscapes, LLC, based in Northbrook, Illinois, has been responsible for the landscape maintenance of this property for four years now. Paul Sheets, account executive for Moore Landscapes, says the client was looking for a seasonal color expert in Chicago with a high degree of horticultural expertise. Since they had renovated the south plaza and spent over $1 million, they needed a provider who was going to protect their investment.

Also having exceptional curb appeal is very important to the property management company as they’re always marketing office space in the tower.

Moore Landscapes’ care for the site earned them a Gold Award in the 2020 Awards of Excellence. Sheets says earning the award builds client trust.

The company has a crew of three that services the property weekly. They visit the site three times a week and the account executive or service leader walks the property once a week with the client.

During every visit, all beds are weeded and all debris is removed to keep the sidewalks, granite walls and seating clean at all times. The crew also deadheads perennials to maintain robust flower displays.

Photo: Moore Landscapes, LLC

Because of the high volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, maintenance is conducted in the early hours before the morning rush or during off-hours. Equipment is powered down whenever pedestrians approach. Tree work and other supplemental services are done during low-traffic times, and seasonal displays are planted on a weekend.

The site features over 20 different species of trees and shrubs throughout the grounds. A customized health care program is implemented by Moore’s arborist for each species to ensure they thrive in the harsh urban environment.

Over 30 different perennials are planted in matrixes throughout the plaza for seasonal color. Naturalized bulbs and perennials such as allium, sage, geranium, daylily, rudbeckia and ornamental grasses all have different bloom times and provide color and interest throughout the year. Perennial care includes fertilizing, deadheading and cutting back in the late fall.

Photo: Moore Landscapes, LLC

Two monument signs are planted with annuals in the summer and over 800 mums are installed in the fall. Ornamental grasses, perennial seed heads and a wide variety of distinctive trees provide winter interest. 6,000 tulip bulbs are planted in the late fall for the spring rotation. Spring pansies and stock flowers are interplanted with the tulips.

In the spring, all the beds are amended with leaf mulch and fertilizer. All the raised annual beds are hand-watered during the night two to three times a week and fertilized every other week throughout the summer.

The biggest challenge Moore Landscapes deals with on the site are the microclimates due to the strong winds, shade, reflection of heat from surrounding buildings and pavement and all the beds being in raised granite planters. The beds have drip irrigation systems to conserve water. Watering times are adjusted for each area throughout the growing season.

Sheets says they overcome the issue of various microclimates by being prepared and knowing what to look for.

Photo: Moore Landscapes, LLC

“Mites & insects where there is not a lot of air movement, windburn and cold snaps where there is,” Sheets says “Black vine weevils under the granite lips where it is dark and warm. Understanding the definition of supplemental watering and how its needs vary across the footprint of the site.”

In the spring, Moore Landscapes evaluates the perennials and shrubs and adds supplemental plantings to distressed areas as needed. Plant types may be changed out if a species isn’t thriving in a certain setting. Trees and shrubs are monitored throughout the year by their horticulturalist and arborist for early signs of disease or infestation.

The property also has limited access as the tower’s main entrance is accessed through a lower plaza with fountains and waterfalls. All equipment and racks of annual flowers must be taken down a service elevator to reach the lower plaza. The crew works quickly when they move into or out of the work areas since they share the limited access areas with many others.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your project when entries open in February 2022. 

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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