The Big One: Maintaining Chicago’s Navy Pier

October 14, 2019 -  By
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Location: Chicago
Company: Moore Landscapes

Navy Pier is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the Midwest, so the company tasked with maintaining the landscaping has to be at the top of its game. Moore Landscapes has been tending the property at Navy Pier for a little more than 10 years.

The pier sees more than 9 million visitors annually, the company says, which poses maintenance challenges for Moore Landscapes. Plants and flowers are frequently trampled by crowds. To help mitigate this damage, the company orders 10 percent more seasonal flowers than it needs, so damaged plants can be replaced.

The pier is open to the public 365 days a year, so crews have limited windows in which to do their work. Many of the plants need to be hand watered, a task that’s done between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. If crews needs to perform turf applications, it gives a 24-hour notice.

Trees planted on the pier are in planters, meaning they have a limited root space, and trees in the parks around the pier are subject to compaction due to heavy foot traffic.

To combat this, Moore Landscapes ensures that trees in planters are watered deeply and performs root pruning every season. Tree root zones in parks are aerated and fertilized annually to ensure healthy growth.

The project won the company a 2018 Gold Award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals‘ Awards of Excellence Program.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Rows of deciduous trees line the South Pier, offering shade for pedestrians. The trees are planted in large pits with an irrigation system that does not rely on city water but uses rainwater that is captured and stored in underground cisterns. The tree grates are adjusted in width as the tree caliber increases over time.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Visitors often stand by (or in) the flowering perennials at this extremely popular photo spot. Frequent trampling causes damage that requires pruning or plant replacement. All planters are drip irrigated but also require supplemental watering.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

More than 20,000 summer annuals must be installed prior to Memorial Day weekend. Designers work over the winter to present several concepts to Navy Pier’s management. Once a plant palette is selected, plants are sourced and grown locally. A percentage of additional plant material is secured to replace damaged and stolen plants. Multiple walk-throughs are done daily for quality inspection and to monitor plant health care.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

The North Dock is lined with 240 concrete planters which are planted with over 4,000 summer annuals. The depth of the planters is only 8 inches so maintaining sufficient moisture is a challenge due to the shallow soil depth and heat that radiates off the concrete planters. Planters are soil-probed daily for moisture levels to determine the watering schedule.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Polk Park is located at the front door of Navy Pier. Designed with native plantings that create a wildflower garden, visitors enjoy seclusion from nearby noisy streets. Mature trees help to drown out the sounds of the city and reinforce the feeling of being in a country meadow.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Watering at Navy Pier is an everyday task. Many of the plantings are in above-ground planters that dry rapidly. Planters are often relocated due to the many events held at the pier, which adds additional stress for the flowering plants.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Over 9 million annual visitors enjoy Navy Pier’s attractions, the natural beauty of the landscape, and Chicago’s magnificent skyline. South Pier is the gateway to many of the attractions visitors enjoy while walking along the lakeside. Planters filled with grasses and sedges, flowering perennials, shrubs, ferns, bulbs and trees line the South Pier perimeter.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Newly-created South Polk Park offers visitors a natural park setting along Lake Michigan with thousands of spring-blooming bulbs and trails that meander through trees and prairie plantings. Large lawn areas provide comfortable spaces for visitors to picnic, enjoy the sun, and listen to entertainment from the stage set against the lake.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

The North Dock is lined with 240 concrete planters, which are planted with more than 4,000 summer annuals. The depth of the planters is only 8 inches so maintaining sufficient moisture is a challenge due to the shallow soil depth and heat that radiates off the concrete planters. Planters are soil probed daily for moisture levels to determine the watering schedule.

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

Photo: Moore Landscapes; NALP

There are more than 3 acres of turf throughout the property. Core aeration is performed routinely along with slit seeding. Fertilizers are added to help ensure a dense healthy stand of turf at all times. Irrigation is monitored daily for head adjustments and damage.

Clara Richter

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