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 by Shawn Gulbrandsen, ArtisTree Landscape Designer & ISA Certified Arborist


Q:  I read somewhere about a tree that has pretty yellow flowers and smells like Chanel No. 5. Do you what it is? My wife would love to have one if it’s not too hard to care for.

A:  Sounds like you’re talking about ylang ylang, or Cananga odorata. Ylang ylang (pronounced EE-lang EE-lang) is native to the rainforests of tropical Asian countries. This fast-growing ornamental tree has long, drooping branches with fragrant, chartreuse blossoms that take on a dark yellow hue just before falling off.

Ylang ylang will start showing pale green blooms when they’re three or four years old. It’s best to plant in full to partial sun where other trees create a windbreak (it IS delicate). Add top soil or peat when you plant; water regularly; and fertilize in spring, summer and fall. You’ll want to keep it professionally pruned to a height of 25 feet or less. You can plant as close as eight feet to your house since it doesn’t have a wide canopy.

Because I’m perfume-challenged (my wife will vouch for this), I had to do some research on what exactly ylang ylang smells like. Some women's fragrances that feature ylang ylang in their composition include Chanel No. 5, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanilla, Estee Lauder Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang, Estee Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang, Givenchy Amarige Ylang Ylang, Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps and Parfumerie Generale Ilang Ivohibe. Click here for other helpful education.

Specifically, Chanel No. 5 consists of the aromas of a rose, jasmine and ylang ylang flowers.

You didn’t ask, but ylang ylang tree is probably cheaper than a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Just guessing.


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Landscape Design





  By Shawn Gulbrandsen, ArtisTree Landscape Designer & ISA Arborist


Q:  I’m searching for a small, evergreen shrub that can complement my more colorful plants. I hate to say the word “plain,” but I’m really wanting something that doesn’t flower and is just one shade of green. What do you suggest? I live in Southwest Florida.

A:  We recommend the classy Buxus microphylla, more commonly known as Japanese boxwood. It’s an ideal low-maintenance shrub that can be manicured or trimmed occasionally for a more natural look. What we really like about this specimen is that it can take varying degrees of light and is drought-tolerant once established. You can easily keep it two to three feet tall; it’s a slow-grower.

You didn’t say what kind of other plants you have, but we think the Japanese boxwood looks awfully nice paired with society garlic, oyster plants, African iris or dwarf chenille. Let us know how it all turns out!




 by Shawn Gulbrandsen, ArtisTree Landscape Designer & ISA Certified Arborist

Q:  I have a question that’s been driving me batty.  My large bat plant is lovely when it blooms, but that rarely happens. I have mine in a moss basket that sits in a tray of water, and I occasionally apply Miracle Grow. What am I doing wrong?

A:  Ah, the hauntingly beautiful bat plant, also known as Tacca chantrieri. It enjoys filtered sunlight and warm, humid temperatures but does not like to sit in standing water (its roots are very delicate and will rot if left in the water too long).

Instead, fill your tray with pebbles and water, but don’t let the pot touch the water. This way the water can evaporate and provide air moisture around the plant. Also replace your Miracle Grow with a fertilizer that’s formulated for orchids and fertilize twice a month (except in the winter when the bat plant goes dormant).

Many people think it’s a scream to buy bat plants around Halloween and display them at parties as fun conversation pieces. And of course, the bat plant never disappoints. But I’ve heard too many horror stories about people letting their bat plants die a frightfully slow death because they just got tired of caring for them. At least yours stands a ghost of a chance because you took the time to write in! Good luck and we hope you enjoy continuous blooms next year.


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Landscape Design | Plant selection




 By Maria Muhlhahn, ArtisTree Purchasing Manager & ISA Certified Arborist


Q:  I’ve seen a strange-looking tree on my drives around town -- thorns seem to be growing out of the trunks. Could you tell me more about this tree?  I’m new to Southwest Florida and this looks like something I might like to put in my large backyard if it’s not too dangerous!

A:  You’re referring to the silk floss tree, and it’s only dangerous if you hug the trunk.  Considered one of the most beautiful trees in the world, it’s native to Argentina and Brazil. Silk floss trees flourish in Southwest Florida and do quite well in the humid climate.  Early fall blooms can be up to six inches wide (petals are used for upholstery thread in South America), with pear-shaped fruits appearing after each bloom period. The tree’s name is inspired by the silky floss wrapped around the seeds.   

As you’ve already noticed, the trunk, branches and leaves are a lovely green, but the wicked-looking spines around the trunk are admittedly scary-looking.  Don’t scorn the thorns, though. They serve as mini water-storage units to help the tree survive dry times. Briefly deciduous, silk floss trees can grow to more than 50 feet tall with a spread just as wide.  Pest and drought tolerant, they need fertilizing and watering occasionally for the first few years; after that, they pretty much takes care of themselves.

If you choose to plant a silk floss tree, make sure you plant it in a well-drained spot 30 feet away from pavement or septic systems. We also advise our clients to plant small, drought-tolerant shrubs around the base to prevent anyone from contacting its spiny thorns (and that includes pets as well). No reason to let the thorns of this beautiful tree be a sticking point!




 by Clinton Lak, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, BSLA


Q:  I think it’s a bunch of rubbish (or should I say rubble) that our landscape architect is recommending riprap for our seawall. To me, riprap looks like a bunch of dirty rocks, and I can hardly believe I’m expected to pay for this stuff. Seriously?

A:  It’s easy to rip riprap. After all, the broken stone pieces are rough and angular -- nothing like polished Mexican Beach Pebble or Indian Creek Rock.

But when it comes to limiting soil erosion in Florida, you won’t find a better choice. Made of quarried limestone or granite, riprap ranges in size from 6”-12” all the way up to large boulders. You’ll see it on coastlines, around lakes and ponds, at the base of bridge pilings and many other places.

Like you, most people think riprap is just a big pile of rocks Mother Nature happened to spill on the ground, when it’s actually been positioned intentionally to hold down ground or sand.

And that’s precisely why ArtisTree likes riprap so much. It can be designed to look like a very natural and beautiful part of your property while secretly protecting it from erosion.

Case in point: Check out this breathtaking landscape we designed using various sizes of riprap. The homeowners loved how their waterfront property was transformed into a functional work of art. As you can see, a “bunch of rocks” really can increase the beauty and value of your property. We hope you give your landscape architect the green light and move ahead with his recommended design. 


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Hardscapes/Outdoor Living | Landscape Design



  by Joe Mantkowski, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, LICHP, LEED GA

Q: Can you tell me more about a plant called the glory bush? I remember my parents having one when I grew up, and I’d love to know how hardy they are. We live in Southwest Florida.

A: The royal purple flowers of the Tibouchina lepidota, or glory bush, continually bloom from summer to fall, and may bloom all year-round in very warm climates.  This particular variety, one of more than 350, does well as a low, compact shrub or container plant.  For the most stunning effect, plant masses in partial to full sun. Native to South American rainforests, Tibouchina can be rather cold-sensitive in some areas of Florida, so be sure to cover it up if temperatures are forecasted to drop.

Some Tibouchinas can be shaped into trees, as you’ll see in the right photo. Here, ArtisTree used them to frame a front entrance. They’ll grow beautifully in Florida’s warm climate.  We invite you to do your own fun research and find a variety that works best for you!



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Landscape Design | Plant selection


  by Shawn Gulbrandsen, ArtisTree Landscape Designer & ISA Certified Arborist


Q:  I’m being dead serious when I say I could even kill a silk flower. I can’t get anything to grow. I’m looking for a non-fussy plant that could grow in a contained area (along my stone wall) and provide some bright color. Does Mother Nature make anything in purple that won’t wilt as soon as I look at it?

A:  Sure, she does, and it’s called Mexican Petunia. But we have to warn you, it grows REALLY well and can be invasive if you don’t keep it in check. Still, we like this stalk-forming perennial for certain areas (it comes in white and pink as well). The more sun it receives, the more it will bloom. You must regularly manage it to keep it from spreading; we recommend hand-pulling and trimming as needed, and keeping the runners clipped.

We’ve never heard of anyone killing this species before and doubt you’ll be the first. Just walk outside, enjoy the stunning color and keep your garden gloves nearby.




   by Kirk Brummett, ArtisTree Registered Landscape Architect

Q:  I am looking for a light-colored groundcover for my backyard -- something with a broader leaf. All I’m finding right now is variegated jasmine. Can you recommend something more interesting? I live in Florida.

A:  Why not consider Variegated Confederate Jasmine? It’s actually a woody vine that’s typically used for trellises or fences, but we’ve used as a groundcover with great success. It provides a nice, dense cover; grows well in partial shade; and thrives on a variety of soils. Variegated Confederate Jasmine is hardy and easy to grow, although scale can sometimes be a problem. We’ve included a photo of it being planted with some beautiful Black Magic Ti plants for contrast. Give it a try. We think you’ll be very pleased with it.





 by Clinton Lak, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, BSLA


Q:  On my last visit to Sarasota, I remember seeing a beautiful, upright plant with leaves the color of eggplant (they were almost black). We’re moving here and I’d like to plant a few. A friend said it was a tie-something but I can’t find it anywhere on the Internet. Help!

A:  Ah, spelling can sometimes get in the way, can’t it? Your friend is talking about the Black Magic Ti plant, a striking specimen known for its tall, dark foliage. It doesn’t flower, but its dark purple color makes up for that big time. It can grow up to 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Keep it in the shade if you want really dark leaves; leaves will get lighter in the sun. Ti plants stand up well to strong winds and provide a great background for bright blooms. One thing to watch for is frost; you’ll want to cover it up if low temps are in the forecast. Like all Ti varieties, it roots easily from tip cuttings or from any wood stem about four inches long.

Glad you dropped us a line or you might have ended up in a men’s clothing store! And welcome to Sarasota.



   by Joe Mantkowski, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, LEED GA, LICHP

Q:  When we moved to southwest Florida, I thought it would be so easy to plant succulents and not have to tend them. But mine look lifeless and just kind of sit there (I did add mulch around them). What am I doing wrong?

A: Sounds like you’re not working with good drainage material. Yes, succulents ARE easy to grow here, but because Florida has such a rainy, humid climate, you have to use well-drained media such as course sand and pea gravel along with some organic matter. Get rid of your mulch because it holds in too much moisture and encourages succulents to rot. Same goes with richer soil mixes.

You didn’t say where you had planted your succulents, but containers or a nice rock-garden setting are two excellent choices.  Aloes, agaves, dyckias and kalanchoes work well in raised, well-drained landscape beds.  More tender succulents fair best in containers scattered around your outdoor living area.  Most succulents like bright and indirect sunlight, and require just a low amount of fertilizer during their active growing cycles, which is spring and summer.

Then comes the creative part -- designing your succulent garden. There are thousands of varieties, shapes, sizes, textures and colors to explore. Select your favorites, group them as you please, and don’t go overboard on adding supplemental water. They’re adapted to survive dry conditions. Follow these easy tips and you have a very good chance of succeeding at succulents!