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 by Joe Mantkowski, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, LEED GA


Q: I have a semi-shaded area under a small palm where nothing thrives, not even recommended plant varieties such as Hawaiian Ti. Do you have any suggestions for plants that integrate well with succulents in the same landscape bed?

A: Shaded areas can be a challenge in Southwest Florida, but there is hope.  Palms will take up most of the available water, so you’ll need a plant that enjoys dry soil and partial shade.  My first choice would be a cordyline “Red Star.”  With its unique, burgundy, sword-like leaves, the cordyline offers great texture and color that will enhance the blues and greens of the other succulents in your garden

Just be sure there’s enough room for your cordyline, as it can get approximately eight feet tall if you don’t prune it.  Otherwise, it will produce spikes topped with fragrant white flowers in early summer. Cordyline thrives in partial or full sun with moist or dry soil -- it’s hard to go wrong with this one!  Give it a try and let us know how you do.



Florida-friendly/Native Plants | Landscape Design | Plant selection



 by Clinton Lak, ArtisTree Degreed Landscape Architect

Q: I live along a pine-lined swale which gets piled with a plethora of needles at various times throughout the year.  Can I rake them up and use as mulch for my landscape beds?

A: First of all, good for you for re-purposing your pine needles; they can serve as an affordable and attractive mulch for all kinds of landscapes. However, you must be careful where you spread them because they create an acidic soil that many plants can’t tolerate. Also, they’re easily picked up by high winds and can make weed control difficult (they don’t become dense and compacted like other mulches).

So it’s really up to you and how much time you want to invest in maintenance. If you’re willing to do some weeding and are pining for an ultra-natural look with tolerant plants, I say go for it!


Landscape Design | Landscape Maintenance | Mulch


  by Joe Mantkowski, ArtisTree Landscape Designer, LEED GA


Q: I’m building a home in Southwest Florida and looking for an evergreen hedging plant that will add a splash of unique color combinations and variety to my yard.  What would you suggest?


A:  I really like and recommend the Fiji-native Copperleaf.  It establishes well in Southwest Florida if you’re building your home in an area where frost is not an issue, plus it thrives in partial shade or sun as long as it’s sheltered from strong wind. The wide variety of colorful foliage makes it a spectacular year-round hedge choice, and you can add it to where other plants won’t grow to give your earth-tone home an “instant makeover.”

I suggest you give Copperleaf a try. It was extremely popular in the 90s but fell out of favor as other tropical plant varieties were introduced into the region. Now it’s coming back into its own, and not a moment too soon for discerning homeowners who want to make a true statement in their modern landscapes.


Annual Color | Frost Protection | Landscape Design | Plant selection




 by Maria Muhlhahn, ArtisTree Purchasing Manager

Q:  This happens to me every July. My annuals look just perfect, then all of a sudden they stop blooming. What am I doing wrong? You’d think they’d bloom all summer long with Florida’s humidity!


A:  It sounds counterintuitive, but the summer’s humidity and rising temperatures can cause what we call “heat stall.”  Many plants (and especially tender annuals) can stop flowering or significantly stop growing altogether until temperatures cool.  We suggest that you look for heat-tolerant varieties when planning your landscape design.  Vinca, purslane, caladium, coleus and dwarf allamanda cultivars make good choices for the dog days of summer.

And please don’t give up on your heat-stalled annuals just yet. Stop fertilizing them but keep them watered, and be sure to trim away any legginess. Your biggest challenge will be to remain patient. Just keep reminding yourself that cooler temps are around the corner and that you’ll soon be admiring your annuals once again.


 by Kirk Brummett, ArtisTree Landscape Architect


Q: I’m looking for a smaller tree that will add privacy and a bit of romance to my Southwest Florida yard. What do you recommend?

A:  One of my all-time favorites is the weeping bottlebrush tree. This brilliant showstopper expertly placed can make outdoor evening dining feel like you’ve been whisked away to Paris. It pleases during the day, too, exuding a lush elegant feel.

Known for its small stature and romantic weeping form, the weeping bottlebrush is unrivaled for its grace and beauty while resisting most pests (which I promise you’ll appreciate when sipping your wine and enjoying evening breezes). And though it’s only about 15 feet tall, it will provide nice privacy as the dense crown matures and develops cascading branches.  Fuzzy bottle-shaped blossoms appear heavily in the spring and intermittently the rest of the year. Requires full to partial sun.

Intrigued? Ask your landscape designer if he or she thinks this evergreen specimen will work in your landscape. If it will, I suggest you celebrate the installation with a bottle of Bordeaux!


 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