Native Plants and Drought Resistant Plants for St. Augustine’s “Valley of Death”

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

“Look around you, this is the Valley of Death.” -The Humongus to Mad Max, The Road Warrior

The Valley of Death is not so far away as the apocalyptic wasteland of the 1981 classic The Road Warrior.   In fact, it’s my front yard, near Wildwood Drive in what I like to call the Unfashionable South End of St. Augustine.

Fountain Grass wondering what it did to deserve this.

Fountain Grass wondering what it did to deserve this.

Beyond sand, the only thing my front yard will tolerate growing is the occasional and daring blade of bahia grass.  The centipede grass that we thought would weather the full sun and sand better than anyother grass only grows until the unyielding sun burns it into a brown crisp.  A magnolia…a Southern magnolia…that we planted six years ago still survives, but it’s shrunk.  It only stays alive from the water I use to wash my bike every weekend.

With the extended drought this year it’s been a particularly hard for the green things trying to eek out an existence in the Valley. Even the weeds won’t grow.

I don’t have an irrigation system, and don’t want one.  So what to do?

The solution of course is drought resistant plants and Florida Native plants whenever possible.

I started by checking out every Florida landscaping book and Florida native plant book from the library to get ideas.  From those books we got a good idea of what plants could survive the full sun and poor soil of the Valley of Death.

Then my wife and I “mapped” our yard by walking it and planting stakes in the approximate areas where were wanted to plant.  And then we figured out what we could plant during the hot month of August.

From there it was to Southern Horticulture on the Island where we talked to our friend Lauri to see what plants they had in stock.  We came up with something called Tender Fountain Grass (pennisetua setaceum) “Rubrum,” which tolerates heat, poor soil and doesn’t reseed itself all over the place. 

We had some good luck on the way.  The St. Johns County Ag Center was hosting a monthly talk on native plants at the same time.  Hosted by Elkton’s Renee Stambaugh of Native Plant Consulting, it was a quick introduction into some six or seven native varieties that we could plant right away.   

One of the master gardners speaking at the native plant talk also instructed us how to get the ground prepared now for planting Florida native wildflowers in October.  And even better, a source where you could buy Florida wildflower seeds in bulk: the aptly named

To start our plantigs we only put in three smallish containers of Fountain Grass.  As time goes on and we add plants season by season we’ll update you how it’s going in the Valley!

Planting Trees with Every Sale

Back in the day I started making a charity donation and tree planting donation with every sale.  The tree planting donation started when (during the go-go days of the real estate boom) a developer axed a gigantic old oak that my friends and I used to lunch under to build a parking lot.  The parking lot is pretty empty these days but the tree is still gone. 

I started the donation as an actual tree given to the buyer or seller (who’s house I just sold).  But nobody ever would get back to me on what plant or tree they wanted, so I just ended up donating to either American Forests or the American Chestnut Society, which used the monies to plant trees…but not necessarily in Florida.

So with this Valley of Death project I just started I am going to turn my donation focus there, for two reasons.  One, it will keep the donation local.  Two, it will also make the donation more relevant, in that we can learn together here about planting in the tough soils of St. Augustine. 

See our charity and tree donations so far.

For a team of Realtors that strives to be knowledgable about local plants as well as local real estate, contact St. Augustine Team Realty or call (904) 386-8327!

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One Response to “Native Plants and Drought Resistant Plants for St. Augustine’s “Valley of Death””

  1. [...] month I wrote a post about growing plants (or rather killing them) in my front yard, aka, the Valley of [...]

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