Posts Tagged ‘How to grow a Florida wildfloer garden’

The New Native and Drought Resistant Project

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

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


Nellie Stevens Holly

Nellie Stevens Holly

Since we wrapped on the First Native Plant Project (read about it here), we’ve already been hard at work on the new drought resistant and native project at my new home.

I moved, literally, just around the corner. And since I lived so close to the new place for the last 13 odd years, I know most of its history.

Back in the day it was a horse pasture. Then they turned it into a subdivision and built some houses right before the real estate market crashed. It sat pretty empty for six years until they started building again in 2012. In 2014 we closed on our house that was once a vacant lot, that was (a decade earlier) the sole domain of Sea Biscuit.

The upshot is, there were very few trees on our lot before they cleared it. When they did cleared it, along with the adjoining lot, to build on we counted six trees down, so we decided that we were going to plant 12 trees to replace the fallen.

The Mother of All (Our) Cherry Trees

At the old house we had a beautiful cherry tree. I have no idea what variety it is/was. It grew right next to the deck and its leafy branches spread out over it creating amazing bower of shade. My kids loved to hop on top of the deck and boost themselves up into the tree and climb it.

The tree almost didn’t make it to be here today. In 2004, Hurricane Frances blew it sideways (along with a nearby sycamore*). The only thing holding the cherry tree up was one of its main trunk roots, which was also lifting the deck and its pilings out of the ground, so I had to cut the root. In retrospect it might have been smarter to cut the deck around the root, but the summer of 2004 was a wild one for hurricanes and there were a lot of other things that needed tending to.

Half of the tree died after the root was cut. The other half took years to come back. These days it’s fully alive again but you can still where I cut off the section that died.

Anyway, the fruit from this tree is really small (mostly just a seed with a varnish of bitter fruit around it) and the tree creates this fruit in prodigious numbers. Birds and squirrels spread them all over so there are always saplings popping up somewhere in the yard.

After we moved into our new house my kids and I  hunted the yard of the old house for cherry tree saplings, and as usual, they were pretty easy to find. I brought six of them over and spaced them out in different places. Not having any idea what the best conditions for growing are, I put some in full sunlight, some in full shade, and some in partial shade. So far, nearly two months later, all the cherry saplings are alive.

As a side note, right next to the original cherry tree and behind the deck there was this wonderful shady spot that my old dog, Cecil, used to love.

He would dig a big hole in the shady spot, and I would fill it in. We fought over that hole for nearly 10 years.

When he died, I buried him there. I like to say we both won the battle over the hole: He got to stay in it, and I got to fill it in.

When we moved I brought Cecil over to the new house, and where I planted him I put two of the cherry tree saplings over his grave. You might think it’s morbid but I think it’s pretty cool. If these cherry trees grow into the amazing shade trees that the original tree is, no one will ever touch the trees and disturb Cecil’s grave, which is what I am hoping will happen.

Moving Red Maples

The other tree my kids loved was a particular red maple (which happens to be a Florida native).

I found two red maple saplings in the yard and replanted them in the new.

One is looking pretty rough but I’m holding out hope that the root ball is still intact and will regenerate. The other is growing famously … it’s like it was never moved. I found both in shade so I planted both in shade.

A small cherry tree sapling was growing at the base of the red maple that is surviving so well. I left the two together … there are several places in our old yard where they are growing together the same way.

New Herbs in Pots

At the old house we had a bay tree and a rosemary bush. We decided to leave these, so we bought new for the new yard.

We also planted some herbs last year for cooking … the parsley and lavender have survived since last summer and into this summer, though both look pretty raggedy. Some of the chilies we planted last year also hung on over what was a really cold winter. Now the chilies are flowering. Hot stuff!

We planted some new basil, lavender, and chives at the new house. I tried a winter planting of basil (I love basil), but only one plant survived.

As I was moving the parsley that survived over the winter I noticed something growing with it: cherry tree sprouts! So I moved these few sprouts to where the red maple transplant is failing. Who knows? Maybe the maple we regenerate from the root and the cherries will grow together with it. If they do it’s going to look really cool circa 2024.

Replacing The Dead Oak with a Nellie Stevens Holly

They new home builder planted some trees for landscaping at the new house. One was an oak that was probably dead before they put it in the ground.

Instead of having the builder replace it with another generic oak, we went ahead and replaced it with a Nellie Stevens Holly (Ilex Nellie R. Stevens).

I saw the Nellie Stevens last winter at the Jacksonville Arboretum. It looks a lot like a Christmas tree when it grows, so it looks really cool. It has super dense foliage, the classic deep green holly leaf luster, points at the tips that holly is famous for, and loads of berries. Best of all it handles xeric conditions (i.e., poor soil), full sun, and drought.

To keep it full of berries from year to year you need a male and female version of the tree, however, it will still get some berries if its by itself. I don’t know how to sex holly trees, but if I figure it out I’ll plant another so it has a mate.

Since this is not a transplant tree I’ll count this Nellie Stevens Holly as our first “official” planting for the purposes of “a planting or donation to a planting group with every sale.”

Adding it Up

So, we had a goal of 12 trees to replace the six lost when they cleared our lot and the lot next door.

We’ve got six cherry trees and a red maple from the first transplant run surviving, a bay tree ready to go in, and let’s count the little cherry saplings we found in the parsley as one more, and then the new holly. So that’s ten.

We’ll work on those two extra trees over the summer and let you know how it goes.

*The Tale of The Hurricane Frances Sycamore

The next door neighbor cut down the sycamore at the base in 2004, after Hurricane Frances knocked it sideways. The tree was hanging about 1 inch from the neighbors roof. The root of the sycamore was lifting up my fence and the fence was the only thing keeping it off the roof.

The neighbor assumed he would be liable for the replacement of my fence if he didn’t cut the sycamore down (plus he would have to fix his own roof if it fell). Since the neighbor never had a survey done he just assumed the tree was on his side of the line … it was not. Since it was on my side of the line, I think it might have been, technically, responsible for the tree. He had the legal right to cut it because it was hanging over and above his property … the tree could not be saved anyway … but he saved me a lot of work and saved work on my fence in the bargain. So, thank you, former neighbor.

The moral, of course, is get a survey when you buy a home.

As a post script, the sycamore tree grew back. Suckers from it’s cockeyed root grew straight up and that tree is now thirty feet high! If you look really closely at the base you can see where the old trunk was cut away. Pretty amazing.

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.

The First Native Plant Garden: Terra Forming and Final Edition

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

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

Brown Eyed Susans and Blanket Flower

Brown Eyed Susans and Blanket Flower in the Native Plant Garden

Back in the day there was my front yard, and we called it the Valley of Death because nothing grew there.

So we started planting Florida native and drought resistant plants in 2011, and what a difference a few years makes. We’ve got a thriving butterfly garden and several varieties of plants that grow well and don’t need watered. The front yard really looks good and the dead patches, thought not completely gone, are the minority now.

It’s like one of those science fiction movies where they “terra form” a dead planet into something thriving with life. And then Khan shows up and tries to kill Captain Kirk, but then Spock saves everyone, but I digress…

The biggest surprise is that the scarlet milkweed and porterweed, which are annuals that we planted last year, are all sprouting new growth this spring. The unusually cold winter should have knocked them out but there they are springing from the roots. I accidentally knocked the resurgent porterweed out, not realizing it was one of the plantings, but it’s got a few leaves back, so whew!

New Native Plantings

Last September I planted some Florida native viburnum in front of the garage, the most extreme edge of the front yard. But I failed to water it while still it was still in the containers, and two of the plants died before I could put them in the ground.

This spring I went to the nursery to get more in order to replant them, but I saw the mature form and didn’t like them, so instead I bought dwarf versions of the very local East Palatka (also known as “yaupon”) holly (Taylor’s Rudolph Ilex Vomitoria) and planted them in locations on the side of the house. For the two dead viburnums I planted another version of dwarf holly (Ilex Schellings) that supposedly is ideal for full sun and dry conditions. I would have bought more East Palatka but I bought all the nursery had and Ilex Schellings was the only thing left that would fit the bill.

Lastly, I added a bunch more porterweed (red and blue) because it establishes itself so easily and readily, and blooms all summer. A truly awesome plant.

Blue Porterweed and Wildflowers

Blue Porterweed and Wildflowers

The Final Plantings

The porterweed and the hollies are the final plantings I will do in the Valley. The house is on the market (and is currently under contract), so I won’t be living there any longer.

But we are starting a new project in our new place, with its own unique challenges. And I look forward to telling you about that next … stay tuned!

Click here for a link to all the Native Plant Project stories, including where and what types of wildflowers we bought, where to get them, and how to plant them!

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.



An Update on Our Native Plants Project

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

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

In our last update back in May, only the Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) was blooming from our fall wildflower planting.

What a difference a few months makes!

In mid to late summer the bright yellow blooms of Yellow Coneflower and Black Eye Susan started popping up…the Black Eyes still remain vibrant (the coneflowers only lasted through August).

Right now many of the Gaillardia are still blooming though many of them are also going to seed.

In the “dead area” from our second wildflower planting only a single Black Eye Susan bloomed.  So we tarped the area over again in August (except for the one flower), and recently reseeded it.  We made a cool graphic of our wildflower seedings which we included with this post.

The wildflowers, from a Florida native beach wildflower mix, surprised us in that they grew so tall.  We expected them to stay low and hug the ground like they do in the dunes.  I’m not sure why they grew so tall here.

We thought that the wildflowers would be lower than the Society Garlic, which is planted behind them.  But since they are so tall I think in the spring we’ll move the garlic to the front of the wildflower bed, and maybe mulch the garlic with oak leaves to keep the weeds out (such as they are in the Valley).

Everything we planted this year and last has survived with the exception of one Fountain Grass plant.  In the spring we thought one of the garlic plants had died but it’s still there, hanging on and trying to get bigger.

The Fountain Grass we planted in early summer really benefitted from the bountiful rains we had this summer.  Where last year’s crop had trouble getting established even with frequent watering, this year’s plants really seemed to thrive and even get bigger.

We’ll keep you updated as things progress!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you want some help growing into a new home in St. Augustine!  Email or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.