Friday, July 10, 2009

Sedum: Hidden Jewels Of The Plant Kingdom

Sedums are hidden jewels of the plant kingdom: easily overlooked, but enchanting for those who seek them out. Get on your hands and knees and take a close look! You'll see what I mean. My grandmother loved sedums; all of them. They spilled out of planters and into the grass. She tucked them into the tightest crevices of stone walls where they thrived in the barest patches of available soil.

Their ability to thrive in almost any area contributed to their nicknames “stonecrop” and “graveyard moss”. Sedums are incredibly popular, but not visually redundant because there are so many varieties. They vary in foliage, flower, and growth habit ranging from mats only a few inches high to plants 2 feet high. Sedums are often used as edging plants, in rock gardens, on slopes, between stepping stones and in containers.

All of them are perennials with thick, succulent, water-storing leaves that make them very drought tolerant. They grow quickly in full sun and in almost any poor soil type as long as it is slightly acidic and well-drained. Sandy or rocky soil is ideal. If taller varieties are planted in rich soil or shade they will be tall, lanky and topple. Most varieties attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Plant Sedums about 10” apart. Pint sized plants usually mature within the year. Sedum should be divided every 3 to 4 years to maintain compactness and older plants will split in the center if undivided. Seed heads need to be pruned only once after all the blooms have finished, but they can be left over winter to provide food for birds. Remove seed heads in the spring when new growth shows. In the spring, you can propagate through stem cutting or division. It’s easy to pull a rosette off the main plant and transplant the small rosette to a new area in the garden. Let the ground dry between irrigations. Lower growing varieties tend to be dense and choke out weeds.

Sedum is seldom bothered by pests including deer and rabbit because of its peppery taste. Slugs, nematodes and aphids can be problematic if unchecked, but are easy to control.

Several varieties I think are particularly eye-catching include:

S. x ‘Autumn Fire’ - A Canadian import that looks just like ‘Autumn Joy’ but has denser foliage and brighter pink color. It’s 30” tall in bloom and spreads 2’ in Zones 3-9.

S. x ‘Autumn Joy’ - Grows 3’ high in bloom and 2’ wide in Zones 3-9. Green, flat and spiky foliage, which mounds up to 1’ high, produces long stalks and 4” wide broccoli-like blooms. Beginning in July, flowers then turn pink, red and rusty-red through the fall. Butterflies adore this plant.

S. x ‘Vera Jameson’ - Hardy in Zones 3-9 it grows up to 8” high and 18” wide. Nice clumpy succulent bluish-green foliage turns purple in autumn and gets 4” pink blooms in late summer. Bold fall season color.

S. kamtschaticum var. floriferum ‘Weihenstephaner Gold’ - Dark green ovoid leaves sprout low clusters of yellow blooms from May to September. Grows 5” tall and spreads 1’.

S. makinoi ‘Ogon’ - Native to Japan, it grows best in Zones 7 to 9. Attaining a 2” height and 12” width, it is ideal for potting, takes the heat and looks good all summer. Blooming in August, its tiny nearly yellow foliage looks like gold pebbles on the ground.

S. reflexum 'Blue Spruce' - Grows in Zones 3 to 9. Semi-evergreen half inch, but thick blue-green leaves whorl around linear stems that sprout stalks topped with 1” bright yellow flower clusters. Gets 10” tall when in bloom from June to August.

S. rupestre ‘Angelina’ - Grows 3-6” tall with a 1’ spread in Zones 4-9. This golden ground cover with citrus yellow shoots sort of resembles a glowing pinecone. Butterflies and bees like it. Invaluable for the stone garden, it blooms July to September.

S. sarmentosum
'Yellow Moss' - The main plant has thick ovoid green leaves, but produces radiating branches of slim leaves under pointy bright yellow flowers. One of the toughest sedums, it typically grows where ever you throw it. Gets 5” in high with unbridled spread. Blooms late spring to early summer.

S. sieboldii ‘October Daphne’ - Flat blue green foliage grows around the stem in groups of three. Has pink flowers in late summer through early fall. The whole plant turns pink during cold weather and it grows up to 1’ tall in Zones 3-10.

S. spurium
‘Dragon's Blood’ - One plant produces a 6” tall mat can spread up to 3’, so plant them 18” apart. Produces taller head-turning red blooms in late summer. Its burgundy leaves turn burnt orange in the fall. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

S. spurium ‘Fuldaglut’ - Green/bronze fleshy whorled foliage turn burgundy in fall and produces pink blooms in late summer. In Zones 4-8 it grows 6” tall and 8” wide.

S. spurium ‘John Creech’ - Has a moderate growth rate. Only 3” tall it can spread well over a foot. Its small scalloped bright green leaves have clusters of lavender flowers in the fall.

S. spurium ‘Tricolor’ - A low growing (4” tall) variety that spreads up to 15” in Zones 3-9. Variegated sage green, white and pink foliage produce pink to mauve blooms in June and July.

S. tetractinum 'Chinese Sedum' - Flat, round, green summer foliage turns reddish bronze in fall and produces bright yellow flower clusters. Only 3” tall, it spreads 1’ in Zones 4-8.

Maybe my grandmother liked lots of color or maybe she just liked abundant no-fuss plants. She found Sedums to be perfect landscape plants for her home. I bet you will too.

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