The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Sedums – Tough Plants for Tough Areas

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

I envy the laser focus of gardeners dedicated to one plant. Roses, hostas, daylilies – they all have their fans and fanatics. I'm more shotgun than laser in my focus. However, if I was forced by trowel point to pick a group of plants to shower my enthusiasm (and my money), I would pick sedums. They offer amazing diversity and durability in the landscape. Sedum's alternate name of "stonecrop" is indicative of their toughness. This year's hot, dry weather was a test for many plants. As no surprise to many gardeners sedums never threw in the trowel despite our despicable garden season.

Depending on what reference you use there are over 500 species of sedums. However, in the world of gardening, only a few made it to the garden center. 'Autumn Joy' and 'Dragon's Blood' dominated the main market while many sedum species laid low in rock gardens. Sedums have finally gained the attention they deserve. Also with the interest in green roofs sedums have risen from obscurity.

Sedums are a diverse group when it comes to leaf sizes and colors. From tiny munchkin lime-green leaves to five-inch long blue-green leaves reminiscent of broccoli, they all offer durability in dry sunny areas. A good clue to their survivability is in their thick succulent leaves.

Leaf colors vary from light green, blue-green, grey-green, variegated green and white, and dark maroon. Flower colors may be white, shades of pink or yellow. If diversity and durability were not enough for you to want "a sedum in every pot" than maybe you will be swayed by their flower's entrancing attraction for myriads of famished butterflies.

A few of my favorite sedums include:

Goldmoss Stonecrop (Sedum acre) is a mat former perfect for filling in between stepping stones. At two to three inches tall and miniscule leaves their stature is a fairy gardener's dream plant. As with many sedums they are easily moved around by the handful. They quickly root into just about any wretched growing space where most other plants would fail.

'Angelina' Sedum (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina') is a bit larger at three to six inches tall and is a great filler plant. During cold weather the chartreuse leaves tinged with purple are striking when little else is notable.

'Autumn Joy' Sedum (x 'Autumn Joy') is still a good choice even though it is as common as a porch light. 'Autumn Joy' is a very useable height at 12-24 inches tall. From early spring to late winter it has an appealing aspect. The flowers start out as white buds then age from pink to bronze. Winter fails to tamper the ornamental appeal of the old flower stalks.

Purple Sedum ('Atropurpureum) is probably one of the best for dark burgundy leaves and rose red flowers. 'Vera Jameson' is another excellent selection for dark leaves and pink flowers.

Sedum 'Matrona' is of German heritage and its name means "lady of well-rounded form". You may not find the name appealing, but it does describe her well. 'Matrona' is about two feet tall with blue-grey leaves on deep maroon stems. When she is in bloom, hungry butterflies form clouds over her fetching flowers. 'Maestro' is a sport of 'Matrona' and is better at staying upright even in shade.

Most sedums grow best in full sun but will do fine in some shade including our native sedum, Whorled Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum).

This year's drought actually improved the habit of my large sedums. If they grow too well they may flop as though a giant foot laid the plant flat. A few options if your sedum flops: transplant into full sun, in June trim the plant to 8-10 inches tall; or reduce clump size by dividing every 3-5 years in spring or fall. Landscapes offer plenty of places for one more sedum.

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