The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Delightfully Durable Sedums are Bee and Butterfly Magnets

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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. Also their willingness to wait until late summer to bloom provides a bountiful buffet for bees and butterflies.

Depending on what reference you use there are over 500 species of sedums. 'Autumn Joy' and 'Dragon's Blood' dominated the main market for years while many sedum species laid low in rock gardens. From landscapes to green roof tops sedums have finally risen from obscurity.

Sedums are generally hardy perennials, but 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. Their thick succulent leaves are architecturally delightful well before flowers emerge. 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.

Sedums may be listed with their new genus name of Hylotelephium. I included their old genus name of Sedum in this list of a smattering of sedums.

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 and will quickly root into just about any open space.

'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', 'Purple Emperor' and 'Bertram Anderson' are other 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. Other great upright sedums include 'Mr. Goodbud' with many flowering branches and 'Autumn Fire' with its long season of flower color well into November.

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

The only complaint about the larger sedums is their periodic laziness to stand upright. If sedums grow too well, are in too much shade or get too much fertilizer, plants may flop open. First never fertilize sedums and never add compost. Sedums behave better when hungry. A few options for lazy sedums: 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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