October 2, 2011
Sedum with Japanese forest grass and lamb's ears
It’s autumn in the garden. Leaves are drifting downward, the annuals are drooping, and in general things look a bit tattered. Your flower bed needs some color, structure and interest. Try sedum, also known as stonecrop.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ was selected as 1991’s Perennial Plant of the Year, and introduced a generation of American gardeners to this stalwart group. The horticulture industry continues to churn out exemplary cultivars of these late-blooming, sturdy, deer resistant perennials.
‘Autumn Joy’ remains a favorite, for its dependable rusty-pink color, 18 inches height, three-season appeal and its performance as a cut flower. ‘Brilliant’ a similar, smaller plant, has bright pink blooms. Then there’s ‘Vera Jamison’, a trailing cultivar whose stems ending in long-lasting purple blossoms cover ground in sun or light shade. A perfect edger to a perennial bed.
Another favorite is ‘Frosty Morn’, with green and white variegated leaves all season. Its flowers are pink. ‘Matrona’ grows 15-20 inches tall, offer gray-green leaves with rosy pink edges, and mauve-pink flowers.
The only difficulty you’re likely to have with this perennial is choosing a cultivar. Now’s the time to plant; many of these cultivars are available at local nurseries.
One more suggestion. Sedum acre, that lovely, naughty bright green wanderer, is a tiny-leaved small plant which blooms yellow in midsummer. It’s fine to use in controlled situations; I let it soften the edges of the steps down to my backyard, but pull it out when it strays.
Sedums are succulent, and therefore drought-resistant. Slugs don’t give them a second thought. They like oodles of sun, but will grow and bloom in semi-shade, though they’ll lean towards the light. As with all perennials, start them out in a decent-sized hole with a helping of compost. To get them established, water every few days for a week if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. They’re not heavy feeders; a yearly sprinkling of granular fertilizer is sufficient. Spray with deer repellent if those hoofed invaders are a problem.
Sedum are extraordinarily easy to propagate. Simply snip off 2-3 inches of growing tip prior to blossom set, and stick in potting soil. They’ll root in a couple of weeks. And tall garden sedum makes an excellent cut flower. Gather stems of several cultivars to provide contrast in the vase and fill out with tansy for green, and perhaps some cleome for an airy filler.
And remember, sedum, along with asters and buddleia provides an important nectar source for butterflies in the waning days of the gardening season.
As if it didn’t have enough attributes, sedum also dries well. For a winter bouquet, simply cut stems, strip off lower leaves, and place in a chosen container with astilbe fronds and hydrangea. They’ll dry rapidly and retain much color. Or tie a clump of bloom stalks and hang upside down until firm. Either way, sedum makes a long-lasting, attractive winter bouquet, one that will help your enforced garden withdrawal, which in Connecticut often lasts until April.