Summer heat and dry conditions always take a toll on our mid to late summer gardens, but this year has been truly exceptional! Many perennials are scorching, turning yellow or just giving up altogether and going dormant. So it's interesting to walk through gardens now, and see which plants are still looking good and growing well despite all the abuse. One plant that stands out from the rest is showy sedum.
Even novice gardeners are usually familiar with members of the sedum or stonecrop genus. Many of the low growing sedums, one of the most common being Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood', have long been staples in rock gardens or rock walls.
But since the 1990s, the taller showy sedums have also become perennial garden staples. Showy sedums have 2-3" long, fleshy leaves on 12-24" stems. Foliage color varies, and may be bluish, gray-green, or purple-maroon. Flowers are creamy white, pink, bronze or red. The flowers make good cut flowers and can also be dried. They can even be allowed to dry on the plants and remain in the garden for winter interest.
What really makes this plant a standout, is how well is thrives under neglect; it grows well in hot, dry locations with full sun, where other perennials would turn up their toes and die. As a succulent plant, sedum tolerates drought well and MUST have well drained soil. In fact, if the soil remains too wet the plants are prone to rotting. If the stems are falling over, then the plants have received too much water, too much fertilizer or are growing in too much shade.
Recently, many of the common upright types have been shifted out of the old genus Sedum, into a new genus, Hylotelephium. Although in many cases you will still find them listed under their old botanical name.
The most commonly grown type of showy sedum is Sedum x 'Autumn Joy' (Hylotelephium x 'Autumn Joy'), originally named 'Herbstfreude' by the German breeders. It produces large rosy-salmon or deep bronze red flowers from early fall to frost. Other interesting cultivars include the following:
- 'Autumn Fire'- Extended blooming from pale pink rose, to bright red, to bronze-red. Medium green foliage. Height 2-3', width 18-24".
- 'Frost Morn'- 12" tall with light pink flowers and a wide white border on the margin of each leaf.
- 'Iceberg'- A cousin of 'Autumn Joy' with white flowers in fall.
- 'Matrona'- Dark bluish-green leaves with rosy-pink edges and reddish stems; flowers pink.
- 'Vera Jameson'- Purplish-bronze leaves on 9-12" plants with dusty pink flowers.v
- 'Xenox'- Bluish-green spring foliage darkens to burgundy. Sturdy stems and soft pink flowers in fall. Height 10", width 12".
- S. alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum'- Attractive green and white foliage with pale pink flowers.
- vS. telephium 'Indian Chief'- Very similar to 'Autumn Joy' with light green foliage and bright coppery red flowers in fall.
If you gardens suffered this summer, consider adding showy sedum to your hottest, sunniest locations this fall.