In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2007
Regional Report

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The frosty pink flower buds on this sedum are a refreshing addition to my late-summer garden.

Showy Sedums Thrive in the Heat

How hot and dry has it been? So parched that even established, drought-tolerant coneflowers, penstemons, and black-eyed Susans are drooping. So blistering that even the creeping thyme has succumbed. Did you miss one day of watering your new perennials or container plants? The tops probably turned crispy, but if you're lucky the roots survived and they'll regrow. There's one type of plant, however, that continues to shine through the challenging weather: tall sedums.

The genus Sedum, also known as stonecrop, contains about 400 species in a range of sizes and forms. Most have succulent leaves that help them endure hot, dry weather. In addition to the tall sedum, sometimes called showy sedum, the genus includes many low-growing ground covers. Tall sedums, reaching 12 to 24 inches in height, sit quietly in the garden all summer, providing an attractive, shrubby backdrop to summer bloomers. Then, as the summer beauties begin to fade, the sedums come into their full glory, forming 4- to 6-inch-wide, gently domed flower clusters composed of hundreds of tiny, star-shaped blooms.

The most familiar tall sedum is 'Autumn Joy', and for a while it seemed to be the only one commonly available. Now there are a dozen or more varieties with different foliage and flower colors but all with the same stalwart, steady nature. Most of these are either Sedum spectabile or Sedum telephium, or crosses of these, but the species name is rarely used. Here's a rundown of some notable varieties.

'Autumn Joy'. The attractive, gray-green foliage and medium (18- to 24-inch) height has made this a very popular choice for the middle of the perennial border. In late summer the flower heads begin to form, starting out icy green and slowly transforming to pink, then pinkish bronze, then aging to mahogany.

'Autumn Charm'. A variegated version of 'Autumn Joy', 'Autumn Charm' sports light green leaves with creamy white edges.

'Black Jack'. Boasting burgundy-black foliage and strong stems, 'Black Jack' produces 2-foot-tall clumps that spread up to 3 feet wide. The foliage is especially striking as summer plants begin to fade. In early fall, clusters of bright pink fowers appear.

'Brilliant'. Known for its tidy habit and abundant flowering, 'Brilliant' grows to a height of 18 to 24 inches. True to its name, the flowers of 'Brilliant' are a clearer, truer pink than most sedums. In late fall the blooms age to a deep purple-red.

'Hot Stuff'. Similar to 'Brilliant' but more compact, 'Hot Stuff' reaches a height of just 10 to 12 inches.

'Matrona'. Gray-green leaves contrast with dark burgundy stems, making this variety striking even when it's not in bloom. The plant reaches a height of 18 inches. Flowers are silvery pink aging to maroon.

'Mr. Goodbud'. Unlike some tall sedums that tend to flop under the weight of their heavy blooms, 'Mr. Goodbud' boasts especially sturdy stems. It grows 17 inches high and about 14 inches wide, somewhat narrower than other varieties.

'Neon'. Described as bubble gum pink, the flowers on 'Neon' are especially large and long lasting, turning to coppery orange in late fall. 'Neon' is compact, reaching just 14 inches in height.

'Pink Chablis'. A variegated form of 'Brilliant', this variety has broad, blue-green leaves edged with white. In late summer, white flower buds open to clear pink.

'Postman's Pride'. The foliage of this 18- to 24-inch-tall variety is burgundy-purple with a bluish tinge, creating a cooling effect in the garden. In midsummer, tiny purple buds form, opening to deep pink-red blooms. True to its name, it was discovered by a Belgian postman.

'Purple Emperor'. Dark purple-black leaves and stems are adorned with pink-purple flowers in fall.

'Samuel Oliphant'. The foliage of this variety is randomly variegated in shades of green, cream, pink, and burgundy and is borne on burgundy stems. Large clusters of cream-colored buds open to light pink flowers.

Planting and Growing Tall Sedums
As is the case with most succulents, good drainage is a must for tall sedums. Hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 or 4 to 9 or 10, depending on the variety, sedums withstand most weather extremes -- heat, drought, humidity, cold winters -- making them good choices in gardens across the country. New plants need regular watering the first season, but once they're established they rarely, if ever, need supplemental water. If you have heavy clay soil, amend the soil with compost and plant sedums in raised beds so excess water can drain.

Sedums are very easy to propagate. You can literally cut off a stem and stick it into some potting soil and it will probably root. Note, however, that many of the varieties listed above are patented or patent-pending, meaning their propagation is restricted. Propagating a few plants for home use probably won't get you in trouble, but propagating and selling these varieties might get you into some hot water. And on a hot summer day, that's the last thing you want!


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