Thursday, September 3, 2009

The autumn stonecrops

I didn't used to like sedums. It isn't completely clear to me why they have become a favorite in more recent years. Like anyone, I appreciate the easy, no care quality of these plants. Maybe I've just come to enjoy the autumn bloomers more because they are so few. Then too, hybridizers are introducing new plants every year with very appealing and unusual colors and shapes.

Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ is new to me. Apple green foliage with creamy white accents. Flowers are pale pink when new, maturing darker and persisting through the winter.

I've heard some gardeners complain Frosty Morn throws non-variegated stems. If mine does this, I will be sure to remove these green stems promptly or the plant may revert to its all green ancestor. Hardy in my zone 4 and up to 9, full sun is best for good color. Well drained soil will keep the plant healthy but it should not be too picky. I will cut back at least once in spring to create a fuller, more compact plant and to produce additional cuttings to root for my garden.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is everyone's dependable old friend. It's been around forever and with good cause. AJ grows well in almost any soil and tolerates shady situations if pinched back to prevent it from getting weak and floppy. This year has been a hectic one for me and I failed to cut back several Autumn Joy plants. Now as they begin blooming they are opening up in the center and the stems are splayed outward in an unattractive manner. Next year I'll try not to be so lax about pruning.

Autumn Joy is useful over the course of several seasons. In spring the little rosettes emerge like clumps of tiny cabbages. The flower buds form in late summer and progress through several color changes. In winter the brown stalks add interest.

Sedum ‘Matrona’ with grayish/green leaves and wine colored stems. In my garden it blooms a few weeks earlier than 'Autumn Joy'. Other than the stem color, I don't see a great improvement in appearance between Matorna and its parent Autumn Joy. Matrona seems to suffer more leaf damage and sunburn, has weaker stems, and isn't as robust and trouble free as Autumn Joy.

The blooms go through several shades of pink from pale, apple blossom pink to a rusty raspberry and finally maturing to a chocolate brown that carries through the winter.

Matrona will be hardy in zones 4-9, full sun for best color and upright growth. I prune exactly as I do with Autumn Joy for a better shape, upright habit and to get new plants.

Sedum tetractinum ‘Vera Jameson’ has very relaxed stems that allow it to droop gracefully over a wall or the side of a pot. The leaves are a watered burgundy color and contrast nicely with other plants. VJ will not grow very tall so I prune for propagation and fuller branching.

Butterflies and bees love sedum. Since they are one of the latest garden bloomers, it would benefit these insects to pinch back a few plants late in the summer to delay blooms up to and beyond frost.

Sedums are perhaps the easiest plants in the garden to propagate. Simply cut a 4-8 inch piece of stem in late spring/early summer and stick the cuttings. I drill holes in the bottoms of plastic cups and fill with potting soil. I remove all but 2 or 3 top leaves and place the stems in potting soil kept barely damp, not wet. You can also stick directly in the garden, just don't forget you have a tiny new plant growing there. Few weeks, new plant.