Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
August, 2012
Regional Report

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October daphne (Sedum seboldii) displays its striking form and dusty pink flowers in the fall.

Sedums in the Late Summer Garden

Late summer is sedum time in my garden. These succulent plants are naturals for my sandy soil, so I've planted many different kinds in spots all around my yard. And there are lots to choose from! The variety of sedums is almost boundless, from tall, upright plants like the popular 'Autumn Joy' to the many that creep and trail. I've planted a few that have been too happy in my garden and have gone over to the dark side to become weeds, but for the most part, these plants have proved to be attractive, winter hardy, low maintenance garden citizens.

Upright Sedums
Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is an old standby that I've grown in my garden for years. An upright plant that gets 18 -24 inches tall, its developing flowerheads are interesting while they are still green in early to midsummer, then complement other late season bloomers when they change to dusty rose and later brick red in late summer and fall. 'Autumn Fire' is a similar, newer introduction that has less of a tendency to flop. 'Autumn Charm' adds even more interest with variegated foliage.

I grow Sedum 'Xenox' as much for its deep burgundy foliage as its rose-pink, late summer flowers. The leaves of this compact plant start out green with rosy edges in spring, then take on a deeper hue as the summer progresses. 'Purple Emperor' is another upright, dark-foliaged selection with dusky purple leaves all season long.

Creeping and Trailing Sedums
If you are a plant-collector type of gardener, then these sedums are the ones for you. There is a huge array of leaf shapes and sizes, growth habits, and leaf and flower colors to choose from. I got started with creeping sedums when I had a dry stone retaining wall built in my backyard. They are the natural choice for trailing over, around, and between rocks in a wall or rock garden. I now have about a dozen different varieties planted along the top of the wall or in between the stones on its face. But it's hard to resist the urge to add another when I find something new at a nursery!

One of my favorites is Sedum 'John Creech'. Only a couple of inches tall, this spreads to form a dense mat of small, bright green leaves with a cup-like, nested arrangement that adds textural interest. Light pink flowers in midsummer complete the show.

Sedum spurium 'Fulda Glow' is another very low grower that displays pretty scalloped green leaves washed with red, and rose-red flowers in late summer.

And what of the ones that went from wanted to weedy? The worst is Sedum album 'Coral Carpet'. This very low growing sedum has tiny, rounded, bead-like, succulent leaves that turn a pretty shade of red in the summer. But at least in my sandy soil, 'Coral Carpet' spreads like wildfire. And if you go to yank it out, each little bit of foliage that breaks off or is left behind goes on to make a new plant. This sedum is often sold as a groundcover, but be very sure you want it before you plant it, because you'll have it forever!

Clump-Forming Sedums
Sedum 'Vera Jameson' gets about 10 inches tall and forms a rounded clump of foliage. Its blue-green leaves change to deep mahogany as fall approaches and arching sprays of dusty pink flowers adorn the plant in mid to late summer. I've intermingled this in the hot dry soil along the edge of my driveway with fuzzy, gray-green lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein') for a planting that looks good through the season with virtually no care from me.

And if I had to choose only one sedum for my garden? That's easy! Of all the many that I grow, I think the one with the most beautifully striking form is October daphne, Sedum sieboldii. Its scalloped, blue-green leaves, tinged with rose at their edges, arch out in a symmetrical fountain of foliage about 4-6 inches tall and 12-15 inches wide. The graphic quality of the plant is best appreciated when it can be viewed from above. I have two plants, one on either side of a short stone path that leads from my front walk through a narrow garden bed into the yard beyond. No matter how often I pass by them, I never cease to be awed by the perfection of their leaf arrangement as I look down on them. As if this weren't enough, in early fall masses of dusty pink flower clusters adorn the plant, and the foliage takes on a rosier hue as the weather cools.

All the sedums I mentioned do best in full sun (although many tolerate some light shade) and well-drained soil and are hardy in zones 3-9. I can't think of a single one that has ever had a problem more serious than an occasional leaf spot.

So if you're looking for some easy care choices to add interesting color, texture, and form to the garden in late summer, check out the many choices that sedums offer. Just don't blame me if you can't stop once you get started!

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