Want to solve the world’s problems? Yeah, me too…but today I’ll settle for a few specifics in the garden.
The movement toward using less water in the landscape, along with the human urge to seek novelty and beauty, has created a huge interest in succulent plants for years. Succulents are generally described as plants that have a particularly fleshy part, to store water, usually in their leaves. There are many beautiful types, of course, from the tender Echevarias to the tenacious Semperviviums, but one of the most diverse and useful groups of succulents, is the genus Sedum, also known as Stonecrops.
There are well over 400 species of Sedum, from all over the world, so clarifying some of the best for landscaping, can be useful. While stonecrops do fall into some general categories, their diversity is part of their charm and one type does not necessarily substitute for another when being used in the garden.
Classic, romantic, modern and rustic; there are Sedums that can fill many design styles. Soft and moss-like or crisp and paddle-shaped, their leaves can resemble roses or ropes or jelly beans. Many form a low rambling carpet and others grow quite upright. Some are hardy through the winter and others are tender or short lived.
Then there are the colors; red, yellow, green and blue, and almost every combination in between. Leaves can be blushed or banded or softly striped and it is common for many types to change their hue depending on the temperature or other environmental factors.
Because Sedums are so useful, I specify them often in landscape designs, but I regularly run into a client or an installer that got a completely different type than the one intended for the design purpose. They are not necessarily interchangeable. So here’s what you need to know to make the best use of this versatile group;
How to Use Stonecrops–
–Functional Uses; Take advantage of their ability to survive in resource-starved circumstances—-
Nooks -Excellent in shallow containers as well as niches in boulders and cracks in pavement.
Edges -Work well at the front of a bed or in gravel and rock gardens and spots with reflected heat.
Tree Roots -One of the best solutions for covering a mature tree-root mound. This is a place most people want to add plants and yet one of the harder spots for new plants to thrive and to have everybody be happy.
–Visual Uses; Take advantage of the diversity in color, form and texture—–
Bouquet s -Mix and match with colors and texture to create a classic “bouquet” effect in a garden bed. Combine fine and fleshy textures and have fun mixing with other low-water garden plants. Many Sedums also have pleasing seasonal flowers.
Hide or Seek -Choose a fine textured type as a dependable cover or back-ground, or try a sculptural rosette form as a multi-season focal point.
Blocks. -Use varieties singly in color-blocks for maximum impact or a modern look. Create contrast or harmony or softly shifting gradations of color or scale.
Be aware of their limitations — What they can’t do well—
-Surprisingly many don’t love intense heat and can burn in full sun. They don’t take foot traffic and it can be difficult to remove leaves, that have fallen from overhead trees or shrubs, from the fine textured varieties. Many are not winter hardy and none take soggy conditions. A few can be very persistent from tiny fragments left in the soil, if you were to change your mind.
So, with that said, here are two of my favorite Stonecrops;
Sedum “Autumn Joy”. Because of the beautiful and long-lasting pink flowers, this variety is one of the most popular (and the most googled). It is an upright type that is a wonderful choice for a classic look in a low-water situation. It plays well with other garden plants and provides nectar and pollen for beneficial insects. It does disappear in winter, but the bronze seed-heads persist, to mark the spot until the leaves return in spring.
Sedum alba. This is the work-horse of the genus. It is a reliable green carpet for sun and shade, and produces white flowers in mid-summer. The short-stemmed flowers are a bonus, in their season, and can be clipped and dried for decorative use. Sedum alba is the most dependable groundcover type for staying green in the winter. Most other sedums, even if they are winter-hardy, go dormant and become leafless stems until spring returns. Do be aware that this is one that can re-grow from tiny fragments and be difficult to get rid of if you change your mind.
So, while Sedums won’t solve the worlds problems, they are a useful garden tool. With stone crops you can camouflage material transitions, turn a concrete crack into a feature or a few rocks into a work of art. You can create a low-maintenance hanging pot or a knockout table centerpiece. So, whether you want to indulge in a stonecrop collection or just add dependable interest to an existing garden bed, Sedums are worth a closer look.