Sunday, October 2, 2011

Elephants in the Garden – choosing the best Sedums for fall.

Sedum 'Autumn joy' - not its best look!
Photo credit; Fine Gardening magazine
The old fashioned perennial Sedum ‘Autumn joy’ (Sedum spectabile) is a longtime favorite for the autumn garden with its large flat heads of rosy flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Sadly in most gardens it looks like it has been sat on by an elephant.

The central crown is left bare while the fleshy stems flop outwards like a squashed octopus. Not exactly the designer look. The two main reasons this happens is the soil being too rich promoting fast but weak growth or the plant needs dividing. At the end of the day, however, that’s just the way it behaves. The stems can rarely support the large, heavy flower heads.

Making the best of a bad situation!
Design and photo credit;
Alyson Ross-Markley

What can you do? When the plant is about 12” high it can be sheared back to half that to create a more compact plant with denser foliage and slightly smaller flowers, blooming just a couple of weeks later than usual. Or if you forget (as a good friend of mine always does) you can fill the bowl shaped hole with an attractive gazing ball. I have to admit that is a very artistic approach and does look fabulous for one or two plants.  But how many gazing balls can you use before the landscape begins to look like an out of season holiday display?

Perhaps the best solution is to grow one of the improved varieties which share the same good habits – without the bad ones.

f maintaining the 24-30” height is important, ‘Autumn fire’ is a good choice. It has thicker, sturdier stems than ‘Autumn joy’ which hold the heavy flowers well. The rosy-pink flower clusters age through salmon-bronze to copper red providing a long lasting display.

If you want to add some serious dazzle to the
 fall garden try the variety 'Neon'.
Photo credit; Meadow farms

‘Neon’ has vivid magenta flowers over gray-green foliage and a nice tidy habit. This variety was discovered as a sport of popular ‘Brilliant’. It is of intermediate height between ‘Autumn joy’ and the shortest varieties at 18” high.

If you prefer a dwarf form then ‘Pink bomb’ makes a nice choice at just 12” x 12” or ‘Beach party’ (possibly the same as ‘Beach ball’) which looks like mounding pink sand dunes.

'Beach party' in front of  'Concorde' barberry
My design

Great companion plants include fall blooming Asters, black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia sp.) , grasses, and cone flowers (Echinacea). I am also enjoying the mounding 'Beach party' alongside the barberry ‘Concorde’ (Berberis thunbergii) whose rich blue-purple leaves seem to add depth to those of the sedum. The repetition of the mounding shape is pleasing to the eye while the change in texture provides contrast. This combination will continue to change as both plants mature through fall.

Switch grass 'Shenandoah'
(Panicum virgatum) stands behind one of
the better  behaved sedums.
Design by Tory Galloway.

Easy care, drought tolerant, hardy in zones 3-9 and ignored by deer, taller sedums are worthy of a place in any sunny garden – but consider one of these improved varieties rather than selecting the one with which perhaps you are the most familiar.

Unless you want to go on a garden safari.

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