Sedum - another solution for hot, dry conditions
July 27, 2006
HELEN BOATMAN - Victoria County Master Gardener

"Sedums have long been favorites in Texas gardens," says Dr. Bill Welch of Texas A&M University.
There are many varieties, and most are extremely tough and easily grown outdoors. In our quest to find plants that will be water conservators in our recent time of drought, sedums appear to have been one of our answers to that question.

Have you ever noticed the various locations around Victoria with cement urns containing plants that have graceful stems flowing over the sides, plants that seemingly do not get much attention? More than likely, those plants are in the sedum family. Sedums share with cactus the ability to grow in poor, dry conditions and store water. Even though they share this characteristic, sedums are a member of the succulent family. Once established, they require only a minimum amount of water. Sedums prefer to be planted in full sun or partial sun.

Because there are so many varieties of sedums, plants can be found with foliage that is very small and closely packed, suitable for planting between pavers and rocks, to those that grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Leaf colors can range from gray-greens and blue-greens to tints of red, rose and purple.

Before I proceed, please note that very often these sedums do not have a common name. For those that are known only by their botanical name, I will use a capital "S." before the botanical name.

For butterfly gardening Here in Victoria, we love the butterflies that visit our gardens and give us much pleasure. You may be familiar with various butterfly nectar plants, but have you thought of sedums as being one of their favorites?

The group of sedum known as spectabile is very colorful in the fall garden when it blooms. The variety called Brilliant is one of those plants the butterflies love. In late summer, plants begin to form flower clusters on top, which are at first green and then change color to deep rose. Autumn Joy has coppery-rose blooms, and is also a butterfly favorite.

Between a rock ... Because most species are small bushes or carpeting plants, they make good ground coverings and plantings between stepping-stones. Goldmoss sedum is tough and hardy, which makes it very useful. It will form a thick mat between steppingstones or rocks, and is able to withstand foot traffic.

A similar small-leafed sedum is S. palmeri, which has very small, starry yellow flowers for at least a month in the spring. It is a good plant that can be grown between stones, or can be used as a groundcover. Sedum can sometimes just show up in cracks between cement and a building structure. Any sedum will be at home in a container as well. I have the S.palmeri sedum growing in a shallow terra cotta pot. The growth pattern has taken it over the side of the container. When the little flowers came into bloom, how pretty they were dangling in the breeze.

Another frequently grown sedum in our area is S. potosinum. It has very small, grayish foliage and white, star-shaped flowers in spring. S. reflexum also has bluish-gray foliage, but its leaves are somewhat larger and it bears yellow flowers.

As houseplants Burro's tail or donkey's tail is a pretty plant with pale, powdery green leaves on long stems that appear to be platted. This characteristic makes it an ideal plant for a hanging basket. It is best displayed in a basket deep enough so that its stems will have room to grow down 3 to 4 feet over several years. Using a good potting mixture, it likes to be kept on the dry side, and is a shade-loving plant.

Of course, it could also be used outdoors in our climate, but inside, next to a window with indirect sun, how lovely that would be! Small, inconspicuous red flowers bloom from the end of the stems.

Another tender sedum that is grown as a houseplant or in containers outdoors in summer is S. sieboldii. Its autumn flowers are pink, an especially beautiful contrast in the variegated form.

Creativity and sedums Sedums can also be used to express creativity by using them in a living wreath. Stems and rooted cuttings may be inserted directly into prepared wreaths of wire and sphagnum moss. Placed on a patio table, the live wreath can give you and your guests a lot of enjoyment, especially during the summer months. The wreath must be handled carefully. Giving the wreath a good soaking in a tub of water about once a week during warm weather will keep it growing and thriving.

Easy to share Propagation of sedums is very easy. A piece of sedum that has broken off the mother plant can be easily inserted in a pot using a good potting medium. Even easier is to just scatter short, broken pieces on the ground, cover with a sandy soil mixture, and water in. Very soon, you will have new plants.

Shop your favorite nursery or garden center for sedums. Enjoy the variety of shape and form that will add interest in your garden and know you are helping to conserve our precious water supply with these drought-tolerant plants.