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It's Sedum Time!

  • It's Sedum Time!
  • It's Sedum Time!

Many of us have the tall border Sedums such as S. spectabile in our gardens – they are extremely reliable, very forgiving, tough as old boots, capable of withstanding drought, poor soil, disruption, digging dogs and general neglect, and they still come up with flowers every year. Best of all, they are a magnet for butterflies and insects in the summer, and the birds enjoy clearing the seeds out from the dying flat-topped flowers in autumn.

My personal favourites are the dark purple-leaved varieties: there's a nice one called S. telephium ‘Atropurpureum’, with lovely purple leaves, and dark pink flowers: and even better is the cultivar 'Purple Emperor' whose leaves are really dark and shiny, lovely!

Regardless of their foliage colour, at this time of year they are looking sad and horrible – all dead and brown on top, and many of the upright stems have been damaged by wind and weather – but the new growth is already starting, so now is the perfect time to get out there and cut them down.

If you leave it much longer, these buds will start to grow, and before you know it, it will be impossible to get the old stems off without damaging the new – so grab your secateurs and get out there now!

It's really easy to do: just follow each dead stem down to the base, and carefully snip it as close as you can to the new growth, taking care not to damage those new leaves. Don't pull out the dead stems, as you are likely to uproot small sections of the plant if you do so: snip them off neatly, as low as you can.

While doing this, if you find any really dead, blackened stems from previous years – possibly when you didn't get out in time to cut them very short, and had to cut them at ankle height – pull gently on them, and with luck they will come out cleanly. This reduces congestion, and allows better air circulation at ground level, which helps the plant to avoid mould and other diseases.

The seeds should all be long gone by now, so the parts you remove are ok to go in the compost – and if you should, accidentally, break off any parts of the plant that are starting to grow, don't waste them: snip off the dead top stem, and pop them into small pots of compost, or even just push them into the ground nearby. Many of them will happily grow on, and in a few months you will have strong new plants to give away, to swap, or to add to the garden.

The photos above show a good sized clump with the dead brown flowers hovering above – this is what most people have, at this time of year. (Can you see how far I've got with clearing up the bed?!) The other photo is the “after” picture, showing what you should have left.

One final question – the common name for S. spectabile is Ice Plant: why? why? The foliage is green, the flowers are pink, where does the “ice” come into it? Mind you, “Stonecrop” is not exactly an accurate descriptive name, either! Even worse, S. telephium is, incomprehensibly, commonly known as “Orpine”. Commonly known? Do you ever refer to this plant as Orpine? I just call the whole lot of them Sedums and leave it at that!

Comments (4)

  1. Grower

    Good Earth Gardens

    Hi Rachel!

    I've just written about how I've left my Sedum seed heads for another day! But yes I love these plants and yes I've accidentally broken off parts and then planted them to produce new plants. :-) I always thought it was the star-shaped flowers that reminded me of 'ice' or even the white-pink colour reminding me of coconut ice! (Perhaps a bit too much imagination going on here...) I just googled it now and apparently it might be because the stems have a frosted appearance. This seems an odd attribute to choose to give the plant its common name though. Perhaps there are other reasons?

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi, Good Earth Lady!

    That's the best part about advice, once we are grown-ups: "it's free, and you can disregard it" !

    Many people like to leave their Sedum heads up right through until spring, for the birds to take the seeds (check!) or just for the "frost display", and of course it depends whereabouts in the country you are, and what sort of microclimate you have in the garden... round here, they are starting to grow, even this early, and I find the biggest problem is when people don't cut them down in time, and then damage the new growth by trying to get the old dead ones out. So I thought I'd remind people that it was time to take a look, but you are quite right, I should have started by suggesting that gardeners go out and take a look, to see if theirs are sprouting yet.

    I like your suggestion of coconut ice! That seems a perfectly believable explanation.. oh, hang on, how long has coconut ice been around (quick googling) oh! it seems to have been invented post-WW1 as a sweet treat for sugar-starved people, rejoicing in the eventual end of rationing. Hmm, maybe that's not the real answer - shame!

  3. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Hi Rachel
    I love sedums too, and in my previous garden I used to have the dark leaved ‘Purple Emperor’. I did find though that it tended to flop despite being pinched in the spring, not sure if that had anything to do with it being in a rather shady space? I would like to have a couple of sedums here in my new garden too, where I have much more sun, and I would certainly like some dark leaved. I am also planning some of the creeping, evergreen ones, there are lots of nice ones like several varieties of Sedum spurium, I have ‘Dragon’s Blood’ and John Creech’ on my wish-list.

  4. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Helene,

    I think that "Sedum Flop" ought to have its own page in those books on Plant Problems - so many of them seem to do it!

    I've successfully done the "pinch out the centre ones" routine many times: where you pinch or snip the central stems down to an inch or two in late spring, the principle being that they grow shorter and stouter as a result, and therefore are less likely to flop open later in the summer.

    Generally speaking, the worst "floppers" are old, large clumps: so although it seems a shame, sometimes the best way to cure this problem is to dig up the whole plant and split it into smaller ones. I generally do this in spring ("oh! when will it ever be spring!") so that they can settle down through early summer.


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