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Sedum, a Colorado Natural

By Margaret Page Culver, Master Gardener with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

There always seems to be one place in the garden where hardly anything thrives.

It might be that it's too hot or the soil is poor or rocky. Maybe the hose or sprinklers don't quite reach the area.

Planting sedum may be the solution to your problem. Dr. James Klett, horticulture specialist at Colorado State University, has studied sedum for more than twenty years. He finds sedums well adapted to Colorado's dry climate and low humidity. Moreover, his plant evaluation tests show sedum bring late fall color to the garden when other plants are losing theirs.

Sedum, also known as Stonecrop, is a genus of about 400 species. Found in the mountains of the northern hemisphere or in arid regions of South America, sedums are usually succulents. Their leaves vary in color from medium green to bronze to gray-green. Sedum flowers, usually small and star shaped, are borne in clusters increasing their showiness. Colors range from white to yellow to bronzed pinks and purples.

Cultivation of sedum is a gardener's dream. Most root easily from stem cuttings. Even detached leaves will root and form new plants. They thrive in slightly alkaline soil and full sun though many
accommodate part shade as well. Give them good drainage.

Several species grow only to two or three inches in height making them especially useful as a groundcover or in rock gardens. Although any number of sedums grow well in Colorado, outstanding performers are Sedum acre, S. kamtschaticum, S. herbstfreude and S. spurium.

Sedum acre, known as "Golden carpet" or "Goldmoss," grows vigorously to no more than five inches in height. The species has trailing, mid-green leaves and is covered with tiny yellow flowers in
June and July. It is lovely between stepping stones, as a groundcover, or trailing over dry walls. Watch it's reach as it can be invasive.

A colorful beauty is Sedum kamtschaticum or "Orange stonecrop." This chameleon displays glossy green foliage in spring and summer that change to a brilliant orange-red in fall. It reaches twelve inches in height, and forms clumps of about two feet. The yellow flowers of May and June transform to bright red seed capsules that persist through July.

Especially loved by Colorado gardeners is S. 'Herbstfreude', known as "Autumn Joy." This tall sedum has 18-24 inch stems making it appropriate for perennial borders. It's gray-green leaves make a perfect background for its large clusters of flowers in early autumn. As the days grow cooler, the flowers change from deep pink to pinkish bronze to copper-red. Many gardeners like to leave this plant uncut all winter to capture and sculpt the fallen snow.

S. spurium has red stems and medium-green leaves. It grows about four inches high and about twenty-four inches wide. Its star-shaped pink, purple or white flowers grace any summer garden. Try using this sedum as an underplanting for fall crocus. While S. spurium spreads rapidly, it is not quite as invasive as S. Acre. Cultivars include 'Bronze carpet' and 'Dragon's blood.'

All these sedums are hardy for USDA Zone 4 foothill gardeners and Autumn Joy can be grown in Zone 3 mountain areas.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010