The summer of 2017 has been particularly dry in Seattle. We had a few hours of meager rain over the course of two and a half months and now my garden is sad. I’ve given up trying to keep plants lush and healthy and just water to keep the darn things alive. But while the rhodies sag and the redbuds frown, one genus of plants is lovin’ life: Hylotelephium spectabile (formerly and more commonly known as Sedum). These succulents are soaking up the sun, storing moisture in their cute, rubbery leaves and forming broccoli-like flowers. There are a multitude of sedums that thrive in the Northwest, but here are the ones that are easiest to grow and most reliable for beginning gardeners.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (above photo) is an old stand by and more experienced gardeners often judge them as trite but these low-care beauties reward during the entire growing season. They form foot-tall, fleshy stalks topped by flat flower heads that turn from pink in summer to red later on, then maroon in autumn before fading to brown in winter. As long as ‘Autumn Joy’ is in well-drained, not-rich soil (as in not a lot of compost), they need very little water and broaden every year in a behaved way. In early spring, they form tight rosettes at the base, which signals a good time to cut down dried stalks.
For a variegated alternative to ‘Autumn Joy,’ try either Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’ or ‘Frosty Morn.’ These pretties create not only architectural interest but also foliage variety. ‘Autumn Charm’ has yellow and green foliage, ‘Frosty Morn’ has white and green leaves, giving it a colder tone. Both are hardy in the Northwest climate. I’ve found ‘Autumn Charm’ more robust and easier to design with. I have mine in front of a purple-leaved penstemon and it pops nicely.
A new cultivar called ‘Blue Pearl’ flourished in my yard this year. It’s a slightly more diminutive and leggy version of ‘Autumn Joy’ but emerges in tight stalks of dark blue foliage. The color, particularly in spring, is smokey and mysterious and I can’t stop looking at it! Plus, the blue leaves have mostly held that hue all summer long. In this photo, ‘Blue Pearl’ has not been watered much and still looks dark and healthy. It’s my latest favorite.
Growers have mastered the art of purple foliage in sedums and ‘Purple Emperor’ is the most popular. The stems are skinnier than ‘Autumn Joy’ with purple-red foliage. Coral-pink blooms open in late summer. This cultivar does not fade to brown as elegantly as ‘Autumn Joy’ but does provide a great contrast to yellow-leaved plants like Caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ and can echo lavender colors with flowers like Aster patens.
If you have a favorite, low-maintenance sedum, let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, enjoy the sun!