Gardening: ‘The hardly little plant of winter time’

Phyl Boyce

Reporter:

Phyl Boyce

Sedums look great year around and can survive well in our cold Irish climate
Sedums have the advantage of looking good almost all the year round. The stonecrop or ice plant, as sedum is commonly called, belong to a family of succulent leafed sun loving plants with fleshy leaves that act as sort of moisture store for the plant.

Sedums have the advantage of looking good almost all the year round. The stonecrop or ice plant, as sedum is commonly called, belong to a family of succulent leafed sun loving plants with fleshy leaves that act as sort of moisture store for the plant.

They are happy almost anywhere, excellent for dry areas of the garden with poor soil, and almost thrive on neglect. Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ is a splendid plant which makes a clump of fleshy stems and leaves. It is a hybrid between sedum telephium and the Chinese Sedum spectabile, it has inherited its smooth, waxy, pale green leaves from its Chinese parent and is an attraction for late summer butterflies and insects to collect their nectar.

The grey succulent new foliage emerges in spring and is visible once the old foliage and flower heads are removed. The stems slowly become fatter as spring and summer progress, the foliage takes on the frosty bloom that gives sedum the name ice plant. The grey flower heads that form in summer are very similar to heads of broccoli and only gradually assume their true colour. In late August, after the foliage is fully developed to a height of 2 feet, each stem is topped with flat heads of starry flowers, deep pink at first, deepening to a bronze red colour in October which continues until the first frost arrives. The old flower heads can be left on the plant to protect the crown throughout the winter. Cutting these flower heads in spring reveals the new growth and the cycle starts all over again. Sedum maximum ‘Atropurpureum’ is a large plant, almost 3 feet tall, with leaves that are deep purple. The purple colour extends into the flat heads of yellow white flowers.

Plant sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ between autumn and spring in ordinary soil, in sun or light shade. It is easily propagated by division in winter or by stem cuttings in spring. Sedums sometimes have a tendency to flop over when the flower heads are in full bloom. This can be remedied by dividing established clumps in the spring or by agitating the roots of the plant with a fork. Because the plant looks so good for so long it can be planted in the herbaceous bed with late flowering plants like solidago or in front of shrubs that have flowered in spring.

There are many small varieties of sedum that are suitable for an alpine bed or on the edge of a trough. Some of these sedums thrive in poor, thin soils and are suitable for rock gardens, troughs, walls and cracks in paving. They require the minimum of attention.

Many succulents, like sedums, have small or insignificant flowers and take a long time to flower. Many succulents are grown for their shape, texture and colour, the flower when it is produced is an added bonus.

Aeonium is a group of quick-growing, small to medium-sized succulents that form rosettes of waxy leaves. They are natives of the Canary Islands, Madeira and North Africa.

They are frost tender and will only survive short periods of frost outdoors so remove to the greenhouse in winter. They need full sun to give the best leaf colouration. Aeonium arboreum has light-green leaves. Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwartzkopt’ (black aeonium) has dark-purple leaves that appear almost black.

Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm)is a frost-tender plant from Mexico. Its swollen base is a form of water storage and the grass-like leaves burst from the top like hair from a girl’s ponytail.

Once these plants have matured, they produce large panicles of tiny white flowers, which mature into creamy or pink-coloured seeds In frost-prone gardens move to the greenhouse in 
winter

Beschorneria is another succulent that comes from Mexico. Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Quicksilver’ forms a compact rosette of lance-shaped leaves that have a blue-green colour and can grow up to 2 feet long. In summer it produces a flower stalk up to 10 feet tall. The flower stalk is bright red in colour with yellow-tinted green flowers.

The plant likes a well-drained soil, enriched with humus and full sun. The plant is frost tender but can survive a few degrees of frost for a short period.