Minter: Sedum is the garden’s ‘late summer champion’

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The beauty of these plants is their almost year-round contribution to our gardens or containers, writes master gardener Brian Minter.

The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News by Brian Minter — master gardener, bestselling author, recipient of the Order of Canada and co-owner of Minter’s Country Garden Shop.

Upright and resistant sedums are among the true champions of late summer in our gardens.

There are two herbaceous species that are most commonly planted today, and both are very hardy and tolerate heat and drought. Sedum spectabile varieties are native to Korea and Manchuria and are hardy to at least zone 5. Sedum telephium species, originally found in northern Europe to Siberia, are hardy to zone 5. 2.

The beauty of these plants is their almost year-round contribution to our gardens or containers.

In coastal areas, their succulent new growth appears in January and continues to add color to garden foliage well into late fall and winter. Most varieties bloom from August to September, attracting butterflies and bees, and they are very well used indoors as colorful cut flowers.

As their broccoli-like flower heads finish, they dry out nicely, creating a great fall and winter look. In fact, they can be left on the plant until new growth appears in January and February.

Tall sedums pair beautifully with ornamental grasses, heathers, late blooming perennials and colorful evergreens to add a very sophisticated look to summer and fall gardens. The many new varieties that have appeared in recent years come in a wide range of foliage colors and have very unique flowers.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, with its green leaves and pink flowers, has been the best reserve variety for many years. Sedum ‘Brilliant’ is similar but has more vibrant flower heads. Sedum ‘Neon’ is an even brighter pink-magenta selection that simply shines in the garden.

The darker foliage varieties have really captured everyone’s imagination. Sedum telephium ‘Matrona’ from Germany, with its frosty gray foliage, neat habit and beautiful soft pink flowers, has won many awards in Europe. We’ve grown it for years and love its looks and performance. One of the darkest foliage varieties is St ‘Purple Emperor’, with its rich purple-black leaves that contrast nicely with its pink flowers. Its strong, stiff stems hold up well in the garden.

It’s a bit hard to find, but ‘Xenox’ is another favorite of mine. Its darker foliage is covered in a blue glaze, giving it a waxy gray appearance that really stands out in a crowd. Its pink flowers further enhance this superb plant. New variegated varieties of white and green, such as S. ‘Elsie’s Gold’, are some of the most vibrant you will find.

Another terrific family of herbaceous sedums is the ‘Sunsparkler’ series. All members of this family have a spreading form that acts as a ground cover. What is truly unique about these varieties is their spectacular foliage color. From the intense red of S. ‘Cherry Tart’ and S. ‘Dazzleberry’ to the lime green of ‘Lime Zinger’ and the bright, rich pink of S. ‘Firecracker’, they turn heads. They all bloom beautifully like low carpets; they love the sun; and they can be planted now.

Most garden centers have a good selection of sedum varieties ready to add color and shine to your late summer garden this year and for years to come. They are easy to grow, very disease resistant, pest free and make great environmentally friendly plants.

Combine them with fall grasses and late summer perennials for that wow factor we all appreciate.

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