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Too Much of a Good Thing - Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Too Much of a Good Thing - Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

I heard that the key to parenting is to make each child feel like they’re your favorite. I think this applies to plants as well. Some plants think that I favor them because I lavish so much attention on them, others think that I favor them because they are repeated all over my garden. Some think that they’re my favorite because they bloom when nothing else looks good, and some think they’re my favorite because no one else grows them and I specifically chose them.

I do have a favorite plant (please don’t tell them, I am relieved that plants can’t read). My favorite plant is Sedum spectabalis ‘Autumn Joy.’

It’s beautiful, it’s easy to divide, it grows well in the shade (shade delays flowering and if they get no sun they will be a little floppy, but they still look good and their succulent leaves add variety to hosta and ferns), it looks good the entire growing season, it attracts butterflies like mad, its flowers provide winter interest, and it blooms when many gardens start to look a little sad (early September for me).

It divides very well, and small divisions made in spring will usually be flowering size by September. The stems and leaves are incredibly easy to root. Not only will fresh cuttings root, but individual leaves will create new plants. If you take a single stem before it starts to yellow and put it sideways in a container with potting soil, you will probably have a new plant next spring.

I have too much of it. I bought six rooted plugs one spring about 20 years ago, and they were a little bigger than shot glasses. I have been dividing and propagating them for years. I have given them to friends, donated them to my garden club’s plant sale, and planted them around my garden. I have over 50 huge plants in my quarter acre garden.

I don’t think the excess looks bad. It’s a pretty plant and having dozens of them creates a rhythm throughout the garden - although it does look like a bit like a monoculture. The reason I decided to reduce their presence is because they take up room that could be devoted to another plant.

Planning for the entire season.

Constant bloom is tricky. You need to always have a flower in bloom, but the non-blooming plants are still there. I have found that perennials look a lot better before they bloom than they look afterwards. Sedum’s succulent growth always looks good. It starts of as a pretty rosette and it growth is very polite and upstanding. The broccoli-like flower buds start to show in early August, and they add lightness and texture to the border. The flowers start off a warm pink and the color deepens to match fall colors. They look great until frost, and even then they look pretty good (some sources rhapsodize about their winter interest - I am not as enthusiastic).

Most plants look better before they bloom than they do afterwards, but early bloomers sell better. Nurseries cater to clients who are enthusiastic in May and June, so they sell a lot of peonies and iris. Most people will only buy plants that are in bloom, and no one wants to dig in new plants in the hottest part of the summer. The result is that most gardens start to look haggard by the end of July. ‘Autumn Joy’ goes a long way towards keeping a garden cheery all season.

Because of its many virtues, I have jammed ‘Autumn Joy’ all over the garden. Did I mention that it’s far more shade tolerant than the label suggests? I know this because I have grown it everywhere. I need to remove some of it in order to make room for plants that bloom during lulls or give my September garden more variety. I need to round out my garden’s space-time continuum.

I am going to start now, as it’s beginning to bloom. Digging and dividing during bloom is usually not a good idea, but this plant can take it. I am going to start with the walkway on the south side of my garden. The walkway is about 40’ long and one side of the border has 15 huge plants. I am going divide the plants in situ, so I will have tons of new plants and hopefully the border will still be in lush bloom.

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