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David Trinklein
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9631

Sedum: The Ultimate Low-Maintenance Plant

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

September 25,2023

minute read

pink flowers

(Credit: Pixabay)

The goal of many gardeners is to find an attractive, "no maintenance" plant. Since the latter likely does not exist, low-maintenance plants are the best alternative. The sedums (also known as stonecrop) provide gardeners with some of the best low-maintenance plants in existence. Not only can they withstand extreme heat and drought, but some are also winter hardy as far north as USDA hardiness zone three. In short, sedums are about as low-maintenance as plants can get.

green and red foliage

The sedums are as close to "no maintenance" as plants get. Pictured is 'Dragon's Blood' which makes an excellent ground cover for arid locations. (Credit: Shutterstock)

A member of the plant family Crassulaceae, Sedum is a genus of succulent, herbaceous perennials with fleshy, flat, or rounded leaves, depending on the species. The genus name comes from the Latin word sedeo meaning "to sit" which references the habit of many of the sedum species to sprawl over the ground. The genus is thought to contain as many as 400 species most of which are native to the northern hemisphere. Some of them spread along the ground and achieve a mature height of only an inch or two. Other species display an upright growth habit to a height of about 24 inches. Many sedum cultivars prized by gardeners today are hybrids between different sedum species.

The sedums are true succulents, meaning they have both morphological and physiological adaptations that allow them to survive hot, arid conditions. The taller sedums produce large clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers, in white, yellow, pink, or red and can be used in borders or pollinator gardens. Because they tend to bloom in late summer and into fall, they are excellent for extending the flowering season of a pollinator garden.

pink flowers with bumble bee

Because they bloom late in the growing season, sedums are excellent for extending the availability of flowers for pollinating insects. (Credit: Flickr Creative Commons)

Although they also bear flowers, the low growing, spreading sedums originally were grown for their foliage. They spread via roots which form on their horizontal, creeping stems. Spreading sedums are ideal for sunny slopes, in rock gardens, as low-maintenance ground covers, and even for green roofs. Sedums withstand only light foot traffic and should not be planted where they will be subject to damage by humans.

Sedums are easily grown in full-sun settings with average, dry to medium, well-drained soils. As true succulents, sedums must have good soil drainage to perform well. Sandy to gravelly soils of average to moderate fertility are preferred. As mentioned above, they are extremely heat and drought tolerant but can withstand some light shade. Plants grown in overly rich soils or in too much shade will produce weak, floppy growth.

railroad tracks with green and red foliage in between rails and ties

Because of their ability to thrive in extreme conditions, sedums can be used in a variety of ways. Pictured is sedum being used as a colorful groundcover between railroad tracks. (Credit: Andreas Schwartzkopf)

Sedums are relatively pest-free. However, because of their succulent leaves and stems, slugs and snails can become problematic. Root rot is possible in wet and/or poorly drained conditions. Taller sedum hybrids with large flower heads are susceptible to flopping. This can be avoided by providing full sun conditions and planting in soils that are not too moist or rich. Pinching in spring can also force stems to grow thicker and bushier.

Following are 10 of the more popular cultivars of sedum, along with brief descriptions.

Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant'–Recently reclassified as Hylotelephium spectabile, 'Brilliant' often is referred to as "live-forever." It is a succulent herbaceous perennial which typically grows in an upright to semi-upright mound on unbranched stems rising to 18-24" tall. It bears fleshy, flat, coarsely toothed, elliptic, and dull green to blue-green leaves (to 3" long). Stems are fleshy and blooms consist of clusters of tiny, star-like, pink flowers (to 1/2" across) which appear from late summer to frost (August-October) in dense rounded flower heads. Flower color fades to burgundy, brown as the flowers age.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'–Also recently reclassified into the genus Hylotelephium, 'Autumn Joy' is an inter-specific hybrid, clump-forming perennial that features masses of tiny, star-like flowers which emerge pink, gradually change to deep rose-red and then coppery-rust in autumn as they mature. Flowers appear in large, 3-6" across, flattened heads atop stems that bear grayish-green, fleshy, rounded, succulent-like leaves. Growth habit is upright to slightly spreading clumps to a mature height of about 24".

dark pink flowers

'Autumn Joy' is an inter-specific hybrid that adds striking color to the landscape late in the season. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Sedum telephium 'Dark Magic'–'Dark Magic' is a compact, dark-leaved selection of sedum that features dark pink blooms and a narrowly upright growth habit. Mature plants will reach 1' tall and spread to fill a 1.75' area. The small, star-shaped flowers bloom from late summer into fall and are held in dense, terminal clusters reaching up to 7" wide. The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and other insect pollinators.

Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'–'Dragon's Blood' is an evergreen plant that typically rises only 3-6" tall but spreads to 18-24". Its thick, succulent flattened leaves (to 1" long) are toothed near the ends. Leaves are medium green with reddish-tinged margins. Lower stem leaves are deciduous, but newer leaves near the stem tips are evergreen, typically turning deep burgundy in fall for overwintering. Tiny, 5-petaled, star-shaped, pinkish-red flowers (to 3/4" diameter) in dense, 4-branched inflorescences (to 4-6" tall) bloom from late spring to mid-summer. As is the case with many sedums, its flowers are attractive to butterflies.

Sedum 'Rosey Glow'–'Rosy Glow' is a small, spreading sedum. It grows to 8" tall and features fleshy, succulent-like, bluish-green leaves in whorls and clusters of dark ruby flowers which bloom from late summer to early fall.

Sedum kamtschaticum 'Weihenstephaner Gold'–This 'Plant of Merit; is a cultivar that features starry pale-yellow flowers which acquire pink tones with age, blooming in summer on plants clad with and silvery gray-green foliage. It typically grows to only 3-4" tall.

yellow flowers

'Weihenstephaner Gold' is a low-growing sedum covered with starry pale-yellow flowers which acquire pink tones with age. (Credit: Patrick Standish, North Carolina State University)

Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'–Another 'Plant of Merit', 'Angelina' is a yellow leaved cultivar featuring spiky yellow leaves (to 3/4" long) that often sport ginger brown tips. Although it does bloom, the leaves of this cultivar are its main ornamental interest. In cold climates, the leaves usually turn reddish orange in late autumn.

Sedum 'Mr. Goodbud'–An interspecific hybrid, 'Mr. Goodbud' is a cultivar with large 5-6" clusters of vibrant purple-pink flowers (flower buds are almost white) on purple-red stems. The red-tinted foliage forms an upright clump with strong, short stems that resist flopping and remain standing through winter.

Sedum 'Dazzleberry'–'Dazzleberry' is a compact cultivar with blue-gray foliage. Large, brilliant raspberry-colored flowers, ranging in diameter from 6-8 inches, put on a fabulous display from late summer to fall. It is a member of the SunSparkler® series of sedums.

magenta flowers

Mound-forming and with blue-gray leaves, 'Dazzleberry' puts on an outstanding show of color after most perennials have finished blooming. (Credit: Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Sedum 'Firecracker'–Another member of the SunSparkler® sedum series, 'Firecracker' is a hardy, compact cultivar with attractive, cherry-red foliage persisting April through November. It has the ability to form many strong multi-branched stems that keep it upright during the summer. Pink flowerheads, about 4 inches in diameter, appear in mid to late August and remain colorful for almost 4 weeks.

As is the case with most herbaceous perennials, sedums can be planted in the fall. However, plant selection at garden centers and plant nurseries normally is much better in the spring when other bedding plants are featured.

Acknowledgement: Cultivar descriptions courtesy of Missouri Botanical Gardens.

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REVISED: September 25, 2023