Wednesday, 15 December 2021

It's Sedum Time!

This is one of those articles which can be read and actioned at any time from late November, through to about February-ish, depending on the weather, an on our personal choice. 

Or, in my case, depending on When The Gardener Has Time To Do It! 

Many of us have the tall border Sedums such as S. spectabile in our gardens – they are extremely reliable, very forgiving, tough as old boots, capable of withstanding drought, poor soil, disruption, digging dogs and general neglect, and they still come up with flowers every year. Best of all, they are a magnet for butterflies and insects in the summer, and the birds enjoy clearing the seeds out from the dying flat-topped flowers in autumn. 

My personal favourites are the dark purple-leaved varieties: left.

There's a nice one called S. telephium ‘Atropurpureum’, with lovely purple leaves, and dark pink flowers: and even better is the cultivar 'Purple Emperor' whose leaves are really dark and shiny, lovely! 

I'm not entirely sure what these ones are, as they are old plants, but I would not be surprised if they were 'Purple Emperor'.

Regardless of their foliage colour, at this time of year they are looking sad and horrible – all dead and brown on top, and many of the upright stems have been damaged by wind and weather – but the new growth is already starting, so now is the perfect time to get out there and cut them down:  not least because it makes it easier to rake out those pesky fallen leaves!

It's really easy to do: just follow each dead stem down to the base, and carefully snip it as close as you can to the new growth, taking care not to damage those new leaves. Don't pull out the dead stems, as you are likely to uproot small sections of the plant if you do so: snip them off neatly, as low as you can.

While doing this, if you find any really dead, blackened stems from previous years – possibly when you didn't get out in time to cut them very short, and had to cut them at ankle height – pull gently on them, and with luck they will come out cleanly. This reduces congestion, and allows better air circulation at ground level, which helps the plant to avoid mould and other diseases.

The seeds should all be long gone by now, so the parts you remove are ok to go in the compost – and if you should, accidentally, break off any parts of the plant that are starting to grow, don't waste them: snip off the dead top stem, and pop them into small pots of compost, or even just push them into the ground nearby. 

Many of them will happily grow on, and in a few months you will have strong new plants to give away, to swap, or to add to the garden. 


The photo on the left here, shows a good sized clump with the dead brown flowers hovering above – this is what most people have, at this time of year, right through the winter.

This photo was actually taken in February, and you can see that I'd been called in to clear a very weedy, mossy, congested bed: can you see how far I've got?!!?


This photo - right -  is the “after” picture, showing what you should have left. 

Just the knobby new growth, or - in this case - just the smallest of new shoots, with all those dead stems neatly clipped away.

Now, I am aware that some people will say "ah, but  you should leave those dead brown heads, as the little birdies like to eat all the seeds."

But, despite at least 18 years of gardening professionally, and a lifetime of watching little birdies, I can say - hand on heart - that I have never, ever  seen a bird taking the seeds from a Sedum head. Not when they are dead and brown, not when they are fresher and still colourful.

Not once. Not ever. Never.

So I am utterly ruthless with my pruning of Sedum - as soon as they go brown and icky looking, I chop them off.

There's another reason for such ruthlessness (side issue: why aren't I Ruth, instead of Rachel? Equally biblical, if biblical was what my mother was aiming for: and then I could, amusingly, be Ruth the Ruthless Gardener. It has quite a ring to it, don't you think?) (apologies for the digression, back to the  plot...) 

Yes, the other reason is that if you leave it until spring, these buds will start to grow.

This photo - right - was taken in early March: you can see the primroses flowering! But the point is, the new, tender, soft, fleshy growth is already a couple of inches high, making it impossible to get the old stems off without damaging the new.

So don't wait too long – grab your secateurs and get out there now! 

One final question – the common name for S. spectabile is Ice Plant: why? why? The foliage is green, the flowers are pink, where does the “ice” come into it? 

Mind you, “Stonecrop” is not exactly an accurate descriptive name, either! Even worse, S. telephium is, incomprehensibly, commonly known as “Orpine”. 

Commonly known? Do you ever refer to this plant as Orpine? Have you ever heard that name, before?! 

I just call the whole lot of them Sedums and leave it at that!


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