By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Fall has finally arrived in our neck of the woods and the mild sunny days are punctuated by clear blue skies and a parade of technicolor foliage. But for most gardeners, fall usually means that the garden is beginning to look a little rough around the edges. Because our vegetable and herb gardens surround the house the last thing we want is to let things get too ragged looking. Over the years we have grown various perennials around the perimeter of the garden in an attempt to screen and draw attention away from the less attractive bits. Of the many varieties we’ve grown, our fall favorite is a lusty and beautiful sedum that is appropriately named “Autumn Joy”.
Sedums (see-dums), commonly known as stonecrops, are succulent plants characterized by thick fleshy leaves and stems. The “fat” leaves of sedums are used by the plant to store water. So, not only do they give the plants a unique look and feel, but they also allow mature plants to survive – and even thrive – in hot, dry conditions.
Most familiar garden sedums tend to be small, creeping, or prostrate plants. Most are also perennials, though a few annuals do exist. But the sedum known as Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium telephium x ‘Autumn Joy’) is a very large and robust Eurasian perennial that literally stands out among all other stonecrops. In most gardening literature the height of a mature Autumn Joy plant is given as 3 feet, but in my garden, I’ve had Autumn Joy plants that grew as tall as 4 feet with an almost equal diameter.
In fact, Autumn Joy can grow so large that I often need to use supports to prevent the older specimens from falling away from the center and ruining their stately upright appearance. In the following photo you can see how I have bent and tied young, flexible bamboo wands into an artistic dome to cover this young spring plant. As it grows, most of the stems will be fully supported by the cage.
Of course, you don’t have to use a fancy or ornate support as it will eventually be completely covered by foliage, anyway. To make things simple, try using ready-made cages such as a peony rings, which are large and sturdy and will hold the roundish shape of Autumn Joy better than a tomato cage will.
Autumn Joy emerges from winter dormancy in early spring with a plethora of tiny cabbage-like buds. By mid-spring, they are already adding much greenery to the garden and within a very short time Autumn Joy will form a compact leafy mound that does wonders filling in the gaps between early bloomers like salvias and irises.
Although Autumn Joy can be propagated throughout the growing season, spring is the very best time. Propagate Autumn Joy through root division as soon as new growth appears in early spring. If the divisions are large enough, they will rebound quickly and reward you with abundant blooms in the fall. If spring division isn’t possible, or your plants are still small, stem and leaf cuttings are very effective in multiplying your holdings. Just keep in mind that they will need one or two seasons in the garden to grow to their full potential.
There is one more method of propagation that is unique to sedum Autumn Joy. During the summer, before the stems have begun to flower, one or more stems can be broken off at the base, laid on the ground, and covered very lightly with mulch. By fall the leaves will have died back and been replaced by tiny buds. Each of these buds can be pulled off and rooted in pots. Because these tiny plants do not yet have a root system, they will need to be kept warm and moist for the winter months. This can be easily done indoors or with protection from a heated greenhouse. In spring, the young plants can be transplanted to the garden where they will grow with unusual vigor.
Although Autumn Joy sedum is truly a joy year-round, the show really begins in the early part of August when it begins to produce large broccoli-like clusters of flower buds. At first the flowers are pale green to almost white, but ever so slowly the heads turn the most delicate shade of pink and continue to increase in saturation until the last days of fall when they finish off with a deep shade of maroon.
Most people begin to really pay attention to Autumn Joy when the butterflies begin to appear. At first there may be just a few, but within days the plant will be covered in them. They also attract a whole host of beneficials insects such as spiders, bees, parasitic wasps, praying mantises and soldier beetles, as well as a curious hummingbird or two.
As fall arrives here in Oz, I am again reminded of how much I love Autumn Joy sedum. Not only has it kept our gardens filled with beautiful greenery all summer long and entertained us with its masses of flying flowers and beneficial insects, but as the rest of the garden begins to look worn and tattered Autumn Joy is there – yet again – to add beauty, grace and structure to the landscape.
If you’ve never grown Autumn Joy sedum, I think you should give it a try. It is hardy, needs little in the way of supplemental fertilizer or water, and isn’t particularly fussy about the soil it is grown in. All you really need to do to grow this sensational fall beauty is give it lots of sunshine, a bit of support, and a little room to spread its wings.
© 2015 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.