How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Sedum Flowering Plants
Sedum flowers can brighten up just about any garden. But growing them can be challenging if you've not grown them before. There are several factors you'll need to plan for before adding them into your garden. In this article, gardening and flower expert Taylor Sievers walks through every step you'll need to follow for a perfect Sedum bloom during your next growing season.
Succulents, succulents, everywhere! If you’re hip on trends in the gardening industry, or simply like to lurk on Pinterest, you’ve undoubtedly come across Sedum species while scrolling through categories featuring succulents or houseplants. Sedums are not usually the showstopper succulents (like cute “hens and chicks”, a funky mini cactus, or the large aloe plants), but they sure provide a lot of value as a “spiller” trailing out of a pot or acting as a groundcover in a rock garden or xeriscape.
Sedum species belong to the Crassulaceae family—a family known for their simple, thick, and succulent leaves arranged in a whorl-like appearance. The common name for the family is the Stonecrop family, because of the family’s nature of inhabiting rocky outcrops and clefts. Sedum, kalanchoe, “hens and chicks,” as well as many of the trendy houseplants known simply as “succulents” (Crassula spp., Echiveria spp., etc) belong to this family.
To clear up some taxonomic confusion, here’s a little note: Once a part of the Sedum genus, the upright succulent shrubs also known as showy stonecrops (the most popular variety known as ‘Autumn Joy’) are now classified into the genus Hylotelephium.
Sedums are known for their heat and drought tolerance, as well as their ability to attract pollinators, like butterflies and bees. They are perfect candidates for rock gardens and a forgiving plant in the landscape for the beginning gardener. Read on to learn more about these easily-propagated plants!
Sedum Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous Perennial
Native Area North America, Asia, Europe
Hardiness Zone USDA 3-11
Exposure Full Sun
Maturity Date Varies
Growth Rate Moderate
Plant Spacing 12-24 inches
Planting Depth Surface Sow
Plant Height 2-10 inches
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Few Problems
Tolerance Cool to Warm Climates
Soil Type Mostly Sandy or Rocky, Shallow Soil
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Plant With Xeriscape Plants
Don’t Plant With Competition intolerant plants
Species album, makinoi, lineare, ternatum
Sedums are native to many regions of the world, though it’s unclear when these plants began to be used ornamentally, which is their main use today. However, a few species have been recorded in medicinal and herbal traditions throughout time.
S. sarmentosum was used in Asian folk medicine to treat chronic inflammatory diseases like chronic viral hepatitis. Many countries use a variety of Sedum species in salads and soups. In East Asia, S. sarmentosum leaves and flowers have been used in a popular vegetable dish called “namul.” The Dutch also used this species in salads due to its sour taste.
S. reflexum was documented by 19th-century German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, and his favorite use for this plant was in soups. North Americans have used S. rhodanthum tossed in their salads.
If you’ve done some searching online for information on Sedums, you’ll likely be pretty confused. That’s because a few popular garden plants that were once considered part of the Sedum genus have now been shifted to their own genus. Once a part of the Sedum genus, the upright succulent shrubs also known as showy stonecrops (a most popular variety known as ‘Autumn Joy’) are now classified into the genus Hylotelephium.
Just be aware that many people still refer to them as “sedums.” They’re known for being more upright and shrubby, but many of the cultural requirements are the same as other Sedum species. In a nutshell, don’t shy away from adding Hylotelephium species to your garden also!
In the United States, you’ll find some Sedums that are native to the areas they inhabit, and still, others that have escaped gardens and naturalized in particular areas. Across species in the wild, there can also be cross-pollination, making plant identification even more difficult.
Sedums are extremely easy to propagate, which adds to their value for the beginner plant propagator. Plants can be propagated via seed, leaf cuttings, and stem cuttings.. Here’s a few tips for each method:
Starting Sedum From Seed
This is not the most popular method due to the ease with which sedum can be propagated by cuttings. However, starting seed can be easy (although slow). Sedum seed is tiny, so the best way to start them is by surface sowing into a pot or propagation tray. Fill your container up with a moist seed-starting mix and lightly press the seeds into the surface. Dust with vermiculite to help keep your seeds from drying out.
To water, you’ll want to make sure you’re either misting or bottom watering until your seeds germinate. Your pot or propagation tray must have holes in the bottom in order to wick up moisture from a water-filled dish or tray below. Otherwise, you can use a spray bottle to periodically mist your seed-starting mix.
Sedum seeds can take almost a month to germinate, so make sure you’re watching your moisture levels. Too much water can cause algae and mold, but too little and your seeds will dry out. Check on them at least once a day and use a clear humidity dome to keep moisture in. You can purchase humidity domes that will fit onto your propagation trays, but you can also use the top of a plastic bottle or Saran wrap to achieve the same effect while also saving some money.
Propagating Sedum by Cuttings
This is the most popular method of propagation for sedum due to the ease with which these species root. You have two options: 1) stem cuttings or 2) leaf cuttings.
To propagate sedum by stem cuttings, choose a healthy stem that is preferably not flowering with 4 or more leaves. Using a clean, sharp knife or pair of snips, clip the stem. Pull off the two lower leaves and clip off the flower head if the plant happens to be flowering. Leave a few leaves on the stem.
You can choose to either submerge the bottom of the stem in water for several weeks or simply plant the stem into a pot full of loose and moist potting mix, whichever you prefer. The two important things to note are to make sure the two nodes where you pulled the leaves off are submerged and additionally make sure to keep the cutting moist, but not soggy, as it begins to root.
Roots will emerge from the nodes where the leaves once were, so that’s why it is important to keep them submerged in potting mix or water. The advantage of rooting cuttings in a jar of water is that you get to see the roots form. Make sure to change the water out every few days to avoid disease issues.
To propagate sedum by leaf cuttings, it’s as easy as plucking one of the succulent leaves off of the plant and plunging the bottom of the leaf into some moist potting mix. Keep the mix moist, but not soggy, just like the stem cuttings. Roots should begin to form in 3 to 4 weeks, and eventually, you will notice small sedum offshoots emerging from the base of the leaf.
When to Plant Sedum Outside
Propagation of Sedum can take place any time of the year due to this genus’ adaptability into the home environment. However, if you wish to plant your sedum outside, then you will need to wait until the danger of frost has passed. Most sedums are deciduous in temperate climates, meaning they will drop their leaves with the change of the season from Summer into Fall.
How to Grow Sedum
Sedum species prefer fast-draining, dry soil. Their thick, succulent leaves are specially adapted for storing water, which allows them to live in dry areas or climates. However, these species are highly adaptable and will grow almost anywhere as long as their roots are not allowed to be soggy for an extended period of time. Fertile soils can cause some plants to become leggy, so reserve the areas of your garden with poorer soils for these species.
Grow your sedum in full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day). They will also tolerate part sun as long as the soil is well-draining.
Sedum species are perfect for xeriscape gardens, rock gardens, or green roof gardens. Xeriscape gardens are typically put in place in arid climates because the plants typically have low water requirements to survive. Rock gardens consist of species that typically creep or sprawl along the ground and are shallow-rooted. Green roof gardens are similar to rock gardens because the species chosen are typically sprawling in nature and have shallow root systems.
If your sedum becomes leggy or rampant in growth, you can pinch the plant back to keep it tidy. Some sedum species will die back in the Fall, so it’s best to remove the old growth after this occurs. This will keep your garden neat and reduce the incidence of disease by removing old plant debris.
Varieties of Sedum
A quick exploration into the world of sedums can quickly leave you feeling overwhelmed. There seem to be so many species, let alone cultivated varieties of each species. Below is a breakdown of some of the most popular species and varieties to simplify your search for the perfect sedum specimen for your garden.
This species is also known as Hardy Baby Tears or White Stonecrop. It is a popular choice for green roof gardens or as a houseplant due to its sprawling nature and rapid growth. The green leaves will have a reddish tinge in the Fall, and the flowers will range in color from white to pink to yellow. Popular varieties are ‘Murale’ and ‘Purpureum’.
S. makinoi ‘Ogon’
This variety has yellow-green, flattened, succulent leaves touted for being edible until flowering. ‘Ogon’ seems to prefer afternoon shade in some climates. It forms a dense mat about 2 inches high and spreads to about 12 inches. The flowers are yellow-green.
S. morganianum Donkey’s Tail or Burro’s Tail
The foliage of this tropical species is evergreen. The stems are trailing with succulent, blue-green leaves and a silvery bloom that rubs off. Stems can reach lengths of 4 feet long and can be rather heavy. The leaves are overlapping and closely whorled, producing a spiral pattern that resembles braiding.
Showy pinkish-red blossoms appear at the end of stems in the Summer, though it is less likely to bloom if grown indoors. This is a great candidate for a hanging basket so the stems can hang down.
S. ternatum Woodland Stonecrop
This flowering succulent is known for its love of rocky areas and white, five-pointed flowers. Woodland or wild stonecrop is creeping in habit, with stems reaching 4 to 8 inches high. The creeping stems will root at the nodes, leaving tiny plantlets after it dies back in the Fall. This species loves damp, rocky ledges in its native habitat.
S. ussurience ‘Turkish Delight’
The foliage color is what makes this variety so eye-catching. The leaves are a burgundy color with a black cast, and the flowers also are a deep red color. Useful for rock gardens and containers, this species only reaches about 4 to 6 inches tall and 6 to 8 inches wide.
S. lineare Carpet Sedum
This evergreen succulent species is native to eastern Asia, and due to its shallow-rooted nature is often used in green roof gardens. Carpet sedum will become leggy if not grown in full sun. The leaves are more linear than most Sedum species, and the blooms of carpet sedum are yellow. Popular varieties are ‘Golden Teardrop’ and ‘Variegatum.’
S. spurium Caucasian Stonecrop or Two Row Stonecrop
This species is evergreen and sprawling, growing 3 to 6 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. The leaves are flattened and toothed near the ends. The leaf color is medium green with a reddish tinge around the edge. In the Fall, the lower leaves will drop but the newer leaves at the top will turn burgundy. Popular varieties of this species are ‘Red Carpet’, ‘Tricolor’, and ‘Dragon’s Blood’.
S. rupestre Rocky Stonecrop
Native to the central and western mountain ranges of Europe, this species is mat-forming, growing 4 inches tall and spreading up to 24 inches wide. The leaves are pointed, cylindrical, and gray-green in appearance, though the foliage will turn reddish in the Fall in cool climates. The flowers are yellow and typically in the Summer. ‘Angelina’ is a popular variety with bright yellow leaves with ginger-colored tips.
Pests and Diseases
The reason why many people love to grow sedums in their containers or gardens is they are not typically bothered by pests and diseases. Of course, any plant can succumb to disease or pests if not grown in the correct conditions, and for sedums, it appears that many problems arise due to root or crown rots.
Rotting of root systems can occur due to fungal or bacterial infections of the plant’s root system. Cool, wet conditions are most favorable to these pathogens, therefore it is imperative that Sedum species be planted in dry or well-draining areas. Full sun is not always a requirement, but it will certainly help to keep the soil on the drier side if you’re planting your sedum in poorly-drained soils of heavy clay.
As a rule of thumb, if your plant is stressed, then it is more likely to succumb to disease and pest infestations. Also, keeping your landscape beds free of dead or decaying plant tissues will reduce disease incidence. This can be done by clipping off dead branches or leaves during the growing season and removing dead plant material in the Fall and Winter in anticipation of new Spring growth.
Aphids are the main pest I’ve seen on my own sedum plants, though they are usually not a problem. Spraying your plants with a forceful stream of water will help knock off these pesky insects. If one of your plants has a serious infestation, you may consider pulling that plant from your garden and destroying it.
Most of the problems I’ve encountered with aphids on Sedum have been when I’ve clipped a stem and brought it inside to propagate as a stem cutting, and in the process, I’ve unknowingly brought in a few aphids. Within a few weeks, those few aphids can multiply and severely infest a plant and neighboring plants. Always check plants that have been outdoors before bringing them inside, because many pests will thrive in the dry, warm conditions of a house.
Collect Sedum seed after the flowers have begun to fade (or turn brown). Snip the flowerheads off and store them in a paper bag as they continue to dry.
However, unless you’re wanting to try your hand at some sort of plant breeding, or you’re just feeling like you want to work on your patience, collecting seed from Sedum species is likely not necessary (or even worth it). These species are so easily propagated by leaf and stem cuttings that you’ll have the best luck propagating Sedum species by cuttings.
Sedum Plant Uses
The most widespread use for Sedums is in the landscape or containers for ornamental purposes. Most Sedums are low-growing, cascading, or mat-forming. They are perfect options for shallow rock gardens, xeriscape gardens, and green roof gardens. The species that cascade (like Donkey’s Tail or ‘Angelina’) are interesting specimens for hanging baskets.
Other cascading types (like ‘Ogon’) look wonderful spilling over the side of a pot. Plants that cascade or drape are known in the gardening industry as “spillers” in the “thriller-filler-spiller” method of container design. Low-growing and mat-forming types like ‘Dragon’s Blood’ look beautiful in the front of borders of landscape beds.
The most important thing to note is the growing zone of your species. While some species are native to the temperate midwestern United States, still others are native to the warm, dry regions of Mexico or even the cool mountains of Europe. One thing is certain for almost all Sedum species—they’re fairly drought tolerant. Throw them in a spot that’s far away from the hose and you’ll likely not have many problems.
Some species are edible, but this is very highly dependent on which species you are growing. In fact, some species are poisonous because of the high presence of alkaloids in their leaves. If you’re unsure about the species you’re growing and whether it’s edible, it’s pretty simple—don’t eat it.
The species Sedum alfredii, a native of South China, has been touted for use in the bioremediation of soils full of toxic metals. S. alfredii will collect and sequester high concentrations of cadmium and zinc in its shoots. Scientists are eager to see if they can transfer the traits involved in S. alfredii’s sequestering mechanisms into new species and hybrids by plant selection and breeding.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do sedums like sun or shade?
Most sedums require full sun (6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day), but a few will tolerate part shade as long as the soil is well-draining. Most sedums are native to regions with shallow, rocky soils or arid, sandy soils, so they are intolerant of waterlogged soils or conditions in which the roots are exposed to too much moisture. This is why they make excellent houseplants and are used in green roof gardens or xeriscapes.
Is sedum a perennial or annual plant?
Sedums are perennials, but a few are native to warmer regions (like S. morganianum a.k.a. Donkey’s Tail), therefore some will not survive the temperate climate winters. Be sure to check the plant tag at the nursery or garden center if you’re wanting a perennial sedum for your area. Some sedums will die back in the Fall and regrow in the Spring, while others are evergreen (keep their leaves throughout Winter). You can always bring them inside to live as houseplants during the Winter, or better yet, pluck a few leaves or stems from your plant and bring the cuttings inside to propagate new sedum plants for next season!
Do sedums spread?
Many sedums are lauded for their excellent mat-forming and spreading abilities because their intended use is as a ground cover in the landscape. Some spread more than others, and some can spread so much that they take over an area. For the most part, they’re easy to manage though if they do spread. Some sedums will spread by dropping their leaves. The leaf will fall onto the soil and root, forming a new plant, which is how they’ve proliferated in the wild.
Is sedum a type of succulent?
Succulents are plants that have thick, fleshy leaves or stems. These “succulent” leaves and stems are water storage organs for the plant, which is why they can survive and thrive in regions of the Earth with intense sun, limited rainfall, and low humidity. For the most part, succulents prefer full sun and dry conditions. They’re popular houseplants because of their low requirement for humidity.
Succulents include a range of plant families and species, including: cacti, Sedum species, kalanchoe, snake plant (a.k.a. Mother-in-law’s tongue), aloe, agave, and Sempervivum species (“hens and chicks”).
If you’re looking for a relatively maintenance-free, pest-free, and easy to propagate plant for your garden, then a Sedum species might be just what you’re looking for! The succulent leaves of many of these species are highly ornamental. As a bonus, they don’t mind being on the drier side, so they make perfect houseplants, too.
Their sprawling habit and shallow-rooted nature also allow them to fill the nooks and crannies of a rock garden beautifully. And the best part about these plants? You can easily share a leaf cutting with a friend so they can enjoy the simple charm of these plants in their own garden, too!