Super-hero Sedum Autumn Joy
There are a very few perennials that can be used successfully in a commercial landscape setting, and Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is one of them. The current botanical name is listed as Hylotelephium telephium, but have never seen it used in the trade. Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ will do just fine, unless you are a botanist. Autumn Joy Sedum can perform almost as well as any woody ornamental ground cover. The reason it is successful is because it transforms every season.
Every seasonal change for this plant provides a new, interesting chapter. In early spring it sprouts lots of tiny rose-like, blue-green, succulent foliage buds. The bud phase is the one time of the year when substantial maintenance is required. It’s a heads up for you to clip back the dry, spent stems from the previous year. The old flower stems are left until early spring, because they are hollow. If cut in winter, they might funnel too much moisture into the root crown. Buds emerge almost as early as Crocus bloom. The tight formation allows the plant to withstand some late frosts.
By late spring, the foliage has formed into a neat, tight, refined, Martha-Stewart-green mound. The succulent foliage is fun to touch. It has drought tolerance, and established plants do not need supplemental water during dry spells. There is no need to stake the heavy branches as the mound increases in size. The stems are quite sturdy and hold up well, unless it is an especially rainy growing season. Most herbaceous plants with large flower heads don’t stand on their own. Bravo, Autumn Joy!
Whitish flower florets start to form in early summer toward the tips of the stems. Autumn Joy takes on a broccoli-like appearance. As the individual flowers ripen over several weeks, they turn deepening shades of mauve-pink. The pinkish-orange mature flower color contrasts nicely with the blue foliage. Eventually the profuse flower heads shoot up and float above the foliage. Despite all the changes, the individual plants still retain a compact, dense form. But wait, there’s more!
After the first heavy frost, the blooms burn to an orange-brown and begin to dry out. The succulent foliage shrinks, falls away, or disintegrates. The remaining flowers at the end of the brown stems look especially nice under snow. You can leave the dried stalks and blooms in place for winter interest. The lingering debris begins to blacken and look a bit messy just about the time new buds begin to form to start another year. The crowned, flat clusters of the dried blooms are attractive in a wintry way when nothing else is showy.
Autumn Joy Showy Stonecrop is definitely the super hero of the perennial world. You can try other cultivars of the species, but they will not have the reliable vigor of Autumn Joy. You can try one of the many different species of Stonecrop, but they will not have the visual impact of Autumn Joy. There is no off-season for Autumn Joy.