If we had to rate a stone and a stonecrop plant comparatively for low care characteristics, the stone would be first and the stonecrop a close second. Stonecrops are part of the very large and diverse Sedum genus in the Crassulaceae family. Many varieties of sedums have recently become very trendy pot and garden plants.
Some of the carpet-forming sedums are also planted to create living roofs, which helps with insulation in some countries. A simple definition would be that stonecrops are perennial plants with thick succulent leaves and fleshy stems, and are known for extreme cold and drought hardiness. Low-growing sedums spread along the ground creating mounds and carpets of succulent foliage that can change colour according to the season and temperature.
They can flower profusely from late spring to autumn, with clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers so beloved by pollinators. These ground-hugging sedums are often used in xeriscaping (designs relying only on natural rain water), within gravel garden patterns, in between the soil pockets created within a rock garden, in cracks and crevices of stone walls, between low-foot-traffic paving stones, or in pots to become part of a collection or just a lovely display to please the senses.
Sedums are known to be:
- Easy to propagate. Just clip off a stem and push it into the soil. For faster results, a patch can be lifted, divided and replanted;
- Adaptable to harsh growing conditions, which means shallow and poor soil, exposed sites and winter cold;
- Tolerant to full sun as well as morning sun and afternoon shade;
- Partial to very well-draining soil;
- Non-tolerant to overwatering (rather err on the dry side) and over fertilising (just add a few slow-release fertiliser granules when planting them and let go!).
More about these plants… Because there are so many sedums described (400 – 500 and counting), we had to use strict constraint and played around with only seven beauties for this article. Sedum acre ‘Aureum’ (golden stonecrop) or Sedum acre ‘Angelina’ – it is known as both in the nurseries Undulating, carpet-forming groundcover with tiny elongated green succulent leaves. The stem tips turn yellow in spring and small star-shaped yellow flowers appear in early summer.
Sedum spurium ‘Red’ (dragon’s blood stonecrop)
Spreading groundcover forming a thick patch of bronze to deep-red scalloped leaves. Ruby-red star flowers appear in summer. This red stonecrop can become deciduous in winter, and scraggly stems and old flowers can be lightly sheared in early spring to encourage fresh growth. More shade tolerant than other sedums.
Sedum album ’Athoum’ (white stonecrop)
This sedum forms plump rosettes of olive-green, jelly bean-like leaves that can sometimes turn rusty red in hot conditions. The plant has a slightly vining growth habit and is evergreen. The tiny white flowers appear in summer.
Sedum spurium ‘Schorbuser Blut’ (crimson stonecrop)
This is the star amongst the red spuriums, with deeply lobed burgundy foliage intensifying in colour in winter. Red flower buds appear in spring, opening up to bright pink flowers in midsummer to autumn. It is extremely hardy to cold and frost but can sometimes become semi-deciduous.
Sedum rupestre ‘Blue Spruce’ and S. rupestre ‘Blue Spruce Erecta’ (blue spruce stonecrop)
By far the best icy-blue foliage colour amongst all groundcovering succulents. The sharply pointed leaves are densely packed on thick, curving stems that love to cascade over rocks or pot rims. In summer, deep mauve-pink stems rise up to 25cm above the prostrate plant and are topped with bright yellow flowers.
This is a very vigorous and fast-growing sedum. S. rupestre ‘Blue Spruce Erecta’ has the same characteristics but the stems are less lax and more upright growing.
Sedum tetractinum ‘Coral Reef’ (Chinese sedum)
Small rounded leaves have a colourful combination of bright green tinged with red, a pretty package that intensifies to a rich reddish-bronze in winter. This carpet-forming sedum produces tiny yellow flowers in summer.
Make your own succulent soil mix
Succulents and cacti prefer fast-draining potting mixes, which are commercially available at garden centres. It is, however, easy (and more economical) to mix your own – especially if you are planning on growing a lot of plants.
Succulent soil mix recipe
- 3 parts regular potting soil
- 2 parts coarse river sand or grit
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part compost
- Use a trowel to mix all the ingredients together.
- Don’t use building or beach sand.
- Perlite is a cheap soil additive that lightens the mix and enhances drainage.
- Using compost is optional, but I find that it also helps to keep the mix light and well-draining and is a great way to bulk up the potting soil a bit.