Succulents–those water conserving mainstays of the dry garden–are having a moment. You may have seen them in design magazines, planted in everything from egg cups to birdbaths. But on-trend or not, creeping sedums and sempervivums are flexible, sculptural plants perfect for hot, sunny spots where other plants would wither.
Sedums and Sempervivums
Stonecrop (Sedum spp.) has fleshy, thick leaves that help it conserve water. With foliage colors that range from true green to chartreuse to blue green to burgundy, sedums can be used alone or as several varieties mixed together. Many also flower, which adds an additional color to the mix. Most grow in the 6″ to 12″ range; don’t confuse them with upright versions Sedum spectabile and S. telephium.
Creeping sedums are shallow-rooted, which makes them well suited to shallow containers and rock gardens. Some will trail delightfully over the edge of a pot or cascade over a wall.
Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), also known as houseleek, has a star-shaped form. The central rosette (the hen) is surround by small new rosettes (the chicks). Sempervivum leaves might be green, burgundy, purple, or a combination of these colors. “Cobweb” varieties sport fine, cobweb-like hairs on the rosettes.
When ready to flower, a hen elongates, standing taller than the surrounding rosettes. After its flower fades and it sets seed, that particular rosette dies. A replacement rosette soon takes its place.
Both creeping sedums and hens-and-chicks thrive in hot and dry spaces, including rocky ones. Too much water makes them rot.
As a groundcover
A single variety of creeping sedum makes an excellent groundcover for a sunny site. While they look great en masse, creeping sedums can also fill in spaces around stepping stones. In rocky spots, creeping sedums and hens-and-chicks can soften crevices and stone walls. For use as groundcover, we especially like Sedum acre ‘Aureum’ and S. sexangulare, both with bright yellow flowers.
As a tapestry
A sedum tapestry is a terrific way to maximize texture in an open space or on a hot, exposed slope. Choose at least three sedums of different colors and leaf shapes, then plant individual plants in a mixed arrangement. Over time, the sedums grow into each other, covering the ground.
Among our favorite sedums for this technique are S. spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ and ‘Fuldaglut’, S. rupestre ‘Angelina’, and S. cauticola ‘Lidakense.’ Tuck a few hens-and-chicks in for even more texture. After plants are established, the only care you’ll need to do is occasionally cutting back the more vigorous varieties from ones that are being muscled out.
In a Container
Given bright light, both sedums and hens-and-chicks will thrive in container. While you can bring them inside periodically, these hardy plants can stay outside year round. We prefer to use shallow containers, like a wide terra cotta pot or a birdbath, to keep plantings in scale. But these combos will also look gorgeous in more upscale containers, like old silver or pewter serving ware.
To ensure your plants don’t rot, make sure the container you choose has good drainage, and use a little sand in your potting mix. You can also use a succulent-specific potting mix. Most importantly, don’t overwater; 2 to 3 times a week should be enough.