Grow For It! Sedums: succulent superstars

Bobbie McCaffrey
UCCE Master Gardeners of El Dorado County

Years ago my rather unlikely first exposure to succulents came in a rooftop garden on a six-story building in New York City’s West Village. Planted with a carpet of thousands of sedums topped with tiny yellow, white and purple flowers, the roof was a fairyland in a forest of tall buildings.

Since then, succulents have become remarkably popular the world over, with hundreds of species and even more varieties now available. But I maintain an affection for sedums — hardy, heat-loving, sun-gulping, easy to care for and beloved by pollinators.

Summer heat and dry conditions take a toll on our mid-to-late summer gardens and this year is no exception, especially with the addition of smoke from the wildfires. Many plants are scorched, turning yellow or giving up altogether. Not so with sedums.

Sometimes known as stonecrop, Sedum is a broad genus in the botanical family Crassulaceae, which includes succulent annuals and evergreen and deciduous perennials. The name “sedum” comes from the Latin sedere, which means to sit.

Sedums are found worldwide and have been around for centuries. The Romans are said to have planted them on the roofs of houses in the belief that they would provide protection against thunderstorms. In medieval England, sedum was picked on Midsummer Day and hung from cottage rafters. It was thought to keep distemper away if it remained green until Christmas, as often happened.

Gardeners today grow sedum to enhance garden design and for the enjoyment of the myriad shapes, colors and sizes. They are recognizable by their fleshy, wax-like leaves, some as rounded as jellybeans and others as spikey as starfish. Their foliage colors alone can be quite appealing and range from apple green to bluish to purple or red. As a bonus, many sedums produce delicate, star-shaped flowers that bloom in summer and autumn.

Sedums are typically divided into low-growing and upright species. Low-growing ones such as Sedum acre are often used as ground cover, in rock gardens, on terraces and in roof gardens. You can tuck them along paths, put them in containers and hanging baskets and even have them as house plants. Upright species include Sedum herbstfreude (Autumn Joy) and Sedum spectabile (Stardust). These are often used in borders and beds and have red, pink or white flowers that attract butterflies and bees. Their dried, coffee brown seed stalks are decorative even through the colder months.

Recently many of the common upright types have been shifted out of the genus Sedum into a new genus Hylotelephium, this the result of sophisticated DNA research, with more changes to come. So, for example, the popular Autumn Joy, once classified under the genus Sedum, may now be found in nurseries labeled as Hylotelephium Autumn Joy.

What makes sedum a standout is how well it grows in hot, dry locations in full sun and with very little care. They are easily grown in most soils but require good drainage. Growing zones vary by species, but many species can tolerate a wide range of temperatures — a bonus in a county like El Dorado, which ranges from arid conditions near sea level to Alpine conditions in the Sierra. They are also deer-resistant, another bonus in an environment like ours.

There are a number of sedums on display at the Sherwood Demonstration Garden in Placerville. One example of lovely ground cover can be found in the Butterfly Garden, where S. nudumS. rupestre (Angelina) and S. spurium (Tricolor) can be found soaking up the sunshine and sitting pretty. Enjoy!

Don’t miss our upcoming class titled Homeowners Guide to Fire Recovery, 5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 6. Master Gardeners will present science-based recommendations to help homeowners assess when and how to take action to support the places they love. We will focus primarily on areas of common concern like erosion, fire-damaged trees, reseeding and defensible space. We will also address frequently asked questions and tools to help you assess your property post-fire. Register in advance for this class at  or RSVP by calling (530) 621-5502.

Find the Master Gardeners’ class schedule at and recorded classes on many gardening topics at

The Sherwood Demonstration Garden is open 9 a.m. to noon Fridays and Saturdays through November. Check the website for more details at

Do you want to become a Master Gardener community volunteer? Master Gardeners of El Dorado County will offer a training class starting in January 2022. Recruitment begins in October. Find out more about the program and sign up for an informational meeting at

Have a gardening question? Master Gardeners are working hard to answer your questions. Leave a message on the office telephone at (530) 621-5512 or use the “Ask a Master Gardener” option on the website, To sign up for notices and newsletters visit Master Gardeners are also on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.