The Late-Summer Delights Of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

sedum autumn joy in the garden

Are you on the hunt for a dependable plant for your late-summer garden? Look no further than sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’ Come August, its lovely clusters of tiny flowers are just starting to adopt a rosy-pink hue. And best of all, the blooms keep going for weeks, gradually turning a dusty red that’s the perfect compliment to fall.

SUMMER LOVES AUTUMN JOY

There’s so much to like about this sturdy, upright perennial. For starters, it looks cool all summer with its bright green, fleshy foliage and neat rounded shape. Quickly forming large, 2’ clumps in the garden, Autumn Joy acts as a great filler while adding smooth green texture to summer’s colorful flowers.

sedum autumn joy foliage

But the real show starts sometime in mid-August. That’s when sedum’s plate-like clusters of miniature pink flowers begin to appear.

sedum autumn joy flowers

As temperatures cool, they gradually shift from rose to a brick red.

late summer flower of sedum autumn joy

Eventually the plants dry, leaving foliage and flowers that persist well into winter. 

sedum autumn joy flowers with snow in winter

HATE TO WATER? SEDUM IS YOUR PLANT

For those who dislike watering, this plant is for you! Sedum is a succulent, so it’s naturally drought tolerant. Not only can it withstand the heat, it also stores water in its leaves. As a result, watering is rarely necessary. In fact, most people water only occasionally (every two weeks is usually sufficient.) 

Sedum needs very little watering

Like many sun-lovers, Autumn Joy prefers sandy to gravelly soil and good drainage. It actually thrives in dry conditions. Sedum will tolerate some shade in hot summer climates, but too much shade will produce leggy stems that tend to flop over. (By the way, I’ve found that overly-rich soils will produce the same effect.)

Sedum prefers sandy or gravelly soils

I keep my plants upright and healthy by leaving them alone for most of the summer.

PRUNING TO CONTROL BLOOMS

Sometimes, sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ sends up flowers a little ahead of the game. This summer in Maryland, for instance, most of my client’s plants were producing flowers in July. To prevent this, some careful pruning is necessary.

My go-to reference for pruning perennials is Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. She recommends pruning the stems in June (before buds) to control for height and period of bloom. I’ve followed her method for years and the results are a sturdier plant whose flowers reliably appear in early August. It’s a great way to ensure your garden receives a big burst of color at the end of the season.

However, sometimes the blooms come up REALLY early, which was the case this year in Maryland. I made the drastic decision to prune the emerging flowers to a pair of lateral leaves. This left some stubby growth for a few weeks, but the plant recovered, pushing out a flush of new growth followed by flowers a few weeks later.

MAKING BABIES

Want more of a good thing? Autumn Joy is easy to propagate. Simply divide in spring and replant. Or, you can take stem cuttings in summer. The leaves root easily in soil to form new plants.

SUMMER POLLINATORS LOVE AUTUMN JOY

One glance at my crop in the garden and it’s easy to see why pollinators love it. The large, flat clusters of flowers with easy-access nectar are butterfly and bee magnets. Sedum is one of the most active of all the late-summer flowers

butterfly on sedum

UNFORTUNATELY DEER LOVE SEDUM TOO

Autumn Joy is mostly free of pests and diseases, save for some occasional nibbles from slugs or mealy bugs. Its primary predators, however, are deer, who will happily devour it. To protect my plants in deer-infested areas, I net them with black mesh (bird netting). It’s not ideal, but it protects the clumps and allows me to still enjoy the flowers.

Deer love sedum, too

Ready to give sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ a try? Remember – odd numbers read best in a garden because they produce a more natural look. I recommend purchasing 3 or 5 plants and grouping them for the best effect.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ grows in zones 4-11.

 

Up In Smoke: Why Lodgepole Pines Love A Good Forest Fire

Lodgepole pine forest

Lodgepole pine forest

If you’re a homeowner, there’s nothing good about forest fires. But it may come as a surprise to learn that for some species, they’re essential. And one of them is the flagpole-shaped tree known as the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine.

THE SKINNY ON LODGEPOLE PINES

If you’re a skier, you’re probably already familiar with the lodgepole pine. The tall, slender tree often serves as a repository for underwear tossed from the ski lifts. A common sight at higher elevations, the pines pierce the slopes like pencils, while towering over other plants in the landscape.

According to the USDA Forest Service, the lodgepole pine is one of the most widely distributed tree species in western North America. The Rocky Mountain variety, Pinus contorta latifolia, grows in northwest Canada, the Black Hills of South Dakota and as far south as Colorado, central Utah and eastern Oregon.

Distribution map for Rocky Mountain Lodgepole pines

Distribution map of the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine

One look up the mountain and you can’t miss them blanketing the slopes in pure, dense stands. Lodgepole pines don’t leave much room for other species. In fact, their slender, reddish brown trunks are packed so tightly together that their lower branches self-prune as they grow. As a result, they tend to develop thin, narrow crowns of stiff, yellow-green needles.

lodgepole pine forest

Still, despite their impressive heights of 150′ or more, lodgepole pines seldom attain large diameters. In Utah, for example, some 50′ trees have diameters that measure just around 5 inches. Typically, lodgepole diameters rarely reach more than 16 inches. Yet most trees enjoy a lifespan of 150 to 200 years, with some living for over 400.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CONES

So why do lodgepole pines like fire? It’s all about reproduction. As the name implies, all conifers reproduce from seeds that are housed in their cones. In the case of Rocky Mountain lodgepoles, the seeds are located in cones on the uppermost branches. The cones can be closed (serotinous) or open (non-serotinous).

Closed cone/Photo credit: Oregon State University Dept. of Horticulture

Open cone/Photo credit: Oregon State University Dept. of Horticulture

Moreover, depending on what has occurred in nature over time, the type of cone may shift from one to the other.

ALL FIRED UP OVER SEROTINOUS CONES

Most lodgepole forests in North America were established because of fire, in particular in the Rocky Mountains. As a result, in areas prone to fires, lodgepole pines typically bear serotinous cones.

Why? Because serotinous cones are covered with a resin seal that must be melted to open. Forest fires provide the high temperatures the cones need, triggering them to open and release their seeds. 

HOW FIRE CREATES LODGEPOLE FORESTS

Lodgepole pines are generally known as prolific seed producers. In fact, some lodgepole pines can produce up to 9,000 cones in a single growing season. As a result, the thin-barked tree’s susceptibility to fire enables it to release vast amounts of seeds. 

That being said, the trees may have to wait a long time for a fire, leading to a large accumulation of seeds. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for multiple years’ worth of cones to build up on a tree. Luckily for the species, though, the average serotinous cone can remain on the tree for about 15 years, with some lasting for more than 30.

Rocky Mountain National Park

In addition to unsealing its cones, fire creates the perfect soil for lodgepole seedlings. Soils left behind by fire are rich in minerals and organic matter and the winged seeds settle easily into these freshly-prepared beds. As a result, lodgepole pines can develop huge stands with great density. 

New lodgepole pines establishing after fire

And with each new forest fire, the stands regenerate new stands and the cycle continues.

DID YOU KNOW?

The name ‘lodgepole’ refers to the use of the wood in teepees and lodges by native American people. Today, the tree is still a highly desirable source of timbers for rail fences, barns structures and log cabins.

Fence made from lodgepole timbers

 

 

Chesapeake Bay Wildflowers: July’s Top 10 Bloomers

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‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’ – Henri Matisse

For most of my life, I’ve been more attracted to ornamentals than to wildflowers. Even though I’ve noticed many beautiful species in the landscape, I’ve never really taken the time to observe them. You might say, I’ve been wildflower blind. Continue reading

In The Zone: The USDA Plant Hardiness Map Explained

The 1967 Arnold Map/Image courtesy of Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.

Most of us know not to plant watermelons in the mountains or aspen trees at the beach. But, when it comes to the myriad plants available to gardeners and landscapers at the nursery, things can get murky. That’s when a handy tool called the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can make all the difference. Not only can it tell you what plants will survive where, but it can also ensure a year’s worth of success in the garden. Continue reading

How To Pronounce Botanical Names (Hint: It Doesn’t Matter)

Just the other day, I was working with a bunch of Master Gardeners preparing a garden for the county fair when one of them noticed a bare space. Sure enough, in one of the central beds, a group of plants had recently given up the ghost on a prominent corner. In no time, we all agreed that a lacy evergreen would be the perfect replacement. And that’s when I suggested chamaecyparis. Continue reading

How To Build A Perfect Lawn: A Maryland Turf Expert Speaks Out

When it comes to experts on lawns, University of Maryland’s Chuck Schuster is a cut above. Not only is he an educator in commercial horticulture, but he also consults on grass with many nursery, greenhouse, turf and garden center industries. Oh, and in his spare time he provides guidance on turf protection to some of the largest stadiums and sports complexes in the Washington, DC area. Continue reading

Father’s Day 2019: Lessons Learned From A Life In The Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real business began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. And my sister and I were a key part of his crew. Continue reading

The Difference Between Bees, Wasps and Hornets

What’s the difference between bees, wasps and hornets? You may be surprised to learn that some are masquerading as imposters. Take yellow jackets for instance, whose yellow and black stripes speak bee when in fact they are wasps. In the natural world, though, all three serve a purpose. So before you reach for the chemical spray, please see below. Continue reading

Topiary Gardens: 6 Great Ideas From The Gardens Of Eyrignac

You would almost believe you’d dropped into a fairy tale. France’s valley of the Dordogne boasts a bucolic green countryside that has long inspired painters, authors and poets. Home to the deep green Dordogne river, tiny rural villages and medieval castles perched high on hilltops, it is also the site of one of the most famous topiary gardens in France, the spectacular Gardens of Eyrignac. Continue reading

Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

This is one of my favorite all-time stories. And even better, it’s true. It’s the tale of a mother and daughter, 500 white carnations and the founding of Mother’s Day. Continue reading