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SEDUM SPECTABILE (ICE PLANT)


The technical name for this plant is Sedum spectabile although it is also known as the Ice Plant.  Some (a very few) seem to think that it is called Hylotelephium spectabile but few in the UK recognise it by that name. To correctly classify it, it's an herbaceous perennial and not really a shrub.

It can spread to 70cm and generally reaches a height of 50cm. The key interest of the plant is the beautiful flowers but the foliage is also very attractive in the correct setting. When the flowers first start to form they are light green colour which slowly turns to their final colour, in the case of Autumn Joy, a deep dark pink. The slow change in colour is a fascination to observe over a few months.

Use the checklist below to decide if a Sedum spectabile is suited to your preferences and garden conditions:

  • An herbaceous perennial which dies down in the winter and regrows the next spring.
     
  • It has a height of 50cm (20in) and a spread of 60cm (24in).
     
  • It is fully hardy in all areas of the UK withstanding temperatures down to -20°C.
     
  • The main interest is from the flowers which are produced in August to October. The greyish leaves are thick and attractive in their own right.
     
  • It does well in light and free-draining such as sandy, chalky and light loams. It does not like clay or heavy soils.
     
  • It definitely prefers full sun.
     
  • Once established, it very rarely requires watering and will tolerate moderate drought.
     
  • The flowers of Sedum spectabile attract butterflies and a number of other insects. This is especially welcome because it does this in late summer when many other flowering plants have died down.
     
  • Disease resistance is excellent with the exception of some possible problems with slugs and snails. Even so, this is not one of their favourite plants.
     
  • It is maintenance free with one exception. That is preventing the foliage and flowers from flopping over especially when it rains.

HOW TO PLANT A NEW SEDUM SPECTABILE


Follow the steps below to ensure your Sedum is planted correctly and in the best position:
  • Choose a full sun position. The plant needs some air circulation so although it will thrive against a wall or fence, avoid planting it in the corner of two walls fences.
     
  • Choose the soil conditions carefully. Sand, chalk or light loam soil which drains well is the key requirement. It's probably not worth planting in heavy clay soils even if it is improved. But by all means, prove us wrong!
     
  • It can be planted all year long if the soil is not frozen. Mid March to April and mid September to October are the best times to plant this shrub.
     
  • Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball. Sprinkle in a handful of blood, fish and bone and work into the ground.
     
  • Place the plant into the hole, filling in with soil so that it is at the same depth as was in the pot. Fill around the rootball and firm the soil down gently but firmly. Water well to settle the surrounding ground around the rootball.

CARE OF SEDUM SPECTABILE


When established a Sedum Spectabile will look after itself. It almost never needs watering except in severe drought and will grow quite happily on average ground without the need of additional feeds.

Sedum spectabile Autumn Joy just prior to reaching full colour
Sedum spectabile before reaching full colour
Picture courtesy of Aberdeen Gardening

The main care it often needs is some help to stop the stems from spreading out from the centre. When this happens the centre looks bare and certainly does not improve the look of the plant. The first course of action is not to feed the plant with any nitrogen rich fertiliser. Sedums thrive on ground which is slightly low in nutrients.

You then have two options, and to a certain degree, that depends on the climate in your area. In warmer climates you will almost certainly find that pruning a sedum spectabile in late May is beneficial. Simply cut the top third of the plant away and leave it. It will flower a couple of weeks later than it would if left to its own devices but it will be a much sturdier and more attractive plant in the long run.

The second option which is probably best in cooler parts of the UK is to provide some support for the stems. It doesn't need to be substantial, and if strategically placed, it will be almost unnoticeable. A few wooden stakes with about 45cm / 18ins above ground will allow you to wrap some green coloured twine around the outer stems of the plant and provide them with enough support to stop the centre opening up.

In February, cut back the flower heads to almost ground level to keep the plant tidy and help to avoid any rot problems to the crown. In their first year the plants will not reach full size but the year after they will.

WHERE TO BUY SEDUM SPECTABILE


Top value Sedum spectabile plants

These plants are available in varying stages of development from almost all garden centres and online plant suppliers. The online supplier we personally recommend for Sedum Spectabile is Crocus.

Rather than where to buy, the real question is probably which variety to buy. We have to admit to being traditionalists when it comes to Sedum spectabile, our choice would always be Autumn Joy. Ours have always performed well and we never hear of others complaining about them.

You may find that 'Autumn Joy' is sometimes sold as 'Herbstfreude', at least that's our understanding. For sure the RHS thinks they are one and the same plant so we'll take their word for it. This alternative name seems to originate from the continent but we doubt it will catch on here. Let's face it, Autumn Joy sums up this plant perfectly.

Sedum spectabile with butterfly
Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'
Picture courtesy of Aberdeen Gardening

The 'Brilliant' series of Sedum spectabile seems to be all the rage nowadays, as far as the garden centres are concerned anyway.

When you have bought one Sedum spectabile there should be no need to buy any more if you want more plants. They are ridiculously easy to propagate. We simply cut off a short non-flowering stem, make a small hole in the ground, place the cutting in the hole, infill with soil and leave it to its devices.

SEDUM SPECTABILE SUMMARY


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of Sedum Spectabile.
 
HARDY 5 star hardiness rating(to -20°C)
   
CLAY SOIL No
SANDY SOIL Yes 
   
DRY SOIL Yes
   
SHADE No, full sun only
   
EVERGREEN No
   
EASY CARE 4 easy care rating
SMALL GARDENS Yes
   
POT / CONTAINER Yes
   
FLOWERING 5 star flowering rating
   
FLOWER TIME August to October

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 02/01/2016 From: Roy
QUESTION: My ice plant looks as if it is dying do I need to cut it back and should I water it at this time of year?

ANSWER: Don't water it at this time of year and don't feed it. If the plant has spead out from the centre, trim off a third of the foliage in May and remove any dead flower heads.


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