By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
The stonecrop is a succulent sedum plant (Sedum spp.), ideal for arid areas of the garden. Growing stonecrops is one of the easier plant projects because of their easy maintenance and low culture requirements. They are in the genus Crassula, which embraces many of our favorite houseplant succulents, like Jade plants, as well as old garden favorites such as Echeveria. The stonecrop perennial plant will thrive in hot sunny locations and reward you with easy color and form.
The family of stonecrop succulents is large and encompasses low growing, trailing plants and tall spiked-flowering plants that may get up to a foot in height. All stonecrop plants have a rosette form and most produce a flower held above the base foliage. The leaves are thick and semi-glossy.
Most stonecrop plants cultivated in gardens have their origins in Europe and Asia, finding their way to North America and other places across the globe through exploration, trade, etc. – many of which having eventually become naturalized, growing freely in nature (as with the wild form, Sedum ternatum). There are also vast numbers of hybrid types available too.
The flowers of stonecrop perennial are rich with sweet nectar and attract bees, moths, and butterflies. The colors range but are usually in the pastel family of hues. Flowers can remain on the plants well into early winter, adding dimension and interest to the succulents even as they dry.
The cultivation of stonecrops is an excellent beginning gardener project. They can grow indoors in sunny warm locations or outdoors. The stonecrop plant is perfect for container gardening, in rockeries, along paths or as part of perennial borders. Stonecrop succulents rarely have any pest problems and are unbothered by disease.
Stonecrop doesn’t have a deep root system and can be buried shallowly in soil. They cannot tolerate competition from weeds and other plants, but a mulch of small stones helps minimize such pests.
The plants need well-drained soil that is rich in organic amendment. Young plants should be watered every few days while establishing but irrigation can diminish thereafter and no supplemental water is needed in fall and winter. If planting in containers, use pots that are unglazed clay to promote evaporation of excess water. Over watering is the most common cause of problems in stonecrop.
The plants need a low nitrogen fertilizer applied a few times in the growing season.
Propagating Stonecrop Plant
Sedums are one of the easiest plants to reproduce and most members of the stonecrop family can be propagated similarly. All you need is a leaf or bit of stem. Planting stonecrop stem shallowly in a very gritty medium or lay a leaf on the surface of sandy soil will result in a new succulent in no time. The plant material will root in just a couple of weeks, producing a whole new stonecrop.
Varieties of Stonecrop
Some of the most common gift and indoor plants are in the stonecrop family. Jade plant has already been mentioned, but Kalanchoe, silver beads, string of pearls and other colorfully named succulents are also in the family. The sedums are one of the largest groups and include Pink Chablis, Carmen, Purple Emperor, and the towering Autumn Joy. Autumn Joy has large flowers on a tall stem that make excellent additions to dried floral arrangements.
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To determine if a plant is sufficiently cold hardy, the USDA created numbered zones indicating winter low temperatures the lower the zone number the colder the winter.
- If the coldest winter temperature expected in your area is -15°F (zone 5) then any plants rated zones 3-5 will survive the winter temperatures in your area.
- If you live in very warm winter areas (zones 9-11) plants with zones 3-4 ratings are not recommended. The lack of freezing winter temperatures do not provide a time for winter dormancy (rest).
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Tips for Growing Cacti and Succulents
Cacti shipped early in the spring may be dormant. As the weather warms, these cacti will expand and green-up. Remember, after an initial watering to settle the soil around the roots, no further water should be applied until the weather warms up. If plants are dormant and the spring weather is rainy, protect the plants from too much moisture by covering them with a gallon plastic milk container with the bottom cut out. Leave the top off the jug so heat build up isn’t excessive in sunny weather.
All the species of hardy cacti and succulents require fast-draining soil.
Planting in the ground
Put the plants on a slope or raised area of the garden, not in a low spot which collects water. Select a bed with full sun exposure, preferably next to a south or west facing wall. These areas will provide extra winter warmth. In heavy clay soils, it is essential to replace half or more of the soil from a 10”x 10” or larger hole with coarse sand and gravel mixed thoroughly with the remaining soil to ensure adequate drainage. No compost should be added, only a small handful of Planters II and Yum Yum Mix®.
Planting in an outdoor pot or planter
Use a planting mix of 3 parts garden soil + 2 parts coarse sand + 2 parts coarse perlite (or similar material). When growing plants indoors in pots, use a good quality potting soil to mix with the sand, and expanded shale instead of garden soil.
1. Cacti, agaves, and tap-rooted succulents (Aloinopsis, Titanopsis, Nananthus) should be transplanted bare-root. Let the soil in the pot dry out for a few days. Then remove the pot and gently loosen the soil so it falls away from the roots. Trim off any broken roots. Bare root plants should then be planted into a shallow hole. Spread out the roots evenly and sprinkle the soil into the hole until full. The base of the plant should rest on top of the soil. Mulch with a 1⁄2”-1” thick layer of pea-sized gravel around the base of the plant to protect it from contact with soggy soil over the winter months. (See planting diagram on page 12 of our Planting Guide.)
2. Succulents with fibrous roots (Ruschia, Delosperma, Sedum, and others) need not be transplanted bare-root, instead, the root ball should be scored and roughed out like other perennials.
1. Bare-root cacti and tap-rooted succulents must not be watered right away, but should sit dry for a day or two to allow the roots to callus over any broken or damaged areas. Other succulents can be watered in right away. Water thoroughly with a mixture of SeaCom-PGR and Superthrive to stimulate strong new root growth. Water again with this mixture two weeks later.
2. Outdoor beds with new plants should be initially watered once every 5 to 7 days for the first month or so after transplanting. Cacti and succulents enjoy regular watering during the heat of the summer and will grow vigorously. After the first year, most cacti species need a good soaking only once every 2-4 weeks during the spring and summer if there has been no rain.
3. Potted plants require more frequent, regular watering, especially if the weather is hot and dry.
4. To prepare cacti and succulents for the approach of winter, begin withholding water in the fall so the plants can begin to dehydrate and shrivel. Plump, well watered plants are ripe for cold damage when temperatures plunge in late fall/early winter.
Cacti and succulents are very modest in their fertilizer requirements. When planted in the ground, fertilizing in spring with SeaCom-PGR and Yum Yum Mix® will encourage plentiful flowers and good stem growth. When planted in pots, remember to feed monthly with the same mixture as above, beginning in late summer.
Garden plants: Many cacti and succulents are quite cold hardy if kept dry in the cold winter and spring months. In areas that receive a lot of winter and spring moisture (especially rain), it is strongly recommended that plants be protected from cold, wet soil conditions. For example, a temporary cold frame can be constructed using pipe or PVC hoops covered with a clear plastic sheet to cover the entire bed. Or individual plants can be covered with plastic gallon milk jugs with the bottom cut out to keep the ground around the plants dry. Leave the top off the jug so heat build up isn’t excessive in sunny weather. Problems will occur if plants are in wet soil all winter or sit under melting snow for extended periods.
Potted plants: Should be moved under a roof overhang on the south or west side of the house or placed in a well ventilated cold frame. Water pots and other containers lightly a few times over the winter during warm spells.
All our cacti, agaves and succulents are seed-grown or cutting-grown in our greenhouses. Cacti and agave plants are 2-4 years old succulents are 1-2 years old. Please, never collect cacti from the wild unless it’s to rescue plants from construction sites. Many species are close to extinction in their native habitats due to irresponsible collectors.
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As soon as your order is placed you will receive a confirmation email. You will receive a second email the day your order ships telling you how it has been sent. Some perennials are shipped as potted plants, some as perennial roots packed in peat. The ‘Plant Information’ section describes how that item will ship. All perennials and spring-planted bulbs are packaged to withstand shipping and are fully-guaranteed. Please open upon receipt and follow the instructions included.
Perennials and spring-planted bulbs are shipped at the proper planting time for your hardiness zone. Perennial and spring-planted bulb orders will arrive separately from seeds. If your order requires more than one shipment and all items are shipping to the same address, there is no additional shipping charge. See our shipping information page for approximate ship dates and more detailed information. If you have any questions, please call Customer Service toll-free at (800) 925-9387 or contact us by email.
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Sedum was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Of the genera encompassed by the Crassulaceae stonecrop family, Sedum is the most species rich, the most morphologically diverse and most complex taxonomically. Historically it was placed in the subfamily Sedoideae, of which it was the type genus. Of the three modern subfamilies of the Crassulaceae, based on molecular phylogenetics Sedum is placed in the subfamily Sempervivoideae. Although the genus has been greatly reduced, from about 600 to 420–470 species, by forming up to 32 segregate genera, it still constitutes a third of the family and is polyphyletic.
Sedum species are found in four of six major crown clades wthin subfamily Sempervivoideae of Crassulaceae and are allocated to tribes, as follows:
In addition at least nine other distinct genera appear to be nested within Sedum. However the number of species found outside of the first two clades Tribe Sedeae are only a small fraction of the whole genus. Therefore the current circumscription, which is somewhat artificial and catch-all must be considered unstable. The relationships between the tribes of Sempervivoideae is shown in the cladogram.
There are now thought to be approximately 55 European species. Sedum demonstrates a wide variation in chromosome numbers, and polyploidy is common. Chromosome number is considered an important taxonomic feature.
Earlier authors placed a number of Sedum species outside of these clades, such as S. spurium, S. stellatum and S. kamtschaticum Telephium clade, that has been segregated into Phedimus tribe Umbiliceae.>
2.1. Taxonomy Subdivision
Linnaeus originally described 15 species, characterised by pentamerous flowers, dividing them into two groups Planifolia and Teretifolia, based on leaf morphology. with 15 species, and hence bears his name as the botanical authority L. By 1828, de Candolle recognized 88 species, in six informal groups. Various attempts have been made to subdivide this large genus, in addition to segregating separate genera, including creation of informal groups, sections, series and subgenera. For an extensive history of subfamily Sedoideae, see Ohba 1978.
Gray 1821 divided the 13 species known in Britain at that time into five sections Rhodiola, Telephium, Sedum, unnamed and Aizoon. In 1921 Praeger established ten sections Rhodiola, Pseudorhodiola, Giraldiina, Telephium, Aizoon, Mexicana, Seda Genuina, Sempervivoides, Epeteium and Telmissa. This was later revised in what is the best known system, that of Berger 1930, who defined 22 subdivisions, which he called Reihe sections or series. Bergers sections were:
A number of these, he further subdivided. In contrast, Froderstromm 1935 adopted a much broader circumscription of the genus, accepting only Sedum and Pseudosedum within the Sedoideae, dividing the former into 9 sections. Although this was followed by numerous other systems, the most widely accepted infrageneric classification following Berger, was by Ohba 1978. Prior to this most species in Sedoideae were placed in genus Sedum. Of these systems, it was observed "No really satisfactory basis for the division of the family into genera has yet been proposed".
Some other authors have added other series, and combined some of the series into groups, such as sections. In particular Sedum section Sedum is divided into series see Clades More recently, two subgenera have been recognised, Gormania and Sedum.
- Gormania: Britton Clausen. 110 species from Sempervivum, Aeonium and Leucosedum clades. Europe and North America.
- Sedum: 320 species from Acre clade. Temperate and subtropical zones of Northern hemisphere Asia and the Americas.
Subgenus Sedum has been considered as three geographically distinct, but equal sized sections:
- S. sect. Americana Frod.
- S. sect. Asiatica Frod.
- S. sect. Sedum ca. 120 spp. native to Europe, Asia Minor and N. Africa, ranging from N. Africa to central Scandinavia and from Iceland to the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus and Iran.
S. sect. Sedum includes 54 species native to Europe, which Berger classified into 27 series. Nikulin and colleagues 2016 have recommended that, given the monophyly of Aeonieae and Semperviveae, species of Sedum outside of the tribe Sedeae all in subgenus Gormania be removed from the genus and reallocated. However this does not resolve the problem of other genera embedded within Sedum, in Sedeae.
Members of the genus are perennial, biennial, or annual herbaceous plants and are characterized by their succulent leaves and stems. Some species have waxy leaves, while others are pubescent (covered in leaf hairs). The roots are commonly fibrous and not well developed. The flowers are borne in clusters and can be white, yellow, pink, purple, or reddish in colour. They typically have five petals. Like other plants in the family Crassulaceae, stonecrops use a specialized system of photosynthesis known as Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM).
Overwintering Containerized Perennials
Chances are, if you have taken the time to design, plant, and tend your perennial container garden all season long, you are going to want to overwinter it. Some gardeners choose to treat perennials like annuals, however, and simply toss them out after the season is over. Others choose to transplant their containerized perennials into the garden for the winter and then start over fresh with new plants in the spring. The choice is yours. If you'd like to try overwintering, read on.
Why do containerized perennials require special treatment to overwinter successfully?
- Temperature fluctuations are greater above ground than below it, and perennials do not like this.
- Perennials are less cold-hardy when grown in containers, so there is a greater chance for injury.
- Keep in mind that the bigger the pot, the higher success rate you will have in overwintering. This is because there is a larger volume of soil in a bigger pot to help insulate the roots, protecting them from freezing and desiccating.
- In warmer climates or those with a reliable, thick layer of snow cover, perennials are generally easier to overwinter. In the north and in places with unreliable snow cover, it requires more work to get them to pull through the winter.
Regardless of your climate, containerized perennials should be watered thoroughly just before the ground freezes to give them a reserve supply to use during warm winter spells. You can also add a few handfuls of snow to the top of the container occasionally throughout the winter (if overwintering under cover) this will provide supplemental water for the plants if the temperatures rise enough for it to melt.
This said, many containerized perennials do not survive the winter because they get too much water and they drown. When the pot accumulates water at the top but the soil is still frozen at the bottom, the roots sit in water until the soil thaws all the way through and the water can escape through the drainage hole at the bottom. Roots hate to sit in water, especially freezing cold water in winter. Avoid this scenario by overwintering your containerized perennials tipped on their side so water cannot accumulate at the top of the pot, or overwinter them under cover where they will not receive much water during winter or early spring before the soil thaws.
There are many differing opinions on how to best overwinter containerized perennials. Some of the methods described here may work for your climate while others may not. Trial and error is the best way to find out what will work best for you.
- The general consensus seems to be that the best way to overwinter containerized perennials is to take the entire pot and bury it in the ground. This way, the roots are protected like they would be if the plants were actually planted in the garden. Just be sure not to leave the pot in the ground too long in the spring or the roots will start to grow out the drainage holes, anchoring the pot into the ground.
- You can overwinter them by moving the pots into a cold frame or unheated garage for the winter after the first hard frost. Since all perennials require a period of dormancy or a cold treatment to bloom, don't overwinter them in a greenhouse or other warm place where they will not go dormant.
- If you are overwintering your containers outside, place a grouping of pots as close together as possible in a sheltered site on the ground. This way, the pots can absorb the heat and moisture from the soil. The east side of the house typically is a good spot. Do not overwinter the containers on pavement or any other surface (such as a deck) raised above ground level. Containerized perennials left exposed on higher levels during the winter have little chance of overwintering successfully.
- You'll need to cover the pots with some sort of insulating material. Try mounding leaves or evergreen boughs on top of the pots, followed by a thick layer of snow. If snow is not reliable in your area, use an insulating blanket made expressly for this purpose. You can also try wrapping the pots themselves in some sort of insulating material for extra protection.