Sedum confusum: Dreamy Ground Cover

Sedum confusum, other worldly ground cover

Sedum confusum, other worldly ground cover

Sedum confusum is the ground cover of my dreams, and might be of yours.
Sedum confusum doesn’t have a common name, and is appropriately possessed of uncommon qualities. Unlike ivy, gazania and iceplant, it doesn’t get woody and doesn’t build thatch. It grows quickly, but is not invasive. It smothers most weeds. Its roots hold the soil well, but it can be removed permanently with a gentle tug. It is a succulent plant and heads the lists of both drought-tolerant and fire-resistant species.
When you come upon Sedum confusum for the first time, you will want to touch it, to make sure it is not made of porcelain, jade or glass. In truth, its leaves and stems are fragile. To step on this plant is to crush it underfoot.
Yet when you remember this plant later on, you will think of velvet or silk. If I had to gaze at a single plant for all eternity, I might choose this sedum. It is the essence of serenity, spreading smooth and green over the earth. It reminds you that a chair is an essential garden tool; without a chair for sitting back in and looking out from, how can you really enjoy your plants?
Flowers are nice, but as any soul can tell you, lasting garden pleasures are not associated with color, but simply with plants that last. In December, even the spiny leaves of English holly or Oregon grape prove more endearing than a flowerbox full of chlorotic, slug-infested primroses or rusty snapdragons. And when seasonal flowers are faultless, they would still be nothing without those plants whose more subtle, yet constant presence keeps a garden focused in the mind’s eye.
Unlike most ground covers, Sedum confusum has a luminous leaf and contrasts well with the drab foliage of most drought-tolerant plants. Its clear, light-green leaves shine brightest on dark winter days. I have it growing around rosemary and silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens) shrubs, where it appears to be a soft, fresh-laid carpet several inches deep.
The word “sedum” probably comes from the Latin word for “hold,” referring to the strength of the roots. Sedums were planted on the roofs of houses in ancient Rome, from which they could be harvested for salads. ”Confusum” would indicate that this plant is mistaken for some other species, though I can hardly see why, since it appears to be unique in so many ways.
Sedums, also known as stonecrops, grow slowly where summers are hot and dry and watering is infrequent. Sedum morganianum, or donkey tail, is the species people are most familiar with. It is invariably grown in a hanging basket where its braided stems of pale green leaves may reach several feet in length. Sedum telephium “Autumn Joy” is grown for its blue leaves and salmon-colored flowers.
Sedums are highlighted in a new book, “California Wildfire Landscaping” (Taylor Publishing; $10.95), by Maureen Gilmer. They are included among those plants – all of them succulents – which demonstrate “greatest fire resistance.”
Sedums are noted for their hardiness, surviving winter cold down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gilmer makes an important point about the proper water regimen for inducing fire-resistance in these plants: “There are some misunderstandings about the fact that succulents have evolved to survive periods of drought by storing moisture in their leaves. This is true, but during these dry times the plants will pucker, wither, and a large portion may die off, depending on the length and severity of the drought. If the succulent is to grow, thicken and retain its fire-resistant qualities, it must be watered frequently.”
David Bernstein, owner of a cactus and succulent nursery in Reseda, said there is no limit to how much he can water his plants during the summer.
“The more you water them, the faster they grow. None of my plants is more than 10 or 15 years old,” he said, pointing to some tall cactus. “It’s a myth that cactuses and succulents are slow growers. They grow slowly in the desert, but not in a well-watered garden. Just make sure to keep them dry this time of the year. Wet soil and cold weather are a lethal combination for these plants.”
Also, the more you water cactuses and succulents during the summer, I learned, the more they flower the following year.
Bernstein, a wholesale grower and broker who supplies some 60 retail nurseries with cactuses and succulents, uses the following container mix for growing his plants: one part peat moss, one part Kellogg’s Amend, two parts perlite. Each time he waters, he fertilizes with a solution that contains -1/8 teaspoon of a 20/20/20 fertilizer per gallon of water.
A warm winter means a poor flower display on many succulents and cactuses the following year. By that standard, the cold winter we are experiencing should make these plants bloom wonderfully several months from now.
Sedum confusum, which is native to the colder regions of Mexico, should be covered with yellow flowers by early spring.
Tip of the week: If you want to select a poinsettia that can be planted outside, choose red. The other colors – pink, white, cream, speckled – have been bred for exotic looks at the expense of their ability to survive winter cold when grown outdoors.

Photo credit: m_ke / Foter.com / CC BY

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