Now you sedum, now you don’t

With a heavy heart, I have come to the conclusion that sedum is not suited for waterwise gardens. Those in my prior gardens, such as Autumn Joy in Vermont, flourished, but ones I planted in Southern California’s dry climate wasted money, water, and time.

I failed miserably with 4 varieties – Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, lineare variegated, ‘Little Missy’, and blue spruce. The eternal optimist, I first sourced from flats, and then 4”, 6”, and even one-gallon pots. Following plant specifications, I placed in full sun or light shade, and fine-tuned irrigation at 2, 1, or 0.5 gallons/hour drip.

After hundreds of plants languished or died the past 3 years, I gave up on sedum. Respected sources tout them as drought-tolerant, including Sunset, Fine Gardening, High Country Gardens, and Wayside Gardens. So what was my problem?

My objectives of lush, low-growing, and low-water asked too much of creeping sedums in this climate. Their 1-2’ mature widths and shallow roots need relatively frequent and dense irrigation to thrive. A single plant consumes as much or more than a 6-12′-wide groundcover plant such as Myoporum parvifolium, Rosmarinus prostrata, Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’, or Helichrysum petiolare that covers an area six times bigger!

Why use precious water on plants that guzzle compared to other options, especially on supporting actors and woeful ones at that? Wide groundcovers replaced my massed sedum, and mulch replaced dozens of singletons intermixed with succulents. Geoff Stein’s Dave’s Garden lament rings so true:

“But surprisingly (at least it was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment to me) many sedums don’t like my arid Mediterranean climate here in Southern California, though it’s taken me years of thick-headed purchases and experiments involving much loss of life (sedum life, that is) to discover this.”

Elsewhere you sedum, here you don’t.