Monday, June 27, 2011

Drought and Sedums



The continued onslaught of driving winds with no rain has made gardening challenging this year. However in early July of 2007 I wrote, “Lately we have visited with many gardeners and every one of them expressed disappointment with the amount of rain we have received. Admittedly there can be too much of a good thing and we are probably ‘there’ with rainfall. The major complaint was the fact the vegetables have not produced decently without adequate sunshine. There are no peppers; the plants are just sitting in the garden waiting for sunshine. The green beans have bland flavor and many are yellow from water saturation. The crook neck squash are actually molding on the vine as infants, never reaching maturation. Additionally, the roses have developed black spot from too much moisture. Our naturalized flowering plants are unused to this“! So apparently it’s either feast or famine, but such are the conditions that call forth our Oklahoma Pioneer spirit. This drought will end, the wind will quell, and the grasses will once again be lush.

Now is the time to embrace the Sedum as a staple in the garden for few plants tolerate dry conditions as well as this species. Among the most hardy and durable plants the Sedum, or Stonecrop, is easy to grow, requires little care, and will endure where other plants perish. The name ‘Stonecrop’ was actually given for their habit of living almost anywhere including mounds of stone, piles of gravel, or even tucked into chinks in a rock wall. Their plump fleshy leaves are their secret to survival as they store water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells.

Sedums come in all sizes, from mat-forming ground covers to stands of flower clusters that top 30 inch stems. Needing only well drained soil and full sunlight, the Sedum is not susceptible to pests who prefer more tender foliage, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms. Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water for a week, and it will start a new plant.



Another interesting addition to the drought garden is Sempervivum Tectorum, commonly known as Hen and Chicks which were first recorded by the Greek botanist, Theophraste, in the 4th century BC. Grown under identical conditions as the Sedums, this fascinating little plant produces clusters of rosettes; the parent rosettes are the ‘hens’ and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the ‘chicks‘. Children find the plant’s habit of producing ‘chicks’ extremely interesting, making it a wonderful way to lure them to the garden.

Both Sempervivum and Sedum are considered ‘Old World Treasures’ and are associated with mythology. The Romans called them ‘Beard of Jupiter’ and planted them on roofs to guard against lightning. This myth spread throughout Europe to Ireland and in Scandinavian countries both plants were called Thor’s Helper’ where they were believed to drive off demons and guard homes if planted on roofs. According to folk wisdom, one may hang sedum on a wall in midsummer to ward off lightning strikes and it may also be used to foretell the outcome of affairs of the heart. Both are reputed to have medicinal benefits and to boost energy, however they are best used as ornamentals. As the heat continues, these plants may indeed be considered treasures!