• Maureen Little

Bee Plant of the Month - October 2020

With the colder season coming up our buzzy friends are either snuggling up in their hive - if they are honeybees - or queen bumblebees and solitary bees will be finding a place to overwinter – either way we won’t be seeing much of any of them for a while, so this will be the last Bee Plant of the Month until next year. Next month, however, I shall have a look at a bee-friendly planting scheme to give you a few ideas for your own garden.

In the meantime, though, let’s put the spotlight on Hylotelephium – or Sedum, as it used to be called. You may also know it by its common name of ice plant.

Hylotelephium are archetypal plants for the autumn border: there is barely a garden I have visited over the years that doesn’t have at least one kind or other. And they certainly earn their keep because not only do they provide colour and interest in the border but the copious nectar they produce is also a magnet for pollinating and beneficial insects including bees and butterflies.

The only disparaging remarks I have ever heard about Hylotelephium are those that bemoan the sometimes lax, floppy habit which can leave a gap in the centre of the plant. This is more often than not due to the fact that they have been too well fed and the stems have become soft, unable to hold up the heavy heads of flowers - ease back on the nutrients a little and they will toughen up. You can also pinch out the growing tip in early summer to encourage side growth: this results in smaller, lighter flower heads but there are lots more of them, and the shorter stems are more able to support them. With upright varieties, like H. ‘Matrona’ you can give them the full Chelsea Chop towards the end of May – click here to see by post about it.

As far as planting conditions go, they like a sunny spot, with well-drained soil. Like many herbaceous perennials, they can become tired-looking and generally dog-eared after a few years. At this point there’s no shame in replacing the plant altogether. If you’re organized enough to think ahead a couple of seasons you can take some cuttings in spring or early summer and grow them on so you have a ready-made replacement. Either that or try dividing the plant in spring and replanting a portion with a dose of fertilizer to get it established. As with any new plant, keep it well-watered during its first season.

If you are thinking of adding Hylotelephium to your border, there are no end of varieties to choose from. One of the most well-known is H. ‘Herbstfreude’ (often labelled as ‘Autumn Joy’). It grows to about 60cm with grey-green fleshy leaves and flowers that have a green hue in bud but quickly open to pale pink and then mature into deep pink.

One that I particularly like – perhaps it’s to do with its luscious name – is H. ‘Strawberries and Cream’. It grows to about about 60cm, perhaps slightly shorter in some instances, with purple-tinged leaves and flowers which start as deep pink buds but open to two-tone pale pink and white.

The RHS lists no less than 226 – from H. ‘Andrew’s Pinky’ to H. ‘Wildfire’ so there is bound to be one that takes your fancy.