Autumn Joy Sedum is one of the most well known drought tolerant plants for cottage gardens, New American gardens or xeric gardens.
First made popular in Germany, where it was known by the tongue twisting name of Sedum telephium 'Herbstfreude' which was anglicized to Autumn Joy when it was brought to North America.
Other unique and odd names that this species goes by are Orpine, Livelong, Frog's-stomach, Harping Johnny, Life-everlasting, Live-forever, Orphan John, Witch's Moneybags, and Midsummer-men, due to its use in pagan times to determine if your love was true.
It’s also known botanically as Hylotelephium telephium. Wikipedia has more information here: Hylotelephium telephium.
A well traveled plant, with its family originating in Japan, it is actually a hybrid of Sedum telephium and Sedum spectabile, and for that reason is sometimes seen listed as Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’.
As one of the tallest of these stonecrops Sedum Autumn Joy is ultimately between 30-40 cm tall, and forms a well behaved clump from the crown.
Autumn Joy Sedum thrives alongside many other xeric plants.
Grown in drifts of several to many along with ornamental grasses and Rudbeckia, it has become world renowned, used in plantings by garden designers like von Sweden and Ohme.
The thick stems are topped by coppery red or pink broccoli like blooms, making them one of the best plants for bees and butterflies in later summer into the fall.
Find out more about making your very own butterfly garden.
As a backbone plant for xeriscaping, Sedum Autumn Joy is a herbaceous perennial, meaning that it dies back to the ground for the winter, but the big advantage to this and similar Sedum varieties is it’s tendency to leave the upright blooming stems in place with the mahogany or rust coloured seed heads.
This has a couple of advantages.
First, the crown with its dead stems will hold the soil in place and prevent soil erosion, and second, the snow will be held for early spring melt, where it will do the most good, providing early moisture for the crown.
The roots of Sedum spectabile varieties are thick, almost carrot-like, with the ability to conserve water, giving these stonecrops an advantage like no other plant. Drought means nothing to them; in fact Sedum Autumn Joy relishes dry and stony conditions. Good drainage is essential, as fleshy roots such as these will rot if the moisture doesn’t drain quickly from the crown of the plant.
Easily propagated from stem cuttings or division of the fleshy roots, each piece will make a new plant reaching its ultimate size in around three to four seasons. On a scale of 1-10 for recommendation for xeriscaping, Sedum Autumn Joy is one of the all time top three of all Sedum for borders varieties in my book.