bee forage

The joy of autumn


I am grateful to all the beekeepers who recommended Autumn Joy sedum for my bees. I was reluctant to buy it once I found it at the garden center because, honestly, it was the ugliest plant I’ve ever seen.

Truth is, I’ve had a bad attitude toward any kind of succulent plant ever since I lived for a few years in a rented house in San Diego County. It had a postage-stamp backyard where nothing would grow except what the locals called “ice plant.” I don’t even know what that means, but it was awful. I like real plants, with real leaves, but this stuff was heavy, nondescript, and watery.

Perhaps it wasn’t the ice plant I disliked so much. It could have been the house or my job, but I couldn’t wait to leave that place and all the godforsaken succulents that grew there. Once I moved back to Washington, I never gave succulents a second thought until the day I scanned the local garden center, twenty-some years later, looking for Autumn Joy, which I knew nothing about.

Once I arrived home with it (six its), my husband said, “What ‘s that? It looks deserty.”

“I’m taking advice from my readers,” I said, and he rolled his eyes.

You see, I wasn’t the only one with negative thoughts about deserty plants. In southern California, we had multiple run-ins with the landlord about cactus pads and whether they had been “strewn about” or “carefully placed” in the garden. It is a long and convoluted story having to do with the neighbor’s swimming pool, lollypop trees, and gray water recycling. But I digress.

I dutifully planted the Autumn Joys, they grew, and now they’ve bloomed. And just as you predicted, my honey bees love them. Each bloom is covered with bees, weighted down with bees, and I can hear the bees from within the house, joyfully sipping their autumn treat. So once again, thank you all so much!



One of my honey bees on Autumn Joy. Doesn’t she look happy? © Rusty Burlew.


  • I am concerned about buying anything from nursery centers since i have heard that everything from seeds & bulbs to plants are covered with neonicotinoids which, as you well know, are deadly to bees. Its being banned in Europe I have heard but i believe they can still sell here. I hope your plants are ok.

  • We planted ours (2 plants) and they have just started to bloom. The blooms do not seem very “bloomy” but I’ll give them time. So far, no bees have been sighted on them.

    Do you have a picture that is not so close up to see what they should look like when they bloom?

  • I now live in Missoula, MT. My wife, in her desire to add pollinator-friendly flowers, started 3 pots of sedum on the porch (this is bad deer country — and black bear country — so it’s a waste to expose stuff to the deer without backup. Our garden and beeyard is surrounded by a 10,000 volt fence — for the bears — and a 7 foot fence (which I have seen a doe clear with no problem). The honey bees LOVE the sedum (and Bluebeard), so we’re going to find a spot in the garden for two sedum, and a spot outside the garden to see if the third can survive deer and 3500′ winters. A native of Southern California, I can tell you that ice plant sprouts a lovely yellow or pink flower once a year, grows literally in the sand at the beach (a very useful trait in a coastal desert), and makes an excellent missle when thrown at friends.

    • Well, if I had known that, I could have hurled them at my landlord. Oh, about the deer, I’ve seen a doe take an eight-foot fence without a running start.

      • The nice thing about ice plant was it stung without doing any real (read: actionable) damage.

        Does, bucks and fauns populate my yard for morning coffee, but enough of them have touched the hotwires that they stay away from the fence, including the scarlet runner beans hanging enticingly outside the hog wire. Since their normal response to a yell and arm-wave is “what’s up?”, think the hotwire works. We’ll see about sedum… let you know.

        • I was shooting fireworks one year, looking up, leaning backward so I could see, and backed right into the cattle fence. Wow. Never forget.

  • After reading about Autumn Joy, I bought 3 plants from our local family owned small business nursery. I also dug a sedum from my mom’s flower bed. (Too many deer in mom’s neighborhood.)

    All 4 plants thrived, bloomed and were covered with bees and a variety of unknowns. Highly recommend Autumn Joy for south central Indiana.

    Thank You whoever gave such good advice.

    • Sandra,

      Did the deer eat your mom’s sedum? So far, the deer are eating my mulberry and kiwi, but haven’t touched the sedum a few feet away. Maybe they’ll get to those for dessert?

  • The deer in my mom’s suburb of Cleveland keep the sedum in check. The plants are chomped down as quickly as they sprout up.

  • I have the same plants growing along the side of my driveway in my new house. I’ve heard about how bees love them, but I have yet to see honey bees or any pollinator on them. It might be because they’re not fully mature yet. I look forward to seeing what happens.

  • I have sedum Autumn Joy in my perennial garden and last year the bees were all over it, but somehow I’ve not seen too many of my honey bees there, just some other pollinators. I have a huge wildflower field that I planted just outside out back door in a swimming pool that we filled in two years ago. It’s spectacular and the honey bees and hummingbirds have been going crazy in there.

    Love this blog and all of the great insight and advice you offer, Rusty. Thanks!

  • What autumn joy lacks in beauty it more than makes up in being a terrific bee magnet. I like it when it is blooming. Reminds me of pink broccoli. I like all the sedums, especially when blooming.

  • Just to let you know, ‘Autumn Joy’, and most other sedum will root very easily and you can make many more plants. You also won’t have to worry about what might have been sprayed or dusted on them. Cut some of the long stems into pieces about 4-5 inches long, making sure there is a leaf node at the bottom and at least one node that will be above the soil surface. Stick the cuttings in a moist, light planting medium. Perlite, vermiculite and peat moss mix works well. Or just coarse sand. Keep moist, not soaking wet. They will root in a few weeks and you can move them to better soil. I have Autumn Joy and another sedum, ‘Neon’. It is similar to ‘Autumn Joy’, but does not grow as tall and floppy, and the flower head is a red wine color. It, too, is loaded with bees.

    I agree with you Rusty…they are ugly plants especially when they fall over from the weight of the flower head. I like them best in early spring…the newly emerging growth is very interesting. But for the bees loving them, I wouldn’t keep them around. This year I put a tall metal growth support ring around them. That helped with the flopping issue.

    • They also will produce roots if simply put in water. So why not cut a bunch of stems and put in water indoors? They will last for a long while if kept cool and once the flowers start to wilt you can put them in a out of eyes location till you can plant them out in spring. Keep them cool and they can stand the whole winter in the same water,

      This way you can rapidly build up a dense stand which will also keep them from falling over.

  • hi my name is Claire and I am a beekeeper in Melbourne Victoria Australia. I was wondering if anyone knows the botanical name for the sedum so I can see if we have it here in Australia.

    • Claire,

      I’ve seen it listed as Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy” and Sedum telephium “Autumn Joy”. The family is Crassulaceae (Stonecrop).

  • We have grown various varieties of sedum over the years to attract the bees. Once they are established try giving 1/2 the ‘Chelsea’ chop. (The Chelsea chop because it is usually carried out at the end of May, in UK, coinciding with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, is a pruning method by which you limit the size and control the flowering season of many herbaceous plants.) It really works well and extends the season when these flowers are available.

    Deatails of method –

  • Rusty, that’s the prettiest picture of Autumn Joy I’ve ever seen. Around here the flowers are a murky red-bronze like some remaindered upholstery fabric. And we have glorious goldenrod and, soon, New England asters.
    I will however recommend it to customers.

    Northern Kentucky

  • The deer broke through my garden fence and ate the sedum to the ground. It’s coming back, but way too late to expect any flowers this year.

  • Rusty,

    We have a large fenced in garden to keep the deer out. The fencing is buried about 18 inches deep to keep the woodchucks out. The outside perimeter is a row of sedum then a row of walkers low cat mint.The deer and the woodchucks leave the catmint and the sedum alone and the bees are enjoying the area all summer and fall.

  • Deer leave my Autumn Joy alone. I kind of like the stuff but now queston my taste! It’s like a watercolor painting, it is sort of furzzy and soft. And covered with native and honey bees, dancing around it! What’s not lovely about that! (I do love the ugly fabric remnant.)

  • Rusty, I have loved this plant for many years…it was in the garden when we bought our house in 1994 and I have divided it many times since then, spreading it around the yard and giving away “joy” to many other gardeners! At this time of year here in southern Rhode Island it is changing from pink to a slightly darker color, on it’s way to maroon later in the fall. When flowering, it is covered with pollinators of all sorts all day long. It smells like honey! It is drought tolerant but will also get by in a cool wet summer and will grow in poor soil. You can cut it back by one-third to one-half before June 1st (around here) to prevent opening up and flopping but still get flowers. One of my top favorites and I’m glad you are enjoying it!

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