Carex / Sedge

Sedges for ground cover, naturalizing, borders, or containers

The Carex genus contains herbaceous perennials, commonly called sedge, grown for their grass-like foliage. The plants can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on variety and climate. Most are rhizomatous and spread to form mat-like colonies, but some are clumping and grow into dense tufts. Blades can be fine, linear, and thread-like; medium and hair-like; or broad and strap-shaped. Spikes of tiny flowers, borne on triangular stems, bloom in spring or early summer, and the seeds that follow are a food source for small mammals, ducks, grouse, wild turkeys, and songbirds.

Carex is one of the largest genera, with over 2000 species, divided into 3 main groups: North American, Asian, and New Zealand. Almost 500 species are native to North America and are great alternatives to grass for shady areas. Asian types are usually variegated and may be evergreen in mild climates. Sedges from New Zealand often have bronze or orange leaves and are more sun tolerant.

With so many species available, there’s a sedge for every garden, whether sunny or shady, wet or dry. A few species of horticultural importance include C. albicans (oak sedge), C. aureolensis (gold sedge), C. buxbaumii (brown sedge), C. comans (New Zealand hair sedge), C. eburnean (cedar sedge), C. elata (Bowles golden sedge, tufted sedge), C. flacca (blue sedge), C. grayi (gray sedge, mace sedge, bur sedge), C. jamesii (palm sedge), C. muskingumensis (palm sedge), C. oshimensis (Japanese sedge), C. pendula (hanging sedge), C. pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge), C. praegracilis (field sedge), C. siderosticha (creeping broad-leafed sedge), and C. testacea (New Zealand hair sedge).

Cool-season plants, they grow slowly but most actively in spring and fall. They are low maintenance and require no pruning. In fact, many tend to recover slowly after being cut back. They are excellent for ground cover, naturalizing, borders, specimens, and containers. 

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