This under-appreciated grass-like perennial can be a lawn alternative, a groundcover, a border, a container plant and more.

By Teresa Woodard
May 26, 2021
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Sedges
Sedge Garden
| Credit: Kelly Norris

If you're like plantsman Kelly Norris, you may have once thought that sedges were nothing but weeds. But these grass-like plants are becoming increasingly popular for their ability to thrive in a variety of conditions with very little care.

"I've been growing sedges for a decade now, but the irony is they have been in my garden all my life," says Norris. "As a kid, my mom and I would work to dig them out of the lawn."

Today, he grows a dozen varieties at his home garden in Des Moines. He explains that sedges are part of the vast Carex genius with 2,000 species, including 500 native to the United States. The rhyming prompt "sedges have edges" reminds that sedges have more triangular stems compared to grasses' flatter blades.

The bonuses of sedges: They are fuss-free, thrive in dry shade or wet soil, resist deer browsing, sustain wildlife and control erosion.

"They're the unsung workhorses of the botanical world and are gaining attention now more than ever," says Norris. Garden centers and online sources offer a variety of sedges. In his latest book New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden, Norris lists multiple plant palettes including several sedges.

The New Naturalism book
Credit: Kelly Norris

"Different sedges have different uses," says Norris. "So you have to ask what niche you have and what sedge could fill that niche."

Sedges
Carex pensylvanica
| Credit: Midwest Groundcovers
  1. As a Lawn Alternative: Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is ideal for covering large shade areas where turf is difficult to grow. This apple-green, finely textured sedge forms spreading colonies as a lawn alternative.
Carex sprengelii sedge
Carex sprengelii
| Credit: Midwest Groundcovers

2. Under a Tree: Try underplanting a tree with long-beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii). In spring, showy yellow flowers emerge from green mounds. Pendulant seed heads follow later in the season.

Sedges
Carex laxiculmis 'Hobb'
| Credit: Midwest Groundcovers

3. For a Spot of Blue: A host of bluer broad-leaf sedges bring a distinct color and texture to shade gardens. Check out Blue Bunny sedge (Carex laxiculmis 'Hobb' pictured above) in blue-green and seersucker sedge (Carex platyphylla) in powder blue. They're perfect to cluster in groups of three to five or to plant along a border's edge as a native alternative to liriope.

Carex rosea sedge
Carex rosea
| Credit: Midwest Groundcovers

4. As a Groundcover: Try planting rosey sedge (Carex rosea) in masses and interspersing with other sedges or wildflowers. This sedge's fine foliage creates an attractive backdrop for other plants.

Sedges
Sedge Garden
| Credit: Kelly Norris

5. In A Meadow: In his own front yard meadow, Norris uses three different sedges: Carex albicans, Carex grisea and Carex sprengelii.  Tinged sedge (Carex albicans) grows as a turf-like underlayer or "green mulch" to tie his meadow plants together.

Sedge garden
Sedge garden
| Credit: Kelly Norris

6. In a Rain Garden: Gray's sedge (Carex grayi 'New Moon Mighty' picture above) thrives in wet areas, whether a rain garden or the edge of a water feature. In early summer, green starburst flowers rise above the graceful shaggy foliage. Another favorite is bristly sedge (Carex comosa) with narrow lime-green leaves and bottlebrush spikes.

Carex bromoides sedge
Carex bromoides
| Credit: Midwest Groundcovers

7. As a Border: Brome-like sedge (Carex bromoides pictured above) features airy foliage and grass-like flowering heads. It has a tidy appearance and shines in a perennial border much like a smaller ornamental grass.

Ice Dance sedge
'Ice Dance'

8. In Containers: At his home, Norris fills a large, galvanized trough with bristle-leaf sedge (Carex eburnea) and praises its hardiness. For smaller containers, he prefers the finely textured rosey sedge. Also, try variegated carex hybrids like 'Feather Falls' or 'Ice Dance' (pictured above).

To learn more about sedges, visit the "Carex Classroom" at Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles, Illinois, or "Sedges Make Sense" blog series at Hoffman Nursery. For online sedge sources, see Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin, or New Moon Nursery.