8 Ways to Use Tough, Versatile Sedges In Your Garden
This under-appreciated grass-like perennial can be a lawn alternative, a groundcover, a border, a container plant and more.
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.
"Different sedges have different uses," says Norris. "So you have to ask what niche you have and what sedge could fill that niche."
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).