Native Sedges in Your Garden

By Larry Havermann

Palm Sedge - Carex muskingumensisNative sedges (Sedges, rushes, and bulrushes) have many characteristics that make them desirable in home landscapes. They are attractive and keep a nice green color through most of the year, and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and shades. Some are short and compact while others are tall and spreading. Many species have a nice uniform fountain shape, growth in a wide variety of conditions, and suppress weeds due to dense foliage. Sedges grow in conditions from sun to shade and wet to dry. The native sedges listed here are great ones for you to consider for your home landscape.

Some of the most ornamental species listed are fringed sedge (Carex crinita), Short’s sedge (Carex shortiana); fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea), and yellow-fruited sedge (Carex annectens var. xanthocarpa).

Fringed Sedge - Carex crinita

Fringed Sedge - Carex crinita

These plants could function as specimen plants or in mass planting. All of these have nice foliage and particularly nice seed heads. They do well in sun to part shade and wet to average moisture. Fringed sedge has beautiful pendulous seed heads that turn from green to dark brown as they ripen. Short’s sedge also has seed heads that ripen from green to dark brown, but the seed heads stand upright making a nice display. Fox sedge and yellow-fruited sedge are beautiful spreading plants with dark green foliage and seed heads that are elongated spikes. Fox and yellow-fruited sedge have narrow foliage that adds texture and variation in a planting. Gray’s sedge is an interesting plant because the seed heads look like a miniature version of a medieval mace.

Soft rush (Juncus effuses), Emory’s sedge (Carex emoryi), and wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) are great to use in a rain garden. These three species can tolerate full sun to part shade and prefer wet conditions, but will do well in wet to medium soil moisture. Emory’s sedge is a nice grass-like sedge with leaves that bend and flow with the wind. This plant suckers rapidly and would be especially useful along a pond edge or in places where erosion can be a problem. Wool grass is also an attractive plant. It has a tall 3 – 4 ft. fountain shape with wooly pendulous seed heads that bloom and ripen late summer to early fall. Soft rush, probably the most ornamental of this group, is excellent as a specimen plant in a home garden or as part of a planting in a rain garden. Soft rush is 3 – 4 ft high with a spiky dark green upright spreading shape.

White-tinge sedge (Carex albicans var. albicans), globe sedge (Carex grayi), and palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) are good sedges for a shade to part shade garden. Carex albicans grows to 18″ high, has attractive narrow-bladed deep green foliage, forms dense small clumps, and does well in average to dry soils. Palm sedge has beautiful foliage that stands 2-3 ft. high and grows well in average to wet conditions.

Palm Sedge - Carex muskingumensis

Palm Sedge - Carex muskingumensis

Along with these, there are many other beautiful native sedges to choose from for your home landscape, some of which are as beautiful as many exotic grasses more commonly used. You can find these and many other native sedges at independent garden centers and nurseries featuring native plants, for a list go to Grow Native and check out their buyer’s guide.

Larry Havermann at Shaw Nature Reserve has been tracking the performance of these hard-working plants. A version of this article originally appeared in Native Notes, the Grow Native e-newsletter.


About Mike Perry

Husband, Father, DIYer, Gardener, Runner, Tea-Drinker, Traditional Wet Shaver...
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