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Carex

Sedge
Cyperaceae
Ornamental grasses and grasslike plants

Large group of grasslike, clumping plants found worldwide and grown for foliage effect in borders, rock gardens, containers, and water gardens (flowers are generally insignificant); some are used as lawn substitutes, as large-scale groundcovers, or for erosion control. Long, narrow evergreen leaves are often striped or oddly colored. Specialists offer many varieties. Although characteristically found in damp soils, many sedges will grow under relatively dry conditions in cultivation. Many are short-lived in gardens so are used as annuals.

Carex buchananii (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Carex buchananii (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Carex buchananii

From New Zealand. Grows to 3 ft. tall, 2–2 1/2 ft. wide. Curly-tipped, erect blades form a clump of striking reddish bronze. Use with gray foliage or with deep greens.

Carex comans (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Carex comans (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Carex comans

From New Zealand. Dense, fine-textured clumps reach 1–1 1/2 ft. high. Narrow, silvery green leaves are usually 1 ft. long but may reach 6 ft.; beyond a length of about 2 1/2 ft., they are utterly limp. On flat ground, foliage mounds look about 2 1/2 ft. wide; the same is true in areas where foot traffic is common, since leaves often catch on shoes of passersby and snap off. Where leaves are undisturbed on slopes or over ledges, they maintain their length and look like flowing water. Can be invasive (by self-sowing) in moist areas.

Carex divulsa (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Carex divulsa (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Carex divulsa

Widely sold as the California native C. tumulicola, this popular sedge is actually from Europe. Forms arching clumps to 1 1/2 ft. high and 2 ft. wide with spikes of greenish flowers from winter to spring. Shear flowers when they begin to brown with age to keep plants tidy and prevent reseeding. Best in partial shade and with regular water, but grows well under a wide range of conditions. Fine groundcover.

Carex elata ‘Aurea’ (‘Bowles Golden’)

From forests and low mountains of Japan. This plant grows in clumps to 2 1/2 ft. high, 1 1/2 ft. wide, with narrow leaves that emerge bright yellow in spring and hold some color until late summer. Dies back completely in winter. Needs ample moisture; will grow in standing water. Needs winter chill to grow well.

Carex flacca

From Europe. Many forms of this creeper are in cultivation, ranging from 6 in. to 2 ft. high and wide; foliage may be blue or green. Plant is evergreen only in mildest climates. Not invasive but spreads slowly and can be clipped like a lawn. Endures light foot traffic, moderate shade, competition from tree roots. Tolerates many soils and irrigation schemes; does best with moderate water.

Carex flagellifera

From New Zealand. Closely related to Carex buchananii and is distinguished from it only in small botanical details. Grows in clumps about 2 1/2 ft. tall and wide. It is not quite as erect as C. buchananii, and its leaves are reddish brown and wider spreading. Often short-lived.

Carex morrowii
Carex morrowii

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Carex morrowii

From Japan. Grows to 1 ft. high, 1 1/2 ft. wide, with shiny, drooping, medium green leaves. Good edging plant; individual plants are attractive among stones.

Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ (photo courtesy of the Sunset Western Garden Collection)
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ (photo courtesy of the Sunset Western Garden Collection)

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Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

Unbeatable choice for edging and mass planting as a groundcover; from the Sunset Western Garden Collection. Arching blades of evergreen, variegated dark green, and creamy yellow foliage are great for adding color and texture to plantings or containers. Tolerates dry shade with occasional watering.

Carex pansa

California native. Forms a 6–8-in.-high mat of narrow, dark green leaves that are moderately tolerant of foot traffic; excellent between pavers and steppingstones. Used as a lawn alternative or in meadows. Needs less care than traditional lawn grasses, but occasional shearing and fertilization will keep it looking its best. Weed control is important during establishment, but it won’t tolerate herbicides typically used on lawns. Needs only moderate water once established; sensitive to overwatering. C. praegracilis (Western meadow sedge) and C. subfusca (rusty sedge) are closely related to C. pansa and can be used similarly, though they are more variable.

Carex spissa

Native to boggy areas in Southern California. Forms slowly spreading, arching clumps. Coarse, upright silvery gray leaves to 3–4 ft. tall. Light golden brown clusters of dangling flowers appear in spring. Needs ample moisture and will grow in standing water.

Carex tenuiculmis

Native to New Zealand. Grows to 15 in. high, 3 ft. wide, with dark, graceful, fine-textured foliage that runs from brown to bronze.

Carex testacea
Carex testacea

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Carex testacea

From New Zealand. Grows to 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Widely arching clumps of light green and reddish brown foliage; leaves develop red and orange highlights in good light. Some tendency to self-seed and spread under moist conditions. Often short-lived.

Carex texensis

Southwestern native. Fine-textured, mat-forming sedge grows to 4–6 in. high. Medium green, drooping leaves form a wavy carpet dotted by lax flowering stems. Excellent small-scale lawn substitute or groundcover; often used in meadow mixes. Trim to remove seed heads. Needs partial to full shade and regular water.

Carex ‘Ice Dance’

Grows to 1–2 ft. high and spreads slowly. Dark green leaves are edged in creamy white. Good edging or groundcover. Regular water.

Carex albula ‘Frosted Curls’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Carex albula ‘Frosted Curls’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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‘Frosty Curls’

Dense tuft of slender, silvery green leaves with tips that curl with age. Grows about 2 ft. high and wide and makes a good accent or groundcover in shade.

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