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Ornamental grasses and grasslike plants

Large group of grasslike, clumping plants found worldwide and grown for foliage effect in borders, rock gardens, containers, water gardens (flowers are generally insignificant); some are used as lawn substitutes, as large-scale ground covers, 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
Carex buchananii

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Carex buchananii

From New Zealand. To 3 ft. tall, 2 to 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

From New Zealand. Dense, fine-textured clumps reach 1 to 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; 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

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 ground cover.

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 flagillifera

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 Carex buchananii, and leaves are reddish brown and wider spreading. Often short lived.

Carex morrowii
Carex morrowii

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Carex morrowii

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

Carex pansa

California native. Formsa 6–8-in.-high mat of narrow,dark green leaves that are moderately tolerant of foot traffic; excellent between pavers and steppingstones. Used as 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 (Westernmeadow sedge) and C. subfusca (rusty sedge) are closely related to C. pansa and can be usedsimilarly, though they are morevariable.

Carex spissa

Native to boggy areasin Southern California. Formsslowly spreading, archingclumps. Coarse, upright silverygray leaves to 3–4 ft. tall. Lightgolden brown clusters of danglingflowers appear in spring.Needs ample moisture and willgrow in standing water.

Carex tenuiculmis

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

Carex testacea 'Japanese sedge'
Carex testacea 'Japanese sedge'

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Carex testacea

From New Zealand. 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

Southwesternnative. Fine-textured, mat-formingsedge to 4–6 in. high.Medium green, drooping leavesform a wavy carpet dotted bylax flowering stems. Excellentsmall-scale lawn substitute orgroundcover; often used inmeadow mixes. Trim to removeseed heads. Needs partial tofull shade and regular water.

'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. Needs ample moisture; will grow in standing water. Best where it gets some winter chill.


Unbeatable choice for edging and mass planting as a ground cover; 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.

'Evergold' ('Aurea-variegata')

Stunning selection of a Japanese native. Clumping growth to 1 to 2 ft. high, 2 to 3 ft.wide. Dark green leaves have a broad central band of creamy white that matures to creamy yellow. Needs shade and regular water.

'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.

'Ice Dance'

Grows 1 to 2 ft. high and spreads slowly. Dark green leaves edged in creamy white. Good edging or ground cover.

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