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How to Grow Carex — Sedge

Variegated sedge, Carex morrowii

Carex — commonly called Sedge — are grasslike perennials most often grown for their colorful, often variegated foliage. Sedges are different from grasses in that they have solid, triangular stems, and the sheaths of the leaves, which are borne in threes, completely encircle the stems.

Carex usually bears flowers in dense heads or spikes arising from the axils of leaves or bracts.

There are sedges for nearly every site in the garden. They are particularly effective in borders, rock gardens, containers, and water gardens.

Carex is a genus of about 1,500 or more species. Most are native to boggy areas and moist woodlands. Sedges can be found in temperature and arctic zones, as well as high altitudes in tropical regions.

Variegated leaves of Carex japonica
Variegated leaves of Carex japonica

Get to Know Carex 

  • Plant type: Deciduous and evergreen or perennials 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5 to 9 
  • Hardiness:  
  • Height and width: Varies, most are 1 to 2 feet (.3-.6m) tall and wide
  • Growth rate: Moderate to fast
  • Form and habit: Low, arching form 
  • Foliage: Variegated colorful foliage; general grass-like leaves usually linear, 3-ranked, and with leaf bases sheathing the triangular stems, which are solid and without notches  
  • Flowers: Panicles of small, grass-like flowers in short spikes 
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Uses: Shady borders, rock gardens, water gardens, Southern gardens, as an accent, in masses, or as edging, or in containers 
  • Garden companions:  
  • Common name: Sedge 
  • Botanical name: Carex 
  • Family name: Cyperaceae 
  • Origin:  Temperate zones, as well as high altitudes in tropical regions

Where to Plant Carex 

  • Plant Carex in shade in hot areas; sun in areas with cool summers. 
  • Plant Carex in moist, well-drained soil. 

When to Plant Carex 

  • Set container-grown Carex in the garden in spring and autumn.
  • Sow Carex seed of New Zealand species at 50-55°F (10-13°C) in early spring; expose those from Europe and North America to winter cold in a cold frame.  

Planting and Spacing Carex 

  • Space Carex 28 inches (46.7cm) apart.  

How to Water and Feed Carex 

  • Keep Carex continuously moist, but don’t overwater. 
  • Allow Carex to dry down. 
  • Feed Carex with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. 

How to Care for Carex 

  • Cut back the previous year’s Carex foliage in spring. 
  • In summer, cut out any dead leaves on evergreen species. 

Carex Pests and Diseases 

  • Carex can develop rust, smuts, and many fungal leaf spots. 
  • Carex are susceptible to attacks by aphids.  

Carex Propagation 

  • Set container-grown Carex in the garden in spring and autumn.
  • Sow Carex seed of New Zealand species at 50-55°F (10-13°C) in early spring; expose those from Europe and North America to winter cold in a cold frame.
  • Divide Carex between midspring and early summer.   

Carex Varieties to Grow 

  • Carex buchananii, Leather leaf sedge, evergreen perennial, curly-tipped, arching blades 2-3 feet (.6-.9m) tall make clumps of striking reddish bronze. Use with gray foliage or with deep greens.  In mid- and late summer, produces brown flower spikes, .25-1.25 inch (.5-3cm) long, on lax stems, to 20 inches (50cm) long. To 20-30 inches (50-75cm) tall and 36 inches (90cm) wide. New Zealand.  
  • C. comans (A. Albula), New Zealand hair sedge, evergreen perennial, dense, finely textured clumps of narrow leaves are silvery green. Leaves, usually 1 foot (.3m) long, may reach 6 feet (1.8m); on slopes, they look like flowing water. Also sold as ‘Frosty Curls’. ‘Bronze’ is similar but has coppery brown leaves. Inconspicuous brown flower spikes, .25-1 inch (.5-2.5cm) long, are produced on stems to 10 inches (25cm) long in mid- and late summer. Variants with warm brown foliage have been selected. To 10-14 inches (25-35cm) tall and 30 inches (75cm) wide. New Zealand.
  • C. conica ‘Marginata’, a 6 inch (15.2cm) dwarf sedge with white-margined leaves.  
  • C. elata, ‘Bowles Golden’, a handsome tufted sedge, is 24 inches (61cm) tall with bright golden yellow leaves that have thin green margins.  
  • C. flacca (C. glauca), Blue sedge, creeping perennial with blue-gray grasslike foliage 6-12 inches (15.2-30.5cm) tall; evergreen only in mildest climates. Tolerant of many soils and irrigation schemes; best in moist soil. Not invasive but spreads slowly and can be clipped like a lawn. Endures light foot traffic, moderate shade, competition with tree roots.  
  • C. grayi, Gray’s sedge, deciduous, densely tufted perennial, with short rhizomes, forming strong, erect clumps of broad, rich green leaves, to 24 inches (60cm) long. Stems 24 inches (60cm) long bear mid-green flower spikes, .5-.75 inch (1.5-2cm) long, from early to late summer, followed by star-like, pale green seed heads; these resemble spiked clubs and are good for flower arranging. To 30 inches (75cm) tall and 24 inches (60cm) wide. North America.  
  • C. morrowii ‘Variegata’, Variegated Japanese sedge, has silver variegated foliage. Drooping leaves striped with green and white make 1 foot (.3m) mound. Ending plant; single clumps attractive among rocks.  
  • ‘Aurea’ has green leaves with a yellow margin. The yellow color fades as summer temperatures rise. 
  • C. muskingumensis, Palm branch sedge, loosely tufted, deciduous, gently spreading perennial with erect stems that bear horizontally held, bright green leaves, to 30 inches (75cm) long. In early and midsummer, produces golden brown flower spikes, .5-1 inch (1.5-2.5cm) long, on stems 24-30 inches (60-75cm) long. To 28 inches (75cm) tall and 18 inches (45cm) wide. North America.  
  • C. ornithopoda, Bird’s foot sedge, clump-forming, dense, evergreen perennial with short rhizomes, and keeled, light green leaves, 2-8 inches (5-20cm) long. In late spring, bears slender, orange-brown flower spikes, .25-1 inch (6-15mm) long, becoming curved and claw-like, on stems 2-6 inches (5-15cm) long. To 2-6 inches (5-15cm) tall and wide. N.W. Europe.  
  • C. pendula, Drooping sedge, Pendulous sedge, Weeping sedge, tufted, evergreen perennial forming dense clumps of relatively wide, keeled, shiny, mid-green leaves, to 36 inches (90cm) long, and blue-green beneath. In late spring and early summer, arching stems, to 4.5 feet (1.4m) long, produce cylindrical, catkin-like, dark brown flower spikes, to 6 inches (15cm) long; erect at first, they become pendent with age. To 4.5 feet (1.4m) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide.  
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