Sedge (Carex) Plant Growing Guide

Updated: Jun. 07, 2024

Sedges (Carex) are grass-like perennials grown for their foliage. Very versatile, sedge plants can be used in containers or as ground covers.

Sedge Care and Growing Tips

WGCarex oshimensis Evergold.jpgWalters Gardens, Inc.
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  • Common name: Sedge
  • Botanical name: Carex spp.
  • Hardiness zones: 3 to 9, depending on the species (Some are grown as annuals where not hardy)
  • Water needs: can be low or high, depending on the species
  • Light needs: can be full sun to deep shade, depending on the species
  • Soil type: average, well draining, but can be dry or moist depending on species

Sedges (Carex spp.) are grass-like perennial plants grown primarily for their foliage. As low growing plants, they are often used as ground covers or turf alternatives, but they can also be beautiful specimen plants and container plants.

“Sedges shine in creating a foundation underneath showier perennials and woody plants, especially in partial sun or shady conditions,” says Shannon Currey, who is in charge of Education and Outreach for Izel Native Plants. “Rather than oceans of mulch or trying to grow turfgrass in shade, use sedges as a living ground cover.”

They also thrive in containers, where colorful selections can pop and those with fine, linear foliage tie together the composition.

What Are Sedges?

Carex squarrosaAli Majdfar/Getty Images
Native Carex squarrosa, also known as narrow-leaved cattail sedge

Often called sedges, Carex spp. are not true grasses but as members of the Cyperaceae family, they have similar characteristics to true grasses, rushes, restios, and cattails. The plants can range from 6 to 36 inches tall and 12 to 36 inches wide with solid, three-edged, triangular stems.

Where to Plant Sedges

Depending on the species, sedges perform well in woodland gardens, rock gardens, under trees, ornamental beds, and in containers. They can serve as specimen plants, ground covers, or turf substitutes to eliminate mowing.

There are some that spread via rhizomes, making them excellent ground covers and weed suppressors. The foliage texture varies from fine to coarse and although generally green in color, there are variegated and red/bronze cultivars.

There are about 2,000 species of Carex so their cultural requirements vary. “As a group, they tend toward habitats that are moist with shade for at least part of the day,” says Shannon. “That said, there is a sedge for just about any landscape situation, from dry and rocky to wet and mucky. It’s often about balancing moisture and sunlight—many will take more sun with consistent moisture.”

Wildlife Benefits of Sedges

In addition to their versatility in the landscape, the native sedges provide wildlife value: host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars, habitat and nesting sites for reptiles and amphibians, and food (seed) for birds and small mammals.

Usually, deer and rabbits do not bother them, and their primary pest/disease issues are foliar fungal diseases.

When to Cut Back Sedges

Many are “evergreen” or “semi-evergreen,” which means the foliage will stay above ground in the winter. However, the foliage may look ratty by winter’s end. If this is the case, up to two-thirds of the foliage can be cut for a spring “refresh.”

The deciduous types are dormant in the winter and produce a flush of new growth in the spring. These need a light pruning to remove dead foliage from the winter.

How and When to Plant Sedges

Japanese Sedge EverlimeNahhan/Getty Images
‘Everlime’ variegated sedge

Sedges produce flowers and very fine seed. They are best planted in the spring or fall as mature plants, not started from seed. However, if purchasing many to establish a “turf,” it is cost effective to buy 1- to 2-inch-wide plugs (very small starter plants).

Established sedges can be divided in the spring, but generally these plants do not need to be divided or fertilized.

Recommended Sedges to Grow

Carex pensylvanica commonly called Pennsylvania sedge on a cloudy day.McKinneMike/Getty Images
Carex pensylvanica is commonly called Pennsylvania sedge

There are many North American natives, here are a few of the most popular species:

  • Cherokee sedge (C. cherokeensis): medium to occasionally wet soil in full sun to part shade. Thrives in moist soil for borders, woodland gardens, and rock gardens.
  • Palm sedge (C. muskinomensis): leaves resemble miniature palm fronds, clump forming, spreading by rhizomes, average, medium to wet soil in full sun to part shade. There is “Little Midge’ and ‘Oehme’.
  • Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica): use as a lawn substitute for dry soils in shady areas, semi evergreen, spreads by rhizomes.
  • Plantain-leaf sedge or seersucker sedge (C. plantaginea): broad leaf, lime green, puckered foliage in clumps, semi-evergreen, part shade, moist soil, spreads slowly by rhizomes, good ground cover.
  • Tussock sedge (C. stricta): moist to wet soils including standing water, full sun to part shade, spreads by rhizomes.
  • White-tinged sedge (C. albicans): tolerates dry soil better than the other species. Spreads slowly by rhizomes, can be a ground cover or turf alternative. Part to full shade.

EverColor Series

Carex oshimensis 'Everest'John Caley/Getty Images
Carex oshimensis ‘Everest’

Developed from an Asian species, the EverColor series (Carex oshimensis) has some combination of white/green/gold striped foliage which adds light to dark shady corners. They perform well in the shade and can be used as specimens, ground covers, and container plants.

  • Evergold: creamy yellow variegation
  • Everillo: all foliage is light green to chartreuse
  • Everlime: inner strips are green; outer strips are a lighter lime green color
  • Eversheen: inner strips are yellow/gold; outer stripes are dark green
  • Everest: inner strips are dark green; outer strips are white
  • Everglow: inner strips are green; outer strips are white, gold, and orange

About the Expert

Shannon Currey is a horticultural educator with Izel Native Plants. She has worked in the nursery trade since 2006, with expertise in grasses and grass-like plants and ever-expanding work with North American native perennials.