What Is a Sedge?
Sedges look a lot like grasses. Botanically speaking, they are very different. Here’s a common rhyme used to help ID sedges from grasses:
“Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses are hollow, straight to the ground”
“Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses have knees that bend to the ground”
Either way, from our experience the best way to find a stray grass in your patch of sedge is by feel. Run your hand along and if you feel something different than then rest, you’ve found the grass. Typically you can feel the little sharpness of the edges of the sedge and when you feel something smooth, you have found the intruder.
Here is a a page with some great photos and in-depth explanation of how to tell the difference between sedges and grasses: http://hiltonpond.org/ThisWeek060615.html
Why Sedge and Not Grass?
The turf grass we use here on the east coast is not a native species, and does not play a role in the ecosystem. Ecologically speaking, you may as well have concrete. That’s not to say grass lawns are bad! They serve many utilitarian purposes. But if you don’t need to walk on it or play sports on it, you could consider a patch of sedge. Sedges are also useful to fill in blank spaces in the garden. Use them instead of yearly mulch. Use them as accent plants, instead of lawn, or instead of mulch under your trees.
Most sedges do fine in shade, which can be a challenge for turf grass. And there are also sedges that love wet and mucky spots. So they may perform better in challenging areas than lawn grass.
Generally speaking, sedges support a number of insects. Hopefully you join us in our enthusiasm for the many insects supported by native plants. It’s a vital function they play in the ecosystem. Insects feeds the birds. Many sedges also support the caterpillar stage of some butterflies and birds. And small wildlife and some birds eat the seeds. Some of the sedges support butterfly larvae, too!
On the aesthetic side, they are often pretty nice looking. There is even one sedge called “Pretty Sedge”!
Carex woodii (Pretty Sedge): (above) Narrow fine textured leaves, forming colonies. Yellow-green spikelets are held above the leaves in spring. In the wild, occurs in well drained, moist or dry acidic or calcareous woods. In landscape situations, it is an excellent groundcover for the shade garden.
Carex albicans (White-tinged Sedge) Bright green narrow thread-like foliage. Thrives in a well-drained shade garden or dry woodland. Can be mowed several times per season.
Carex laxiculmis (Creeping Sedge) (above) Forms semi-evergreen mounds of foot-tall lush shaggy foliage. Striking blue-green color. In late spring, greenish scaly flower spikes are displayed above the foliage. This sedge occurs in moist woods or can be used as an accent or groundcover in a shade garden.
Carex socialis (Social sedge) (Above) Forms dense tufts of light green, semi-evergreen narrow foliage. In late spring, green elongated flower spikes appear above the foliage. Occurs in part shade to partly sunny moist, wet or seasonally flooded woods. Use as woodland groundcover or in a rain garden.
Carex leavenworthii (Lawn sedge) (Above) A clump forming grass for part shade will spread by and not a runner, but seeds out nicely for quick fill. Will need 1 to 2 inches of irrigation per month when grown in full sun. Only grows 6 inches tall, so never needs mowing.
Carex rosea (Curly-styled wood sedge) (Above) A petite perennial sedge that forms 1’ mounds of narrow shaggy foliage. The leaves are deep green and semi-evergreen. In late spring green star-shaped flower spikes are displayed above the foliage. This sedge occurs in shade to partly shaded woods in wet to dry soil. It also has great landscape potential as a woodland groundcover or lawn substitute.
Carex pennsylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) (above) Forms large colonies of deep green, narrow, semi-evergreen blades, about 12” long. In early spring whitish spikelets are held above the leaves. Occurs in partial sun or shade in well drained or dry acidic woodlands. An excellent groundcover or lawn substitute for the shade garden. It can be mowed if desired.
Carex appalachica (Appalachian Sedge) (Above)
Fine textured, and weeping deep green leaves. Excellenet for dry shade. Often found under oaks or hemlocks. While the leaves may be 12″ long, the weeping nature creates a graceful mound about 6″-8″ high.
Choose a single sedge for your area, or plant clumps of different sedges for contrasting texture and color. If the area will get absolutely no foot-traffic, consider mixing in some flowering shade perennials such as woodland phlox, virginia bluebells, or foam flower. They will add a touch of color to set off the carpet of sedge.
Carex blanda (Common Wood Sedge)
This sedge is one that likes moisture. It forms a clump of shiny, lime green evergreen leaves. It can take full sun to part shade. Clay, rocky, wet, or alkaline soils do not bother it. Try it instead of the non-native liriope. It’s interesting seed heads add to it visual appeal, and of course birds and small mammals snack on them.
Carex muskingumensis (Palm Sedge) (above)
This is one of our favorites. By mid-summer, it reminds one of palm fronds. It loves a moist spot, and it’s light limey green color provides a happy statement in the summer landscape. It gets about 2′-3′ tall, providing an architectural element to a damp sunny or part shade garden. With enough moisture it will tolerate full sun, and it will grow in clay. There is a shorter cultivar called ‘Little Midge’ that is cute as can be.