Carex - Fine Textural Sedges for the Perennial Shade Garden

Carex - Fine Textural Sedges for the Perennial Shade Garden

An Introduction to Growing Carex

By Published October 07, 2016 Updated April 19, 2023

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The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into many of the plants that we have sold over the years, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.

If you're a beginning gardener looking for versatile and low-maintenance plants to add to your garden, you may want to consider Carex, commonly known as sedge. With over 2,000 species, this diverse group of plants offers a range of colors, textures, and sizes to suit any garden design. Carex plants are also incredibly adaptable, thriving in a variety of growing conditions, from moist soil to full sun or shade. In this article, we'll introduce you to the world of Carex, sharing some tips on how to choose, grow, and care for these hardy and attractive plants. Whether you're looking to create a lush and natural-looking landscape or simply want to add some interesting texture to your garden, Carex is a great option to consider.

History of Carex

Carex is a genus of plants that belong to the family Cyperaceae. The genus includes over 2,000 species that are distributed worldwide, with the majority found in temperate regions. The history of Carex can be traced back to the early Cenozoic era, around 66 million years ago.

Fossil evidence suggests that Carex plants were present in the Paleocene epoch, which lasted from 66 to 56 million years ago. The oldest known fossil of the genus was discovered in North America and dates back to the early Eocene epoch, around 55 million years ago.

Throughout history, Carex plants have been used for a variety of purposes. Some species were used for food, while others were used for medicinal purposes. For example, Native Americans used Carex roots to treat diarrhea and dysentery.

In modern times, Carex plants are popular in horticulture, particularly in creating wetland and bog gardens. Some species are also used as ornamental plants in gardens and landscaping. Today, Carex plants continue to be an important part of many ecosystems, providing food and habitat for wildlife and helping to maintain healthy wetland environments.

Can Carex Grow in Shade?

There are several varieties of Carex that thrive in shade. Here are a few examples:

  1. Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance': This attractive evergreen sedge features variegated green and white foliage that brightens up shady areas. It grows to a height of around 12 inches and spreads to form a dense clump.

  2. Carex siderosticha 'Variegata': This clump-forming sedge has green and white striped leaves that create a brightening effect in shady areas. It grows to a height of around 10 inches and spreads slowly.

  3. Carex pensylvanica: This native sedge is often found in woodlands and other shady areas. It has narrow green leaves and grows to a height of around 18 inches.

  4. Carex platyphylla: This sedge is known for its large, broad leaves that give it a tropical look. It grows to a height of around 12 inches and spreads slowly.

  5. Carex muskingumensis: Also known as palm sedge, this native sedge has long, narrow leaves that resemble palm fronds. It grows to a height of around 24 inches and spreads slowly.

These are just a few examples of Carex varieties that do well in shade. When choosing a variety for your garden, be sure to consider factors like soil type, moisture levels, and the amount of sunlight the area receives to ensure the best possible results.

How to Grow Carex (Sedge)

Here are some basic tips for growing and caring for Carex (sedge) for the beginning gardener:

  1. Choose the right variety: As mentioned earlier, Carex comes in many different varieties, each with its own growing requirements. Choose a variety that is well-suited to your garden's growing conditions.

  2. Plant in the right location: Most Carex varieties prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. However, some varieties can also tolerate full sun. Be sure to plant your Carex in a location that suits its needs.

  3. Water regularly: Carex plants prefer moist soil, so be sure to water regularly, especially during hot and dry periods. However, be careful not to overwater, as this can cause root rot.

  4. Mulch around the plants: Mulching around your Carex plants can help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.

  5. Fertilize sparingly: Carex plants generally do not require heavy fertilization. However, you can apply a balanced fertilizer in the spring to help promote healthy growth.

  6. Divide plants as needed: Some Carex varieties can spread aggressively, forming dense clumps that may need to be divided every few years. This can also help rejuvenate older plants.

  7. Trim back as needed: Some Carex varieties may benefit from occasional pruning to maintain their shape and size. Trim back any dead or damaged leaves or stems as needed.

By following these basic tips, you can successfully grow and care for Carex in your garden. With their attractive foliage and easy maintenance, Carex can be a great addition to any garden.

Using Sedges in the Landscape

Carex, or sedge, is a versatile plant that can be incorporated into the outdoor landscape in many ways. As a groundcover, Carex varieties form dense mats of foliage that help suppress weeds and add texture to the landscape. Planting them in a large swath or as a border can create a natural-looking garden. Many Carex varieties prefer moist soil, making them ideal for planting near a water feature like a pond or stream. The lush foliage of Carex can provide a beautiful contrast to the reflective surface of the water. Carex can also be grown in containers and used to add texture and interest to a patio or balcony. Pairing them with other shade-loving plants like ferns and hostas can create a beautiful and low-maintenance display.

Woodland gardens are another ideal spot for Carex, as they prefer dappled shade and moist soil. Pairing them with other shade-loving plants like bleeding heart, astilbe, and heuchera can create a cohesive display. Some Carex varieties have striking foliage that can be used as an accent plant in the landscape. For example, Carex 'Ice Dance' has variegated foliage that adds brightness to shady areas, while Carex 'Evergold' has golden foliage that provides a pop of color in the landscape. With their versatility and low-maintenance nature, Carex can be a great addition to any garden design.

Carex is an excellent choice for beginning gardeners looking for a low-maintenance, versatile plant to add to their outdoor landscape. With a variety of species and cultivars to choose from, there is a Carex plant that will thrive in almost any growing condition. Whether you use them as a groundcover, in containers, or as an accent plant, Carex adds texture, interest, and beauty to any garden. With its lush foliage and adaptability, Carex is a fantastic option for those just starting in the world of gardening. So why not give it a try? Incorporate Carex into your garden design and enjoy the beauty and benefits it provides.

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