Carex – Beauty Made for Shade!
Tough, easy to grow, and attractive year round, Carex is one of the best plants to happen to shade gardens since… Well, ever. Commonly known as “Sedge,” Carex is a genus that includes a wide variety of plants suited to many different garden settings. If you have a garden, there’s a Carex out there for you.
Most Carex are pest resistant and require only minimal maintenance. Depending on the species, Carex can take sun or shade, or both and varying amounts of moisture. Knowing that shade is difficult for many gardeners, we’ve rounded up our favorite shade-loving varieties that are worthy of a place in your garden.
These beauties are evergreen to semi-evergreen and most varieties are hardy to at least zone 5. They thrive in moist to average, well-draining soil.
Carex ‘Everest’ has narrow, deep blue-green, arching leaves that are frosted with silver-white along the edges. It forms tidy mounds up to 18” tall and equally wide. The white on this variety is very bright and can really light up a dark area. We love it in a container that allows its flowing leaves to arch downward creating a brilliant, near-white fountain.
Carex ‘Evergold’ has been a landscaping standard for many years. Its slender foliage is creamy white to yellow with dark green, narrow edges. The color intensifies as the season progresses. It forms 15” x 18” mounds with an attractive, swirling habit. Often used as a ground cover, ‘Evergold’ will slowly spread via rhizomes, but it is not invasive. It is quite drought-tolerant once established.
Carex ‘Everillo’ is a newer variety and a current favorite of ours. It has a brilliant chartreuse color that becomes more golden with more sun. ‘Everillo’ forms broad flowing 15”-20” wide mounds of 1/3”-1/4” wide leaves that bow gently to the ground. It holds its color all year around and its foliage maintains its good looks in most winters. ‘Everillo’ is very vigorous and will grow well in a container or in the ground.
Carex ‘Feather Falls’ is a standout unlike any other. Its long, wispy leaves cascade like a green and white waterfall. The centers of the leaves are deep emerald green and the narrow edges are bright white. This Carex gets 12” to 18” tall and up to 24” wide. Emphasize the drama of ‘Feather Falls’ by letting it spill over the edges of a container or retaining wall. As an added bonus, it is able to handle more sun than the other varieties.
For those of you looking for native alternatives, we’d like to introduce Carex pensylvanica and Carex laxiculmis ‘Hobb’ Bunny Blue.
Carex pensylvanica, also known as Oak Sedge, is native to most of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. It has very fine semi-evergreen foliage that forms loose clumps that gradually spread via rhizomes and stolons. Plants typically grow 12” tall and spread to about 18”. Carex pensylvanica is a tough plant that can withstand drought, heavy shade, and even wet soil.
A large planting of Carex pensylvanica will look like a low, billowing sea of green. It makes a wonderful ground cover for slopes where this illusion can really be enjoyed. Oak Sedge can even be used as a lawn substitute in partial shade. Nature lovers will appreciate that Carex pensylvanica is a host plant for several types of butterfly and moth caterpillars. It is also used for shelter and nesting material by birds.
‘Hobb’ Bunny Blue is a variety of Carex laxiculmis, which is native to the eastern third of the United States and Canada, where it typically grows in rich woods, stream banks, swamp margins, and moist upland forests. Carex laxiculmis is known for its attractive, dusty blue-green coloration. We’ve selected ‘Hobb’ Bunny Blue because it is the bluest of the blue.
‘Hobb’ Bunny Blue is evergreen and prefers consistently moist soil. It can tolerate some sun with sufficient moisture. Oppositely, it can also tolerate heavy shade. It will slowly naturalize by short rhizomes and seed, forming a useful groundcover.
Carex, like most evergreen grasses, technically doesn’t need cutting back, but you may find a light shear will help refresh its foliage. It can be cut back by ¼ or ¼ in late winter or early spring, before new growth starts to emerge.
Any of these Carex are nice used in combination with wildflowers, ferns, hostas, and other shade perennials for nice contrast and texture. They can also be used (with the exception of Carex pensylvanica) in containers or as edging along flower beds and pathways. All of them are suitable for use as ground covers and erosion control.
These versatile, loveable plants are must-haves in any part-shade to full-shade area. Try them, and we’re sure you’ll come to appreciate Carex as much as we do!