Carex – Beauty Made for the Shade!
Carex, also known as Sedges, are grass-like plants that are mostly very tough, easy to grow and quite attractive. The Genus Carex includes a wide range of species and cultivars suited to many different garden settings. Most 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 have selected several to offer you that are particularly suited for shade and that we think are worthy of a place in your garden.
Carex oshimensis (Japanese Sedge) is probably the most popular Carex species for landscaping with its many attractive cultivars. It is evergreen to semi-evergreen and most varieties are hardy to at least zone 5. Like most Carex, its late spring or early summer blooms are rather insignificant. We recommend that this plant be sheared back in early spring before new growth begins, if the foliage needs to be refreshed. Trim to about ¼ to 1/3 its normal height.
Carex oshimensis ‘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. ‘Everest’ is prettiest in partial shade with soil that is moist, but well-drained.
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ has been a landscaping standard for many years. Its slender (1/8”) foliage is creamy white to yellow with dark green, narrow edges. It forms 15” X 18” mounds with a swirling habit. Its creamy gold color intensifies as the season progresses. Often used as a ground cover, ‘Evergold’ will slowly spread via rhizomes, but it is not invasive. It likes partial shade and moist soil; however, it is quite drought tolerant once established.
Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’ is a newer variety and a current favorite here at the nursery. 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. It is happy in part sun to shade with well-drained soil. We recommend partial shade with morning sun and afternoon shade in warmer regions.
A more unusual variety of Carex is Carex oshimensis ‘Feather Falls’. ‘Feather Falls’ is characterized by its long narrow leaves that cascade down 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. Carex ‘Feather Falls’ prefers full shade to full sun and moist to wet, well-drained soil. Its ability to take full sun makes it particularly useful. It is quite dramatic if grown in a tall container or in a pot on a pedestal that will emphasize its super long leaves. Like the others, it may be trimmed back fairly hard in spring before new shoots begin to appear.
We offer two native Carex, Carex pensylvanica and Carex laxiculmis ‘Hobb’ Bunny Blue.TM
Carex pensylvanica, also known as Oak Sedge, is native to most of the eastern half of the United Sates and Canada. It has very fine semi-evergreen foliage that forms loose clumps that gradually spread via rhizomes and stolons. Plants typically get 8”- 12” tall and spread to about 12”-18”. Carex pensylvanica prefers dappled or partial shade and well-drained, average to moist soil, but it will withstand drought once established. It will tolerate both heavy shade and wet soil. It gets its common name from its natural association with dry woods that include oak trees.
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 lawn substitute in partial shade. It may be mown to around 2”-3” a few times a year, or at least once in late winter or early spring. Another interesting thing about Carex pensylvanica is that it is a good pollinator host plant, providing food for several types of caterpillars. It is also used for shelter and nesting material by birds.
Carex laxiculmis 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. It is also called Spreading or Creeping Sedge, but it tends to be clump-forming and only slowly spreads. Carex laxiculmis has fairly broad leaves, about ½” wide and up to 12”-18” long. These are a wonderful glaucous or dusty blue-green. It is usually evergreen throughout most of its range. It prefers average to moist, well-drained soil and is prettiest with consistent moisture. Although it prefers shade, it will tolerate some sun with consistently moist soil. It can also tolerate heavy shade.
We offer the variety called Carex laxiculmis ‘Hobb’ Bunny BlueTM which has the bluest color leaves. It can get about 8”-12” tall by 12”-16” wide. It will slowly naturalize by short rhizomes and seed. Its distinctive blue color sets it apart in the garden. Cut back in late winter or early spring to renew its foliage.
Any of these Carex are nice used in combination with wildflowers, ferns and other shade perennials for an informal look or use them as a nice contrast to Hosta. They can also be used, with the exception of Carex pensylvanica, effectively in containers or as garden or walk edgers. All of them are suitable for use as ground covers and erosion control.
Give Carex a try – we’re sure you will come to appreciate them as much as we do!