Dictionary of Flowers: Carex (Sedge)

There are many varieties of Carex (Sedge). Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Aubrey Shepherd and Flickr
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There are many varieties of Carex (Sedge). Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of anemoneprojectors and Flickr

  • Carex
  • Common name: sedge
  • Family: Cyperaceae
  • Category: perennial in USDA zones 6-9
  • Height: 12" to 36"
  • Width: up to 36"
  • Sun/part shade
  • Blooms: grown for foliage
  • Growth habit: arching, mounding. Grown as a filler or thriller in containers
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average, moist, free draining. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, groundcover, mixed border, rain garden
  • Diseases: rust, crown and root rot
  • Pests: aphids, mealybugs, slugs

Carex is a large genus of grassy plants. Though not a grass, it is used as an ornamental grass in gardens; their growth rate is slower. 

Carex grows in wet, marshy areas, river edges and damp woodlands. They are found all over the world in temperate regions. 

The carex leaves are green, but can be variegated green and yellow or white, and bronze. 

Sedges can be divided into three groups, depending on their origin: North American, a diverse group with different requirements depending on species, Asian -shade sedges, suited for container planting, can be evergreen in mild zones-, and New Zealand sedges - sun tolerant-

They spread by rhizomes. 

Carex prefers moist to wet soils and suffers stress if the soil is allowed to dry out. 

They grow in sandy, loamy or clay soils with neutral pH. 

Light conditions depend on species. They can be grown in sun to part shade, depending on species.

Sedges can be used as a lawn substitute for wet areas.

Beautiful New Zealand sedge. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Jon Sullivan and Flickr
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Beautiful New Zealand sedge. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Jon Sullivan and Flickr




Sedges are propagated by division when they become crowded.

They should be planted in spring and summer, these seasons being the best time to divide them as well.

They do not require much fertilizer, top dressing with granular fertilizer or applying a liquid formula when they break dormancy is the preferred method. Do not allow the fertilizer to touch the crown, to prevent damage to the plant.

Cut sedges back harshly in spring to remove damaged foliage and to allow the new growth to come up.

Fuzzy Carex buds emerging. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of newtestleopard and Flickr

Sedges aren't usually affected by disease, but rot and rust might occur if not watered properly when grown in containers. If slugs are a problem, use slug bait around the plants.

Mealybugs and aphids can attack carex, but they hardly ever become a serious problem. It is deer resistant.

Popular varieties:

  • Carex glauca ‘Blue Zinger’ - one foot tall, blue-green. Moist soil and part shade
  • Carex muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ – dwarf variety, good fall color (yellow)
  • Carex morrowi ‘Silver Sceptre’ – green leaves with white edges, good for containers. Part shade
  • Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ – bronze leaves, one to three feet tall. Sun or shade
  • Carex grayi – Grows two to three feet tall. One of the few sedges that might self seed
  • Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’ – orange colored sedge, can be grown from seed. Eight to ten inches. It prefers full sun and moist soil.
Seed pods of Carex. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of anemoneprojectors and Flickr
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Seed pods of Carex. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Aubrey Shepherd and Flickr

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