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Trend Alert: A Carex for Every Garden

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Trend Alert: A Carex for Every Garden

March 17, 2023

There’s a hot plant on the market right now. And it’s not an exotic rose or rare Himalayan poppy. It’s Carex, a highly versatile native sedge. “There’s one for every single garden,” says Sam Hoadley, the manager of horticultural research at Mt. Cuba Center, the botanic garden in Delaware committed to native plant conservation and their habitats. Hoadley and team just completed a four-year trial of more than 70 varieties (65 species and five cultivars) of this grass-like perennial for the mid-Atlantic region. “Carex can grow in everything from shaded, swamp conditions to dry sand dunes on the coast—and everything in between.” Plus, they help retain soil and suppress weeds; provide habitats for wildlife, like the endangered bog turtle; are deer resistant—and did we mention beautiful? And if that hasn’t sold you yet, Carex can also be grown as a native lawn alternative.

All the recent buzz about Carex has caused some species to sell out at nurseries. But the demand is a good thing, thinks Hoadley. “It is going to drive production,” he says. “If you want to see a change in the nursery industry, ask for native plants.” The more native plants we incorporate into our yards, the better our gardens will be for the planet. To learn more about the trial and find a Carex that’s right for your garden, go here.

Below, he shares six popular Carex species to consider. “Since they are a cool season perennial, which means they’re doing the bulk of their growing in cooler temperatures, Carex are best planted in the spring and fall,” says Hoadley.

Photography courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center.

Carex pensylvanica

Here, Carex pensylvanica, the most common Carex in the nursery industry now, is planted with Oxalis violacea at Mt. Cuba. A good way to know how to identify Carex is to learn the saying, “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses are hollow right up from the ground.”
Above: Here, Carex pensylvanica, the most common Carex in the nursery industry now, is planted with Oxalis violacea at Mt. Cuba. A good way to know how to identify Carex is to learn the saying, “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses are hollow right up from the ground.”

C. woodii

C. woodii was the gold medalist of the trial. It flaunts fine textured foliage, and has a similar slow-to-spread habit as the more common C. pensylvanica, but it forms a denser mat of foliage, which helps suppress weeds. While it prefers shade, it is highly adaptable to sunny spots.
Above: C. woodii was the gold medalist of the trial. It flaunts fine textured foliage, and has a similar slow-to-spread habit as the more common C. pensylvanica, but it forms a denser mat of foliage, which helps suppress weeds. While it prefers shade, it is highly adaptable to sunny spots.
Above: In spring, C. woodii erupts in a carpet of flaxen-colored blooms.

C. eburnea

C. eburnea is a great lawn alternative. Resembling a fine fescue turfgrass, it forms low-growing clumps that spread slowly. It is especially recommended for areas with dry conditions.
Above: C. eburnea is a great lawn alternative. Resembling a fine fescue turfgrass, it forms low-growing clumps that spread slowly. It is especially recommended for areas with dry conditions.

C. bromoides

Plant C. bromoides en masse where you can highlight its fine-textured, flowing foliage. “It looks a little like prairie dropseed grass,” says Hoadley. “But it has the advantage of being able to grow in sun or shade and in wetter conditions.”
Above: Plant C. bromoides en masse where you can highlight its fine-textured, flowing foliage. “It looks a little like prairie dropseed grass,” says Hoadley. “But it has the advantage of being able to grow in sun or shade and in wetter conditions.”

C. muskingumensis

C. muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ features a honeycomb of foliage when viewed from above. Due to its compact size, it’s recommended for containers.
Above: C. muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ features a honeycomb of foliage when viewed from above. Due to its compact size, it’s recommended for containers.

C. grayi

Above: Carex is mostly grown for its foliage, but Hoadley thinks it’s underappreciated for its flowers and fruit. “They may not be the thing that your eyes drawn to first,” he says. “But they add a lot of interest and richness to a garden.” C. grayi is a favorite of his that just missed being one of the top performers in the trial. Hoadley grows it year after year at home just for the fruit, which resembles medieval mace, and will last from summer through fall.

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