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Gardening 101: Wood Rush

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Gardening 101: Wood Rush

February 5, 2019

Greater Wood Rush, Luzula sylvatica

Wood rush looks like a grass and behaves like a grass, butt Luzula sylvatica actually is a rush, with round stalks.

Wood rush has hardy, ribbon-like blades which carpet the ground in a mounding effect and nonchalantly fill in spaces between other plants, smothering weeds along the way. This low-maintenance plant is a reliable perennial to USDA zone 3 and doesn’t demand much sun or water, or your attention.

A true standout in a shade garden, wood rush unfortunately can be elusive to obtain; if you can’t find it at your local plant nursery, read on for online sources:

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Above:” A most attractive, trouble free, tussock-forming specimen with attractive, slightly hairy leaves and large, dark nut-brown umbels of seed,” L. sylvatica is “the largest and finest of the wood rushes,” writes Ricke Darke, author of The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes ($35.56 from Amazon). A packet of Luzula Sylvatica Seeds is $2.18 from Plant World Seeds.

Clusters of small brownish flowers are held on arching stems and appear in late spring creating a hazy effect. I personally like the look when they all burst in bloom but I have many clients that ask for the stems to be removed, either because the plant looks messy now or the flowers detract from the leaves.

L. sylvatica grows at the base of oak trees in the UK. Photograph by Matt Lavin via Flickr.
Above: L. sylvatica grows at the base of oak trees in the UK. Photograph by Matt Lavin via Flickr.

Sometimes harder-to-find plants are the good ones. Case in point is the elusive Luzula. Though a bit lesser known and difficult to obtain, Luzula is a true standout that provides a striking texture throughout the year.  (This plant is primarily used as an ornamental ground cover for shady areas.)

Wood rush. Photograph by Matt Lavin via Flickr.
Above: Wood rush. Photograph by Matt Lavin via Flickr.

It’s your choice whether to remove the flowering stems; Luzula will self-sow (but not too wildly) if you don’t remove the seed heads.  Plus, sometimes it’s nice at this time of the seasonto give your plant a subtle pruning to control its size.

Wood Rush Varieties:

  • Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’  boasts golden-green blades in the spring, maturing to lime green in the fall and after the first kiss of frost the leaves turn a bright golden hue. This plant is especially useful in dry shade situations and looks lovely paired with burgundy-leafed Heuchera and contrasting broad-leafed Bergenia. This variety of wood rush rows to 8 inches high and 24 inches wide.
  • Luzula sylvatica ‘Marginata’ sports deep green leaves with a delicate, creamy edge and is pleasing to look at year-round. This variety of wood rush forms large patches in full sun (with water) to shade, including dry shade. It’s a great evergreen plant for massing. It grows from 8 to 12 inches high to 12 inches wide.

Cheat Sheet

A pot of Luzula Sylvatica &#8
Above: A pot of Luzula Sylvatica ‘Marginata’ is €1.90 at Guido van de Steen.
  • Luzula is the perfect companion for ferns, Azalea, and other woodland favorites.  Also especially handsome situated under Pieris shrubs, which have a tendency to become a bit bare near their feet, and which Luzula can dress up nicely.
  • Wood rush works wonders in a variety of garden themes from modern (when massed) to Asian, woodland, or sprawling cottage-style flower beds.
  • Consider growing this easy ground cover under the shade of large trees, typically a challenging spot.

Keep It Alive

  • L. sylvatica is simple to grow and resilient to pests and disease.
  • Plant wood rush in part to full shade.
  • Luzula truly dislikes full sun combined with poor, dry soil. Full sun and constantly moist conditions are acceptable.
  • Wood rush likes moderately fertile to moist and humus-rich soil (but also tolerates clay).
  • L. sylvatica politely spreads and can be yanked out if it steps out of bounds.

Read more growing tips in Wood Rush: A Guide to Planting, Care & Design our curated guides to Grasses 101. See more rushes in action:

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