Beneficial Insects
Composting
Fertilize & Mulch
Garden Plans
Garden Pests
Lawn Management
Quick Tips
Specialty Gardens

Gardening — Wisconsin Native Sedges

Why Plant Native Sedges?

  Border Plant. Line a path or walkway with arching sedges, or low-growing tufts. Frame your planting area with a mounding sedge species.
  Accent or Specimen. A large arching sedge offers great architectural form.
  Groundcover or lawn replacement. A single species such as Pennsylvania Sedge can be used as a lawn-like groundcover, but why not include a variety of compatible sedges and add some dimension!
  Usefule in Wetlands Sedges are predominant plants in vegetation of many wetlands and are useful to plant in moist or wet areas of your garden.
  Rain garden or dentention area. Some sedges are especially well suited to deal with water runoff and are excellent choices for the rain garden. Awl-Fruited Sedge, Fox Sedge and Palm Sedge are all good rain garden species.
  Filling-in. Fill those empty spaces or “holes” in an existing planting with the right sedge. Native woodland sedges can be added under trees in the root zone, or around the base of shrubs and taller plants. Sedges intermingle beautifully in any setting.

Sedge Basics

Porcupine Sedge, Carex hystericina There are over 100 species of sedge plants. These grass-like plants are drought tolerant, easy to grow and practically maintenance free. Native sedge plants offer the opportunity to replenish and renew natural landscapes while giving the gardener a hardy plant made for the region. Whichever species you opt for, growing sedge plants in the garden brings texture and movement to any area of the landscape.

Sedges and grasses also occupy a very important ecological role in communities where they are native. They are food plants, shelter plants, and soil stabilizers. They can even serve as a growth surface for other plant species. Sedges tent to crowd out invasive species.

Many different kinds of birds will nest in and around grasses and sedges as well. Some species are pivotal in the succession of different habitat types.

Sedges occupy a very important ecological role in communities where they are native. They are food plants, shelter plants, and soil stabilizers.

What Are Sedges?

Wetland with sedges

Sedges are predominant
plants in wetland vegetation.

At first glance, one might assume sedges are grasses. They are not and are held in the genus Carex. They are useful in moist areas, such as around ponds, but there are also types of sedge that thrive in dry regions. Both ornamental and native sedge plants produce tiny seeds which feed some bird species, and many animals use the foliage to line and create nests. Sedge plants have the characteristic strappy leaves similar to many grasses, and just like grass, they reproduce from seed and rhizomes.

Like grasses, sedges tend to form in either dense clumps or tufts. Unlike grasses, they usually have three-sided stems (although Bulrush sedge (Schoenoplectus) has cylindrical stems) and leaves — in the form of true leaves, flaps or sheaths — that are borne in threes in spiraling vertical positions up the stem.

Sedges have thick, fibrous roots or underground stems. the seed heads of sedges are usually produced at the end of a single erect, usually tufted stem. Numerous, almost inconspicuous flowers (florets) are arranged in either individual or groups of “spikes” at the top of the stem.

Most sedges are bisexual and more rigid in form than grasses and so are less adept at catching the pollen as it passes through the air. Once pollinated, the ovary in most species of sedge forms a tiny, single-seed, nut-like fruit which is dispersed either on the wind, by flotation or by sticking to passing animals.

Growing Sedge Plants

Wetland with sedges

Most nurseries have some varieties of sedge on hand. If you are looking for a particular species, you may need to order seed or starts. Seeded plants will take a couple of seasons to get to useable size but they grow as easily as grass seed.

It is best to source native varieties through a grower, as some of these plants are endangered and harvesting from the wild is prohibited. The majority of sedge types grow in either sun or shade. Some varieties are xeric or require dry locations, while others are hydric and need to be constantly moist. Sedges that are mesic have the broadest tolerance of both dry and moist conditions.

Sedge Plant Care

Sedge plant care is minimal. They rarely need fertilizer, the plants can be easily moved and they grow rapidly and can even be used as a turf. Sedge plants take to occasional mowing in lawn situations and have the advantage of requiring little further attention, unlike traditional turf grass, which needs plenty of added nitrogen and may get weedy.

When fertilizing, feed the plant in early summer with a light nitrogen plant food. Irrigate plants in the sun at least 3 times during the month. For those plants in shadier areas, irrigate just once per month unless your region is in acute drought, in which case water 2 times per month. Suspend watering in fall and winter. If you wish, cut back sedges after they have bloomed to preserve a more tidy appearance. You can mow the plants but use a sharp blade and mow no lower than 2/3 of the plant’s height.

If the plant starts to die out in the center, divide the sedge between spring and early summer to make even more plants. If you don’t want the plant to seed, cut off the seed heads in early spring.

Wisconsin Native Sedge Plants Catalog

Name Species Height Soil Moisture Light
Awl-Fruited Sedge stipata 1-3 feet C,L,S W Light is full sun partial sun
Bottlebrush Sedge comosa 2-4 feet C,L,S Mo,W Light is full sun
Broom-like Sedge bromoides 1-2 feet L Mo,W Light is partial shade or shade
Bur Sedge grayi 2 - 3 feet C,L M,Mo,W Light is full sun partial sun
Common Wood Sedge blanda 2 feet A,C,L M,Mo,W Light is full sun, partial sun or shade
Creek Sedge amphibola 1-2 feet L M,Mo,W Light is partial shade
Davis Sedge davisii 2½ to 3 feet L W Light is full sun partial sun
Eastern Star Sedge radiata/td> 1 - 2 feet L,S M,Mo Light is partial shade or shade
Fox Sedge vulpinoidea 1 to 3 feet L W Light is full sun partial sun
Fringed Sedge crinita 2 to 3 feet L M,M,Mo Light is full sun partial sun
Golden Star Sedge rosea 1 foot L,S D,M Light is partial shade
Ivory Sedge eburnea 6-12 inches L D,M Light is partial shade
Long-Beaked Sedge sprengelii 2-3 feet C,L,S D,M,Mo Light is full sun or partial sun
Palm Sedge muskingumensis 2 - 3 feet C,L,S M,Mo Light is full sun partial sun
Pennsylvania Sedge pensylvanica 6 to 12 inches L D,M Light is partial shade or shade
Plaintain Leaved Sedge plantaginea 6-12 inches C,L,S D,M Light is partial shade
Porcupine Sedge hystericina C,L,S Mo,W Otto Light is full sun
Shaved Sedge tonsa S,R D Otto Light is full sun partial sun
White Tinged Sedge albicans L D,M Otto Light is partial shade or shade

SOIL:  L = Loam      A = Acid      C = Clay      S = Sandy      R = Rocky
MOISTURE:  D = Dry      M = Medium      Mo = Moist      W = Wet 

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Native Berry Shrubs
 Lovely Native Phlox
 Use Eggshells For Your Plants
 How to Use Banana Peels in Your Garden

Bees flying footer graphic