By Suzanne Wodek, Asheville Botanical Gardens
With thousands of species worldwide, Carex is a grass-like perennial that will adapt to most garden situations. Despite its variety of different plants, it is an underused landscape choice. Most are evergreen, free of diseases and pests, and require little or no maintenance.
Garden manager Jay Kranik, his staff, and volunteers have propagated several species for our Annual Spring Plant Sale on April –30. Here are a few of Jay’s recommendations:
Carex appalachica is a clump-forming perennial with narrow grass-like arching leaves. The plant spreads slowly and forms colonies. The flowers are inconspicuous and provide nectar to insects and seeds to birds and turtles. This sedge thrives in dry woods or moisture-challenged shade gardens. Plants should be cut to the ground in late winter.
Carex pensylvanica is one of the most popular sedges because its creeping habit makes this a great lawn alternative for dry soils in light to full shade (think under trees). It will fill in to form a dense, low-growing turf (less than eight inches tall) that never needs mowing. It is also useful in preventing soil erosion on slopes. Many birds use the leaves as nesting material and for cover.
Carex stricta is an “upright sedge” that forms a clump much taller and wider than other sedges. This evergreen species grows by rhizomes in dense clumps one to two feet tall and two feet wide. If you have a wet spot, this is a beautiful, wildlife friendly sedge. It offers habitats for breeding amphibians, nesting sites for birds, and is a larval host for several species of butterflies.
Carex grayii is named for famed 19th century Harvard botany professor Asa Gray. This popular ornamental sedge spreads slowly to form clumps in medium to wet soils. Along a stream or pond, it produces flower spikes that form star-like seed heads that remain into winter, creating seasonal interest. The seeds are a food source for waterfowl and songbirds. This is a great sedge for your water or wildlife garden.
Carex plantaginea, known as the “seersucker sedge,” has a puckered leaf and is much more yellow-green than other species. It thrives in rich, well-drained soil, in light to medium shade, and is tolerant of alkaline soils and rocky limestone.
Carex vulpinoidea is a wetland sedge that forms clumps two feet in diameter. In midsummer, seeds eject from the center of the plant. It can be planted in a wide variety of moist to very wet soils. This is an excellent choice for rain gardens.
The Botanical Gardens (ashevillebotanicalgardens.org), located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged.