Plants - Ornamental Grasses

Small-scale sedges for gardens of all sizes

These grasslike plants add texture and colour to any garden or container

Without doubt, my favourite new plants last year were the patches of “annual” bronze hair sedge I had scattered about. Unexpectedly, many overwintered in my Zone 5a garden, happily returning for another season.

Although there are about 2,000 species of sedge (Carex spp.) worldwide, relatively few are used in Canadian gardens—and that needs to change! Tending to originate in damp environs in cool, temperate regions, these cosmopolitans are, I find, far more ornamental than most of the true grasses, set apart as they are by their colourful foliage in varying shades of yellow, orange, brown, blue and green—often with bold variegation. Some species also have attractive flowers (such as the mahogany-red spikes of our native plantain-leaved sedge), while certain cultivars, ‘Evergold’ for example, brighten up dark, dry corners more quickly and effectively than either ferns or hostas.

It’s difficult to generalize about sedges, other than they’re rarely troubled by insects or disease. Many prefer moist, shady conditions; others long for a place in the sun with well-drained soil. Some species form large clumps, while others spread by runners. Here, we focus on some of the best small-scale varieties, suitable for gardens of all sizes.

Perfect partners
Contrast the fine-textured foliage of sedges with perennials that sport large, substantial leaves such as these:

Leopard plant (Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’) Zone 4
Yellow wax-bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) Zone 5
‘Fireworks’ rodgersia (Rodgersia pinnata ‘Fire­works’) Zone 4

Care checklist

  • Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost or well-composted manure; after planting, mulch the surface with shredded leaves or bark chips to conserve moisture.
  • Evergreen or semi-evergreen types only need occasional trimming to tidy up winter-desiccated foliage; deciduous types should be cut back to their crowns every spring.
  • Divide sedges in early spring or late fall when they are semi-dormant.

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