Carex: Up And Coming Perennial For Spring Sales

Grasses, grasses and more grasses — there was an explosion of grasses about 10 years ago. They have been a mainstay for landscapers and growers, to say nothing about gardeners who want low maintenance. The love affair with miscanthus grass has cooled significantly, being mainly replaced by switch grass (panicum). Both these and other robust grasses are excellent and continue to find a place in catalogs and the retail bench, but a much smaller form of grass-like plants has quietly become equally important to the landscape trade.

We used to dismiss sedges as some green water-loving swamp grass, then realized they were equally at home in the meadow as they were in the bog. They have been slow in gaining serious traction for a number of reasons, all rather harmless. Some of the drawbacks cited are:

  • There are so many of them, I can’t figure out which ones to use.
  • They all seem quite similar.
  • They don’t produce obvious flowers.

 

 

This is not a political discussion, and if that is what you believe, so be it, but for those who aren’t quite sure, the positive points of carex far outweigh those minor negatives.

  • There are many choices, including variegated, copper and golden foliage.
  • After seeing more than three, the diversity of color, size and growth habit becomes obvious.
  • Flowers are not needed because the foliage is sufficiently striking.
  • They are tough as nails, many being cold hardy to Zone 3; others are heat hardy in Zone 9.
  • They are low growers, useful for racks, sales tables and the front of landscape beds.
  • They are as low maintenance plants as you will find. If one necessity has come to the forefront with landscapers, it is low maintenance. This is also true for decorators.
  • Many are North American natives. Every year, there are new programs incorporating carex in low maintenance mixes, meadow mixes or whatever. They are like succulents in that regard, eminently mixable with many related plants. You will see them as often as succulents in green roof programs and in meadow mixes. Here are but a few selections I recommend to landscapers and my daughters. I have not even mentioned the really tough green guys — that is for another day.

Golden

• ‘Bowle’s Golden’ is useful in
water features, as a groundcover
or stand alone.
• ‘Evergold’ is shorter than Bowle’s,
easier for smaller containers and landscape containers and holds
color even in the heat.
• ‘Golden Falls’ has a wider leaf with eye-catching brilliant color.

Variegated

• ‘Ice Dancer’ is an excellent groundcover.
• ‘Sparkler’ has a distinctive
variegation pattern.
• ‘Treasure Island’ often has some yellow and green variegation that changes
to white and green.

Copper

Carex comans and C. buchananii
have been used as parents for
copper-colored foliage. They are
at first hard to love (some people
feel the leaves look dead) but they
grow on you and your customers.

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