Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape

Few breakthroughs in the history of turf have been as significant as the arrival of an entirely new kind of lawn—the sedge lawn. Sedges are close botanical cousins of the grasses and look a lot like them. Properly selected and planted, sedges can function as a traditional lawn, yet they require little or no mowing, fertilizing, or chemicals. Some require less water than many conventional turfgrasses. Others tolerate wet, moist areas, and many thrive in shade. What's more, sedge lawns restore something of the character of the native sods that existed before agriculture and development transformed the American landscape.

Conventional lawns consist of grasses from Africa, Asia, Europe, and other places. These foreign, high-maintenance species have largely replaced the native sods composed of sedges and grasses. Today very little remains of the native sods. Perhaps the new American lawn is the original sod just waiting to be rediscovered.

Part of the attraction of the genus Carex, into which sedges fall, is its tremendous variety and adaptability. There are more than 2,000 species of Carex, and they are found in a wide range of habitats in nature. They vary from miniatures with foliage only 1 to 2 inches high, to specimens growing to 3 or 4 feet. Some creep, some clump, some do a little of both. They can be found in sun or shade, in wet soils or heavy clay, from coastal dunes to alpine scree. In almost every ecosystem, there is at least one sedge with good, lawnlike qualities.

California meadow sedge is evergreen in all but the coldest climates, and grows 4 to 6 inches unmowed. This informal lawn planting with spring bulbs is in Pomona, California.

California meadow sedge is evergreen in all but the coldest climates, and grows 4 to 6 inches unmowed. This informal lawn planting with spring bulbs is in Pomona, California. (Photo: John Greenlee)

Five sedges that have shown excellent promise as substitutes for traditional lawngrasses are catlin sedge (Carex texensis), Texas Hill Country sedge (C. perdentata), Baltimore sedge (C. senta), Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica), and California meadow sedge (C. pansa). These species are described below.

These native sedges have been selected for their compact growth and good, green color; most are evergreen as well. Many will tolerate varying degrees of shade and competition from tree roots. They are best grown in the regions where they are native, although most have shown amazing adaptability and grow well in regions outside their native range. As more horticulturists become aware of the sedges' potential in gardens, many more species are being collected from remnant populations in nature. Hybridization is still untapped and offers enormous possibilities for lawns of the future.

Carex texensis Catlin sedge

This wide-ranging sedge is found in nature from Texas through Ohio and has naturalized in parts of southern California. In nature, it hybridizes and mingles with closely related, similar species throughout the Southeast. Catlin sedge is adapted to a wide variety of climates, from the hot, muggy Southeast to the hot, dry Southwest. It is hardy to USDA Zone 6, and perhaps Zone 5 in sheltered locations. It forms a matlike clump 3 to 4 inches high and 6 inches wide. To maintain as a lawn, catlin sedge will require two to three mowings per year. This dark green sedge is at its best in partial to full shade. Planted in full sun, it will tend to be lighter green and require ample water to look its best. Catlin sedge makes a fine lawn mowed or unmowed, planted either from seed or from plugs 6 inches on center.

Carex perdentata Texas Hill Country sedge

This Texas native is another excellent lawnlike sedge. It is drought tolerant and moisture tolerant with surprisingly soft, medium-green foliage. Its slowly creeping, almost clump-forming foliage is a light green color growing 4 to 6 inches high. A very versatile sedge, C. perdentata grows equally well in sun or shade, heavy or sandy soils. Its evergreen foliage is dependably hardy to Zone 6 and possibly lower. It looks best when watered regularly, but like most sedges it will tolerate periods of summer drought. Plant from plugs 6 to 12 inches on center in fall or spring.

Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania sedge

Pennsylvania sedge has a wide distribution throughout the eastern and central U.S., with one form, C. pensylvanica var. pacificum, reaching all the way to Puget Sound in Washington state. With such a wide distribution in nature, this sedge and its hybrids hold much promise for natural lawns of the future. Many distinct and varied clones are being evaluated by nurseries throughout the country. Typically found on sandy soils in dappled shade or as a constituent of low prairies, Pennsylvania sedge can tolerate less than ideal conditions in the garden. Its noninvasive, creeping foliage forms dense mats of medium green, fine-textured foliage growing 6 to 8 inches unmowed. As a mowed lawn, this sedge looks best cut two to three times per year at 3 to 4 inches high. Plant Pennsylvania sedge from plugs 6 to 12 inches on center in fall or spring.

Carex pansa California meadow sedge

This native Pacific Coast sedge is hands-down one of the finest native sedges for making natural lawns. Largely untested in the East, it has proven durable in Texas and Colorado. Slowly creeping, dark green foliage grows 4 to 6 inches unmowed. California meadow sedge will tolerate varied types of soil conditions and temperatures, from sandy, exposed seacoasts to heavy clays and hot, inland valleys. It is also exceptionally traffic tolerant. Thriving in full sun to partial shade, it will thin out in deep shade. Mowing two to three times per year keeps the foliage low, tight, and lawnlike. Unmowed, it makes an attractive meadow and remains evergreen in all but the coldest climates. California meadow sedge is fast to establish from plugs planted 6 to 12 inches on center.

Carex senta Baltimore sedge

This native eastern sedge is essentially a refined version of catlin sedge—identical except for shorter flower spikes, which lend a neater, more lawnlike appearance when unmowed. Discovered originally by Briar Hoffman growing in the lawn of a church in Towson, Maryland, Baltimore sedge is one of the best low-growing, lawn-forming sedges for deep shade. Treat this sedge as you would C. texensis. Plant plugs 6 to 8 inches on center. Like all sedges, plugs of Baltimore sedge planted in spring or fall will establish quickly.


John Greenlee , dubbed "The Grassman" by Wade Graham of The New Yorker, established Greenlee Nursery in 1985 and is the author of The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses (Rodale Press, 1992).


Comments

February 28, 2011
Steve

If I am planting in Pittsburgh, where can I buy it and how do i know how much to order?


April 14, 2011
chris

We live in a grove of California Coastal Oaks on our property.  We would like to plant the Sedge plant around and under the Oaks in our front yard. We live in Southern California inland. Can you tell us where we could purchase the California Meadow Sedge? Can’t wait to try this!  Thanks!!!

chris


July 9, 2011
Quentin Sneddegger

John - I have your terrific book “The American Meadow Garden” and love it.  But I don’t live in California and wonder which grasses/sedges would work in the Catskills in New York, zone 5?  We have damp, clay soil and would like to convert it to a meadow garden.  Which low-maintenance sedges would you suggest?

Thanks,

Quentin


July 12, 2011
BBG Gardeners Resource Center

Chris, to find sources for California Meadow Sedge — and other plants! — try the University of Minnesota’s Plant Information Online resource:

http://plantinfo.umn.edu/

Elect to do a “plant and seed source” search. Enter one of the Carex selections and search by common or scientific name to produce a list of nurseries to contact.


June 4, 2012
Debra Danburg

We have a new yard around our remodeled home that’s full of that horrible red builder’s fill dirt. What do we do to plant a sedge and groundcover “lawn,” please (there’s some full sun, but it’s mostly under very tall trees). Thanks.


May 4, 2013
Susan Boothe

I am getting ready to plant sedge and at the same time I need a new lawn mower.  I’m hoping not to use it soo much in the future so I was thinking a low end electric.  Do I need a “bigger/better” one for cutting the sedge?


May 10, 2013
Judy

What do you suggest for a 2-acre site with very sandy soil that has heavy traffic (dog playing)? I live in Jackson, New Jersey (Ocean County). It’s very sunny with some shady areas. I do not have a sprinkler system. Thank you, Judy


May 31, 2013
BBG Library Staff

Hi, Judy: Your yard presents a combination of challenges, not least of which is the site’s sandy soil and lack of irrigation. Consider installing an irrigation system, or at least sprinklers, for areas where you want to sustain lawn or other plants. Adding organic matter to the soil will help retain water and provide nutrients. The digging, running, urinating, and even lying around that dogs tend to do are also tough on growing things. Perhaps you could limit your dog to one part of the yard and plant in the other. Here are some ground covers that might do well in sun with some shade: lilyturf (Liriope muscari),  mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas), woolly thyme (Thymus species), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus species).  All are somewhat tolerant of salt and drought, grow in your hardiness zone, and aren’t listed as toxic to dogs on the ASPCA site (but you should certainly double-check this).


Perhaps the easiest option is mulching with a permeable groundcover such as river rock (smooth and easier on your dog’s paws) or wood chips and growing your plants in large pots or other receptacles to create interesting aboveground plantings (which would still need to be watered several times per week).


September 13, 2013
Susan

I am looking for a native low-growing lawn alternative for my northwestern New Jersey home (up to six inches, part sun/shade). I am not allowed to mow the area. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you very much!


October 10, 2013
BBG Staff

Hi, Susan: Here are a few Carex species to consider:

C. laxiculmisis is a small, evergreen plant that prefers shade, although it can handle sun (one possible drawback is that this species likes moist soil and would need an adequate irrigation system); C. cherokeensis may also work for you. It grows 6 to12 inches tall and also needs moist soil; C. pennsylvanica, mentioned in the article above, is another choice. Sedges do not require mowing, but they may need a trim once or twice a year to clean up the previous year’s growth.

Planting a Native Grass Lawn Step by Step has instructions on preparing the site and planting. For more information on plants native to New Jersey, visit the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s website.


January 20, 2014
Mike Gruidl

I am looking for a lawn replacement here in Tampa, Florida. We have several clumping and creeping sedges. I did have a good stand of Kyllinga brevifolia for a while, but this did not do well in the winter. Are there other commercially available creeping sedges that would do well in central Florida?


August 9, 2014
Rachel R.

Thank you for this informative article. We are living in Kentucky and have a 5 by 4 foot patch. The primary purpose of this future mini lawn is for our dog to relieve herself once/twice a day. Obviously, this small patch does not allow for much rest between uses, often killing the grass we’ve put down. Before turning to AstroTurf I thought I’d look into sedge. This area is zone 6, receives full to dappled shade, and is mostly clay. We are willing to dig 1.5ffeet down to add rocks and some green sand to create a bit more drainage. Considering the small size and the intended use, is there a sedge right for us?


August 21, 2014
BBG Library Staff

Rachel: Regarding the sedge question in general, we think the sedges are a bit tall (often more than knee-high) for a dog run area. The groundcovers listed in our answer to Judy, above (May 31, 2013), would likely work better for you. Perhaps the easiest option is mulching with a permeable groundcover such as river rock (smooth and easier on your dog’s paws) or wood chips (easy to replace) and growing plants in large pots or other receptacles to create interesting aboveground plantings.



Add Your Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this article. Comments are moderated and will be posted after BBG staff review. Your email address is required; it will not be displayed, but may be needed to confirm your comments.

Name:

Email:


WeddingsGarden News BlogCalendarOnline ShopPress Room

Hours

Tuesday–Friday:
8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday:
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed Mondays
Closed on Thanksgiving

More Information

Admission

Members Free
Adults $10
Seniors (65 and over) $5
Students with a valid ID $5
Children under 12 Free
Winter Weekdays Free

More Information

Directions

150 Eastern Parkway
990 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225

subways

Maps, Parking, and Directions

Join BBG

Become a Member

  

BBG Member Benefits
Free Admission, Special Events,
Discounts, and More!