Foothill Sedge Plant Profile

Foothill sedge (Carex tumulicola) is a member of the Cyperaceae family.

 Myrlene NUMA/Unsplash

A member of the Cyperaceae family, foothill sedge (Carex tumulicola) is known as the splitawn sedge, slender sedge, or previously Berkeley sedge. With more than 1500 species of Carex growing in moist to wet areas around the world, it can make it challenging to identify individual species. Unlike many other members of this genus, however, foothill sedge is not a wetland plant.

Native to Western North America, this semi-deciduous rhizomatous evergreen is winter hardy in Zones 8 through 10 where it thrives in open woods, meadows and coastal prairies. It ranges from the central coast of California to Oregon and Washington at elevations from sea level to 4,000 feet.

Narrow grass-like moderately green leaves are 18 inches long and one-eighth inch wide. Green-brown or cream blooms come in April and May atop the stems that rise one to two feet tall upon arching clumps that spread two to three feet wide.

This clump-forming plant is commonly grown for ornamental purposes in meadow gardens settings and in low-maintenance yards that need to conserve water.

Botanical Name Carex tumulicola
Common Names Foothill Sedge, Slender Sedge, Splitawn Sedge 
Plant Type  Semi-deciduous rhizomatous evergreen
Mature Size One to two feet tall and two to three feet wide
Sun Exposure Part shade to full shade
Soil Type Adaptable
Soil pH Acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Spring and summer
Flower Color Brown or cream
Hardiness Zones 8, 9, 10
Native Area Western North America

Foothill Sedge Care

Space 12-15 inches apart for fast spread. Space 15-18 inches or 18-24 inches for slower spread. Plant in groups as a groundcover in a rain garden or between trees or chaparral shrubs where it will tolerate deer, drought, heavy shade, erosion, and sometimes wet soil.

While it is ornamentally beautiful, it can also be used as a lawn substitute and mowed in areas that are difficult to landscape (it is also tolerant of trampling). The evergreen's other practical purposes are its ability to stabilize soil and attract birds that are fond of its seeds.

Light

Foothill Sedge prefers part shade to full shade though it will tolerate full sun along the West coast.

Soil

This species will establish in any medium moisture soil. One of the advantages of foothill sedge is that it can grow in most soils and isn't fussy about pH or nutrient levels.

Water

Foothill Sedge requires some moisture but can still spread slowly by rhizomes through short periods of dryness.

When established, water once a week at most. Because it is fairly drought-tolerant, this sedge only requires medium regular watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Foothill sedge will not survive winter north of Zone 8 but can be grown as an annual in these cooler climates.

Fertilizer

Part of the appeal of foothill sedge is it's low-maintenance requirements. This is also true when it comes to feeding. They don't need a lot of nutrients and will manage without fertilization in all but the poorest of soils. In these instances, they will only need occasional and very light feeding. This is another reason they appeal to some people as a ground cover. They won't need lots of nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the way a standard lawn grass will.

Is Foothill Sedge Toxic?

The little research available shows that the foothill sedge is not toxic. As always, take be cautious and mindful of any symptoms that may occur if you or a pet should come into contact with any unfamiliar plant.

Propagating Foothill Sedge

The plant will spread naturally by rhizomes or self-seeding to form a groundcover. It's very easy to propagate by the division of existing clumps in the spring.

'Berkeley' Misidentification Resolved

Foothill sedge was also called Berkeley sedge, assuming the mother stock came from native populations near Berkeley, California. However, according to a post from the Pacific Horticultural Society in 2006, none of the plants sold by this name look like Foothill Sedge.

The misidentification was resolved when ornamental grass expert Rick Darke reached out to Dr. Tony Reznicek of the University of Michigan Herbarium to examine fresh Berkeley sedge material from California. As a Carex expert and author of Carex treatments for the multi-volume Flora of North America North of Mexico, Dr. Reznicek determined that this Berkeley Sedge is actually C. divulsa.

Common Pests/Diseases 

While occasionally leaf spot, smut and rust may occur, there are no serious pest or disease issues for Foothill Sedge.