How to Grow New Zealand Sedge

Bright copper orange covered mound of slender shiny grass in raised bed.
New Zealand sedge, or orange sedge, turns a beautiful copper-orange hue in autumn.

lienhard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Ornamental grasses are a fairly recent addition to the American landscaping palette, first becoming popular in the late 1990s. Some reliable and popular varieties include blue fescue grass and zebra grass.

The New Zealand sedge is an evergreen perennial grass that has year-round appeal. This sedge variety is well-loved for its dramatic color palette, which shifts from olive green to a rich copper color in autumn, making it a dynamic plant to use in seasonal landscape designs.

New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea) is also known as New Zealand hairy sedge, and orange sedge, referring to its vibrant seasonal color. Carex almost always refers to "sedge" plants. "Sedge" means "blade" and refers to the sharp, fine edges of the plants' leaves, and "testacea" comes from the Latin meaning "brick-colored" which describes the rich hue of the leaves. Sedges are related to the cypress family of plants. They are not really true grasses, but their appearance is so grasslike that the name has stuck.

As an ornamental grass, New Zealand sedge provides a bold shape and finely-textured, shiny appearance in the garden, whether mixed with other plantings in a cottage garden or featured as a specimen planting against mulch, gravel or along a walkway. It also works well planted beside a pond, where its bright colors can be reflected in the water, or in a rock garden setting where it can spill over stones or create textural contrast. It's a fairly clean plant, so it's a good choice for minimal designs or beds using light-colored stone.

Leave your New Zealand sedge intact during winter so its color and shape can enhance your winter landscape. You can also grow it in a container for winter interest.

New Zealand sedge produces seed spikes in late spring, but these are not particularly ornamental or even very noticeable.

Scientific Name  Carex testacea
Common Name  New Zealand sedge, orange sedge
Plant Type  Perennial grass, evergreen
Mature Size  Up to 2 feet tall and wide 
Sun Exposure  Full to partial sun
Soil Type  Well-drained, loamy
Soil pH  Slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time  N/A
Flower Color N/A
Hardiness Zones USDA 6 to 10
Native Areas  New Zealand
Toxicity  Non toxic
Assortment of ornamental grasses, dark green copper and pale blue in color.
New Zealand sedge is a striking color statement alongside other ornamental grasses. CountryMouse13 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Zealand Sedge Care

Because this sedge is fairly easy to grow, it can be a good filler in difficult spots like slopes and banks. It is drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant, and also deer resistant.

Though fairly easy to grow, it's important to select the right location for your New Zealand sedge plants. They will need a sunny spot with good soil drainage.

Most sedge grasses are fairly worry-free, but some can be invasive. New Zealand sedge is not as likely to become invasive in a colder zone, as it is only hardy to Zone 6. If you find this plant reseeding itself in your garden simply pull up the new shoots from areas where they're not wanted.

Light

New Zealand sedge appreciates full sun but it will tolerate a partial shade location. The best color intensity, however, will occur with full sun

Soil

This plant likes well-drained, rich soil. Some organic matter added to the soil when planting will get New Zealand sedge off to a good start.

Good drainage is essential and it won't survive in a site that remains wet through the winter.

Water

This species is drought-tolerant, but if allowed to dry out too much during a hot day, the tips of the leaves may curl, dry out or turn brown too early, so give them supplemental water in the event of a long-term dry spell.

Varieties of New Zealand Sedge

This plant has proven so popular that a number of cultivars have been bred by a Dutch company under the name "Carex Colorgrass." Such marketing descriptions have proven very appealing to the home and garden DIY customer base which has exploded in recent years. The company was bought by a US company in 2009 and many of these varieties are still available as both plants and seeds. For the most part, the seeds are sold to nursery operations who then grow plugs in greenhouses for commercial sale in spring.

The most common variety of New Zealand sedge sold commercially is known as "Prairie Fire." Other brand names include "Red Rooster," "Bronco," and a variety called "Phoenix Green" that maintains more of its green hues in autumn.

Pruning

In spring, established plants can be cleaned up by using a small hand rake to gently separate the dried or dead growth from the crown.

Propagating New Zealand Sedge

The best time to divide these clump-forming plants is late winter or early spring (late February through mid-March).

Common Pests/Diseases

It's also very resistant to pests and disease, although aphids might occasionally be a problem.