10 Popular Sedges for Ornamental Garden Use

Variegated Japanese sedge with two-toned leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

There are so many different kinds of "sedges" that both a family of plants (Cyperaceae) and a genus (Carex, the "true" sedges) use this term as a common name. The Carex genus includes more than 2,000 species of sedge plants, which are typically weedy or grass-like, and some varieties are even popular ornamental garden plants in North America. The true sedges are related to a plant more popular than any of them: Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), a mainstay of many water gardens. Even though they do flower (and, in some cases, a subtly attractive seed head succeeds the blooms), they are grown mainly as foliage plants.

Carex species are perennials. They are easily confused by beginners with ornamental grasses because their foliage is very grass-like. But stems of the true grasses are typically hollow, and their shape is either flat or rounded. Sedge stems, by contrast, are solid, and they are triangular in shape. If you wish to put this identification aid to a touch test, be sure to feel the stem (the part of the plant closest to the ground), not the leaf. Sedge plants are generally great plants for areas with wet soil. Here are 10 of the most popular true sedge species.

  • 01 of 10

    Spark Plug Palm Sedge (Carex phyllocephala 'Spark Plug')

    Carex Spark Plug with variegated leaves.
    David Beaulieu

    Some types of sedge offer ornamental value through variegated leaves. Such is the case with Carex phyllocephala 'Spark Plug.' Carex phyllocephala falls into the palm-sedge category. The 'Spark Plug' cultivar is a great substitute for invasive ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea). 'Spark Plug' and the similar cultivar, 'Sparkler,' reach about 1 foot tall, with a spread of slightly less than that. Neither is perennial north of zone 7, but some Northerners treat them as annuals. Grow this plant in wet soil if you want it to reach its maximum size; it will survive in soil of average moistness, but it will stay smaller under such conditions.

    • Native Area: China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Height: 1 foot
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
  • 02 of 10

    Leatherleaf Sedge (Carex buchananii)

    Clumps of Carex buchananii.

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    Of a similar height is leatherleaf sedge. But that is where the comparisons end. The ornamental value of leatherleaf sedge is provided by the coppery color of its leaves. Furthermore, it forms dense clumps, whereas 'Spark Plug' is more loosely put together. The leaves of the leatherleaf also have a finer texture. Finally, this type of sedge, while tolerant of partial shade, will color up better in full sun. A popular cultivar of leatherleaf sedge is 'Red Rooster.' Provide this type of sedge with a wet soil.

    • Native Area: New Zealand
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Height: 2 to 3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 03 of 10

    Bowles' Golden Tufted Sedge (Carex elata 'Aurea')

    Carex elata 'Aurea' with flower heads and golden foliage.

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    Bowles' golden tufted sedge will brighten up your garden with its golden leaves. This deer-resistant perennial, while tolerant of full shade, will perform much better in partial shade. Since it needs wet soil, it is an excellent choice for water gardens. It is another dense, clump-forming plant.

    • Native Area: Western Eurasia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 1.5 to 2.5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
  • 04 of 10

    Gold Fountains Sedge (Carex dolichostachya ‘Gold Fountains’)

    Closeup of Gold Fountains Sedge

    David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Gold Fountains has foliage with less gold in it than does Carex elata 'Aurea.' But it lives up to the "Fountains" in its cultivar name in two ways: It has gracefully arching leaves, and it likes wet soil. This is another sedge that, while tolerant of full shade, will perform much better in partial shade. This is true of many plants with colorful foliage: They need a certain amount of sunshine to achieve their full color potential. Take advantage of the narrow leaves of Gold Fountains by pairing it with a Hosta, creating a contrast in textures.

    • Native Area: East Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 1 foot
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Blue Sedge (Carex flacca, or "Carex glauca")

    Blue sedge.

    fotolinchen/Getty Images

    For a different look in terms of color, grow a blue sedge. There are various types of sedges that you can plant if you want a bluish, grass-like plant, including the Carex flacca cultivar, 'Blue Zinger.' This plant produces clumps of soft foliage that invites a touch from the human hand. Its love of moist soils makes it a great candidate for your water garden. While it spreads via rhizomes, it is generally not such a vigorous spreader that it will become a problem.

    • Native Area: Southern Europe and North Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 5 to 12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 06 of 10

    Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii 'Variegata')

    Variegated Japanese sedge with two-toned leaf blades clustered together closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This cultivar of Japanese sedge is another that sports two-toned leaves. It produces a dense clump, spreads via rhizomes, and likes wet soil. In spring it bears coppery-brown flowers, but they are insignificant compared to the ornamental value of the foliage. While the plant is grown for its leaves, not its flowers, the latter do attract bees and butterflies. Partial shade is ideal for it: With too much sun, the leaves may bleach out, but with total shade, the plant will underperform.

    • Native Area: Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 1.5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
  • 07 of 10

    Bronze New Zealand Hair Sedge (Carex comans 'Bronze Form')

    Bronze New Zealand sedge.

    Nahhan/Getty Images

    In terms of water requirements, Bronze New Zealand hair sedge is in-between: Just do not let its soil dry out completely. With its gently cascading foliage, this is another "soft" sedge. But its chief ornamental feature is the reddish-bronze color of its wispy leaves. Consider displaying several of them as edging plants along a brick walkway.

    • Native Area: New Zealand
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 10
    • Height: 1 to 2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
  • 08 of 10

    Orange New Zealand Hair Sedge (Carex testacea 'Prairie Fire')

    Orange New Zealand hair sedge with its fiery foliage.

    FredCollin/Getty Images

    Orange New Zealand hair sedge is very similar to the Bronze New Zealand hair sedge, right down to its water requirements and potential uses in the landscape. It may well be the more popular of the two, though, because its color is more intense. But it is just a bit less cold-hardy: If you live in zone 6, you may be forced to grow the less-stunning (but still plenty attractive) Bronze New Zealand hair sedge.

    • Native Area: New Zealand
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Height: 1 to 2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Evergold Japanese Variegated Sedge (Carex oshimensis 'Evergold')

    Clumps of Carex oshimensis 'Evergold.'

    seven75/Getty Images

    The overall effect of this variegated sedge with arching foliage is golden (thus its cultivar name), even though neither of the two colors involved is gold. Green margins on the leaf set off an interior of creamy yellow, giving the impression of gold. Install several as a ground cover to brighten an area in partial shade. This sedge prefers wet soil, where it will spread a bit via rhizomes, but it will survive in an area with just average amounts of moisture, too.

    • Native Area: Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to Partial shade
  • 10 of 10

    Mountain Sedge (Carex montana)

    Tufts of mountain sedge.

    Elizabeth Fernandez/Getty Images

    Beauty is important in an ornamental plant, but all the beauty in the world will not save a plant that is installed in a climate to which it is ill-suited. If you live where it gets really cold in winter (zone 4), you have to narrow down your possibilities to only the cold-hardiest of sedges. Mountain sedge will be one of your best bets. It offers the added benefit of being tolerant of alkaline soil. It's also a good choice if you want a short sedge (averaging 6 inches in height). Adding some interest to its shiny green leaves are spikes of brown flowers in spring. Since this is a spreading sedge, it makes for a good ground cover.

    • Native Area: Europe and Central Russia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10
    • Height: 4 to 8 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade