I Love Sedges

I Love Sedges!

“And what,” you may ask, “ is a sedge?”

A sedge is a grass-like plant that has solid triangular stems as opposed to the round, hollow stems of grasses.  “Sedges have edges” is a popular aphorism, that cleverly describes the difference.   It is not always true, but it is often enough to make it a reliable indicator to distinguish between sedges and grasses.

Sedges grow in prairie, savanna, woodland, and wetland, some in shade and some in sun.  Dick Young lists and shows drawings of 74 species in his book Kane County Wild Ones & Natural Areas–I can probably identify a dozen.   Their bloom, while  somewhat inconspicuous, is beautiful.  Some are rhizomatous or running; others are clump forming.

One of the most abundant is Common Oak or Pennsylvania Sedge or as it is most often called, Penn Sedge (Carex pensylvanica). The light green, grassy, 6 to 12” arching blades spread by rhizomes creating  colonies in oak savannas and woodlands.   While it is planted for its grassy foliage, its yellow spikelets bloom prettily in April and May.  Plant a matrix of Penn Sedge or other sedge under all your trees–especially street trees.  In addition to  being beautiful, sedges serve a practical purpose, as well–that of being a “grass mulch”.  Their dense root system holds water like a sponge, keeping the tree hydrated without extra watering.

You may intersperse sedges with shade-loving, spring wildflowers  such as Spring Beauty, Early Meadowrue, Jacob’s Ladder, Wild Blue Phlox, Red Trillium,  Wild Geranium, or Shooting Star.


I bought a Red Oak from the city for my parkway in April 2009 and planted a flat (32 plugs) of Penn Sedge around the tree. (Those are Prairie Alum Root flowers in the foreground.)




Today May 2011

The Penn Sedge and the Wild Geranium have completely filled in under the tree.

Ecologically sound and beautiful!



Last week, our Northern Kane County Chapter of Wild Ones had a garden walk of adjoining properties, both landscaped with the same native plants, but with different approaches.





This one is designed in a gardenesque fashion with large clumps of Penn Sedge under a Redbud here and throughout the gardens.


This slope is planted in a more naturalistic style with Wild Geranium mixed in with the Penn Sedge.  The tree is Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana).Sedges are not generally available at nurseries because there is no call for them.  Midwest Groundcover in St. Charles, Il. and Possibility Place Nursery in Monee both carry them.  If any of you know of other nurseries  or  garden centers that carry them let me know and I will list them.


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7 Responses to I Love Sedges

  1. Sue C. June 3, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    The Flower Factory in Stoughton, WI has a large selection of sedge. They carry many native and non-native plants that are hard to fund. Stoughton is not far from Janesville, WI. Well worth the trip!

    4062 County Road A
    Stoughton, WI 53589-3962
    (608) 873-8329

  2. Suzanne Poursine Massion June 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Pat, I think the following came from Jack Shouba when he visited our property a few years back. He is full of great things like this, “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints, and weeds abound”. He knew one something like “Know, Know, Know your oaks” sung to “row, row, row your boat”, but I can’t remember all the words. it was a way to identify oak trees. What fun! Nice to chat with you at the Conservation Foundation luncheon.

  3. Margaret Ovitt June 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    I know of three nurseries that carry Penn Sedge; Prairie Nursery in Westfield , WI; Ion Exchange in Harper’s Ferry, IA, and Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota.
    I have some planted under two bur oaks in my yard; I don’t know who is happier–the sedges or the oaks that love not having to compete with a lawn or hostas!

  4. June Keibler June 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Beautiful ideas. I’m hoping to plant sedges under several trees in hopes of frustrating dandelions. June

  5. Jack Shouba June 5, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Did I say that?
    The oak song goes:
    Know, know, know your oaks
    This is how they grow
    Red oak (arms up and out)
    White oak (arms out sideways)
    Burr oak (arms sideways, but bent and twisted)
    Pin oak (arms out and down)
    And Hill’s untidy below (arms out and down, shaking)

    That is the original wording from May Watts. Some make the last line “with acorns all below”.

  6. julie long June 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    There were several varieties of sedges a few weeks ago at Roy Diblik’s Northwind Perennial Farm, just north of Lake Geneva, Wis.

  7. Katie Meyer January 25, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Just met Roy Diblik for the first time at this year’s 2012 Horticultural Expo in Chicago. I greatly enjoyed his lectures on making sedges, grasses & mounding perennials the basis of landscape beds. The sedges and grasses keep the bed covered, protect soil, and help block out weeds. Flora can be sprinkled throughout the design for excitement and interest.

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