Turns out that Long-Beaked Sedge (Carex sprengelii) has all the qualities I am looking for in a grass-like plant for the shade garden.

Long-Beaked Sedge

Some may ask, how is a sedge different from a grass? The short answer is that sedges are like grasses, but different. A longer answer is that Sedges belong to a different family of plants, the Cyperaceae, as opposed to the grasses who belong to the Graminaceae. Grasses have round, hollow stems (except for the nodes), while Sedges have triangular, solid stems. The thing to remember is that many Sedges can play the role of short or medium-sized grasses in the garden.

So let’s get back to Long-Beaked Sedge, and why I like it so much. As you may have guessed, it prefers full to partial shade and is adaptable in terms of soil moisture. Its habit combines upright stems bearing attractive seed heads along with a waterfall of arching leaves.

Long-Beaked Sedge Seed Heads

At about 2′ tall, this plant is big enough to have substance but not so big as to get awkward in smaller spaces. It can fit right into the front or the middle of the border. Native throughout the Midwest and Great Plains, I think it is a good alternative to Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa).

It’s a tough plant, but not aggressive. It forms clumps but doesn’t run, nor have I experienced any self-sowing. That clump in the first photo was formed by three plugs planted three years ago. As for toughness, in the photo above there’s another clump that’s holding its own at the base of a bird-feeder, often a difficult spot.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Triceratopses are attracted to Long-Beaked Sedge.

In terms of wildlife value, Long-Beaked Sedge is host plant for several moths and one butterfly species (the Appalachian Brown). Seeds are eaten by Eastern Towhees, various Sparrows, and a number of game birds. While this Sedge is deer resistant, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is attractive to Triceratopses. (If you want to know why we have a Triceratops in our garden, read this post.)

Do you have a favorite grass or grass-like plant for the shade garden?

40 Comments on “My Favorite Grass-Like Plant For Shade”

  1. Carex sprengelii is a great plant! Appreciate you taking time to highlight its use. Carex flaccosperma var. glaucodea (blue wood sedge) is a shade and part-shade workhorse in my garden. Blue wood sedge’s steel blue and slightly wider leaves create a wonderful backdrop for other plants, it covers bear ground and suppresses weeds well, and is a Midwestern native species.

  2. That is a nifty sedge. I’ve seen it here and there, along walks in natural areas. We have a few species of natural and planted sedges in the back yard, but I think my favorite for shade is the grass plant Northern Sea Oats. I like its character and its color changes through the seasons. Plus, it’s a great grass for dried cut arrangements.

  3. When I first was learning about such things, I had a little verse that helped me along. There are slight variations, but the one I learned was: Sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses are hollow, straight to the ground.

    There are so many Carex species. C. sprengelii doesn’t come close to Texas, but our C. texensis makes it up to southern Illinois.

  4. Sedge makes me cringe! I see it in catalogs, and wonder what I am missing. I have never met any of the garden varieties in nurseries here, so I suspect that they are unpopular. If I had seen a garden variety sedge, I did not recognize it as such. The only sedge that I am familiar with are weed sorts, and they are nasty! There are actually some that I must pull very soon from one of the creeks that flows through here. There are native sedges, but because they give me no trouble, I would not recognize them.

  5. It is lovely…. I do like Carex but only grow the ones that like sun. One day I will have more shade and will try out more. After all, Triceratopses are rare and should be encouraged in our gardens. 😆 I have to watch newly planted Carex as the hares like to nibble on them. I have a pretty bronze Carex comans, and also C. oshimensis Evergold which gets a bit tatty after a few years but sends out little baby clumps around it which can easily be replanted.

  6. I have a couple of Carex, C. testacea. For me for shade, Hakone grass. Your Carex sounds well-behaved and looks great. You may find a Triceratops nest in there, eventually–wouldn’t that be fun?

  7. I need this one in my garden! When it comes to grasses, I’m always on the lookout for two descriptors: No self-seeding and clumping. And I love that it’s a compact one (relatively speaking) that you can tuck into spaces here and there. It’s now on the list 🙂

  8. I afraid the only thing I would use with sedge is napalm, after spending years systematically taking out all the overgrown clumps and self-sown plants of care pendula from the borders and grass, we still get seedings coming up in areas with disturbed soil. It’s invasive here and the whole sedge family is on my blacklist.

  9. I have this in my dry shade backyard, and it’s doing great. If a plant can survive what I have to offer back there, you know it’s tough. It does a great job giving me spring green along with my big root geranium. I buy a little more every year.

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