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Gardening How-to Articles

Sedge Lawns: A Sustainable, Low-Maintenance Alternative to Grass

John Greenlee , dubbed "The Grassman" by Wade Graham of The New Yorker, established Greenlee Nursery in 1985 and is the author of The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses (Rodale Press, 1992).


  • Ellen Kuriata April 24, 2020

    I planted 400 Pennsylvania carex plugs in 2018 on a small slope leading down to our driveway through a mixed forest of pines and native trees in northeast Maryland. Attempting to stop trying to mow it and create a waving movement with the wind that comes blowing through. This past fall after cleaning up the long bed I applied weed preventer. The plants are coming up with no other maintenance. This year I see seed heads for the first time. Can I fertilize with lawn fertilizer? Your article was very helpful, however left me questioning if my plants are going to grow and spread or do I need to do something else to help them along.

  • Linda Rae November 16, 2019

    Has a weed killer been identified that is safe for use in a Pennsylvania Sedge lawn?

  • Kate Bean July 4, 2019

    We live in Massachusetts. We have wonderful sandy, well-draining soil and full sun. What type of sedge would work best for a lawn-type appearance.? Our goal is low maintenance. Thank you.

  • Peggy December 30, 2018

    We are in Hackettstown, NJ and have a small pond. The pond is lower and the water pours out of the higher ground so it’s very wet.  Due to sinking up to the ankle in mud, I need something to plant that needs no maintenance yet won’t invade the pond itself. It is a shaded area. I also would like something for around the edge of the pond that is low-growing and will also not move into the pond. Thanks for all your help.

  • Carol August 29, 2018

    I’m in Northern Virginia, west of DC. Do you think Carex praegracilis would perform similarly to Carex pansa? I’m planting it in an area with sun and poor drainage. It seems Carex praegracilis is often mistakenly sold as Carex pansa. Thank you.

  • tricia March 13, 2018

    Any recommendations for Boise, Idaho? I live near a dairy farm, so my soil is really good and I can grow pretty much anything. My backyard slopes quite a bit and was so difficult to mow that I covered all of the grass last year and killed it. Weeds were also a huge problem since I have neighbors on each side who seem to enjoy dandelions as much as I do pansies.

  • Mary Green August 3, 2017

    I want to plant sedge in a shady oak tree lawn that has some erosion and is relatively steeply sloped. Have dogs but could keep them off plants until established. I live in Montgomery County, MD, and at the moment we have drought conditions with occasional downpours. Tree roots are a planting problem. We would like to plant in the fall with plugs. Any advice?

  • Jen November 19, 2016

    Hello. I live in the Appalachian Mountains, northern Virginia, and I am trying to restore woodland and woodland edge habitat. I have found a small patch of sedges on a damp slope that is also overrun by reed canary grass and some other invasive species which I have yet to ID. What I’ve been doing in areas that are solely reed canary grass is applying cardboard and mulch to kill the grass before introducing sedges or grasses. In this area I don’t want to kill the sedges already present (mostly C. lurida, C. plantaginea  and C. platyphylla) so I can’t completely eliminate the preexisting “weedy” grasses…do you have any recommendations for me? Thank you!

  • BBG Staff October 28, 2016

    Hi, Marian: According to the Minnesota Extension Service, Carex muskingumensis tolerates shade and moist/wet conditions. It also recommends several alternatives. Ask nurseries in your area what performs well in your conditions and climate. The Minnesota Horticultural Society also is a good resource.

  • Marian September 5, 2016

    I live in central Minnesota. My husband and I would like to experiment with using sedge as a lawn in deep, moist shade. Do you have suggestions? Thank you.

  • Chappy gardener July 12, 2015

    Can we overseed a Pennsylvania sedge lawn and how best to do it? We have a house on Chappaquiddick Island, which was formed by a glacial moraine. Our soil is sandy, claylike, and not particulary permeable. Pennsylvania sedge is native and we have it to varying degrees in both shade and sun. The soil is presumably low-ph as pines, choke cherry, oak, Rosa rugosa and blueberry are native and abundant. We have been nursing our sedge lawn for 30 years. It can not be practically irrigated, and we are reluctant to fertilize it. We are at 35 feet elevation and sloping toward a bay about 600 feet away. We would like to thicken the sedge and have it crowd out other less desirable plants such as dandelion and daisy and crabgrass. Your thoughts, please.

  • Dolly Colwell June 5, 2015

    We have sedge (unknown variety) in our lawn. In our flower beds too, to my dismay. It is in fact quite lovely, a very attractive shade of green, thick and lush, and mows well. I am delighted to hear that it is being recognized as a lawn alternative as we have no choice but to live with (and love) it. We are in eastern North Carolina (Zone 8), where we have some heavy rainy times and in late summer a severe period of drought. It seems to be more aggressive in full sun but is slowly spreading in the more shaded areas. I am hoping the sedge will continue to spread in barren areas under two magnificent oak trees where other grasses compete for water and nutrients, and where roots surface. We have been unsuccessful in getting any lawn cover in this area. Any ideas are welcome.

  • BBG Staff May 27, 2015

    Brittany: California meadow sedge should work pretty well, and in spots where the shade is too deep for it to fill in nicely, perhaps you could try as a groundcover yerba buena (Clinopodium douglasii).

  • Brittany May 27, 2015

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I’m trying to figure out what would do best in my very shady and wet (next to a creek) side yard in California. How about California meadow sedge (Carex pansa)?

  • BBG Library Staff April 16, 2015

    According to the California Native Plant Society, Festuca rubra (red fescue) or Carex pansa (dune sedge) can do well to create a low-water type of lawn. Given California’s current extreme drought situation, consider calling your local Extension office or the San Luis Obispo Botanic Garden (805-541-1400) to find out what up-to-date suggestions they have.

  • Norman Gauss February 2, 2015

    I am searching for a lawn substitute in the Central Coast region of California.The climate is hot and dry in summer and winters with occasional rain and cold snaps of below freezing temperatures. The plot is a favorite play area for children under trees which cast dense shade. The soil is a silty clay loam susceptible to compaction. I have been reading about California Meadow Sedge, and understand that it needs sunny to partially shaded spots. Are there other sedges that might do better?

  • BBG Library Staff August 21, 2014

    Rachel: Regarding the sedge question in general, we think the sedges are a bit tall (often more than knee-high) for a dog run area. The groundcovers listed in our answer to Judy, above (May 31, 2013), would likely work better for you. Perhaps the easiest option is mulching with a permeable groundcover such as river rock (smooth and easier on your dog’s paws) or wood chips (easy to replace) and growing plants in large pots or other receptacles to create interesting aboveground plantings.

  • Rachel R. August 9, 2014

    Thank you for this informative article. We are living in Kentucky and have a 5 by 4 foot patch. The primary purpose of this future mini lawn is for our dog to relieve herself once/twice a day. Obviously, this small patch does not allow for much rest between uses, often killing the grass we’ve put down. Before turning to AstroTurf I thought I’d look into sedge. This area is zone 6, receives full to dappled shade, and is mostly clay. We are willing to dig 1.5ffeet down to add rocks and some green sand to create a bit more drainage. Considering the small size and the intended use, is there a sedge right for us?

  • Mike Gruidl January 20, 2014

    I am looking for a lawn replacement here in Tampa, Florida. We have several clumping and creeping sedges. I did have a good stand of Kyllinga brevifolia for a while, but this did not do well in the winter. Are there other commercially available creeping sedges that would do well in central Florida?

  • BBG Staff October 10, 2013

    Hi, Susan: Here are a few Carex species to consider:

    C. laxiculmisis is a small, evergreen plant that prefers shade, although it can handle sun (one possible drawback is that this species likes moist soil and would need an adequate irrigation system); C. cherokeensis may also work for you. It grows 6 to12 inches tall and also needs moist soil; C. pennsylvanica, mentioned in the article above, is another choice. Sedges do not require mowing, but they may need a trim once or twice a year to clean up the previous year’s growth.

    Planting a Native Grass Lawn Step by Step has instructions on preparing the site and planting. For more information on plants native to New Jersey, visit the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s website.

  • Susan September 13, 2013

    I am looking for a native low-growing lawn alternative for my northwestern New Jersey home (up to six inches, part sun/shade). I am not allowed to mow the area. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you very much!

  • BBG Library Staff May 31, 2013

    Hi, Judy: Your yard presents a combination of challenges, not least of which is the site’s sandy soil and lack of irrigation. Consider installing an irrigation system, or at least sprinklers, for areas where you want to sustain lawn or other plants. Adding organic matter to the soil will help retain water and provide nutrients. The digging, running, urinating, and even lying around that dogs tend to do are also tough on growing things. Perhaps you could limit your dog to one part of the yard and plant in the other. Here are some ground covers that might do well in sun with some shade: lilyturf (Liriope muscari),  mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas), woolly thyme (Thymus species), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus species).  All are somewhat tolerant of salt and drought, grow in your hardiness zone, and aren’t listed as toxic to dogs on the ASPCA site (but you should certainly double-check this).

    Perhaps the easiest option is mulching with a permeable groundcover such as river rock (smooth and easier on your dog’s paws) or wood chips and growing your plants in large pots or other receptacles to create interesting aboveground plantings (which would still need to be watered several times per week).

  • Judy May 10, 2013

    What do you suggest for a 2-acre site with very sandy soil that has heavy traffic (dog playing)? I live in Jackson, New Jersey (Ocean County). It’s very sunny with some shady areas. I do not have a sprinkler system. Thank you, Judy

  • Susan Boothe May 4, 2013

    I am getting ready to plant sedge and at the same time I need a new lawn mower.  I’m hoping not to use it soo much in the future so I was thinking a low end electric.  Do I need a “bigger/better” one for cutting the sedge?

  • Debra Danburg June 4, 2012

    We have a new yard around our remodeled home that’s full of that horrible red builder’s fill dirt. What do we do to plant a sedge and groundcover “lawn,” please (there’s some full sun, but it’s mostly under very tall trees). Thanks.

  • BBG Gardeners Resource Center July 12, 2011

    Chris, to find sources for California Meadow Sedge — and other plants! — try the University of Minnesota’s Plant Information Online resource:

    Elect to do a “plant and seed source” search. Enter one of the Carex selections and search by common or scientific name to produce a list of nurseries to contact.

  • Quentin Sneddegger July 9, 2011

    John - I have your terrific book “The American Meadow Garden” and love it.  But I don’t live in California and wonder which grasses/sedges would work in the Catskills in New York, zone 5?  We have damp, clay soil and would like to convert it to a meadow garden.  Which low-maintenance sedges would you suggest?



  • chris April 14, 2011

    We live in a grove of California Coastal Oaks on our property.  We would like to plant the Sedge plant around and under the Oaks in our front yard. We live in Southern California inland. Can you tell us where we could purchase the California Meadow Sedge? Can’t wait to try this!  Thanks!!!


  • Steve February 28, 2011

    If I am planting in Pittsburgh, where can I buy it and how do i know how much to order?

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