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Caring for Carex

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Caring for Carex is fairly easy.

Caring for Carex doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s easy. But maintaining these grass-like plants isn’t the same as caring for other ornamental grasses. However, if many Carex species are left untended, they may not perform well in your garden.

Is your plant actually a Carex?

Before you start using these tips for caring for Carex, be sure you know that your plant IS a Carex. If you aren’t sure what that grassy looking plant in your garden is, get more help differentiating ornamental grasses and lookalikes here.

Are Carex actually grasses?

While Carex plants look like grasses, they aren’t true grasses. So while grasses respond well to being cut hard, Carex may not. Simplified, grasses essentially evolved growth responses to being grazed. And Carex likely did not. That’s one of the key reasons caring for Carex differs from ornamental grass maintenance programs.

Caring for carex begins with understanding how they grow.

Sedges put on a summer bloom that isn’t very ornamental. In fact, some would call it “insignificant.” And that’s true, until those blooms become messy.

Caring for Carex like C. testacea

Combine Carex testacea, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ & a dry stream bed with a dish of water for the birds into your thirsty garden

So, what can make Carex messy?

When Carex blooms, it grows extra-long stems. In fact, they’re kind of a hairy strands tipped with with seedy pods. And, those long strands get tangled up. Plus, leaves and anything else that blows by gets caught in the mess. So, it’s time to clean things up.

Here’s how to easily maintain these plants in your garden:

First, put on gloves so the Carex edges don’t cut you as you work.

But, when you do begin cutting, don’t cut your Carex to the ground. That’s because it’ll probably kill your plant if you shear it low.

However, if the middle of your plant seems to have rotted out, pull out any rotted parts. And, yes, if they get soggy in the center, Carex will most likely completely rot and die.

Secondly, with gloves on, run your fingers through the tangled Carex “hairs” to pull out the long seedy ones. When you do this, you’ll likely remove other debris like trapped leaves as well.

Third, after you’ve combed out all you can, gather the remaining stems in your fist, and trim off the “dead” ends. And, by that, I mean just cut off a few tip ends. This is sort of like trimming your hair but maintaining length and health.

Lastly, you may want to do a little more combing to finish your caring for Carex work. And that’s it. Now your Carex should be refreshed!

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17 comments on “Caring for Carex

  1. kelly on

    Hi, my mother and I have gotten welty itchy rashes from handling Cerex also! I can’t find any info on it. It fades after 2 or 3 days.

  2. dhp on

    I made the same mistakes early on in my gardening of these grasses: I tore my fingernails and got splinters under them, got scratches and cuts on my hands, and also got rashes on my forearms, from thinning out our fescue and sedge plants. So I agree: wearing of strong gardening gloves is a MUST…preferably long ones!!!

  3. MSTmountain on

    Working in a native plant nursery, one is quick to learn the carex is not so caring on the arms. Had to switch the places of over 3000 plugs of one species of carex with another. (one species grew too big for its watering bay) long story short, rashy burning neck and arms like a thousand microcuts. Wearing longsleeves next time I handle any carex.. ahaha

  4. Gail DeLoia on

    A gardener cut back our beautiful carex in front of our Lake Wildwood, CA home. What can we do if anything.

  5. Gail Hubbell on

    During December my Carex Pansa lawn area turned brown in our Sea Ranch Ca (coastal) garden. It has underground watering system. 3 weeks earlier was lush and green. Could it be frost? Water from hot tub hitting grass? Had been cut back 2 years earlier; 3 yr old garden area.

  6. Garden Mentors on

    Gail, thanks for reaching out. Site unseen, it’s difficult to offer specific answers to your challenges. Carex pansa can turn color and it can be cold sensitive. Blazing hot tub water can certainly have an impact too. You might consider hiring a garden consultant local to your area to help you narrow down what’s going on. Good luck!

  7. Darrel on

    I just sheared my Carex a little as it was very brown on the plant, it is now almost winter and looks like it is returning to health again, I am being patient with it and water it less, I also cover it during the winter, I think that is helping it, before I trimmed it it seemed like it was starting to rot and die, but it good and strong now and showing some green in the middle of the plant

  8. Monica MacAdams on

    I planted a big crop of PA carex on a partial-shade (leaning toward mostly-shade) “slope” in my garden over a period of 3 years. The area was out-of-reach of my irrigation system, so it was not “over-watered,” nor did I fertilize it (as I was advised not to do). The plants are now ALL brown (look dead), meaning those planted 3 years ago, along with those planted last year, and everything in-between.
    The plants were sourced from different vendors (I grabbed them wherever I found them, as they were often in limited supply), so I can’t blame an individual vendor…nor can I blame the weather, inasmuch as this past winter was mild here in DC.
    Native grasses sound like a great idea (I certainly bought-in…literally…to tune of many hundreds of dollars…not to mention the work involved in planting & weeding), but sadly, PA carex doesn’t do well. I’m now facing the prospect of digging-up the whole crop & replacing with liriope (trite, I know…but it’s reliable).

  9. Garden Mentors on


    Sorry to hear you had such a poor experience with this plant. Site unseen it’s difficult to know what may have contributed to your situation.

    That being said, it may be that the plants actually did need some supplemental watering to get established. That can be the case with many otherwise drought hardy plants. With almost all new plantings, we remind gardeners that most plants require at least 3 seasons of supplemental watering to establish well. How much or how little water varies from site to site. And from soil to soil and plant to plant and season to season.

    But, again, site unseen, it’s tough to know why this native crop failed to meet your expectations.

    One last hope: this can be a semi-evergreen sedge. So perhaps it will sprout anew from the spreading roots & all will not be lost for you yet.

    Good luck!

  10. Monica MacAdams on

    Thx so much for pep talk! I was hoping for new growth myself, as “roots” seem strong (plants don’t come out with a little “tug”), but so far, no discernible signs of new growth. Thx again for response.

  11. Midwest Chick on

    My Ice Dance has brown (older) sections that won’t come out when pulled. Should I cut them out at the base? I’ve learned to trim my grasses in late winter to clean the wind-burned edges (I live in 5a). They are never as pretty as when they have grown out but 3″ of brown ends isn’t a great look either!

  12. Garden Mentors on

    Midwest Chick, Thanks for writing in. Cutting the dead to the base should help. Another option: dig it all up, separate out the dead, divide into more plants & replant. It’s more work, but once ‘Ice Dance’ starts spreading & has dieback like you’ve described, this can be a way to both maintain your Carex AND get more plants from the same one!

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