Try a Sedge Lawn Conversion - Landscape Ideas to help Save the Planet | PITH + VIGOR by Rochelle Greayer

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Try a Sedge Lawn Conversion – Landscape Ideas to help Save the Planet

Sedge lawns are a smart environmental alternative to traditional lawns.  While traditional lawns are resource intensive (i.e. mowing,fertilizing, and watering avoe rainfall levels typically reuired), sedge lawns are often less taxing.

Sedges are close botanical cousins of the conventional grasses that make up traditional lawns. But what we consider traditional lawns in the USA are typically monocultures of turf grasses that have been imported from other parts of the world and are not native. The native sedges tend to require little or no mowing, fertilizing, or chemicals.  Some also require less water than many conventional turf grasses or if dealing with a wet area, are more tolerant of moist conditions or shade. 

Different sedge varieties thrive in various regions of the US. Growing them can help restore some of the local character that existed with native sods.

If you are interested to learn more, John Greenlee has written a book called Easy Lawns (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide) that talks about sedge lawns. It is a guide to identify the best lawn for your situation and will show you how to successfully convert it from your existing grass.

He has identified five sedges that show promise as substitutes for traditional lawn grasses in a wide range of areas. 

Amsonia tabermontana and Carex pensylvanica
Amsonia tabermontana and Carex pensylvanica by J Biochemist

The 5 Native Sedges to consider for a sedge lawn conversion are:

  • Catlin sedge (Carex texensis)
  • Texas Hill Country sedge (Carex perdentata)
  • Baltimore sedge (Carex senta)
  • Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
  • and California meadow sedge (Carex pansa)

Each of these native sedges have compact growth and good, green color. Hybridization of species being collected from populations in nature is a relatively untapped market and there are many ongoing developments.

Update Feb, 2022: Many of these sedges and even more additional varieties are now commercially available. Often sold as plugs, sedges and native turf options are now easily available through a variety of nurseries nationwide.

You can find an online introduction to John Greenlees’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden guide for replacing your lawn with native sedge grasses here.

Additionally, Garden Designer Benjamin Vogt has been experimenting with re-wilding his suburban plot in Nebraska. He has developed a series of courses that will help any homeowner to ‘Re-think Pretty’ (as is the name of his newest book) and begin to create home gardens that are more eco-conscious, climate and wildlife friendly.

All of his courses are available online and there is even a very reasonably priced offering called Green Mulching With Sedge Plugs.

Sedge Meadow
White River Sedge Meadow
Wisconsin State Natural Area #367
White River Marsh Wildlife Area
Green Lake County by Joshua Mayer
Sedge Meadow- White River Sedge Meadow, Wisconsin State Natural Area #367, White River Marsh Wildlife Area, Green Lake County by Joshua Mayer

carex praegracilis - clustered field sedge by Matt Lanvin
Carex praegracilis - clustered field sedge by Matt Lanvin

I haven’t planted a sedge lawn yet.  

Have you? 

I am intrigued with the more natural look, but while looking for pictures I didn’t see a sedge lawn that completely mimicked the flatness of a traditional lawn that is so cherished.  From my reading, it seems that it takes a bit of time for the plugs to grow together.  If you have some experience with sedge lawns I would love to hear your successes or advice with planting and maintaining.

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  1. Ed says:

    Your suggestions will drive my HOA nuts! I live in Florida and suffer through drought and scorching sun for long periods in the summer and then the daily rains… I’ve thought of using sedge as a lawn but its considered a weed to be destroyed. If I go sedge my neighbors will suffer. St Augustine grass is the preferred lawn but it’s a glutton for water and victimized by pests. I’ve had no success with it. Recent legislation limits HOA’s from interferring.

    On June 30, 2009, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed Senate Bill 2080, which allows HOA members to cover their lawns with native grasses without fear of retribution from HOA boards, which often set restrictions on grass species. The move is designed to help Florida residents conserve water.

    I’m considering xeriscaping and artificial turf among other options. What would you recommend?

    • rochelle says:

      yeah for Florida (and you, Ed)! — so glad you can start to make some smart decisions, HOA be damned. I am not as familiar with what works in florida as others who are local to you should be (I am in New England) — A couple suggestions though — talk to local nurseries, they should be able to help make great suggestions – also perhaps there are Agricultural extension programs that will help homeowners to make good decisions on water wise groud covers that work locally, and finally – consider calling a local designer. All of these should be able to get you on the path towards alternatives that will work in your neck of the woods. Good luck and please let us know how it goes!

  2. Charlie says:

    On my property in New Castle County, Delaware, USA I have a large patch of sedge. It grows lush, green, and thick despite being mowed weekly in the summer. The area where it grows is so extremely wet during the fall and spring that “normal” lawn grasses drown and brown, yet the sedge has no problem dealing with a dry summer.

    The only way to tell it’s a sedge and not a grass is when it is seeding; the blades are so fine that you can’t tell they aren’t grass without comparing them to a grass blade, but the seed heads are distinctively sedge.

    I’m trying to propagate the stuff; it probably requires inundation or at least very wet soil during the spring, but it makes a superb lawn in places where turf grasses drown.

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