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Best uses

Great for mass plantings in beds and borders, and in low-maintenance city and courtyard gardens. Complements rocks and specimen trees. Spectacular effects can be achieved by planting carex grasses en masse to create a natural grassland appearance. Carex flagellifera also looks great planted in a container, either in a mixed planting or on its own, as it will arch over the sides of the pot.

Physical characteristics

Fine-leaved, arching sedge that grows up to 50cm tall.

Flowers and foliage

Foliage colour can be variable, ranging from shiny green to bronze and brownish shades. The foliage is fine and arching. Flowering stems are produced from September to November and grow longer than the foliage.

Preferred site

In its native environment, Carex flagellifera is usually found in free-draining soils under scrub, tall forest or in relatively open vegetation. The species is tolerant of a wide range of conditions, except permanently waterlogged soils. It does best in full sun to part shade and is usually easy to grow in both exposed or sheltered sites.

Preparation for planting

Prepare the planting site when soil is moist and easily worked. Remove all weeds and incorporate bark compost or other organic material. For heavy soils, incorporate extra topsoil and coarse pumice sand. Plant when the soil is moist and warm in autumn or early spring, so that a good root system develops. If planting a border, grasses should just touch each other to create a full effect without overcrowding. Planting too closely will lead to spindly growth and eventual decline.

Always choose healthy, well-grown plants and plant after autumn rains. Before planting, ensure the root ball is saturated and remove the planter bag or pot with minimal root disturbance. Trim any broken roots and plant at the same level as in the container. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball, press in and water once planted. Make sure plants are watered well until established if planting in a drier period. Plant with some general slow-release fertiliser. After this, apply an organic-based fertiliser (such as blood and bone) at a handful per square metre as new growth appears in spring.

Control slugs and snails to prevent damage to tender young shoots. Mulch with bark or similar material in spring to conserve moisture.

Maintenance tips

Apply mulch annually to help suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Carex grow well in most free-draining positions and require little fertiliser. A light application in spring is sufficient, as new growth begins.

Divide carex grasses in autumn to early winter, to enable the new plants to establish while the soil remains relatively warm. Dividing can be achieved by lifting the whole plant, placing two garden forks back-to-back in the middle of the clump, and pushing in and forcing apart with the forks. The clumps should then be immediately re-planted in their new positions and watered in.

Carex grasses are best propagated by seed, which can be collected in summer and autumn. All Carex species benefit from removing dead leaves once or twice a year. If need be, they can be cut back to ground level, but this is seldom required. Carex grasses produce plenty of seed, so tend to seed out all over. The resulting new plants can then be dug up and transplanted to wherever they are needed.

Pests and diseases

Aphids sometimes attack stem bases.

Location at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Native Plant Ideas