Pennsylvania Sedge – A Complete Grow And Care Guide

A second year Pennsylvania Sedge plant in the woods behind my home.

One of the best native groundcovers available to gardeners is Pennsylvania Sedge.  A short grass that fills itself in over time, that can thrive in shade seems like a dream come true for those with woodland gardens or battling invasive plants.  This article will cover all aspects of this plant including:

What is Pennsylvania Sedge

Pennsylvania Sedge is a grass-like perennial native to North America.  Scientifically known as Carex pensylvanica, it grows 8” tall in sun to full shade on well drained medium-moist to dry sites.  Also beneficial to wildlife, multiple insects and grasshoppers feed on Pennsylvania Sedge, while birds enjoy the seed and use as nest material. [1][2][3]

The natural habitat of Pennsylvania Sedge is dry to medium-moist woodlands that allow either dappled sunlight or full shade.  Spreading by stolons, it spreads and fills in gaps in the forest and can help reduce erosion. [2][5][6]

It’s spreading nature combined with it’s soft feel make Pennsylvania Sedge an alternative to grass for shady areas. It can form a carpet, but doesn’t grow above 8 inches.[2][3][5] I’m attempting to utilize Pennsylvania Sedge in my never-ending battle against invasive species in the forest behind my house.  I’ve grown several specimens on a wooded slope, hoping that they are able to successfully spread and reclaim the soil from the Japanese Stilt Grass and other invasive species.

Native Range of Pennsylvania Sedge

Pennsylvania Sedge is primarily native to the upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Southern Quebec.

The native range of Pennsylvania Sedge. Sources [1][3]

Pennsylvania Sedge Reference Table

Scientific NameCarex pensylvanica
Common Name(s)Pennsylvania Sedge, Oak Sedge, Sun Sedge
Native Range, USDA ZoneNorth America, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Bloom TimeSpring
Bloom Duration, ColorTwo weeks, yellow
Height6″-12″ (15-30 cm)
Spacing / Spread6″-12″ (15-30 cm)
Light RequirementsSun to full shade
Soil TypesSandy loam to loam
MoistureDry to medium-moisture
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsGrasshoppers, birds, waterfowl
Sources [1][2][3]

What are the Benefits of Pennsylvania Sedge

Soft touch

The texture of Pennsylvania Sedge is soft and gentle.  It is comfortable to brush up against or walk on barefoot.

Full shade

There aren’t many grass or grass-like plants that can grow well in shade.  But Pennsylvania Sedge will grow and spread, particularly in cooler seasons when the soil temperature is lower. This can make for a great addition to any woodland or shade garden.


Pennsylvania Sedge will fill in gaps as it spreads vegetatively via above ground stolons.  And this can be nice because as the saying goes ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, if empty spaces are filled with Pennsylvania Sedge, it can help keep other invasive or less desirous plants at bay.  


The short stature of Pennsylvania Sedge means it won’t be ‘all that you see’.  Getting it established will mean you can have ‘green’ but still be able to view wildlife unobstructed.

No mowing!

This benefit can only be taken advantage of by those who use it as a partial or full shade lawn, but the short height of Pennsylvania Sedge means it never needs to be mowed. 

Identification and Characteristics of Pennsylvania Sedge


Stems known as culms will be upright and be triangle in shape. [2][3][4][6]


There will be alternate leaves on culms, with the leaf blade being 1/32-1/8”, and up to 6-8” long.  Note that the leaves will be shorter than the flowering stem. [4][6]

New shoots will emerge in Autumn or Winter. And growth will begin in Spring. Individual shoots tend to live 24 months or less.[5]


At the top of a stem, there will be a spikelet of flowers ½-1” (12-25mm) long by 1/16” diameter (1.5mm) on a short stem.  It will be cream to yellow in color, which are actually the anthers of the flower.[3][6] Pennsylvania Sedge will bloom for approximately two weeks in early Spring. [4]


The root system of Pennsylvania sedge will be fibrous roots that are quite shallow. They will also have long stolons, which are essentially long above ground rhizomes. [7]

Grow and Care for Pennsylvania Sedge

Sunlight Requirements

Pennsylvania Sedge will grow best in full shade to partial, dappled sunlight.[2] It can grow in full sun though.[6] 

In fact, most references state it can’t grow in sun, although one can encounter it on fully exposed ridge tops at higher elevations. For instance the photograph below shows some Pennsylvania Sedge I encountered on a high ridge in West Virginia. This colony was full exposed to the elements.

Pennsylvania Sedge in flower, growing on a fully exposed ridge.

Soil Requirements

For soil texture, Pennsylvania Sedge will prefer sandy loam to loam.  But again, the soil should be well-draining.

Moisture Requirements

For moisture, Pennsylvania Sedge will do best in dry to medium-moist conditions.  The soil should drain well. [2][3][4]

So, consider this before trying to establish it on soil that has been heavily compacted.  If you have reason to think construction vehicles have driven over it in the last 20 years, consider doing a drainage test.


Every 2-3 years you can divide Pennsylvania Sedge in very early Spring, relocating it to new areas.  This by far the most efficient way to spread the plant.


Pennsylvania Sedge should not require fertilizer of any kind.

How to Grow Pennsylvania Sedge from Seed

Pennsylvania Sedge and actually all Carex species are well known for being difficult to grow from seed. However, recent research has found a treatment to achieve germination rates as high as 70% by subjecting the seeds to a 12 week warm stratification period and slightly covering the soil.[8] And other research has found similar results with warm stratification being more effective at achieving a high germination rate.[9]

When I first grew my own from seed several years ago, I didn’t have this information. I simply Winter Sowed them on the surface of the soil, and had perhaps 15% germination. So while I did end up with some plants, were I to do it again I would significantly modify my process.

A Pennsylvania Sedge seedling I had Winter Sowed in 2020/2021.

Since the aforementioned studies both found warm stratification to be the main driver of breaking achene (seed) dormancy in Pennsylvania Sedge, in Winter I would purchase seed. I would then simulate/subject the seed to warm storage starting in January.

To warm store the seed, per their paper it looks like room temp is fine, as long as you store it for 12 weeks. Then just sow the seed as you normally would in March/April. To get specific one of the research papers they used a warm stratification temperature of 22C (71.6F). And when they compared this treatment with various stratification, there wasn’t much difference between no cold stratification vs. 1 or 2 months.[9]

So keeping it at room temperature should be ok. Warm store it for 12-16 weeks, then, sow the seed in March/April as you normally would.

Fill a container with moist potting soil, and tamp firm. Then, scatter some seed on top. Finally, give it a very light dusting of soil on top, and water by misting. Place the container where it can get morning sun/afternoon shade.

This plant was germinated the prior year and lived outside in a pot all Winter long.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Pennsylvania Sedge


The flowers of Pennsylvania Sedge are wind-pollinated, so this plant doesn’t support bees or butterflies.  But there are many other insects that feed on the foliage.


Numerous leafhoppers and grasshoppers have been documented feeding on foliage, as well as the larvae of some moths. [2]


Various birds will feed on the seed of Pennsylvania Sedge. Songbirds such as Dark Eyed Juncos and sparrows have been observed eating seed.  And larger game birds like Grouse, Prairie Chickens, and Turkeys also enjoy eating the seeds. [10]

Furthermore, Pennsylvania Sedge will give cover to migratory waterfowl and sandhill cranes.[11] Ducks, grouse, and prairie chickens will all use it for nesting material.

Deer and Rabbits

Pennsylvania Sedge doesn’t seem to be bothered by Deer and Rabbits.


I’ve not seen any reference discuss disease. As long as you plant Pennsylvania Sedge in conditions it will tolerate, it should be disease free.

Where you can buy Pennsylvania Sedge

Pennsylvania Sedge is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. Note – Everwilde Farms sells it as ‘Oak Sedge’, but botanically it is Carex pensylvanica. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Pennsylvania Sedge

Erosion control

Pennsylvania Sedge can be used for erosion control. It’s spreading nature via rhizomes mean that it can quickly colonize disturbed habitats in/near woods. This leaves will then act as a barrier between rain and soil, slowing down the water flow. The roots will also allow infiltration of water to the soil, thereby reducing erosion.[12]

Garden uses

Pennsylvania Sedge can be used as a short ornamental, accent, or as a substitute for a lawn. It’s short stature means it can fit in almost anywhere, and it’s adaptability mean it can grow almost anywhere too.

Additionally this grass is great for a woodland garden, or forest setting. I’m trying to get several populations going in the woods behind my house right now, hoping that I can divide it in Spring to increase the population. I like the idea of a short growing grass plant that can help fight off invasive species. As any piece of ground growing Pennsylvania Sedge is not growing Japanese Stilt Grass!

Companion Plants

There are some nice early Spring ephemerals that grow nicely around Pennsylvania Sedge. Some examples would be the following plants:

Medicinal Uses

I have not found any documented uses of Pennsylvania Sedge medicinally or through other means.

Final Thoughts

Pennsylvania Sedge is a low growing groundcover that is not aggressive, but given time will colonize many areas.  It can be the perfect choice for someone who wants a low maintenance lawn, or is looking to do something for wildlife in their backyard.

I’m interested to see how my experiment works out in using it to fight invasive plants.  So far so good, but next year I will be dividing several to expand their population. Ultimately I’m hoping these few specimens will be able to reproduce enough over the years to help create a woodland wonderland that is free of invasive species.

Find more native plants here


[1] – Carex Pensylvanica. USDA NRCS. Accessed 12JUN2023.

[2] – Cope, Amy B. 1992. Carex pensylvanica. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2023, June 12].

[3] – Crins, William J., and Peter W. Ball. “The taxonomy of the Carex pensylvanica complex (Cyperaceae) in North America.” Canadian Journal of Botany 61.6 (1983): 1692-1717.

[4] – Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1950. Gray’s manual of botany. Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press. 1632 p. (Dudley, Theodore R., gen. ed.; Biosystematics, Floristic & Phylogeny Series; vol. 2)

[5] – Bernard, John M. “Life history and vegetative reproduction in Carex.” Canadian Journal of Botany 68.7 (1990): 1441-1448.

[6] – Reaume, Tom. 620 Wild Plants Of North America : Fully Illustrated, University of Toronto Press, 2009, pp788.

[7] – Abrams, Marc D., and Donald I. Dickmann. “Early revegetation of clear-cut and burned jack pine sites in northern lower Michigan.” Canadian Journal of Botany 60.6 (1982): 946-954.

[8] – Doshas, Alexis C., Cathryn Cayte McDonough, and K. Miho Connolly. “Seed propagation protocol for Carex pensylvanica.” Native Plants Journal 22.1 (2021): 45-50.

[9] – McGinnis, Esther E., and Mary H. Meyer. “After-ripening, stratification, and perigynia removal enhance Pennsylvania sedge germination.” HortTechnology 21.2 (2011): 187-192.

[10] – Hamerstrom, F. N. “A study of Wisconsin prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse.” The Wilson Bulletin 51.2 (1939): 105-120.

[11] – Blewett, T. “Prairie and savanna restoration in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.” Proceedings, 5th Midwest prairie conference. 1976. Accessed 12JUN2023.

[12] – Massachussetts Buffer Manual, Massachussetts Department of Environmental Protection. 2003, pp.111

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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