Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'

Among my favorite grass look-alike is the beautiful Japanese Sedge known as Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'. Arching deep emerald green blades display broad margins in creamy white. Each creased leaf with its single central vein set longitudinally from base to to pointed tip may stand eight to twelve inches tall and one-half to three quarter inches wide. A patch exudes a semi-glossy sheen. 'Ice Dance' is genuinely evergreen down south. Heavy snow will tamp it down in the north; but lo and behold when the snows melt there sets 'Ice Dance' flattened but still green!

An established planting can stretch to four feet in diameter over time from a single plant creating a pool that remains clean and green all through the spring, summer, autumn and well into winter. Those white margins light up in the partly shaded siting this beauty prefers. The tousled blades once established set densely and form a beautiful ground cover. The plants fill in thickly enough as to be weed-proof. Plant several and they will fill in and provide exceptional coverage even sooner.

Prior to sending up new blades this Carex morrowii will flower. The jointed spikes come and go with little fanfare. They are not of little ornamental value. They bear little ornamental significance nor do they harm the handsome disposition of 'Ice Dance. New leaves erupt and overlap with the flowering event and it is these that are the reason this sedge is so very worthy. We have never had seedlings arise from this plant but do not know if it might be sterile. However, the seed from the multitudes of species of Carex are generally very important as a food source for birds of many stripes and feathers.

'Ice Dance' will settle happily into a half shade situation. A dappled sun / shade mix all through the day will suffice. This remarkable sedge tolerates open shade beautifully. 'Ice Dance' if set in too much afternoon sun could burn at its edges damaging its fine, good looks. Clearly, with its predilection towards cool and shaded realms 'Ice Dance' could be a smart choice in replacing lawn grasses that seek the requirement of full or nearly full sun.

'Ice Dance' would make a most handsome ground cover under and around shrubs. For deciduous shrubs and small trees the underpinning would be that of a variegated evergreen carpet, a solid weed-defying floor. Depending upon your selection, the woodies might fully reflect the seasonal changes: spring flowers, summer foliage, the magic of berries and coloring autumn leaves before dropping. All of this plus the bare stems of winter which sometimes are remarkably beautiful in form, color or texture would quietly well up from the constant, thick green and white carpet of your sedge. It could make a beautiful edging, a cool pool in a woodland garden clearing or as an element in a Japanese garden.

I would caution planting 'Ice Dance' with too many evergreens in a smaller landscape. Such a planting could become too heavy, dense and staid. However, in a larger landscape as alternating pieces evergreen plantings in contrast with more open places coupled with evergreen / deciduous mix could be very fulfilling if carefully designed. The large-scale patterning could be exceptionally beautiful and satisfying with its varying heights and play of light.

Maintenance is easy. A large swath which might replace lawn can be mowed down in autumn or very early spring before new blades emerge after the winter's slumber. Of course, a smaller patch can be cut back using grass shears or even a motorized grass edger. Imagine having to perform this task but once each year rather than having to mow a stretch of lawn week after seemingly endless week all through the growing season. What a relief!

Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance' is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. In that it remains virtually evergreen our zone 5b of Brooklyn, Connecticut I imagine that its luster and beauty would extend farther south and with less chance for too-cold winter damage to its exceptional looks. Ours has reveled in fertile, moisture retaining soil. For many years we fostered a patch which tolerated half shade in a soil that tended to become fairly dry in summer. The plants still became a stalwart ground cover and looked relatively happy and handsome. But in a very hot and dry summer the blades would demonstrate some browning. These plants also remained shorter than ours in richer conditions. So, this beautiful selection of sedge could also be smartly employed on a shaded slope as long as the soil conditions are not too arid.

With so many low maintenance applications might you not consider Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance' as a component in your landscape? We have. We love it. Dig in. Have fun.

penned by Wayne Paquette, April 2015