A Carex for Every Condition

By: Stacey Wildberger

Let’s keep talking about grasses.  In the last blog I discussed how grasses are often overlooked and underused in our landscapes and some of the benefits of using native grasses.  I would like to talk about a group of native grasses that has a species for just about every growing condition—Carex.  I touched on them briefly last month but let’s take a look at some Maryland Native Carex that will add texture and beauty to your gardens!


Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania sedge is a low growing grass with a tough disposition and spreading habit that makes an excellent shade groundcover. This ½-1’ sedge prefers part- to full-shade with dry to medium moisture.  It can tolerate moisture so it could even be used in a rain garden in dappled sun.  The soft, delicate arching leaves provide wispy clumps that spread and naturalize your space.  If you are looking for a lawn alternative, something to work in those dry, shady spots of Cape St Claire, this is the sedge for you!



Carex albicans White-tinged sedge is another native grass that would work well in the Cape with its part shade to full shade, and low moisture requirements. It will tolerate dry and even drought conditions.  Albicans will spread through rhizomes and self-seeding.  The 5-20’’ tall clumps have narrow, upright-arching bright green blades and are typically up to 16” wide.  They work best when planted in mass for a full foliage effect and offer year round interest.  I have planted this around the base of some shrubs to fill in a as groundcover and control weeds.

Carex appalachia Appalachian sedge is one I have used to stabilize a slight slope in the back part of my yard that has shady and dry conditions.  This sedge grows in dense mounded tufts that sweep along the slope with its willowy foliage.  This ‘moisture challenged’ sedge is another one that can be used to replace lawn in your hard to grow areas.  Used as erosion control, as a ground cover, in a rock garden or low maintenance beds this sedge will also provide a nectar to native insects, seeds for birds, and as a host plant for several butterflies.




Another great choice for your landscapes is Carex amphibola Creek Sedge, this highly adaptable, shade tolerant grass prefers medium to moist, even wet soil.  Bright green mounds form attractive fountain-shaped clumps that can be very ornamental.  Use this sedge in shade gardens, rain gardens (can tolerate some sun if it stays moist), meadows and along streambanks.  It is deer resistant and a host plant for many skipper butterflies as well as food source for turtles (seed heads).


While we are still in the shady moist areas of the yard, let’s talk about Carex plantaginea Plantainleaf sedge. A 1-2’ tall sedge with red-purple at the base and bright green, broad evergreen leaves up to 1” across.  This stunning sedge prefers the shady, moist, rich woods areas.  I planted it in a wet spot of the yard this fall and cannot wait to see how it performs this coming year. With its bright foliage this would make an attractive ornamental plant but it offers wildlife benefits as well, it is a host plant to several woodland butterflies and the seeds are food source for woodland birds. This low maintenance plant will also add texture to shade gardens, act as a groundcover or a woodland trail border.


Carex grayi Grays sedge was one I found recently that work well in moist to wet shady conditions.  It forms slow spreading clumps with narrow shiny, upright semi-evergreen foliage.  The seed head forms a spiked club that turns green to a golden brown which makes for an interesting addition to the winter garden for year round enjoyment.


Carex glaucodea Blue wood sedge is another interesting clump forming ground cover that works in average to moist conditions in shade to part shade areas.  It can also tolerate some drought conditions. Blue wood sedge is typically found in wet woodlands or swampy grounds.  The evergreen foliage is a fine-textured, narrow grass-like blue-green leaf. This sedge would well in small group in a woodland garden, shade garden or rock garden and makes a lovely edging along a pathway or around a pond.


Carex lurida Lurid sedge has narrow bright yellow-green 1” leaves and grows up to 3’ tall when its “flower” stalk shoots up in the spring.  It thrives in sun to part sun in damp or wet areas making it a great addition to rain gardens and wet meadows.  This sedge works well planted in mass for erosion control, low maintenance gardens and wetland restoration areas.  This is another one with many wildlife benefits.  The Sedge Wren feeds and nests in large areas of wetland sedges, and it is the host plant for the Eyed Brown butterfly and several Skipper species and moths


Carex crinita fringed sedge works well in moist to wet up to standing water full sun so another great rain garden or pond addition or low lying areas of the yard.  It can even tolerate drier shady spots.  This short creeping evergreen sedge grows in dense clumps 2-3’ tall which sends up an arching flower in late spring.  Fringed sedge has similar wildlife benefits as the lurid sedge—another favorite nesting spot of the Sedge wren as well as a host for Eyed Brown butterfly, skippers and moths.



The emergent Carex stricta Tussock sedge is a favorite of mine around my pond.  This moisture, sun loving sedge forms colonies with underground rhizomes.  Its fountain like bright green foliage makes a beautiful addition to wetlands, bio-swales, and storm water projects.



And finally, Carex vulpinoidea fox sedge thrives in part to full sun wet areas.  This sedge is useful for wetland restoration, erosion control, storm water management and wildlife gardens.  The delicate arching foliage is mostly evergreen creating year round beauty in the landscape.  The seed and rising spike turn a deep brown color in autumn.

I hope you will consider using a Carex or two in your landscapes to add texture, color and movement to the garden.  Many of these sedges are beneficial to wildlife by providing both coverage, and food for birds or caterpillars.  The benefits to storm water management, erosion control and wetland restoration are also an important reason to use these beauties.

Native Grasses: Overlooked and Underused

By: Stacey Wildberger

As I looked around at the Cape Conservation Corps Plant Fest last month, I saw the colorful, late blooming, and pollinator plants head out first. The goldenrods, asters, turtle head and of course the milkweed because by now everyone knows the important role they play for monarch butterflies-their only larval host plant. The fall blooming perennials are just as important to fuel the monarchs for their fall migration. But I also noticed that the grasses were left behind. It started me thinking that many people are not aware of all of the benefits native grasses have to offer. They do not have the same pizzazz sitting on the table as the aforementioned blooming perennials, and sometimes they are cut back so their full beauty is often hidden. They sit there-waiting for someone to discover their unique qualities.

Let’s take a look at what benefits native grasses can offer to your landscape. Because they are native they are well adapted to our climate conditions. They are attuned to our climate, moisture, diseases and pests. Therefore they perform well in these conditions. Being well suited to the environment allows them to remain low maintenance, to decrease their dependence on water, and to eliminate the need to use fertilizer because they typically thrive in poor soil conditions.

Grasses also have high wildlife value. Many native butterflies depend on our native grasses to lay their eggs as a larval host plant.  Many of the often overlooked skipper butterflies are threatened with habitat loss. The grasses provide a place for larvae (caterpillars) to build a shelter at the base of the plant by weaving blades of grass together, providing for both their food and shelter needs. The seeds of the grasses provide food for many birds and small mammals. Birds also use parts of the grasses as nesting material.

Another important benefit of native grasses is erosion control. Their dense root systems with small fibers loosen and hold soil, allowing stabilization of slopes during sudden downpours and windstorms which prevents loss of soil and controls erosion. Native grasses roots run deep, typically 3-5’ and as much as 15’. The roots die and regenerate adding rich organic material to the soil and recycling nutrients. By absorbing and filtering water they help to control erosion. Their fibrous nature can also choke out weeds and control weeds- an added bonus!

One of my favorite quotes by author Benjamin Vogt is “re-think pretty”. This adage can be applied to my final native grass benefit-aesthetics. There is no question in my mind that grasses lend a beauty to landscapes from the textures, colors, sights and sounds to the internal beauty they provide for ecosystem around them. Grasses create motion in the garden as they gently rustle in the background. They can invoke all of our senses from the vivid eye catching autumn colors on display in the golden seed heads of Indian grass, and the fragrant scent of prairie drop-seed, ranging from licorice to buttered popcorn. The texture we feel and experience with our hand and eye is unique to grasses. And who doesn’t love the whisper of the grasses in a warm summer breeze?  Grasses provide year round interest in your landscape; something for your eye to rest on in the dead of winter, seeing the snow highlighting the long forgotten seed head. They also improve the aesthetics around you. Their quick growing nature allows them to be used as privacy between neighbors, around patios, in high traffic areas and around unsightly equipment (HVAC), or even define an outdoor space. While all of these are important attributes, their contributions to the ecosystem are by far the prettiest thing about them.

So, let’s talk about some specific native grasses and their unique characteristics that make them a must have in your own landscapes.

Little blue-stem

Schizachyrium scoparium Little blue-stem is a warm season grass with stunning blue-green foliage turning to rose gold, red or maroon for a splendid fall display. It grows best in full sun, well drained poor soil. A common cultivar ‘standing g ovation’ can stand upright through the winter snow.

Prairie dropseed

Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie dropseed creates a fountain like effect with its fine textured slender blades. The fall colors are a show stopping yellow to bronze that will stand out in a dreary backdrop. The name drop-seed comes from its tendency to drop little round hard seeds when it is done blooming-which are gobbled up by songbirds.

Indian grass

Sorghastrum nutans Indian grass is a striking grass that can grow 5-7’. It thrives in full sun and is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions. The golden seed heads of autumn not only provide a beautiful sight for our eye but they double as an attractive food source for birds.


Panicum virgatum Switchgrass is another warm season clump forming grass. It features an open, lacy spray of small seeds. The straight species stands up to 6’ tall but there are many cultivars that would fit into a garden setting Switchgrass offers a variety of year round interest from the reddish purple seed head to pale yellow of fall blades lasting into winter. Seeds are consumed by song and game birds, and it provides cover and nesting material for birds and is the host plant for most banded skippers and satyrs.

Carex Sedges are the final native grass I’ll touch briefly on. They are a very large group of grasses that I could write a whole article on. There is virtually a Carex for type of soil, moisture, light condition you can have.  A few of my favorites are C. pensylvanica , C. albicans, C. appalachica  and C. amphibola. There are just too many to list. Stay tuned for Native Carexes!!

I urge you to consider using these and many of the other wonderful native grasses in your landscapes. The benefits to the ecosystem are immeasurable as we must remember who we are gardening for. And their beauty to our eye is a bonus as their true beauty is reaped for the flora and fauna around them. Re-think pretty.

Backyard Baby Critters

By: Stacey Wildberger

We are fortunate to live in a community with such diversity of flora and fauna and to have so many caring people who provide habitat in their landscapes and who want to help sick or injured wildlife.  While there are times human intervention is the right thing to do, often times we can do more harm than good.  It is fine to let nature take its course as I firmly believe in survival of the fittest:  they are all parts of a larger food web. The natural order of the wildlife community should be honored and respected.  Here is a look at a few animals, their caring for their young, their place in the cycle of life, and how you can help.

Let’s start with rabbits, specifically Eastern Cottontails that have made their home in my side yard.  They typically mate from March to September and have litters of 3-8 babies at a time and up to 5 litters per year! They typically build shallow nests of grass and fur in grassy areas right in the middle of your yard.  Most predators won’t venture into the open so it is a safe option.  If you stumble upon a nest in your yard, it is best not to move it to an area you deem safer.  Mama rabbit knew what she was doing.  She comes back twice a day to feed and groom the little ones, avoiding being spotted and drawing attention to the nest.  If you notice babies visibly injured, bleeding or missing limbs, you could intervene at that point by contacting a rehabber or let nature take care of it. One step you can take to prevent injuries is to check your lawn for nests prior to mowing and mark the area with a flag or small marker so you know where they are.  After predators, lawn mowers and weed whackers are the biggest threat to the babies.

I also often see people “rescue” baby squirrels.  Gray squirrels are the most common in the Cape.  They have 2 litters per year between December and February then again between May to June with anywhere between 2-6 young at a time.  Their nest is typically in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. If you come across a baby out of the nest the best course is to determine if it is injured.  If not, do not handle the baby, leave it on the ground where you found it, the mother will retrieve it.  If it is injured avoid over handling it, place it gently in a box with ventilation and contact a rehab center.

One of the most misunderstood and most abused animals is the opossum.  I personally think they are adorable. Some people are scared of opossums, feel threatened by them, or think they are rabid.  In reality they are one of the most docile, harmless critters you will come across.  Their defenses include freezing and playing sick by drooling and swaying, which is why people think they are rabid.  They have extremely efficient immune systems and low body temperatures so they are resistant to rabies.  A benefit to having them around is they can eat up to 4,000 ticks a day, reducing the spread of Lyme disease. Opossums breed between January and July and babies are typically the size of a honeybee at birth.  They are the only marsupial found in North America, meaning the babies live and nurse in their mama’s pouch. If you come across a baby opossum please understand their importance and accept their place in the ecosystem.  If the animal is less than 7” he is still in need of care by the mother.  Stand very quietly and listen for “sneezing” sounds the baby uses to call to its mother.  If the animal is over 7” then he is just a juvenile and not needing intervention or care.  He is best left alone.  It is illegal to care for opossums unless you are licensed rehabber.  If the animal is injured or you truly believe it to be orphaned or abandoned then contact a local rehab center.

Raccoons, on the other hand are considered a vector species, meaning they can transmit rabies to humans and other animals:  you should never handle them bare handed if at all, and they should never be trapped and relocated.  Raccoons typically breed from January through mid-March with an average brood of 2-5 kits.   The female raises them into the fall.  Baby raccoons do not become nocturnal until adulthood so they can often be found wandering away from their mother during the day while she sleeps.  If you spot a baby alone it does not mean it is orphaned.  If you have determined it truly needs help, contact a vector-licensed rehabber (not all rehabbers can take vector species).

Deer are often seen in abundance in the Broadneck peninsula.  Unfortunately due to development their habitat is shrinking rapidly and they are visiting our yards more often.  Fawns are often found alone and mistakenly thought to have been lost.  If the fawn is lying down calmly and quietly their mother is nearby. She will only visit their babies a few times per days to nurse them so they can avoid attracting predators.  Leave the fawn as you found her.  The mother, though wary of human smell will return, but only after you left.  If the baby is wandering and crying incessantly for a long period she may need help, in this case contact a licensed wildlife rehabber.

Another common Cape mammals is the fox, also a vector species of rabies. They are not nocturnal and can be seen throughout the day, especially when raising their young.  Foxes breed from January through March with an average litter size of 4-5 kits.  Babies are often left alone for long periods of time while their parents are hunting for food.  They stay around the den playing until they are old enough to join hunting trips.  If they appear energetic and healthy leave them alone.  If you have reason to believe that both parents are dead then contact a vector-licensed rehabber.

To find a rehabilitator, contact the USDA Wildlife Service at (877) 463-6497, and here are a few links:





Native Fall Plant Sale & Festival

By: Stacey Wildberger

Cape Conservation Corps is gearing up to bring you our 2nd Annual Native Fall Plant Sale & Festival.  The event held September 22nd from 9am-12pm in the field behind the clubhouse (1223 River Bay Rd Annapolis) is all about providing an opportunity to easily add natives to our home landscapes at a low cost!  It is often times difficult to locate true natives locally.  Although there are several reasonably close locations such as Adkins Arboretum, Chesapeake Natives, and Herring Run nursery that offer wonderful native selections, CCC will be right in your own backyard.  Our native plant selection committee tried to order plants that are best suited for our Cape yards—typically dry shade.  We also tried to have a selection of fall blooming plants such as asters, goldenrod and turtle head as well as many plants offering gorgeous fall color such as cinnamon fern, pink muhly grass, switch grass, little bluestem, and shrubs that will display radiant autumn colors such as ninebark, Virginia sweet spire and bayberry.

As I discussed in the August article, fall is the best time of the year to plant and we will have so many wonderful options to choose from.  All of our plants are native plants which mean they have co-evolved with the local fauna and therefore provide the best food source, host plant and shelter for them. There are many insects that can only lay their eggs on one type of plant, one that they have evolved with and without that host plant the species would be lost.  We will have ferns, groundcovers, grasses, perennials and shrubs.  Below is a sample of what we will (subject to availability) have at the sale.

Our selection of ferns includes the marginal wood fern, cinnamon fern and Christmas fern.  Ferns are a great addition to a woodland area, shade garden or as shade border. All of these ferns will thrive in shade to part shade conditions, the cinnamon fern would prefer moist to wet conditions while the other two would be fine in the dryer areas of your yard.

Cinnamon Fern

If you are looking for grasses we will have 8 different ones to choose from.  These ornamental native grasses will add fall and winter interest to your landscapes as well as provide seeds for birds and even turtles. If you are looking for grasses for those shady, dry areas we will have white-tinge sedge, Appalachian sedge and Pennsylvania sedge. If the shaded area is moister the creek sedge would work well.  We also have several grasses for the sun such as pink muhlygrass, switchgrass ‘North Wind’, and little bluestem (these last two would work well in your rain garden!). Many of these grasses thrive in poor soil conditions.

Little Bluestem

One important layer we often neglect is the groundcover layer.  Using plants as “green mulch” helps to retain water and control weeds.  Weeds thrive in under planted areas but if you use plants in place of mulch you will have a beautiful green layer of weed suppressing plants.  Our selection will include packera aurea, green and gold and a low growing shrub known as fragrant sumac that can be pinned down to encourage ground coverage.   The green and gold will do best in part to full shade with average to moist soil, the golden ragwort and sumac can handle part shade to sun.  One of my favorites is the golden ragwort for its amazing basal leaves that maintain their green throughout the winter and provide a rapid coverage.

Green and Gold



Since fall is the best time to plant we also have a great selection of fall flowering perennials for immediate color in addition to a great selection of plants that will provide spring and summer color next year.  The combination of goldenrod (yellow) and the purple of the asters is not only beautiful and eye catching to us but it provides a welcome spot for migrating monarchs to stop and fuel up for their long journey.  We will have a show stopping variety of goldenrod known as ‘Fireworks’ and two varieties of low growing asters-‘October Skies’ and ‘Purple Dome’.  Speaking of monarchs don’t forget to stock up on milkweed (their host plant) for next year’s butterflies.  We will have swamp milkweed (pinkish-purple bloom) for sunny moister areas and butterfly weed (orange bloom) for sunny dry areas.   Another host plant we will have is turtle head for the hard to find Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (the Maryland State butterfly). There is also a large selection of sun loving pollinator magnets such as bee balm, obedient plant, black eyed Susan’s, coneflowers, Joe-Pye weed, NY ironweed, and phlox.  Of course we added some pollinator friendly shade plants as well including white wood aster, “lynnhaven’ carpet and a Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’.

Finally, we will have a great selection of shrubs.  Many would be a great addition to a part shade to sunny raingarden such as inkberry, winterberry, witch hazel and itea would work in a shadier moist area.  These shrubs will provide food for many song birds, winter interest and will even offer shelter or nesting areas and can act as a privacy fence.  If you are looking for a native hydrangea, consider the oak leaf hydrangea with its attractive white changing to purplish/pink bloom. In addition to being a beautiful fall and winter interest shrub it will naturalize and form a beautiful hedge.  Another attractive fall and winter shrub is the bayberry.  Its fragrant leaves and showy fruit will attract birds as well.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

In addition to these wonderful native plants we will have experts from Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist, and Watershed Stewards Academy on hand to answer your question and provide information about their programs. Cape St Claire landscape designer Chris Pax will be on hand to give a “tour” of the plants and will tell you which plants will work best together and in which conditions.  Nancy Lawson, author (The Humane Gardener) wildlife blogger, and speaker (she was CCC’s guest speaker in February) will be on hand as well to talk about gardening for wildlife and recommending host plants!

The complete list of plants is here:Plant List 2018

The Lazy Gardener

By: Stacey Wildberger

There are so many things on our to-do lists everyday wouldn’t it be nice to remove a few unnecessary gardening chores permanently?  While there is no such thing as a no maintenance landscape we can certainly have a low maintenance one by eliminating steps that are not only not needed but in some cases can cause more harm than good to our landsca pes.

  • Stop Tilling-when it is time to start a new garden or prepare an existing area for planting many people reach for the heavy equipment and till the soil but what you may not realize is that you are killing the microorganisms that keep the soil alive! Plants need these organisms to thrive—their nutrition, water and even defense against chemicals, diseases, and insects are in the soil. By turning it up you destroy the billions of microorganisms that have been working the soil for millions of years
  • Stop Weeding-pulling weeds causes soil disturbance which leads to seed disturbance and promotes more weeds. While we certainly don’t want our gardens taken over by weeds, consider trimming the weeds off at the soil level rather than ripping out the whole plant.  I have found a tool that works well for this—a Garden Hoe.  It has along handle with a sharp edge at the bottom of a triangular piece that, when you swipe it across the weed cuts it off at the soil level and provides for minimal soil disturbance.  It may sound like a chore but in the long run you will reduce the amount of weeds that are coming up by not digging into the seed bank.
  • Use a Green Mulch layer-this is another great way to reduce the amount of weeds that show up thereby reducing the amount of weeding that needs to be done. By using plants as “mulch” you will have a nice layer of green to keep the weeds at bay.  Some of my favorites are Packera Aura Golden Ragwort,  Chrysogonum virginianum Green and Gold, Antennaria Pussytoes, and Salvia lyrata Lyreleaf Sage.  There are always many native grasses that would work in this layer. Plant them closer together than any plant tag will tell you to do-about 10-12” so they grow together quicker a form a protective green mulch in your gardens to crowd out weeds.
  • Plant in layers-we talked about our green mulch layer but by having multiple layers at differing heights you will not only shade out the weeds but also cool the soil which will conserve water (less watering=less work). A good rule of thumb is the ground cover (green mulch) layer be less than a foot tall (50-60%), the next layer should be about 2-4’ in height (30-40%), followed by a smaller group of taller plants in the 5-8’ range (10-20%).  Not only will layering save time on watering, weeding and fertilizer it is also more beneficial to wildlife—including our beneficial pollinators.  (Benjamin Vogt)
  • Skip the Spring Clean-up-it is perfectly fine to leave the garden a “little messy” and begin to re-think pretty (did you read the March article “Re-Think Pretty”).  The later in spring you can wait to cut last year’s stalks (because remember we leave the stalks standing for overwintering pollinators) the more beneficial those stems are.  When you do begin to cut them back leave 12-18” standing: the plants will grow and hide the stalks but the beneficial bugs will still benefit from this messiness.  Try to leave the cuttings in place, let them lie in the garden as a natural “fertilizer’ and provide the plants with much needed  nutrients; many song birds will also forage in the messiness.
  • Plant Natives-you didn’t think I’d get through the whole article and not mention natives did you?  If we match the right plant to the right place we have just made gardening that much easier on ourselves.  Natives require less water, less prep and less maintenance and thrive in areas where they have co-evolved with native beneficial bugs over hundreds of thousands of years.   Understand what soil conditions the plant requires, as well as how big will it grow in its ideal conditions.  Be sure to consult reliable online sites for more detailed information than a plant tag tells you. Instead of wasting time and money getting your soil amended to the conditions required for a plant, buy plants that fit the conditions you already have.  Many native plants actually thrive in “poor” soil conditions and will get leggy and flop if they are in “rich’ soil.  Asclepsis sp. Milkweed is the perfect example of this. Your rocky, sandy, clay soil does not have to be amended with tons of topsoil and compost to make the soil more plantable.  Plants can have deep roots that grow beyond the soil you have amended and they eventually reach the native soil and don’t know what to do.  Use a soil test to see what type of soil you have so you can match the right plant to that place , but don’t spend money or time on fertilizers to keep an unhappy plant in that place, remove it and find one that likes the spot as is! Finding the native plants that thrive in the soil you have and you will save time and money.
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