Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Carex pansa

Carex pansa, Dune Sedge

We recently checked in on a garden in Walnut Creek that we helped design and install two years ago. There’s a fair bit going on in that garden, but one of the things I was most interested in seeing was the Carex pansa lawn that we planted. C. pansa is one of the main lawn alternatives that gets talked about these days. It was our first experience with it. So far, two years after planting, I’m pretty impressed.

A Box of Lawn

We planted it as 2″ plugs ordered from Greenlee Nursery (they have a great webpage for Carex Pansa). I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was a surprise when some cardboard boxes showed up with the grasses stacked inside. I don’t remember how many, but it was somewhere around 2,000, and I ended up planting about half of them by myself. I had scheduled the planting on a Friday, but we got rained out and then I was too soft to make everyone come back to help me on the weekend. I averaged about one hundred per hour. Maintaining straight rows and regularly spacing seemed actually kind of hard.

April, 2010, six months after planting, not much new growth yet

July 2010, starting to spread with the warmer weather

A quirk of this lawn is that it is watered with sub-surface drip irrigation. We were nervous that the plugs might not get their roots out in time to find the water, but we planted in November and they sufficiently established themselves by summer. Some of the plugs grew in quicker than others, and I’m guessing that’s because they were closer to the emitters. You can plant the plugs at six inch, eight inch, or twelve inch spacing depending on your budget and how fast you want them to fill in. We did eight inch spacing. The irrigation is managed by one of the weather-satellite/internet-based controllers that do all the thinking for you, so I don’t know how much water it’s getting at this point. Less than a traditional lawn for sure.

October 2011, 2 years

Along with water usage, I wish I had a good cost comparison. The plugs cost about three times as much as sod, it was definitely more labor to install, and we had to weed it several times in the spring and summer. But now that it’s saving the cost or labor of mowing and using less water, it should be making a big comeback on the economic side of things. Also, because it was irrigated with drip irrigation, it qualified for a rebate from the water company. I have a few more photos below.

June 2010, 8 months in the shade

Initially it grew in quicker in the shadier area beneath the elm tree. There’s a bit of patching out, but considerably less than the No-Mow fescue blends tend to get in Walnut Creek.

October 2011, 2 years after planting


And overall, I really like how much better it blends with the California landscape. So much more easy-going than a clipped lawn.


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8 Responses to “Carex pansa”

  1. October 22nd, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Dirty Girl Gardening says:

    i LOVE using carex grasses in my projects… they grow so well and look fabulous.

  2. October 23rd, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    Love the transformation…the sedge the hardscape. My campus installed a patch of sedge in a prominent spot. After most of a year it was looking great and meadow-ey and informal. Then they went and mowed it flat. I guess it looked too much like California.

  3. January 7th, 2012 at 11:24 am

    chuck b. says:

    I saw Greenlee speak at the big garden show a couple years ago and he specifically mentioned the weirdness sending/getting a box of 2″ grass plugs. He’s a great speaker; very charismatic.

  4. January 13th, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    alt_lawn says:

    Did you have to prepare the soil in any way? I was told that I would need to “lighten” my soil with sand.

    I am in San Carlos, CA

  5. January 15th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    ryan says:

    We tilled in some compost, though I don’t remember how much. Personally I don’t like how sand mixes with most Bay Area soil, so I use compost or volcanic pumice.

  6. September 18th, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Frannie says:

    I am currently growing a pansa meadow. I hand water them evenly once a week so I’m not sure the irrigation makes any difference in uneven growth. I have some that are monsters, throwing up rhizomes everywhere, and others the same age that are just barely getting started. I grew up near Asilomar and to replicate the experience in my yard I deliberately spaced them askew to make it look more natural. Any spaces that won’t fill in I’ve put companion plants. When I moved into this property I had a mix of clay and construction fill so I had to amend my yard something fierce with compost—one 20′ by 15′ plot took one cubic yard of compost to amend! I also mulched heavily, and although to me it looks funny with plants that typically grow in sand, they seem to like it. I had a lawn to rip out and copious weeds to contend with so I planted late, in July, but they are doing pretty well. I also have sea aster, sand buckwheat (latifolium), yarrows, ceanothus, california poppy, sea daisy (erigeron glaucus) and pink thrift. I’m hoping when it’s all done growing together I’ll have room for a monkey flower.

  7. September 19th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    ryan says:

    That sounds great, Frannie. Thanks for giving me the details.

  8. July 31st, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Christel Leung says:

    Hey Ryan, I’m doing research for a garden I’m designing in Alameda. This post was an awesome resource. Came up immediately after Googling ‘carex pansa and irrigation’. I’m just starting to realize how bad ass you are 🙂

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