Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Plant Profile: Uncinia Rubra

I love this little grass!

Technically it's not actually a grass, it is a sedge: not one of those over-large, coarse invasive Carexes that we all know and hate love,  but an Uncinia, or New Zealand Hook-sedge, which is not a particularly attractive name, for a very attractive plant.

It's evergreen, but evergreen is the wrong word as it is one of the brightest copper-red grasses that  you can buy.

Isn't that glorious?

They are very well behaved, only growing to about a foot high, slow-growing, and tending to form dense clumps.

Although you would buy this plant for the foliage, they do also flower briefly in summer, and if you are lucky, you will get seedlings.

The colour is quite variable, some come up much redder than others, so personally I pot up any chance seedlings and then choose the ones with the best colour to grow on for sale.

You don't often see them for sale: internet research suggests that they are not fully hardy,  but I have them in my cold, east-facing front yard and they seem to be perfectly happy there.

They are very easy-care, and totally low maintenance: all you have to do is rake gently through them in early spring, to remove any dead leaves.

And they certainly bring a splash of colour to the garden in winter, unlike many of the "red" grasses which tend to be very brown and dead-looking over the winter.

Here are a trayfull of last year's seedlings, growing on nicely and ready for sale later this year - this photo was taken on a cold horrible late February day:

Quite bright and cheerful, aren't they? *laughs*

They nicely complement another of my favourites, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens':

this one has to be my ultimate favourite black "grass".  Also known as Black Mondo, great name, or Black Lily Turf, mmm, not so much.  Both of these two look good growing through gravel, and particularly when grown in contemporary pots.

Talking of pots, I'm just in the process of planting up a Pot Garden:  

Pot garden, part planted

So far I've used one of each of the Uncinia and the Ophiopogon, along with a stiff upright red grass (not very red at this time of year, which proves my point about the Uncinia) and, at the bottom, a dear little Auricula which is just starting to grow for this season.

I've used small plants of each, in order to stay in proportion with the pot.

Plenty of spaces left for other plants: hmm, what shall I put in there, I wonder?

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  1. If you haveany uuncinia rubrasseeds that you would like to share, i would be happyto pay sshippingvia PayPal, i have boughtsseedson eeBaybut none ever grow, need fresh seddsyto ensure germination. Would be appreciated if you couldhelp.

  2. I would never buy seeds from eBay, you don't know how they have been stored, or how old they are: it is better to buy from a reputable seed company, and typing "uncinia rubra seed" into google shows that there are plenty of them for sale.

    Also, I have found from experience that the seedlings are very variable, some are far more green than red, so in my own garden I don't bother to collect seed, I just let them set seed, then I pot up the most promising coloured seedlings for sale the next year.

    So if you are struggling with seed, you might do better to buy a mature plant, then in summer you can collect the seed yourself, and sow it straight away. I have this plant for sale on GreenPlantSwap, the link is here:

    just cut and paste that url, and it will take you straight there.

    All the best,


    1. Mine got the tips burnt a bit during the heat up here in the Seattle area.. should I prune it?

    2. Yes - just trim the burnt bits off, if they look horrible. The leaf won't recover, as such, and eventually that whole leaf will die, but at least it will look better in the meantime.

      The alternative is to go through the whole plant and carefully snip out the damaged leaves at the base: but if this would leave you with not much of a plant, then the alternative is to just clip off the tips.

      If it is really badly affected, then there might be no alternative than to chop the whole plant down, water it well, and see if it recovers. Here in the UK they are pretty tough, and will regrow from a hard clipping: but I don't know what your climate is like in Seattle, so it's a bit of a risky strategy.

      Hope this helps!

  3. I am grateful for this post, very informative. Thank you!

    1. You are most welcome! My current batch of small plants are looking quite and brown this year, which is very interesting: they don'd mind a cold winter at all, but a mild damp winter seems to send them into a decline.

      Ah well, soon be summer!

  4. Hi Rachel
    I have planted my Uncinia Rubra in planter boxes and they do receive a lot of sun. Some of them are fine but others are dying. Do you have any advise??
    Cheers, Carol

    1. Hi Carol,

      Before you throw out the dying ones, it is worth going over them carefully and cutting off any leaves/fronds that are clearly and definitely dead, ie brown and dry-feeling. Sometimes, with mine, I have found that what looks like one plant is actually three or four small plants clumped together, and occasionally one of these plants will just die - by cutting out the dead leaves, you can see if it is one central root that has all the dead leaves on it, in which case you can gently tease out the dead one, leaving the others in place.

      As for why one would die while another, right next to it, is fine - it just seems to be one of those plants with very variable offspring: as I mention in the article, some of the seedlings are wonderfully red, some are dull brown, and in the same way I guess that some of them are perfectly happy in their location, but others are not so strong.

      If yours are in planters, then I would look at the watering: if the drainage holes have clogged, then they might be waterlogged which would cause rotting of the roots, and if the soil is bone dry in places, well, that could be the problem.

      My final suggestion is to check for weevil grubs eating at the roots: plants in pots are particularly susceptible to root attack. Dig out all or some of them, shake off the soil and check for grubs. If all is well, add some fresh compost and some slow-release fertiliser, water well, and hopefully things will improve.

  5. Thank you. I'm new to real gardening and I'm about to pot up a group of grasses with other plants (eg imperata cylindria- Red Baron). This information is a good starting point for me. Karin

  6. Hi Rachel, When will you be selling Uncinia Rubra plants? We live in the hill country of Austin Texas and we were thinking to try this plant in our small partially shaded flower bed. Northeast morning sun n with partial shade.

    1. Hi there, Texas! I'm afraid that I'm in the UK, and I can't send plants to the states.

      But hopefully you'll be able to source them locally.


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