Liriope grass (genus Liriope), also called lilyturf, border grass, or monkey grass, looks a lot like a grass, but actually is a member of the asparagus family, Asparagaceae, and was formerly placed in the lily family, Liliaceae. There are five or six species of Liriope, all native to East Asia. All are clump forming evergreen or semi-evergreen herbaceous perennial plants with narrow grass-like leaf blades. A patch of liriope plants looks like well behaved ornamental grass.
Liriope has thick tuberous root systems and spread on underground rhizomes to form dense mats of foliage. The green leaves are 8-18 inches long, but they tend to flop over. Erect spikes of tiny white, mauve, violet, or purple flowers stand a few inches above the arching foliage. The flower spikes are followed by pretty little blue-black berries. Liriope is evergreen plant in mild climates, but the leaves turn brown or have brown spots in cold winters from their dark green color. Not to fret… the liriope monkey grass will bounce back in spring when the weather warms up.
Liriope is similar to mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) but mondo grass has thinner leaves and its flowers hide within the clumps rather than protruding above the foliage to create a showy display. Growing liriope is easy! Use this as a guide to keep your liriope plants thriving.
Liriope VarietiesThe two most common liriopes in landscaping are common lilyturf (Liriope muscari) and creeping lilyturf (L. spicata).
Variegated Liriope in full bloom | Photo by K M | Licensed by CC
- Common lily turf is hardy in zones 6-10 and gets around a foot tall. Among the several named cultivars are ‘John Birch’ with yellow variegated foliage; ‘Majestic’ with narrower leaves; ‘Monroe White’ with white flowers; ‘Big Blue’ with longer leaves, to 24 inches; and ‘Variegata’ or Variegated Liriope with leaves that have yellow margins.
- Creeping lilyturf (liriope spicata) is a little shorter than common, more tolerant of full shade, and more cold hardy, to USDA zone 4 or 5. It has thinner leaves and smaller flowers, and it spreads faster. ‘Franklin Mint’ has lavender flowers and slightly wider leaves. ‘Silver Dragon’ is only 6-8 inches tall and has leaves with white stripes.
Liriope Landscaping IdeasBeautiful Liriope muscari planted at an edge around a tree.
Use liriope as a groundcover, an edging plant to mark pathways or borders, and in mass plantings for erosion control. It is quite effective when allowed to naturalize under large trees. A dense mat of liriope can stabilize soil on slopes and ditch banks.
Liriope tolerates drought, and never needs mowing unless desired. Liriope spreads in all directions to fill gaps, and so it is not a good choice for liriope borders around flower beds. Don’t choke out your beautiful flowers! It is also deer resistant making it a very low maintenance plant.
Liriope CareLiriope does best in a fertile, moist, well drained soil with a pH slightly acidic to neutral. It tolerates sandy as well as clayey soils, but never soil conditions that stay soggy. Liriope grows best in partial shade but can tolerate full sun or full shade. Once established, it is drought tolerant.
Water every other day for the first growing season, but not so much that the soil stays soggy. After that, normal rainfall should be adequate. A layer of organic mulch (leaves, straw, hay, shredded bark, compost, or peat) over the root zone will help hold moisture in the soil.
For wintertime protection, cover the plants with a layer of organic mulch when temperatures are expected to stay below freezing for several days.
Apply a balanced slow release fertilizer (10-10-10 is good) in early spring. Follow label directions (one-quarter cup or less per plant) and do not over-fertilize. Divide the clumps every 2-4 years.
How to Maintain Liriope PlantsSimply dig up a clump, tease the roots apart, and replant the divisions. The best time to cut back liriope is at any time of year. Liriope spreads quickly and can become invasive under ideal growing conditions. You may need to keep it in check with a lawn mower, buried landscape edging, or periodic trimming with a mechanical lawn edger or hedge trimmer. Pruning liriope is easy!
How Far Apart Do You Plant Liriope?Plant sprigs of liriope about 4-6 inches apart for edging and on six inch squares for a ground cover. Larger clumps from potted plants can be spaced further apart. To prevent foliage from spilling over onto paths, driveways, and borders, position the clumps a foot or so away from the border.
We hope these tips and tricks have expanded your knowledge on how to maintain liriope plants. This easy to care for grass will have your landscape design thriving in no time!