LIRIOPE VS. mONDO gRASS

October 27, 2021

Two Groundcover Choices-How To Decide

What Features are The Same?

Liriope and mondo grass, groundcover choices are both showy staples of the southern garden. In both cases, they are low-maintenance problem solvers. You can use both of them as ground cover to control erosion, cover hard-to-mow slopes, encircle trees in places where turf will not grow. Because they are pretty and some are taller than most ground covers, they can also form a stylish edge for a planting bed.

Both have shiny, green, and variegated tall grass-like blades. Both have flowers in warm weather, followed by berries. Liriope and mondo grass both look like grass, can be planted in wide swaths and riverlike flows, but they are evergreen perennials.

What Features are Different Between Liriope and Mondo Grass?

Mondo Grass Nana planted in patterns
Dwarf Mondo Grass Nana Forming Patterns In The Landscape

Liriope (luh-RYE-oh-pe)

Also called lilyturf and monkey grass, liriope is a member of the lily family and today is a staple of the southern home, perhaps right after sweet iced tea! Westerners discovered it in China and Japan and it has been popular in western gardens for 200 years.

In ancient China, I read that its blades were used as bookmarks by scholars and the plant has been found growing in libraries!

Liriope is upright, with straight blades, and is the taller of the two (by about 8 inches). Mondo grass has more narrow blades and a drooping aspect. When liriope produces its showy flowers, you will see them above the grass blades. This is because the flowers of mondo grass are hidden within the blades. Liriope’s weather hardiness zone travels a little farther north. (If you are on the edge of a plant’s territory but remain interested in it, check with your local agricultural Extension Service.) They will offer expert advice suited to your area.

Mondo Grass has dwarf varieties; Liriope does not. Mondo grass is less sun tolerant and a little less drought and cold tolerant. Check your hardiness zone and think about the microzones in your garden.

More Detail On Each Plant

Liriope

Liriope-Ornamental Value

Liriope is a dense, evergreen groundcover with blades similar to a thick blade of grass. They can be very dark green or variegated. In summer, flowers and later berries appear on conical stalks above the foliage. The flowers can be lavender, blue, pink, and white. The blue shades can appear as a brilliant contrast above the rich dark foliage. The white flowers have a distinct pearl-like air.

Size Range

Liriope will range in height from 10-18″ tall and 12-18″ wide. Different varieties have color and size variations. Use the chart below to select the best one for your garden.

Two Main Types Of Liriope-With Impact On Use

Liriope muscari

This type of liriope grows in clumps and will spread 12-18″ wide. Note the varieties below.

Varieties of Liriope muscari To Choose From

  • Liriope muscari ‘Aztec” -variegated, green and silver, very tough, good edging material to 15″ High, hardy in zones 7-11.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’-tall blue flower spikes, black berries, plant blades are 14″ high. Use in zone 5-10.
  • Liriope muscari “Christmas Tree’-has dense lavender flowers in Christmas Tree shape, 12″-15” H. zone 6-10.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Densiflora’-lavender flowers, 12″-18″ H.,zone 6-10.
  • Liriope muscari “Evergreen Giant’-purple flower, 12″-24” H. zone6-10.
  • Liriope muscari ‘John Burch’-green leaves with yellow to white edges. Grows 12′-15″ H and is hardy in zones 5/6-11.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Majestic’-dark green foliage, violet flower grows to 18″ H. hardy in zones 5-11.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’-grow in part sun, with forest green foliage and white flowers. 14-18″ H. zone 5/6-10.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Royal Purple’-purple flower, use in zone 5-11, grows 12″-15″ H.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Silver Midget’-purple flower, green leaves have yellow edges. Shorter variety grows 10-12″ H. zone 5-11.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’-leaves are distinctively striped with yellow, use in zones 5/6-11″ grows 12-15″ H.
  • Liriope muscari ‘Webster’- This plant has the widest leaf grows in zone 5-9 and reaches 12-15″ H.

Is There A Dwarf Liriope?

look above for Liriope muscari “Silver Midget’ it is called a small or sometimes dwarf liriope but at 1′ in height, it does not give you the small size you will get from Dwarf Mondo Grass Nana. If you need a low groundcover, that’s the one!

Binomial Nomenclature -Why Are The Plant Names Written This Way?

*Why the varieties of spelling? This is Binomial Nomenclature and it tells you about the plant. Liriope ( written in italics and capitalized) tells you the genus of the plant. The plants above are all the same genus and will have similar features, they are herbaceous perennials they live in sun to sun/shade conditions, are not fussy about soil as long as it drains.

muscari-is the specific species (it is italicized and not capitalized). So you know the plant is a Liriope and not the one that spreads rapidly.

Aztec Grass

‘Aztec’-Written in regular text and surrounded by single quotation marks, this tells you that this is not a naturally occurring variety (which would be Latinized and in italics) but an intentional cultivar, designed by humans to suit a certain purpose.

If you would like to know more try this “Latin for Gardeners: How To Read And Remember Plant Names.”

Liriope spicata

Liriope spicata is a groundcover that spreads rapidly using rhizomes, which are underground stems. In some territories, this is considered invasive. Check with your county Agricultural Extension Service. Here is how to find yours.

This link will take you to a UF/IFAS article on the subject.

Varieties Of Liriope spicata To Choose From

  • Liriope spicata ‘Silver Dragon’- narrow leaf, highly variegated grows 12-16″ H. zone 7-10
  • Liriope spicata ‘Franklin Mint’-a wider green leaf, lavender flower zones 4-10 to 18″ H.

Impact on Use

Liriope muscari makes an excellent groundcover. Simply choose from the table below based on features you can use. The one distinction, and an error to avoid, is that Liriope muscari will grow in neat rows and can be used as an edging for planting beds and is graceful along walkways. On the other hand, Liriope spicata will spread widely and is not suitable for that purpose. Liriope spicata tends to be less dense than Liriope muscari, has narrower leaves (1/4″ ), and produces a more turf-like appearance.

Growing Requirements For Liriope

Liriope is extremely forgiving, and it is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, from sand to clay. It grows in the sun to shade. Also, the plant accepts heat, drought, and salt spray. It is disease-resistant. Note that Liriope has one firm requirement, and that is drainage. It will not accept constant wetness or soggy roots. If that is a problem, amend the soil with organic matter. For soil types and ways to amend them, this article may be helpful.

Plant Liriope one foot apart, being careful not to plant too deeply, ensure that the plant’s crown is no lower than at the soil level.

Water and Fertilizer for Liriope

Liriope should be kept uniformly moist for the first year. Once established, they are drought tolerant. Liriope is considered to be a light feeder. However, the plants will benefit from a time-release fertilizer in spring. Water each week, during drought periods, including your mature plants.

Maintenance

Liriope is evergreen in the southern end of its hardiness zones. In the colder range of the zone, the plant will die back in winter and should be mulched for protection.

You can trim liriope in the early spring if the plant becomes ragged in appearance. You can cut it using hand or electric shears or with a sharp lawnmower blade to as low as 3″ in height.

Propagation

Liriope can be easily propagated by simple division; The plant does not require separation for its health. To create new plants, dig up the section of the plant and separate it by cutting using a spade or secateurs.

Pests

Liriope Scale-scale is a pest that damages the foliage by sucking the plant juices. It appears on the underside of the leaf. Look for yellow areas.

Treat scale with a combination of alcohol and insecticidal soap every three days for two weeks.

Slugs– are snails without shells. They leave a telltale slime. And you can capture them with traps. Identify the problem and begin trapping as early as possible in spring. They are most damaging during rainy times and in cases of excess mulch. Do not allow mulch to be put too close to the plants.

Spider Mites-these are tiny red, sucking insects. The damaged foliage will appear faded; there are commercial treatments that you spray on every seven days. Remember to spray both the top and bottom of the leaves.

Deer and Rabbits-liriope is resistant to these two.

Diseases

Aranthnose-this is a fungal disease that appears as reddish-brown spots on both leaf margins and leaf tips. The problem tends to appear during times of heavy rainfall or overhead watering. The result can be rapid foliage dieback, and the fungus can remain over the winter. If discovered early, treat with the fungicide Bacillus subtilis. Ensure that you apply enough product to drip from the sides of the plant. Start at the first sign of spots and repeat at the manufacturer’s suggested intervals.

You can mow or trim last year’s growth to a height of 3″. This will prevent the spreading of the disease. In more advanced stages, your only option is to remove and destroy any affected plants.

A water mold pathogen causes leaf and Crown Rot. This begins with a yellowing of the interior foliage, and the discoloration will extend throughout the foliage. Fungicide treatment will delay but not cure the problem.

Mondo Grass

Mondo Grass Ornamental Value

Mondo grass is a graceful, curving low groundcover, usually appearing in a dark green color. Of particular value to homeowners is its low maintenance nature. This means that it is an ideal covering and weed defense for awkward and hard-to-reach spots. Mondo grass requires more water than Liriope but is otherwise low maintenance. It will grow well in the shaded areas under trees, including spots between tree roots and rocks or other obstructions.

You can plant mondo grass, particularly the dwarf variety, in patterns. Then, use it around patios or stepping stones to create a more organic appearance for your hardscape.

Size Range

Mondo grass is available in size ranges from as little as 2-3″ to about 12″ tall. The plant grows as much as 15″wide.

Three Main Types Of Mondo Grass-With Impact On Use

Black Mondo Grass

Black Mondo Grass

Well, it is black! This plant offers a rare opportunity to add the drama of a black plant in the garden. Pair it with accent colors and shapes. Pink, lavender, red, lime, and bronze companions with rounded shapes are ideal to consider.

Look for impatiens, coleus (a source of unusual colors and patterns), begonia, or ferns.

Black mondo grass begins green and matures to black; it has a black appearance that will become green in deep shade. If you like the black effect, ensure that a reasonable amount of sun reaches the plant.

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf mondo grass is a highly specialized mondo grass, an elegant and very low growing, low maintenance, dark green ground cover. Use it in a lot of problem areas. This includes places too shady for turf, with rocks and tree roots, steep slopes, and erosion-prone areas.

Ophiopogon Japonicus-Both Green And Variegated

This mondo grass ranges from 6-10″ and possibly higher. It is the most commonly used mondo grass. It covers the ground with a dark green, drooping habit.

See more detail on these plants in the chart below.

Note Regarding Your Plant Hardiness Zones

Mondo grass grows in roughly the same geographic territory as Liriope but starts slightly farther south. In all cases, check the hardiness zone of the plant varieties you choose. If you are in an area near the edge of the geographic zone, check with your local County Extension services. To identify your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, check here, add your zip code.

Growing Requirements For Mondo Grass

Like liriope, mondo grass accepts a variety of soil makeup and light conditions. It also shares with liriope the requirement for good drainage. Plant mondo grass between 4-12″ apart and dwarf mondo grass, 2-4″ apart.

Water and Fertilizer For Mondo Grass

Water mondo grass thoroughly when the top 1-2″ is dry, customarily, depending on weather conditions. This should be about 10-14 days. Water to keep the soil moist but never soggy. Depending on the climate, discontinue winter watering when the plant is dormant. In our South Florida climate, winter is our dry season, and we require irrigation.

Fertilize mondo grass throughout the growing season at three-month intervals. Follow your local ordinances regarding fertilizer use.

Maintenance

Like Liriope, mondo grass is a low-maintenance plant. If your plant becomes ragged over winter, you can trim it to 3″ for a neat, fresh start. Then, remove weeds and water mature plants during the drought season. The color of mondo grass will be lighter green in the sun and darker in the shade.

Propagation of Mondo Grass

The propagation of mondo grass is similar to that of liriope. Simply cut the rhizomes into pieces and plant them.

Pests and Diseases

Pests

Slugs and Snails

These will chew holes in the foliage and cause wilting. Instead, you can use a commercially available slug and snail bait.

Diseases

Anthracnose

This fungal disease produces brown or reddish-brown patches along with the plant leaf and tips. As in liriope, it is related to excessive moisture.

Remove and destroy any affected plants. You can treat the disease with a copper fungicide. However, this has limited value as excess amounts build up in the soil and negatively impact soil microbes and earthworms.

Pythium Root Rot

It presents a serious disease as burned tips on leaves that turn yellow and the roots rot. This disease is primarily a problem of planting in overly wet conditions. Biological pesticides can be used. However, the best defense is to plant in well-draining locations only.

How To Use The Table To Select Plants

First, identify the area you need to cover, the features you require, consider issues such as size, color, and growing conditions. Know your plant hardiness zone and any microclimate issues. These would consist of heat, light, the tendency to dryness, and moisture. Then choose the sizes, colors, and other features from those available to you.

A Comparison Table

FeaturesLiriopeMondo Grass
Liriope muscari (l-ih-RY-oh–pee mass-KAR-ee)Ophiopogon japonicus
(o-fee-oh-POE-gon jah-PON-ih–KUS)
Plant Hardiness Zone6-10 (some hardiness z. 5 (ask your County Extension Service)7-11
Size10′-18″, 6″-10″ HIgh, Dwarf Var. 1″-4″
ColorGreen, VarigatedGreen, Black, Varigated
Flower, Berryabove the blades, various colors, the berry is blackwithin the blades, var colors. Blue Berry
BehaviorUpright blades, wider than Mondo grassVery narrow blades, drooping
Uses Edging, ground cover, slopes, erosion control, weed controlSame
Sun/ShadeSun/part sun/shadepart sun/shade
Soilwell-drained accepts various soilswell-drained accepts various soils
pH6.0-7, moderately acid-neutral6.1-6.5, mildly acidic
WaterFor new plantings, regular water but less frequently than every day. Drought tolerant when establishedWater new plantings thoroughly. Water when hen soil feels dry for 1-2.”
FeedLight feeder, early spring, 10-10-10. When planting, Balanced fertilizer10-10-10, early spring, 16-4-8, early fall, 10-10-10
Pests/DiseasesResistant, Leaf Crown Rot, scale-avoid standing waterSame-avoid over water also
Trimmingin colder areas, trim low before spring growthsame

How To Differentiate between Liriope muscari and Liriope spicata?

Liriope muscari is tall with one-inch wide blades of grass and tall flower spikes, commonly blue or purple It clumps and does not spread by rhizomes.

Liriope spicata is lower, more drooping, with narrow grass blades of 1/4″ and low, flowers in white and lavender, hidden by the blades of grass. It spreads by rhizomes.

Both varieties are not attractive to deer and rabbits and tolerate pollution. Use a garden center that provides appropriate labels with Binomial nomenclature. (Botanical Latin names) This article “Latin for gardeners“-a little help may be useful.

Some Varieties

Name/Features-By Height Low-HighLiriopeMondo Grass
VarietyLiriope muscari ‘Silver MidgetOphiopogon japonous ‘Nana’
Flower Color-HeightLavender-10″-12″ 2″-3″
Growing Zone-Sun/Shade5/6-10-Full Sun, Part Sun, Shade6-10- Part Sun/Shade
Growing StyleShorter, Clumping, Shadeshort, clumping, shade in zone 9-10
Leaf Dark Green, + White VariationsDark Green, thin blade-like
VarietyLiriope muscari iBig BlueOphiopogon japonicus
Flower Color-HeightBlue,(Hyacinth Like) -12″-15″ 6″-10″
Growing Zone-Sun/Shade5/6-10-FS, Part Sun, Shade6/10-Part Sun, Shade
Growing StyleSlender,prevents erosion,
Leaf
Mid-Green, Tall BladesDark Green sets off the turf, flowers, ornaments well
VarietyLiriope muscari “Royal Purple.”Ophiopogon Japonicus Silver Mist
Flower Color-HeightAmethyst (Hyacinth LIke)-12″-16″8″ Tall, 15″ Wide
Growing Zone-Sun/Shade5/6-10 FS, Part Sun, Shade7-10
Growing StyleMedium-Fast, light shade bestnarrow leaf, green with silver
LeafEmerald Green, lush foliage
VarietyLiriope muscari Monroe White
Flower Color-HeightWhite, Pearl Like-12″-16″
Growing Zone-Sun/Shade5-10-Part Sun, Shade
Growing Style
Slow grower-may plant more for coverage

How Do I Buy Them

You will see some varieties in your local garden center. More will be available from the growers who sell online. They will sell both bare-root plants, newly picked and trimmed. They will also offer small, potted plants usually in two sizes, both larger than the bare-root plants. The plants are priced accordingly.

How To Choose?

Liriope in pot and a bare root plant
Examples of New Plantings

How patient are you? You will see the different plants fill in within 2-3 years. If you are having the party of the year within the next year, use the pots. If you have ambitious plans but lots of time, the bare-root plants can be a bargain.

How Many to Buy?

Here is a handy plant calculator that can help.

How to Plant Them

Prepare the soil by digging to loosen it 6″-12″ down. Add two to four inches of organic material and work it into the soil. When planting pots, make the hole twice the size of the pot. The potted plants are bigger and will fill in faster. Some gardeners buy and divide the pots into 3-4 plantlets.

Ensure that the plants are in the ground after the last average frost date in the spring and at least one month before the average first frost of the fall to protect the roots. How can I estimate frost dates in my area? NOAA Frost Dates.

When planting bare-root plants, add a little more time in spring and plant a little earlier in the fall.

Some More Information

This article discusses the steps to installing ground covers and some choices.

This article is about choosing ground covers that do not appeal to rabbits.

Summary

Follow the planting schedule, get the best advice from your dealer, and enjoy your landscape.

Resources

Roots and Maps Garden Resource Page-wide ranging information on gardening, I continue to update this information.

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