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Liriope – Drought Tolerant Ground Cover- Monkey Grass – Creeping Lilyturf

If you are searching for a versatile and drought tolerant ground cover, look no further than liriope. It is tough, easy to care for and can be used to cover a garden area quickly.

It is also called monkey grass or creeping lilyturf, looks great in planters and makes a great border plant. 

Liriope plant is a member of a group of flowering grass-like perennials which are named after narcissus plants.

Lirope-muscari-with-flowers.

Luckily for beginning gardeners, there is not really much knowledge needed for growing liriope.  Plant it and watch it grow has been my experience.

The main thing to watch out for is that liriope grass has a tendency to take over a garden. This means planning ahead for its location is necessary.

Common names and facts

Even though the common names for it are creeping lily turf and monkey grass, Liriope plant is neither a lily nor a grass. Brush up on your knowledge of this sturdy plant with these fun facts:

  • family: asparagaceae
  • subfamily: nolinoideae
  • name: liriope
  • plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • native to: East Asia and Southeast Asia
  • types of liriope in North America: gigantea, muscari, spicata and exiliflora

Does lirope spread?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes, which is what makes it a great ground cover. It also means that it can be invasive.

However some varieties are less invasive. So it depends on which type you grow.

Keep reading to learn how to use it as a ground cover and which types are more likely to take over.

Growing creeping lilyturf as a ground cover

This photo from the Land Run Monument in Oklahoma City, shows just how healthy and vibrant liriope plants can be when used in combination with rocks as a ground cover.

Monkey grass in flower used as a ground cover

Liriope is often used as a ground cover to prevent erosion and it helps with controlling weeds, since the plants are quite dense and full when mature.

 If you need a tough ground cover, liriope just might be the solution. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and has a spreading, clumping growing habit which fills in any space quickly.

Space liriope plants about a foot apart.  The plant is not called creeping lilyturf without good reason.

I came across this home on a walk recently and it shows how versatile liriope is. The photo shows the plant growing in two ways – as a ground cover and as a border plant.

The whole front yard of the house has a lily turf ground cover instead of normal grass. This is so much more easy care than managing a lawn!

Creeping lilyturf used as a border and as a ground cover.

Monkey grass will cover any garden area quickly. Tilling the soil in the planting area is not necessary and can actually cause weed seeds to start growing.

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Are you looking for an easy care ground cover that is also drought tolerant? Try liriope - also known as monkey grass and lilyturf. Find out how to grow it on The Gardening Cook.  Click To Tweet

Liriope as a border plant

Liriope spreads easily, and can make an edge to a border or yard look neat.

This garden bed is one of the main ones in our back yard. The long row of liriope plants edges it beautifully and keeps the lawn from growing into the border.

I planted individual plants about 8 inches apart for this project and it made the border full in one season.

Using liriope as a border plant to edge an area.

Note: Liriope used in this way makes a good barrier for the nearby lawn and does a good job of keeping it out of the garden bed.

However, because it grows from underground runners, care must be taken to keep it from spreading into the nearby flower area. This means that if  you use it an a border, you will need to dig up plants that find their way further into the border.

Care tips for growing monkey grass

This is a very easy plant to grow if you follow these care steps:

Growth habit of liriope

Liriope spreads quickly. It can be used in many ways in the garden. Plant about 12-18″ apart in well draining soil.

Choose your location well. Liriope’s fast growing habit means that it fills in an area easily. It also means that it will search out any nearby soil and spread.

Soil needs for creeping lilyturf

All varieties of liriope are very forgiving when it comes to soil structure. In my experience it grows in clay soil as easily as it does in fertile, loamy soil.

It does seem to do best in a moderately acid to neutral acidic soil with a PH of 6.0 to 7.0.

Liriope growing with a soil meter showing 6.5 PH.

Add organic matter or compost in the hole with each plant and you won’t need to worry about fertilizing the first year.

In subsequent years, feed the plant once in early spring with a 10-10-10  fertilizer. (affiliate link) Note that fertilizing the plant may encourage its spread.  

Sunlight and watering needs for monkey grass

Liriope will tolerate dry conditions quite well. Water regularly in the first season. After that, it is relatively drought tolerant.

It is necessary for the soil to be well draining, and compost helps with this.

Variegated varieties like more sunlight, but all types of liriope will grow in conditions from full sun to partial shade.

This photo from the Raleigh Rose Gardens shows liriope under the shade of a big tree with hellebores. It grows beautifully even in a spot that does not get full sun.

Liriope border growing in shade.

Flowers and foliage

The plant does flower in mid-summer, but it is grown mainly for the ribbon like leaves which come in both plan and variegated varieties. 

The flowers range from white to lavender and grow on small stalks. They look a bit like miniature hyacinths.

Big blue lilyturf flowers.

Berries on a monkey grass plant

The flowers of liriope are followed by single seeded berries in the fall. Each pea sized berry contains one seed. Birds love the berries, so I leave them in winter and do  your pruning in early spring.

The berries can cause stomach upset if eaten in large quantities, although they are not specifically listed as poisonous.

Even so, you may wish to watch to keep children and pets from consuming any part of the plant if you think they might accidentally eat them.

Dark berries of a monkey grass plant.

Propagating monkey grass

To propagate monkey grass, lift the plants in late autumn or early spring and pull them apart. Be sure that each portion contains at least one root stock.

These little seedlings are often called “monkey grass plugs”. Each one will grow into an individual plant.

Group of monkey grass plugs.

Separating monkey grass should be done every other year for best results to keep the plant under control.

Keep an eye on your plants and dig up and transplant when necessary. Some varieties of lilyturf can grow so quickly that they are considered invasive plants if not watched.

See tips for transplanting monkey grass here.

Cold hardiness for lily turf

The plant is hardy in zones 4 to 10.

Although the plant can remain outdoors all year in these zones, it does not tolerate freezing temperatures well. You will see the result of this in spring when the plant can look pretty shabby.

Prolonged freezing temperatures can do damage to the crown of the plant. For this reasons, it is best to leave the pruning until early spring when the first signs of new growth appear.

Liriope frost damage and plant after pruning.

Pruning tips for liriope

This perennial is low-maintenance. During the growing seasons, it does not require much in the way of pruning to stay in tip-top shape.

Cut the plants back to the ground in early spring. I use a pair of gardening shears and just give my plants a good haircut. 

You will get great new growth from the crown area very soon after if you do this.

Varieties of monkey grass

I have two varieties of liriope growing in my yard – liriope muscari, and liriope muscari ‘Variegata’.  The latter is my favorite variety.

Liriope muscari

Liriope muscari has common names big blue lirope, big blue lilyturf, lilyturf, border grass, and monkey grass. It has grass-like foliage that is evergreen with lilac-purple flowers which produce single-seeded berries on a spike in the fall months.

Lirope muscari ‘variegata’

This type is such a resilient plant and I love the contrast of the two colors in the leaves. The liriope variegata version is also easier to keep under control, since it is not such a voracious speader!

In one of my garden beds, I alternate the two types for a nice contrasting look in my border. This border gets sun most of the day and both varieties enjoy this location.

Two varieties of liriope in a garden bed.

Lirope ‘giganatea’

If you like large sized grasses, try liriope “gigantea’. It is commonly known as giant lirope and giant lilyturf. This type reaches 3 feet tall and wide.

Giant lilyturf plant,

It has small lavender blue flowers with blue fruit in the summer months. 

This variety is truly an impressive specimen. Use it as a low maintenance ground cover.

Dwarf liriope

On the other hand, if you are looking for a shorter version of liriope, try dwarf versions such as liriope muscari ‘Silver Midget.

This variety of the plant performs well in both full sun to full shade and features dark-green leaves with irregular white variegation.

Dwarf liriope.
Dwarf monkey grass is less invasive.

Liriope ‘spicata’

This is the most invasive variety of liriope.

This variety looks a lot like liriope muscari, but the muscari variety has purple flowers, while liriope spicata has white or lavender flowers. The leaves are also much narrower than muscari.

Liriope spicata in a tilled garden bed.

Liriope spicata will tolerate a wide range of light and soil conditions. It is also tolerant of high heat and humidity and drought. 

The plant is commonly known as creeping lilyturf. When you see the word creeping in a name, it is a clue to its invasiveness.

This variety is listed as invasive in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. It is also a problem spreader in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

This variety forms a dense, uniform cover and spreads quickly by underground rhizomes and can easily invade adjacent areas.

For this reason, it is a good idea to plant liriope spicata in beds surrounded by hardscape or in planters.

Liriope ‘exiliflora’

This variety is a less commonly found large form. It has tufts of broad strap like foliage with densely clustered spikes of blue flowers which appear in late summer. 

It grows to 18 inches tall and likes acid soil in semi-shade to shade locations.

Take note that all types of liriope can be invasive to some degree. If you have more of it in your yard that you would like, see my tips for controlling monkey grass.

Do you have other varieties of liriope that you grow?  Please share your experiences with them.


Some of the links below are affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.

Where to purchase liriope

Check the big box hardware stores, and Walmart in early spring. They usually have the common versions of monkey grass for sale.

Your local farmer’s market is also a good choice for finding some of the less common types.

Many online sellers have it for sale:

Since monkey grass is invasive, it is not for everyone. I have seen it for sale on our local Craig’s list as long as one is willing to dig it up. (win win for both the gardener and seller!)

Pin liriope growing tips for later

Would you like a reminder of this post for growing liriope? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Monkey grass near a tree and rock with words Liriope as a ground cover.

Admin note: this post for growing monkey grass first appeared on the blog in September of 2013. I have updated the post to add new photos, a printable growing tips card, and a video for you to enjoy.

Yield: 1 happy plant

How to Grow Monkey Grass

Liriope muscari in flower.

LIriope muscari is an easy care ground cover or border plant that is drought tolerant.

Common names are monkey grass and lilyturf.

Active Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $10

Materials

  • LIriope plant
  • Compost or organic matter

Tools

  • Spade
  • Watering can or hose

Instructions

  1. Plant liriope in an area that gets 6 hours of sun for best growth. However, it can also grow in shady spots.
  2. Add compost to the holes.
  3. Space liriope about 12 inches apart.
  4. Water well to get the plant established. Thereafter is is drought tolerant.
  5. Useful as a border plant, and is nice in planters.
  6. Cold hardy in zones 4-10.
  7. Cut back with garden shears in spring to encourage new growth.
  8. The plant flowers in mid summer.
  9. Propagate by division.

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Mary Maclaurin

Tuesday 25th of May 2021

I live in Southern California and would like to plant liriope Muscari in a very dry bed along a south facing fence. How often would I need to water these until they are established then how often once established? This bed is almost always in full sun.

Carol Speake

Friday 28th of May 2021

That would be a question for a landscaper in your area.

Linda

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

My landscaper planted bare root liriope on my bank about a month ago. When there's no rain I water it each day to encourage the roots to take hold. Is that a mistake? Also, considering they were bare root, when should I start seeing some new growth, please? Thanks so much!

Carol Speake

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

It is hard to say exactly how long it will be before you see new growth, since it depends on weather and growing conditions in your area. In my experience, I saw growth in a couple of weeks. Watering every other day should be fine.

Rudette Sands

Monday 25th of May 2020

Thanks for the information about Liriope (monkey grass). My neighbor has this plant and I admired it. It looks great all the time and now I have ideas for my flower beds using Liriope as a center piece. Great information!

Steve

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

Hello Carol, Great website! I'm sorry if this has already been asked, but I just planted some liriope here in NJ a couple of weeks ago, and the temps this weekend are supposed to get down to 35 overnite. Are the plants OK or should I cover them? Thanks

Carol Speake

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

Liriope is almost indestructible! It can take freezing temperatures once it is established. New plants may suffer a bit from the cold if they are tender and don't have much of a root system but should recover. If the temps go below freezing, you could throw a sheet over them to play it safe, but they really are very tough and hardy.

ramona

Thursday 12th of March 2020

Hi Carol, The entire side length of our front yard is shaded. Since grass doesn't grow there, we use monkey grass as ground cover under and between our 100 year old oak tree and a dogwood tree. I'm not sure why but there is an area in the center of the 2 trees that the monkey grass never seems to grow well. Is there a natural fertilizer that you can suggest to perk up its growth? Should I give up on the monkey grass in the center area and introduce another shade plant to grow there? I did plant a hosta there last year and it died:( This spring I was considering trying again to plant more hostas, maybe with a bird feeder in the center, so they don't look too odd surrounded by the monkey grass. If you have any other suggestions, I'd appreciate it. Thanks, Ona

Carol Speake

Friday 13th of March 2020

Monkey grass is usually prolific and takes over often. To have it not grow at all, makes me wonder what would grow in there. It may be the the tree roots are so established that they choke out plants, particularly if hostas died as well. Not sure what to suggest, in this case.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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