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.
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.
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!
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pruning tips for liriope
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 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.
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.
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.
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 monkey grass is less invasive.
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 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.
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:
- Check Etsy. Several varieties are listed for sale there.
- Amazon has several types of it listed.
- Etsy also have the dwarf liriope 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.
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.
- LIriope plant
- Compost or organic matter
- Watering can or hose
- Plant liriope in an area that gets 6 hours of sun for best growth. However, it can also grow in shady spots.
- Add compost to the holes.
- Space liriope about 12 inches apart.
- Water well to get the plant established. Thereafter is is drought tolerant.
- Useful as a border plant, and is nice in planters.
- Cold hardy in zones 4-10.
- Cut back with garden shears in spring to encourage new growth.
- The plant flowers in mid summer.
- Propagate by division.