The Liriope genus includes a small number of grass-like flowering perennial plants native to East and Southeast Asia. Two of the species, L. muscari (lilyturf) and L. spicata (known as creeping liriope or monkey grass) are widely cultivated as landscape plants. Liriope plants make tough, drought-tolerant ground covers. Although liriope looks quite a bit like grass, it's actually an herbaceous flowering perennial plant in the asparagus family. It is often used a ground cover to prevent erosion, to serve as an edging plant, or to help with weed control.
In the United States, the two most commonly grown forms of liriope are Liriope spicata, which is named for the spiky form of its flowers, and Liriope muscari, named after Muscari botryoides (grape hyacinth) which has a similar flower formation.
Liriope can be planted almost any time, from spring to fall, generally from nursery plants or divisions. It will grow and spread quite rapidly and likely will produce flowers in its first year.
|Botanical Name||Liriope spicata or L. muscari|
|Common Name||Liriope, lilygrass, big blue turflily (L. muscari); creeping liriope, monkey grass (L. spicata)|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||9–18 inches tall, 12-24 inch spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Average, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acid to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||August to September|
|Flower Color||Lavender to white|
|Hardiness Zones||4–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||East and Southeast Asia|
Whatever cultivars of L. spicata or L. muscari, you are growing, liriope is a low-maintenance plant. Both species are tough plants that can grow in sandy or clay soil, as well as in full sun or part shade. The only "must-have" for a liriope plant is well-drained soil.
Plant each liriope about 1 foot apart, keeping in mind that L. spicata will spread, as it's a creeping plant. It's not necessary to divide the plants, though you can do so every three to four years if you choose. In colder climates, winter protection with a layer of leaves or mulch may be necessary to prevent complete winter kill.
Liriope plants do best in a part shade location, though they also will tolerate full sun quite well, and will even survive in near full shade. In warmer climates, these plants are appreciative of some afternoon shade. Deep shade will cause the foliage to be more leggy, and the plants will spread more slowly.
Liriope tolerates a wide range of soils and soil conditions, but it doesn't like soil that is constantly wet or boggy.
During the first growing season, water the plants regularly—but not every day, as that can cause soggy soil conditions. Once established, liriope plants are fairly drought-tolerant,
Temperature and Humidity
Liriope plants prefer moderately warm daytime temperatures, ranging between 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If liriope is planted in very cold climates, it will likely die back in winter (in warmer climates, it is evergreen). In cold climates, some winter protection may be necessary.
Liriope doesn't need much in the way of feeding, but it can benefit from being fertilized in the early spring with a slow-release shrub-and-tree fertilizer or organic plant food.
In North America, there are two prevalent species of liriope grown as garden plants:
- Liriope muscari: This species grows in a clump form and is well-suited for edging. The leaves are between 3/8 and 1/2 inches wide with larger flowers. Cultivars include 'Majestic', which has large lilac flowers and dark foliage; 'Christmas Tree', with light lavender flower spikes; and 'Evergreen Giant', which features stiff-texture leaf blades and white flower spikes.
- Liriope spicata: Known as "Creeping Lilyturf," this plant has narrower leaves and smaller, lighter-hued flowers. It spreads indefinitely and can be invasive in some regions. Cultivars include 'Silver Dragon', which features slender, variegated green and white leaves with lavender flowers, and 'Franklin Mint', which has lavender flower spikes and slightly wider leaves than 'Silver Dragon'.
These ornamental grass look-alikes spread via rhizomes to the point of being considered invasive plants in some regions. Indeed, one common name for them is "creeping lilyturf"—and whenever you see "creeping" in a plant's name, that's often a red flag that it spreads aggressively.
To keep the liriope looking nice and neat, mow or shear the foliage back to the ground during the late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
There's rarely any need to propagate liriope plants because they're vigorous growers that spread very easily. In fact, you're more likely to have to restrict the growth of liriope to one area by setting up bamboo barriers or burying landscape edgings to contain the spread. If you do want to share plants, just dig up a small portion of foliage with attached roots for replanting.
Growing in Containers
Liriope is most often used as ground cover, but it can also be grown in pots. Grow the plant in moist, well-drained soil, such as quality general-purpose potting mix. The container should be large enough for the plant to grow for two to three years and it should have drainage holes at the bottom.
Common Pests and Diseases
Liriope is a fairly low-maintenance plant; however, it can be affected by a number of diseases, including:
- Anthracnose: This fungal disease results in reddish-brown spots that appear along the leaf margins and leaf tips, caused by the Colletrotichum species. It's more prevalent when the plant is subject to frequent rainfall or overhead irrigation. Stop the spread by mowing or trimming off last year's leaves to a height of about 3 inches, removing as much of the debris as possible.
- Leaf and crown rot: Caused by Phytophtora palmivora, a fungus-like pathogen, leaf and crown rot is characterized by the yellowing of interior foliage at the start, followed by the browning of basal leaf sections. Pull and dispose of plants showing leaf and crown rot to avoid spreading the disease.
- Slugs and snails: These pests may feed on these plants; they can be minimized by keeping the ground free of debris, or by spreading diatomaceous earth to repel them.
Liriope Fact Sheet. Clemson University Extension Home & Garden Information Center.
Capinera, John L. Assessment of Barrier Materials to protect plants from Florida Leatherleaf slug. Florida Entomologist, vol 101, no. 3, 2018. University of Florida Entomology & Nematology Department.