The Liriope genus includes a small number of grass-like flowering perennial plants native to East and Southeast Asia. Two of the most commonly grown species in the U.S., 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. Even though liriope looks like grass, it's an herbaceous flowering perennial plant in the asparagus family. It is often used as a ground cover to prevent erosion, serve as an edging plant, or help with weed control.
Liriope spicata is named for the spiky form of its flowers, and Liriope muscari is 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 grows and spreads quite rapidly; depending on the type, some grow larger and quicker than others. Watering and fertilizer play a big part in its growth rate. In some parts of the southeastern U.S., L. spicata is invasive.
|Common Name||Liriope, lilygrass, big blue turflily (L. muscari); creeping liriope, monkey grass (L. spicata)|
|Botanical Name||Liriope spicata or L. muscari|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||9–18 in. tall, 12-24 in. spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, sandy|
|Soil pH||Acidic (6.0 to 7.0)|
|Bloom Time||August to September|
|Flower Color||Lavender, white|
|Hardiness Zones||4–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||East and Southeast Asia|
Regardless if you are growing L. spicata or L. muscari, liriope is a low-maintenance plant. Both species are tough plants that can grow in sandy or clay soil and full sun or part shade. The only "must-have" is that it is a well-draining 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 every three to four years.
L. spicata is commonly called "creeping lilyturf." Whenever you see "creeping" in a plant's name, it's often a red flag that the plant is an aggressive spreader. States where L. spicata is listed as invasive include Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. It's also naturalized in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi and can become problematic in those states.
Liriope plants do best in a part shade location, though they also will tolerate full sun quite well and will even survive in almost full shade. In warmer climates, these plants are appreciative of some afternoon shade. Deep shade will cause the foliage to be leggier, and the plants will spread more slowly.
Liriope tolerates a wide range of soils and soil conditions, but it doesn't like constantly wet or boggy soil.
During the first growing season, water the plants regularly—but not every day, as that can cause soggy soil conditions. On average, liriope needs about 1 inch of water per week. Once established, liriope plants are relatively drought-tolerant and can go a little longer between watering days.
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 the coldest USDA zones, some winter protection may be necessary.
Liriope doesn't need much in the way of feeding. Still, it can benefit from being fertilized once in the early spring with a 10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) slow-release shrub-and-tree fertilizer or organic plant food. It shouldn't need more than 1/4 cup per plant. Fertilizer will boost its growth rate and may encourage spread.
Types of Liriope
L. Muscari grows in clumps and is well-suited for edging; leaves are 3/8 and 1/2 inches wide with larger flowers. L. spicata has narrower leaves and smaller, lighter-hued flowers.
- Liriope muscari "Majestic": Large lilac flowers and dark foliage
- Liriope muscari "Christmas Tree": Light lavender flower spikes
- Liriope muscari "Evergreen Giant": Stiff-texture leaf blades and white flower spikes
- Liriope spicata 'Silver Dragon': Slender, variegated green and white leaves with lavender flowers
- Liriope spicata 'Franklin Mint': Lavender flower spikes and slightly wider leaves than 'Silver Dragon'
These ornamental grass look-alikes spread via rhizomes, which helps them spread and makes them invasive plants in some regions. 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. After the flowers die, remove the flower stems and any withered foliage.
The best time to propagate liriope is in the very late fall or early spring. Dividing liriope is not necessary for the health or longevity of the plant but is often done to control the current plant's spread in an area or to add the plant to another part of the garden or landscape. Division is best attempted after the third growing season. The two primary ways of propagating liriope are plant division and sowing seeds. Here's how to divide it:
- First, you'll need a healthy clump or section of recently watered foliage with roots intact and a sharp knife.
- Next, decide whether you will be transplanting the division to a new location outdoors or a pot of well-draining potting soil. The pot should be larger than the plant, with at least several inches to grow on each side and at the bottom.
- Use the sterilized knife to cut through the root ball and divide it into as many parts as you need. Each piece should have some root.
- Transplant it to a different part of the garden or into the pot, but be careful not to cover the root's crown with the soil. If it's covered, the crown may rot upon watering and kill the plant. Put soil around the plant and the root.
How to Grow Liriope From Seed
Growing liriope from seed is a multi-step process. Since growing from division is easier, the elaborate routine for seed sowing is a less favorable propagation method. The best time to plant seeds is about eight weeks before the last frost date. Here's how to start the process:
- The berries need to be soaked for 24 hours. Remove any remaining pulp from the seed.
- Make a mixture of household bleach with water: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. The bleach removes the phenolic acid on the seed casing that inhibits germination.
- Plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep in a clean seed starter pot or in the ground. Keep it evenly moist until germination, which should occur in 1 to 2 weeks. The best germination temperature is roughly 65 to 70 F at room temperature for at least 30 days.
- Once the seedling reaches one inch in height, transplant it outdoors or to a larger pot.
Potting and Repotting Liriope
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—at least 3 inches longer and deeper than the specimen. It should have several drainage holes at the bottom.
When repotting, only go one pot size up and always use fresh potting soil. These plants do well when slightly rootbound. If the roots are growing out through the drainage holes, it's a good sign it's time to repot.
This evergreen plant is hardy to USDA zone 4, which means, depending on where you live, it may stay green year-round. However, in winter, it will enter a dormant state and stops growing. Some choose to trim it down to right above the crown, or you can leave it intact. Either way, trim off dead, browned leaves. The dead foliage can encourage disease or pest activity. During intense cold snaps, protect the plant by covering it with a layer of leaves to prevent stress or plant death in colder climates.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Like other indoor plants, lilyturf is vulnerable to mealybugs and aphids. These soft-bodied insects are best treated with horticultural oil, a natural remedy. Outdoor bugs to be on the watch for include slugs and snails that feed on the plants. Keep the ground free of debris and spread diatomaceous earth to repel them.
Liriope is susceptible to two diseases, anthracnose and leaf and crown rot. Both are fungal-type diseases. Anthracnose causes reddish-brown spots that appear along the leaf margins and leaf tips, caused by the Colletotrichum 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 is a disease caused by Phytophthora palmivora, a fungus-like pathogen. It causes 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 to other plants.
How to Get Liriope to Bloom
If your liriope fails to bloom, it can be due to many reasons. Often too much shade and not enough sun will deter blooms. Temperature extremes such as brutally cold winters or sweltering summers can stress out plants and hamper flower development. Other potential reasons for a lack of blossoms are that the plant may not be getting enough water, the soil is not draining well, leaving behind soggy soil, the plant needs nutrients, or too much nitrogen. Adjusting conditions by amending the soil, changing your watering routine, or changing your fertilizer can tip the balance and give you blooms.
If your conditions seem ideal and you're still puzzled why you don't have blooms, one surefire way to spur blossoming in the growing season is to mow down liriope in late winter, before new spring growth begins. If you go this route, steer clear of the plant's crown. Do not set your mower too low to the ground that it shaves off the crown; it can kill the plant.
Common Problems With Liriope
Liriope is a relatively low-maintenance plant; however, it is susceptible to insects and diseases that can cause problems. Here are some usual issues that you encounter with liriope:
Browning Leaf Tips
Browning leaf tips or margins usually affect indoor plants more than outdoor liriope. It is often caused by insufficient water or not enough moisture in the air. Water the plant adequately and mist the plant to increase humidity around the plant.
If you notice that one or two leaves have turned yellow, and you see brown or black patches growing at the base of the leaves, that's a clear sign of crown or root rot. The base is beginning to rot due to a fungal infection. You can apply a fungicide and cut out a small part of the root or crown that is rotted if you catch it early, but if the entire crown looks brown or black, it's too far gone with disease and needs disposal. You may notice this disease developing rapidly in late spring and early summer in outdoor plants when temperatures and rain levels increase.
Not all yellowing leaves are root rot, and liriope leaves can yellow if it's sitting in poorly drained soil. Also, they can bleach to a yellow-tan if they're exposed to too much sunlight.
Slugs and snails like to feast on liriope. Slugs are snails without shells and are white, gray, yellow, or brown-black. They are slimy, wormlike creatures that leave behind a slime trail in their path, and they chew through leaves. There are homemade solutions to rid yourself of these pests without harming your plants or the environment.
Are liriope easy to care for?
As far as plants go, liriope is one of the lower maintenance species. They have ideal conditions, but they do not require them to grow, spread, and stay healthy.
How fast does liriope grow?
Liriope spicata is the faster-growing species. It sends out runners and spreads faster and more voraciously, while L. muscari grows in a clump and stays put. Both thrive, reaching 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide in one growing season, and fertilizer increases their foliage growth rate.
What's the difference between liriope and mondo grass?
Liriope and mondo grass are often mistaken for each other since they look very similar. Although liriope looks like grass, it isn't; it's a perennial plant. Mondo grass is an ornamental grass. The leaves of mondo grass are shorter and more narrow than liriope. Mondo grass berries are bright blue, and liriope berries are black. Liriope flower stalks are showier, sticking out past the leaves.
Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States. Creeping liriope. The University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health and the National Park Service.
Miller, James H., Chambliss, Erwin B., and Loewenstein, Nancy J. A field guide for the identification of invasive plants in southern forests. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station.
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.
Liriope Fact Sheet. Clemson University Extension Home & Garden Information Center.