Liriope a good choice for groundcover

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2011

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
Liriope, monkey grass or border grass is one of the most underused landscape plant materials.
Mostly used as a border, redefining liriope’s use may create a new attitude for home landscapers, especially those who have dense shade where grass refuses to grow.
The plant is actually a lily that has distinct growth habits. Liriope muscarii grows in clumps and spreads very slowly. Liriope spicata spreads rapidly by suckers covering an area quickly. Both have spike-like flowers in the late summer or early fall. Purple seems to be the most prevalent color, but white flowered varieties such as Monroe are available.
The foliage most commonly chosen in this area is green, but variegated varieties of yellow, white or silver are available. There is even a dark brown to black variety for special interest or as a focal point.
One of the most beneficial aspects of liriope is its ability to survive. The ground cover survives in most any situation and, when established, withstands extreme neglect.
Landscapes plagued with steep banks and deep shade should consider mass plantings of liriope. Most species will grow in sun or shade, but variegated liriope does best in full sun.
Mass planting 18 inches apart provide good cover and aid in blending the transition from smooth lawns to trees or shrubs. Liriope spicata should be planted in areas that can be contained, such as a sidewalk or a driveway. It spreads quickly into lawns, so be careful how this type is used.
Most home landscapers use the plant to outline sidewalks or borders. Consider using the plant in a mass planting replacing grass that won’t grow or bark or mulch that has to be re-applied each year. Mass planting make landscapes flow easily.
The campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte provides an excellent example of how liriope has effectively been used in mass plantings. It is major ground cover on campus, and the plant is very effective in covering slopes as well as defining large areas around the campus. Outlined borders tend to make your eye focus only on the border and not the complete landscape.
Liriope is mowed in late spring after the danger of a hard freeze to rejuvenate growth and remove dead or winter damaged foliage. Set the mower wheels at the highest distance before mowing. Liriope grows quickly after this annual mowing. Apply a complete fertilizer after clipping to stimulate growth.
Fall is an excellent time to divide liriope. Dig the plant and take an old ax or knife and divide the plant, leaving three or four bibs per clump to reset the plant. The tops can be clipped back to facilitate planting.
Water plants thoroughly and apply a complete fertilizer in the spring to get the groundcover established. Once established, move the winter damaged tops in the spring 4-inchs high with a lawn mower or string trimmer.
This plant has few pests; scale can be a problem. Keep an eye out for this pest. Weeds have a difficult time competing with liriope.