Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not All Monkey Grass is Created Equal

When Jack and I moved into our house in 2011, included in the existing landscaping were several garden beds bordered with variegated liriope (also called lilyturf). We have never been big liriope fans and when we planted it, it was usually for functional, rather than aesthetic, purposes.  It makes a great groundcover for those spots where you need a trouble-free plant to fill in a dry, shady area or where you need something for erosion control.

Before I go further, I should say that I know people who REALLY hate liriope, which they usually call "monkey grass". The common name "monkey grass" is often used to refer to both liriope and and mondo grass. But I think the haters of monkey grass are usually referring to the spreading form of liriope called spicata. This spreading form of liriope can be invasive and rather than staying in a well-defined clump, it spreads out in all directions. So it is important to know what you are getting when you purchase anything called "monkey grass."

If you are looking for liriope, you probably want the clumping type, liriope muscari (which comes in both green and variegated forms). This type spreads, too, but the clumps simply become bigger over time. Thankfully, this is the type Jack and I inherited when we bought our house.

When we started attacking the landscaping issues around our home, we decided to divide and transplant our liriope to an area underneath a large tree in our front yard where we could not grow grass. It was a fairly shady, sloping area with quite a few tree roots at the surface of the soil. We thought the liriope would be an easy way to cover and hold the bare soil and would also hide the tree roots.  An added benefit is that liriope is such a tough plant in our area, requiring no extra care once planted. 

Being that I am a frugal gardener, we divided our liriope into many small clumps so that it would cover a larger area, and it is just now starting to fill in and take on a mature look in the bed we made. Because it is the variegated form, it adds a little brightness to the usually shady area.

I have been pleased with how this area is coming along. But an unexpected surprise has been how beautiful the flowers are on this form of liriope. It starts blooming in late August and retains a nice bloom throughout September. I tried for several days to get a picture that would show how pretty the bloom is and could never get one to do it justice. When I took this one last week, the bees were everywhere!

Planted in mass, this liriope actually makes an attractive flower bed and adds a lot of color to the late summer/early fall garden. If you are thinking of getting some, I'm sorry I don't know the cultivar name. It may be 'Variegata' but I can't say for sure. I'd recommend buying it in bloom to be sure of the flower color.

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