Updated: Mar 1, 2021
By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Liriope (Liriope spp.) is an evergreen, tough, grass-like perennial. Also called monkey grass, illy turf and border grass, it is widely used in West Texas landscapes because it is versatile and low-maintenance. This plant is often confused with Mondo grass which has thinner leaves and the flowers actually hide within the clumps.
Although not a grass, liriope is a monocot and in the same family as asparagus or agave! It was imported from East and Southeast Asia around 200 years ago. However, if you are looking for a native plant there are some alternatives. Lyre leaf save (Salvia lyrate) is a ground cover with blue flowers which attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. A common sedge from Central Texas, Texas sedge (Carex texensis), is also a good shade groundcover. Although not a nectar source, its fine textured foliage complements other shade tolerant flowering plants.
Liriope grows in tight clumps that are deep green or variegated in color depending on the species. Lavender, white or mauve flowers appear in the late summer and early fall, followed by black berries. All species have similar growing needs and are treated similarly even though they differ in appearance. It is used as an edging plant to line walkways, flowerbeds and to define margins in landscape areas.
This plant is tuberous-rooted and is well behaved. Can be used as a grass substitute in some areas. It is a good plant to control erosion at the edge of beds and thrives in sun or partial shade. In well-drained soil, Liriope grows to a height of 12-18” and can survive in drought conditions.
This plant is widely available at local nurseries. Plant 12” apart and keep moist until established. Once established weekly watering with drip irrigation should be sufficient. Fertilize twice early in the season with a slow release fertilizer. It will stay green through the winter unless there is a hard freeze that lasts for days. Trimming the grass back during winter helps with the appearance in spring. Simply gather the long leaves in your hand (like a ponytail) and, using scissors, cut off about half the length of the leaves. Add the cut leaves to your compost pile.
When the plants are mature you will need to divide them. Gently dig the plant and lift it up. Then use a garden knife or spade to cut into sections leaving at least 5 shoots with tubers (the roots) in the new planting.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.