Looking for a low growing, drought tolerant turf replacement? Try growing monkey grass. What is monkey grass? Rather confusingly, monkey grass is actually the common name for two different species. Yes, things could get a little muddled here, so keep reading to learn about the different types of monkey grass and how to use monkey grass in the landscape.
Monkey grass is a groundcover that looks very similar to turf grass. It is the common name for liriope (Liriope muscari), but it is also referred to as border grass. In addition, monkey grass is oftentimes used as the common name for a similar plant, dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).
Are Liriope and monkey grass the same? In so far as ‘monkey grass’ is often the terminology used for liriope, then yes, which is confusing since mondo grass is also called ‘monkey grass’ and yet liriope and mondo grass are not the same at all. In fact, they aren’t even grasses. Both are members of the Lily family.
Dwarf mondo grass has thinner leaves and a finer texture than liriope. As a group, both are referred to as lilyturf.
There are quite a few types of monkey grass belonging to one of two genera: Liriope or Ophiopogon.
Of these varieties, the most commonly used is L. muscari, which is a clumping form. L. spicata, or creeping liriope, is best used in difficult areas such as on hillsides. It is an aggressive spreader and should only be used in areas that need full coverage, as it will choke out other plants.
Of the Ophiopogon genus, the monkey grass most commonly used is O. japonicus, or mondo grass, with fine, dark colored leaves that thrive in shaded areas. There is also the impressive black mondo grass which adds a touch of drama to the landscape. The most popular varieties are Nana, Nippon, and Gyoku-ryu.
Most liriope grows to 10-18 inches (25-46 cm.) in height, although the clumping type spreads to 12-18 inches (30-46 cm.) across. This evergreen groundcover blooms from July to August with white, pink, or purple hued blooms. These spiked blossoms provide a showy contrast against the green foliage and are followed by clusters of black fruit.
Monkey grass uses for L. muscari are as a groundcover under trees or shrubs, as low edging plants along paved areas, or as the front of a foundation planting. Due to its rapacious spreading habit, monkey grass uses for L. spicata are generally restricted to use as a ground cover in areas where maximum coverage is desired.
Dwarf mondo grass is most often used as a replacement for turf grass, but may also be grown in containers or used as a stand-alone plant.
Once established, both of these “monkey grass” varieties require very little maintenance, as they’re fairly drought tolerant, pest resistant and only needs mowing or pruning once annually. In the lawn, foliage should be mowed in the late winter prior to new growth. Set the mower at its highest cutting height and take care not to injure the crown.
Varieties of liriope can be divided every three or four years if additional plants are desired; however, this is not necessary.
Monkey grass makes an excellent ground cover for shady areas, as these plants grow well in areas where other types of sun-loving grasses will not grow, such as under trees. It fills in slopes and its dense roots that spread underground grow in clumps that help prevent run off. This grass also never needs mowing so it is ideal for areas where growing turf grass is not possible. It is a decorative, low maintenance grass.
Monkey grass is an attractive plant for edging walkways and creating borders for flower beds. Planting monkey grass divisions 6 to 8 inches apart is best for lining walkways and defining or adding texture to flowerbeds. Monkey grass is slow growing and clump-forming, requiring little maintenance. If border or edging plants begin to look shabby, shear or mow them before growth begins in the spring. Dwarf varieties, such as "Kyoto Dwarf" and "Nana," spread more slowly and are half the size, making them ideal for borders and edging.
This is the most commonly planted variety of monkey grass. People also call it clumping liriope because of the way it grows in compact masses.
It is a low-growing flowering plant with typically dark green leaves from one to two feet high. Yellow and variegated liriope are also common coloring variations.
The flowers may be white, pink, or purple. Liriope blooms from July to August. Later it forms clusters of blackberry-like fruit.
Originally from Asia, liriope is widespread throughout much of the United States. Gardeners appreciate its hardiness, low maintenance requirements, and modest growth habits.
It won’t grow in extreme heat or cold. But it flourishes just about anywhere else and requires little watering or other care.
Also known as creeping liriope, this grass has a mixed reputation with gardeners. It’s similar to liriope muscari except it aggressively spreads using underground rhizomes.
Liriope spicata gets the job done admirably when a landscaper wants to cover large areas quickly. For tough challenges like bare hillsides subject to erosion, creeping liriope outdoes clumping liriope.
But creeping liriope also can be invasive, hard to control, and challenging to eradicate. Before planting creeping liriope, consider carefully whether clumping liriope would be a better choice.
Also, keep in mind that creeping liriope should only be used when you want a solid bed of nothing but liriope. It will tend to choke out any other plants.