Grassy Ground Covers

Grass like ground covers instead of turf grass
In the photo above, you can see two grass-like ground covers widely used in Birmingham where an alternative to turf grass is needed. In the foreground, you see the dark green Ophiopogon, and in the middle distance, Lariope. Behind those is a pool of Zoysia turf.

Ophiopogon (aka Mondo grass)

Ophiopogon is commonly called Monkey grass, Mondo grass, or dwarf Lilyturf. Not a grass and definitely not a lily, Ophiopogon offers gardeners a shade tolerant, tough alternative to grass. Its fine texture can make it hard to distinguish from turf. In March, following a cold winter, I will shear Ophiopogon with my string trimmer as new growth begins. This year was so mild that there was no winter damage necessitating shearing.

Liriope 2

Lariope (aka Lilyturf)

Lariope, or Lilyturf, is much coarser. Think linguine to Ophiopogon’s spaghetti. Taller, often fertile, and aggressively spreading, Lariope easily handles the toughest gardening conditions, such as holding slopes and covering large, rough areas. Shearing Lariope is a must, as last year’s foliage is bleached and tattered. A string trimmer is best, but hand trimming is required where these groundcovers meet other plants.

Grass alternative Mike 3-11

Here, you can see freshly trimmed Lariope alongside the untrimmed patch.

I grow a chartreuse variant of Lariope in a big, blue pot. It’s a wowza combination, and tolerant of weeks of neglect during summer vacations. I also had (I hope) a white and green striped Lariope that proved to be unforgivingly aggressive, and I have spent weeks trying to eliminate that nasty from a shrub border. Be forewarned. Both Ophiopogon and Lariope can be fertile and invasive. The bright, steelblue berries are spread by birds and chipmunks. The underground rhizomes travel in all directions. But for the toughest of places, these are groundcovers to consider.

More on Lariope and Ophiopogon

Mass planting of Liriope commonly called Monkeygrass

dwarf mondo in gravel

Mike Rushing

Mike and Paula Rushing have been gardening in St. Clair county since 1990, and In Forest Park since 2007. A Jefferson County Master Gardener and course instructor at Master Gardening classes, Mike also volunteers weekly at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

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