Monkey Grass or Mondo Grass

Mondo used at the base of a planter and bordering a side walk

Mondo used at the base of a planter and bordering a side walk

A single container of Mondo also called Dwarf Lilyturf

A single container of Mondo, also called Dwarf Lilyturf

Monkey grass or Mondo grass? Folks, these are two very different plants, and I think they have very different looks. First, lets talk about the beautiful ground cover Mondo, also called Mondo grass or Dwarf Lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus). I have heard it also called Monkey grass, but this is not what I know as Monkey grass. Mondo is a fine-bladed ground cover that loves part sun to shade and makes a great substitute for grass under trees, or for use as a border or a planting around a container, like the one shown. The single pot shown was two dollars at a local garden center and before planting could be divided into at least five separate plants. For mass planting, I like to plant them about 4 inches on center and mulch between the plants. Of course, the better the soil is prepared the faster it covers the space. There is also a dwarf selection available, but be prepared–it is expensive to purchase and very slow-growing. There is a beautiful planting on a couple of the mounds in the Tea House Garden at the Japanese Garden in the Birmingham Botanical Garden. The most difficult thing about growing this ground cover is to keep it weeded until you get coverage.

Mass planting of Liriope commonly called Monkeygrass

Mass planting of Liriope. commonly called Monkey grass

Variegated Liriope planted next to decorative rocks

Variegated Liriope planted next to a decorative rock

The green Liriope is what I commonly call Monkey grass (Liriope muscari), but is also called Big Blue Liriope. This plant can take tough conditions and does okay in poor soil. It is planted in sun or shade, but some of the named selections will require shade. In older landscapes, you see this edging on flower bed and shrub planting around the foundation of the house. It is a great ground cover for tough conditions and when planted six inches on center, can quickly cover the space. Again, weed control is one of the biggest issues in establishing a mass ground cover planting of Liriope. In addition to the green selection, there are a number of variegated selections that will have a bolder variegation in sun and a more subdued look in shade. I think these make excellent accent plants and not mass ground cover plantings. Some selections are yellow variegated leaves and others are white variegated leaves. Both Mondo and Liriope are staples in many Birmingham area gardens.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

6 thoughts on “Monkey Grass or Mondo Grass

  1. There is a chemical application that controls grass in liriope – I do not know if it would work on Mondo grass of not. We have used it here in NC to control fescue growing in verigated liriope along our drive.
    Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the chemical.

    • It could be a number of reasons, soil too wet, pH is just right to grow moss or simply too much shade. Check out these issues and if none of them are your cause, don’t worry, they will co-exist.

  2. I have several large mondo areas. Weed control is a major issue this year. Even in well established areas of mondo, I am overwhelmed by weeds. Is there a solution other than endless hours of digging?

    • I wish I had a solution, but since it is growing, digging out the weeds is just about the only way to control them. If the infestation is so severe you do not think you can control it by hand weeding, I have seen folks put Round-up in shoe polish bottles and touch the weeds with the wet sponge on the end of the bottle. Be sure to wear gloves when you apply it this way, and make sure it is a sunny day. Good luck, and if you do not have a weeding tool, I suggest you get one for hand weeding, as it is easier and you can get the roots.

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