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.
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.