Liriopes, commonly known as lilyturfs, are evergreen flowering plants which form thick clumps of grasslike foliage. They are unique groundcovers happily binding the soil with their fleshy roots and equally happy growing in full sun or shade. Liriopes will grow in most temperate climates and will fare quite well in hot and humid subtropical regions. They can also tolerate a fair amount of cold and frost. The soil type to plant them in is not critical, as long as it is enriched with ample amounts of compost and bonemeal to feed the fleshy roots. Water needs are on the medium scale and short periods of drought would not cause great damage, as the thick roots are able to store water. Plant in great swathes in sun or shade and feed twice in the summer months with a general fertiliser. To increase your plant stock, divide the clumps every three to four years in spring or autumn.
Eastern countries such as China, Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam are the original homes of an excellent group of grassy tuft plants or ‘lily lookalikes’, classified in the genus Liriope, and known by the common name ‘lilyturf’.
Liriopes have broad, elongated leaves that give them a tropical appearance, but are looked upon more as ornamental grasses. In fact, they are the first types of ornamental grass that we planted – long before grasses from other genera became fashionable.
The liriopes were previously classified along with lilies in the family Liliaceae, but subsequently moved to the family Convallariaceae. This did not last either, and now they find themselves in the family Ruscaceae. While confusion may have reigned over their classification, gardeners around the world weren’t bothered because they have long known these plants for what matters most – their admirable qualities.
Local gardeners grow row upon row of them as ground covers and you can certainly plant them en masse to create small lawns that are easy to maintain. In fact, they are perfect for a garden where lawn is impractical or not wanted.
Liriopes, along with their cousins, the mondo grasses (genus Ophiopogon), are also solutions for those who prefer Eastern-style gardens or grass gardens, and those who just want neat, low-maintenance border plants.
When Does the Liriope bloom?
Liriopes are not planted for their flowers and when they bloom (from spring to autumn) you have to get close to the ground to be able to admire the shy, bell-like flowers on their delicate stems. Some types hide their flowers between the long leaves, while others push them up to just above their dense tussocks.
Most suitable climate for the Liriope
Liriopes thrive in most temperate climates and grow almost indecently well in humid subtropical regions. They also endure light frost and cold conditions.
What they need
Location: full sun to deep shade. These plants are especially suitable for ‘difficult’ growing areas, such as narrow pathways with varying sun patterns.
Soil: any soil type is suitable, but for lush growth they need soil enriched with lots of compost and bone meal.
Water: medium water consumption, but brief periods of drought won’t do any damage. Liriopes have thick fleshy roots that store water.
Fertilizing: feed once or twice during summer with a lawn fertilizer rich in nitrogen, and follow that up a week or two later with lots of water.
Get more value
It’s easy to increase your stock by digging up some overgrown plants, dividing them into smaller ones and then replanting them all. This can be done in autumn, but in cooler climates rather wait for spring.
In a nutshell
- Good replacement for lawns
- Low maintenance, disease and pest free.
- Medium water consumption.
Liriope muscari ‘Royal Purple’
Has dark purple flowers attached to purple stems are carried above the tussocks of dark green, slightly broader leaves. Plant size about 30 x 40 cm.
Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’
The giant of the lilyturfs with dark green leaves reaching nearly 1 m long. It is a lovely accent plant for deep shade, to grow in pots, to grace pool gardens, or to use as a low, relaxed border or hedge. Lilac flowers are hidden in the foliage from spring to autumn, but like all plants in this group they are not grown for their flowers, but their foliage. Space them about 70 cm apart if they are being planted in large groups as ground covers. They are an excellent replacement for lawns, are low maintenance, disease and pest free although they need a bit of water now and again.
Liriope muscari ‘Silver Ribbon’
This lilyturf has thin, ribbon-like, dull green leaves with white or silver stripes that form a loose clump resembling a small fountain. This is a great choice as a textural and contrasting border plant for shady beds. It goes well with other shade lovers such as begonias and impatiens. Size about 35 x 40cm.Plant size about 35 x 40 cm.
Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’
Has bright green leaves with golden yellow edges and looks at its best in spring. Purple racemes appear above the arching foliage in autumn. The leaves droop downwards in winter before the new, luxuriant growth appears in spring.
Liriope muscari ‘Pure Blonde’
It can be asked if this hybrid is a freak of nature or just a sick plant due to a strange habit. Clumps of pure blond foliage appears for two to three months from early spring and then turns to deep green to protect itself against the heat. It looks fantastic if planted as highlighting spots amongst black mondo grass or any other dark-leaved plants. If cut back completely in late autumn, it will sprout pure blond in spring again. Size about 30 x 45cm.