Ophiopogon, or Mondo Grasses have thin, curved, ribbon-like leaves and grow in dense tussocks. They are evergreen, exceptionally hardy, produce tiny racemes of snow-white, bell-like flowers on short stems in summer, and are used primarily as ground covers.

This rather businesslike description of the plants in the popular genus Ophiopogon gives no indication of the serenity and soul-soothing peace the Mondo Grasses can bring to a winter and a summer garden. When planted en masse, mondo grasses take on an undulating, almost magical appearance, and when you catch sight of such a carpet of them after a light drizzle or when it is touched with dew in the early morning, it can be breathtaking. You can never really plant enough of them!

The ‘calming’ effect of mondo grasses makes them excellent fillers around accent plants such as cycads, and they are equally charming as border plants in the front of flower beds. In Eastern or Zen gardens, dwarf forms of mondo grass have reached icon status. They are equally at home in low maintenance gardens that sport large paved areas, providing welcome greenery amongst the pavers, and they are very good alternatives to a water-guzzling lawn.

Raging winds and Mother Nature’s other vagaries have no effect on these plants. They are not assailed by pests and diseases, and they do not need much water. Another benefit is that you can walk over them without causing much damage, and if planted in place of lawn grass you don’t need to use a lawnmower to keep them in check. All you need to do is some dividing every few years, purely to increase your stock levels so that you can plant more somewhere else in your garden.

Most suitable climate for Ophiopogon

Mondo grasses suit all climates. They will grow more luxuriantly in warmer regions if they are planted in light to deep shade.

What Ophiopogon need

Location: full sun to deep shade.
Soil: any soil type is suitable, as long as compost has been worked into it.
Water: regularly and deeply. Twice a week in summer will be more than enough, unless it is excessively hot.
Fertilizing: adding compost and bone meal to the soil when planting should be good enough to keep the mondo grass happy, but if you prefer you can also fertilize in early spring, using a quick-working fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen.

In a nutshell

  • Full sun to deep shade.
  • Hardy.
  • Evergreen and always pretty.
  • Can be divided in spring by digging up dense clumps and gently pulling them apart.

Which Ophiopogon to Choose

  • Ophiopogon Jaburan ‘Vittatus’ has green and white variegated, ribbon-like leaves and produces flowers during the summer.
    It makes a lovely contrast grass for planting between other plants in shades of green. Plant size about 40 x 40 cm.
  • Ophiopogon Japonicus ‘Kyoto’ is a dwarf mondo grass, and probably one of the most popular ground covers on the market today.
    It is planted between stepping and paving stones as a softener, and used to replace lawns that are battling to grow in the shade. Plant size about 10 x 30 cm.
  • Ophiopogon Planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass) is a small but dramatic ornamental grass with narrow, dark purple to black leaves. The flowers are followed by shiny black berries. A slow grower, it takes the patience of Job to cultivate black mondo grass to its full glory, but the wait is definitely worth it. Plant size is about 20 x 30 cm.
The Gardener