It's hard to imagine more serviceable ground covers for shade than these Asian natives. Though slightly less cold hardy than their Liriope cousins (see page 416), they're just as care- free, needing little more than well-drained soil and shelter from hot sun. Deer don't generally bother them. Plant them in large sweeps in areas where you don't want to mow or under large trees where grass won't grow. They also do well in containers. Use them for their lush evergreen foliage; the summer flowers, borne on short spikes, are largely hidden by the leaves.
It's easy to obtain more plants by division. Use a sharp spade to divide clumps in early spring; or use a knife to divide clumps sold in flats or cell-packs at garden centers. To get divisions of mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') off to a fast start, trim the roots back by half before replanting. This encourages rapid root growth.
ophiopogon intermedius 'Argenteomarginatus
- Forms foot-tall clumps with a cascading look and spreads widely and aggressively.
- Thin, dark green leaves with yellowish white margins grow 112 feet long, 12 inches wide; white flowers are followed by bright blue fruit.
- Sometimes sold as Liriope muscari 'Variegata', but that plant has violet blooms.
giant lily turf
- Sometimes sold as Liriope gigantea.
- Grows 23 feet tall, 112 feet wide, with dark green leaves to 1123 feet long, 12 inches wide.
- Clump forming; does not spread.
- Nodding clusters of small white flowers are followed by showy fruit in metallic violet blue (attractive in arrangements).
- Vittatus (sometimes sold as Liriope muscari 'Variegata') has leaves edged in creamy white.
mondo grass, monkey grass
- Dark green, grasslike leaves grow 812 inches long, 18 inches wide.
- Forms dense, 6- to 8 inches-tall clumps that steadily spread by under- ground stems to form an evergreen mat at least 1 feet across.
- Short spikes of lilac flowers are followed by metallic blue fruit.
- Makes an excellent shade-tolerant lawn that never needs mowing, though it takes several years to fill inches Great for filling cracks between pavers and stepping stones.
- A number of dwarf selections spread much more slowly than the species; these include 'Gyoku Ryu' (12 inches tall), 'Kyoto Dwarf' (24 inches.), and 'Nana' (3 inches.).
- Little Tabby (also sold as Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Little Tabby') and 'Shiroshima Ryu' (also sold as Ophiopogon japonicus 'Variegatus') have green-and-white striped leaves and grow 46 inches tall.
black mondo grass
ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' ('Arabicus')
- Nearly black, grasslike leaves grow to 14 inches long, 1814 inches wide.
- New leaves are green, but they soon darken.
- Spreads slowly, forming tufts to 8 inches high; clumps can reach 1 feet across, but they don't form a thick carpet.
- Flowers are white or (sometimes) light pink.
- Looks great in mixed containers; striking when combined with yellow or chartreuse foliage, such as yellow creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea').