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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.


The first time I encountered Liriope, I thought it was a grass. The leaves were about as wide as a blade of crabgrass and dark green. Then I read that a common name for this plant is lilyturf. But it is not a grass, nor is it a lily.

Liriope is a genus native to East Asia. This genus used to be placed in the lily family, but recent classifications put it in the family Ruscaceae. This family contains a variety of genera, some of which we are familiar with as tropical houseplants: Dracaena, and Sansevieria, commonly called "Mother-in-Law's Tongue".

Pronunciation of Liriope is sometimes debated. The pronunciation guide I found says: "luh-RYE-oh-pee". Sounds like "calliope". But, like lots of horticultural topics, there is probably someone somewhere that believes a different pronunciation is correct. As long as I can figure out what plant a person is talking about, it doesn't really matter to me.

There are two species of Liriope commonly grown: Liriope spicata, and Liriope muscari. Both are evergreen and are typically used as groundcover. Both produce lavender, purple, or white flowers in clusters on spikes followed by blue-black berry-like fruit. The growth habits of the two species are very different and should be taken into account when choosing the site for planting.

Liriope spicata, also called Creeping Lilyturf, is a spreading plant that creeps along by underground stems. It grows to be about 10 to 15 inches tall and will rapidly fill in a given area. This may be a good thing, filling a bare spot with lush green groundcover, or it may be a bad thing if the plant keeps creeping into other flower beds. Most sources advise planting Liriope spicata in areas where hardscape, like a sidewalk or a wall keep it from embarking on a hostile takeover of your yard.

Two popular cultivars of Liriope spicata are 'Franklin Mint' with pale lavender flowers, and 'Silver Dragon' also with lavender flowers, but the narrow leaves are variegated heavily in white.

Liriope muscari, sometimes called Big Blue Lilyturf, is a clump-forming plant rather than a creeper. It is a far better behaved resident in the garden than Liriope spicata. Liriope muscari will be very happy in the border of a flower bed, and won't want to take over the whole thing plus your lawn too.

There are many different cultivars of Liriope muscari available. 'Silvery Sunproof' is variegated in yellow and white, and will withstand full sun better than most Liriope. 'Evergreen Giant' is one of the largest cultivars, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall. Its leaves are very stiff and it produces white flowers. 'Webster Wideleaf' grows to be 12 to 15 inches tall and has the widest leaves among Liriope cultivars.

Liriope is a tough plant that will grow in sand or clay, in shade or full sun. The only "must" in its cultivation is well-drained soil. It will not tolerate "wet feet". I planted an unknown variegated Liriope muscari cultivar in my garden, and it slowly died out over several years. I thought the site was the perfect sunny spot to support Liriope, but over the winter and spring the site is just too wet.

Though Liriope will grow in and tolerate full sun, it will flourish if given some partial shade. I think this was also part of my problem in my home garden. Full sun and high temperatures can cause yellowing and "melting out" of Liriope in the heat of summer.

Liriope should be planted about one foot apart, and plants may be divided every three to four years if you desire to increase your plant numbers. It is not necessary to divide the plants to keep them flowering. You may leave them undisturbed for many years.

Though it's an evergreen, several sources recommend mowing or pruning of last year's foliage in late winter to keep Liriope looking attractive. However, it is important to make sure the crown of the plant near the soil line is not injured, since this is where new growth originates.

This summer we inherited excess Liriope spicata from my mother-in-law. The plants just got to be too aggressive in her garden. She told us she would bring by "some" of the plants–which amounted to 5 large black trash bags worth.

We fully intended to plant them right away since they were in plastic trash bags in our garage. But with a new baby in the house it was a good three weeks before they all got planted. Surprisingly most of the plants survived and are flourishing. Time will tell whether we picked a good spot or not for the long haul. But for now we're pretty impressed with how much abuse these plants have survived at our house.

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