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Lily Turf's Beauty Persists All Summer
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
A recent, almost unbearable hot trip to the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs reminded me how pretty the various plantings of liriope were. When I got home, I realized in my everyday rush I hadn't noticed the gorgeous flower spikes in my own yard.
Lilirope is called lily turf by much of the horticultural world, but around here we give it the less prestigious name of monkey grass. We recommend it as a ground cover or border plant grown for its foliage, and hardly give the plant any credit for producing flowers suitable for the vase. I know some people who actually mow theirs rather than let it produce the showy flowers.
There are about a half dozen species of liriope, which hails from China, Japan and Vietnam, but we generally grow liriope muscari and liriope spicata. As their common name suggests, they are in the lily family and both species are hardy throughout Mississippi. There are several popular varieties of L. muscari such as Big Blue, Majestic, and variegated selections like Variegata and Silvery Sunproof.
Liriope muscari grows in clumps, but liriope spicata spreads by rhizomes and makes a better groundcover planted in mass. When used as a border, it can spread in areas where you don't want it. The liriope spicata also come in a variegated form called Silver Dragon.
Liriope flowers hold well on the plant for several weeks during this time of the year when air conditioners become lifesavers. The flowers come in various shades of lilac, purple and white. You can really create a show by planning your bed of liriope where their blooms contrast with white or pink impatiens. Liriope works best in shade to part shade.
Most complaints I hear on liriope result from bed preparation. The encroachment of grass or weeds into the bed or border makes many gardeners whine unjustly about liriope. Kill existing vegetation with a couple applications of a non-selective herbicide and remove before planting the liriope. Work in three to four inches of organic matter and till about six inches deep. Space transplants or one gallon container grown plants about 15 to 18 inches apart.
Pruning is another area where many gardeners fail. If the winter makes your grass look ugly, cut it back annually. Even if yours generally looks OK, a shearing every two years is still probably needed. Prune before new growth emerges in the spring. If a lawn mower will work in your situation, use it, but a hedge trimmer or heavy-duty string trimmer may be needed.
Remove old flower spikes to make your liriope planting more attractive. Feed in early spring and about this time of the year with a general purpose, lawn-type fertilizer.
One well-known horticulturist said the pinnacle of success for a plant is that it does so well it is taken for granted. This certainly fits the bill for liriope, both for its foliage and flower.