Few plants epitomize the Southern landscape more than the Southern magnolia, crapemyrtle and Lirope (Liriope muscari). Even before Southern Living magazine became the style guide for the quintessential “Southern look,” Liriope was popular. We see it everywhere – here as a groundcover, there bordering a walkway and over yonder edging a flower bed. Southern gardeners just can’t get enough of this tough, reliable plant. In fact, it’s used so often for edging that one of its common names is “edging grass.”

Liriope muscari

Lilyturf is known throughout the South as an attractive evergreen groundcover with cheery blue-purple flowers in late summer.

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Variegated Liriope

Clumps of variegated lilyturf can really brighten up a shady border.

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Liriope muscari groundcover

For a good, noninvasive evergreen groundcover, try Liriope muscari.

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Liriope muscari ‘Silvery Sunproof’

‘Silvery Sunproof’ is a bit more tolerant of full sun than ‘Variegata’.

Photo Credit: Gerald Klingaman

Also called “lilyturf” or “monkeygrass,” the truth is Liriope isn’t a grass at all – it’s a member of the lily family. There are several look-alike plants, including the fast-spreading Liriope spicata (creeping lilyturf). But regular lilyturf is the largest of these. In fact, it typically grows 12-18 inches tall – all from half-inch-wide leaves that push from fleshy underground roots.

Lilyturf is well-behaved in the garden and tends to stay put, with clumps slowly increasing in size. Come August, plants send up spikes of blue flowers above the foliage that resemble the blue blooms of grape hyacinth (hence the species name “muscari”). White-flowered forms are also available. (Liriope spicata also blooms in August, but it tends to keep its flowers hidden down in the foliage, and the color is a washed-out whitish-blue.)

Relatively little has been written about this plant in garden books, primarily because Yankee garden writers just don’t understand Southerners’ love affair with lilyturf. This species is hardy to USDA Hardiness zone 6 in the North, while the creeping lilyturf is hardy to Zone 4 – but both do better deeper south. Just like alligators and mosquitoes, Liriope likes it hot and humid.

Because of its clump-forming nature, lilyturf is a natural as an edging plant or groundcover. Divisions should be planted on 12-inch centers. It typically takes about two years for clumps to more or less grow together.

While lilyturf does best in moderate shade, it will grow in either full sun or heavy shade (but expect fewer flowers in dense shade). Unfortunately, Bermuda grass has a bad habit of invading liriope plantings when planted in the sun. But selective grass herbicides will kill the Bermuda grass without affecting your lilyturf.

If you’d like to divide your plants, early spring is probably the best time to do it – but the plant’s tough enough that it can be divided at about any season so long as it can be watered. Once established, lilyturf is tolerant of drought and cold. It doesn’t seem to have any serious disease or insect problems either.

Liriope is a favorite “pass-along” plant among Southern gardeners, but you can find all kinds of beauties in local garden centers. Here are some particularly great Liriope muscari cultivars to keep an eye out for:

  • ‘Aztec Gold’ – a 12-inch-tall, white-variegated selection said to be stoloniferous (spreading)
  • ‘Big Blue’ – a common 15-inch-tall form that’s a lot like the species but with deeper blue flowers and dark green leaves
  • ‘Bigun’ (CLEOPATRA™) PP15474 – a 24-inch-tall clump-former with lavender spikes and deep green leaves
  • ‘Christmas Tree’ – a shade-loving, 12- to 15-inch-tall lilyturf with light lavender flower clusters borne in the form of a Christmas tree
  • ‘Love Potion No. 13’ (EMERALD GODDESS®) PP15471 – a 12- to 15-inch-tall green form with deep green leaves (It’s said to have superior disease resistance.)
  • ‘Gold-banded’ – a 16-inch-tall, variegated beauty with narrow gold bands down the margins of each leaf and light lavender-purple flowers
  • ‘John Burch’ – a 12-inch-tall novelty cultivar with blue flowers bunched along the spike and narrow leaves with creamy-yellow margins
  • ‘Lilac Beauty’ – a 16-inch-tall selection with deep green foliage and lilac blooms held uniformly above the foliage
  • ‘Majestic’ – 18 inches tall with deep green foliage and large violet-blue flowers
  • ‘Marc Anthony’ (MARC ANTHONY™) PPAF – a 16-inch-tall, midsummer-flowering beauty with leaves that change from golden-yellow and green in spring to white and green as they mature
  • ‘Monroe White’ – a shade-loving, slow-growing, 12-inch-tall clone with white flowers
  • New Blue™ – an “improved” 15-inch-tall beauty with deep-green leaves and lavender blooms
  • ‘Pee Dee Ingot’ – a 12- to 15-inch-tall, golden-leafed form with blue flowers and bright leaves emerging in spring that remain chartreuse later in the season
  • ‘Royal Purple’ – a 15-inch-tall, deep-green-leafed clone with dark-purple flowers held above the foliage in late summer
  • ‘Silver Midget’ – an 8-inch-tall, white-variegated form with blue flowers that are often club-shaped at the end and reminiscent of cockscomb
  • ‘Silvery Sunproof’ – a 15-inch-tall variegated form with cream- and gold-streaked leaves withstanding sun better than most variegated selections
  • ‘Super Blue’ – a more vigorous selection of ‘Big Blue’
  • ‘Variegata’ – a 15-inch-tall variegated form with golden variegation and lavender flowers
  • ‘Webster Wideleaf’ – a 12- to 15-inch-tall, green-leafed form with the widest leaves of any clone

So just take your pick – and add a touch of Southern charm to your garden.