Black mondo grass companion plants

I find it absolutely fascinating that it’s taken me eighteen seasons in the field to really notice the black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. This blog post is a sort of love letter to this stunning perennial with year round interest.

Flowers and berries

Yes, sure, I’ve seen the black Mondo grass on my sites, usually in border mass plantings. But it wasn’t until last year that I actually stopped to examine the berries this perennial evergreen produces. I found it weird that I possessed zero recollection of these cute purple berries.

Perhaps it’s because in my capacity as landscape supervisor I now, occasionally, have time to stop and note things in the landscape. It’s harder to pull off when you’re running around with machines all day.

I was stunned when I finally noticed the cute purple berries on the black Mondo grass after eighteen seasons.

And as for summer flowers, those I finally stopped to admire on my own patio. Thanks to landscape editing I got a chance to rescue several unwanted clumps of the black Mondo grass. Now, then, here was my chance to examine the plant all year. In my own pots.

Since the flowers turn into cute purple berries, logic dictates that they too must be cute. Note how the new growth is green.

Mondo basics

There is very little you have to do to this plant. Make sure it’s well watered in summer and cut back any suspicious foliage from last year.

Since the slow growing plant forms clumps, you might want to divide the clumps every two to three years.

I’ve seen the black Mondo grass in mixed containers and in mass plantings in borders. Have some fun with it and experiment.

Companions

Potential companion plants include Hostas, Athyrium japonicum (Japanese painted fern), Liriope, Heuchera, and vinca. Since vinca is now considered an invasive species this combination doesn’t excite me. The others are awesome.

If you don’t have any black Mondo grass in your garden, get some soon and plant it with Hostas, Heucheras or Athyrium. It will give you year round interest and since it’s a slow growing perennial, it won’t overwhelm your garden space.

I’m glad I now have more time to notice details in my landscapes.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Teague’s Black’ (Fine-leaf Black Mondo) – A slow growing evergreen perennial with very narrow black grass-like leaves that grows grow to 4 to 6 inches tall, spreading slowly to form a dense clump. The individual leaves are 6 inches long and less than 1/8 inch wide. Like the full size Black Mondo Grass, the new growth is very dark green towards the base of the leaves and darkening towards the tips to become the blackest plants that we know of. This plant is shyer to bloom than the full size form but will occasionally produce short spikes bearing whitish lilac flowers in summer. Best in part sun or light shade, with regular watering. Hardy at least to USDA Zone 6a (-10°F). A great little plant for a small scale groundcover or companion plant in containers – very slow growing. Our original plant came to us in 2004 from Dylan Hannon, Conservatory Curator at the Huntington Botanic Gardens, who noted that it was propagated from a clump of a full size Black Mondo the Huntington had received from San Diego area plantsman Bill Teague in 1980 and accessioned as Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Arabicus’ HBG#44303. It is not known if this finer leaf form was a mutation or a seedling from this plant, but it was notably finer leaved and selected out but never named. We honor the original source by naming it after the late Bill Teague. There was a very similar looking narrow leafed plant introduced into the nursery trade by Bruntwood Nursery in Hamilton, New Zealand that was submitted for Plant Breeders Rights protection in 2004 under the name ‘Nigrescens Hosoba Kokuryu’, which translates to “narrow leaf Kokuryu”. This plant is also cultivated by nurseries in England using this name but while these plants look very similar, they are from different sources and therefore unique. According to the International Liriope and Ophiopogon Cultivar Register the full size black mondo grass should be called Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Kokuryu’ but there is a certain amount of disagreement about the correct name for the plant. See our listing of Black Mondo for more information on this at Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Ophiopogon ‘Teague’s Black’.

Border Grasses

Liriope grass

An easy way to add definition between your lawn and landscape beds is to plant border grasses.

These clump-forming perennials can range in size from 2 inches to 2 feet tall.

One of the most widely planted border grasses is Liriope muscari. Commonly called liriope or lilyturf, this grass has solid green or variegated foliage, depending on the variety. Some varieties bloom in warm months with small purple flowers.

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus is another popular border grass. It has deep green, variegated, or black foliage and ranges from 2 to 24 inches in height. It’s sometimes planted as a groundcover, creating a shade-tolerant lawn alternative.

Mondo grass is quite often confused with liriope. Common names such as Aztec grass and monkey grass are used for both. However, the leaves of mondo grass are more narrow than those of liriope and have smaller fruit.

Border grasses are relatively low maintenance once established, though they’ll look better if you mow or cut them back in late winter or early spring.

UF/IFAS Sites

  • Florida Plant ID: Liriope
  • Florida Plant ID: Mondo Grass

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’, Evergreen Giant Lilyturf
  • Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’, Variegated Lilyturf, Variegated Liriope
  • Ophiopogon japonicus, Mondo Grass

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Landscaping in the Shade
  • Ornamental Grasses

Smart Choices With Monkey Grass

Simple and neat, variegated liriope borders a bed and provides contrast to the deep green lawn.

Monkey grass is the South’s favorite ground cover. It’s easy to find, simple to care for, usually evergreen, and tolerates heat. Throw in the fact that many types boast showy flowers, and you have a keeper.

It’s tough too. Tolerant of shallow soil, drought, dogs, and deer, these Asian natives can survive the occasional crushing by car tires, bicycles, and the disoriented FedEx guy. Because it grows thick and matlike, weeds rarely become a problem. Little or no fertilizer is required. For all of these reasons, this plant is one of the best secrets to low-maintenance gardening.

Select the right monkey grass, and your reward is even greater. Some prefer full sun, while others are better suited to shade. Some clump, and others creep. All monkey grasses fall into one of two groups: the genuses Liriope or Ophiopogon.

Liriope
In general, all liriopes do well in filtered sun to full shade and aren’t picky about soil. The most common is the clumping form (Liriope muscari), which is often used for edging. Popular selections include ‘John Burch’ and ‘Silvery Sunproof,’ which excel in sun. ‘Big Blue’ is the perfect choice for dry shade. These liriopes boast lavender to purple flowers followed by dark purple fruit. White-flowering selections such as shade-loving ‘Monroe White’ are available too. Heights range mostly from 10 to 15 inches tall. If you live in the Coastal or Tropical South, try ‘Evergreen Giant,’ which stretches to 2 feet tall and makes a great substitute for a low shrub.

Now is the perfect time to trim your liriope. Mow or cut back foliage to the ground before new shoots emerge. If you do it after the shoots are up, the tips will be snipped blunt, and your liriope will be stuck with a ragged look for a year.

Mondo
Equally durable and just as carefree, mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) likes filtered sun to shade and well-drained soil. Foliage is fine and dark, making it an elegant choice for a formal or small garden. Heights can range from 2 to 12 inches, depending on selection. Ground-hugging, slow-growing ‘Gyoku Ryu’ is a nice choice for between stepping-stones. Black mondo grass (O. planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) grows well in containers and looks dramatic when paired with anything chartreuse.

Another Way To Simplify
If you have a slope or large bed to cover, use creeping liriope (Liriope spicata). It covers faster than L. muscari and spreads by underground stems.

To plant, remove sod from the slope, and till or turn the soil with a shovel. Rake it smooth, and mulch with pine straw. Plant finger-size sprigs about 8 inches apart through the straw. Or, if clumps are larger, space 1 foot apart, and water. Mondo grass works too.

“Smart Choices With Monkey Grass” is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living.

Dwarf Mondo Grass Propagation

Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’) is a Japanese plant that has charmed the gardens of the world. A decorative, low growing plant, this ornamental looks best when grouped together, but sometimes there may only be a few plants available. This is where dwarf mondo grass propagation comes in handy.

There are two propagation methods available for dwarf mondo grass. One is planting dwarf mondo grass seeds and the other is division of your plant.

Dwarf Mondo Grass Seeds

If you decide to grow dwarf mondo grass seeds, be aware that they are finicky and you may have trouble getting them to grow. They may also not grow true to the parent plant. This is the more difficult of dwarf mondo grass propagation.

Harvest seeds yourself and plant immediately. Seeds you buy will have a lower germination rate the less fresh they are.

Plant your seeds in sterile potting soil and place the pots in a cold frame or other cool area. These seeds will germinate best in cooler temperatures.

Keep the dwarf mondo grass seeds moist at all times.

Wait two weeks to six months for seeds to germinate. They will germinate at irregular times. Some may sprout in two weeks, while others will take much longer.

Dwarf Mondo Grass Division

A much easier and sure-fire way of dwarf mondo grass propagation is through division. This way you can plant dwarf mondo grass that is exactly like the parent and you will have a much more uniform look to your plants.

For division, dig up a well established clump of dwarf mondo grass. Use your hands to break the clump into smaller clumps or use a sharp, clean knife to cut the clump into smaller pieces.

Plant the dwarf mondo grass clumps in the locations you would like them to grow in. Water them thoroughly and keep well watered for the first few weeks until they become established. The best time to divide your mondo grass is in the early spring or early fall.

What Is Monkey Grass: Caring For Money Grass In Lawns And Gardens

Looking for a low growing, drought tolerant turf replacement? Try growing monkey grass. What is monkey grass? Rather confusingly, monkey grass is actually the common name for two different species. Yes, things could get a little muddled here, so keep reading to learn about the different types of monkey grass and how to use monkey grass in the landscape.

What is Monkey Grass?

Monkey grass is a groundcover that looks very similar to turf grass. It is the common name for liriope (Liriope muscari), but it is also referred to as border grass. In addition, monkey grass is oftentimes used as the common name for a similar plant, dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).

Are Liriope and monkey grass the same? In so far as ‘monkey grass’ is often the terminology used for liriope, then yes, which is confusing since mondo grass is also called ‘monkey grass’ and yet liriope and mondo grass are not the same at all. In fact, they aren’t even grasses. Both are members of the Lily family.

Dwarf mondo grass has thinner leaves and a finer texture than liriope. As a group,

both are referred to as lilyturf.

Types of Monkey Grass

There are quite a few types of monkey grass belonging to one of two genera: Liriope or Ophiopogon.

Of these varieties, the most commonly used is L. muscari, which is a clumping form. L. spicata, or creeping liriope, is best used in difficult areas such as on hillsides. It is an aggressive spreader and should only be used in areas that need full coverage, as it will choke out other plants.

Of the Ophiopogon genus, the monkey grass most commonly used is O. japonicus, or mondo grass, with fine, dark colored leaves that thrive in shaded areas. There is also the impressive black mondo grass which adds a touch of drama to the landscape. The most popular varieties are Nana, Nippon, and Gyoku-ryu.

How to Use Monkey Grass

Most liriope grows to 10-18 inches (25-46 cm.) in height, although the clumping type spreads to 12-18 inches (30-46 cm.) across. This evergreen groundcover blooms from July to August with white, pink, or purple hued blooms. These spiked blossoms provide a showy contrast against the green foliage and are followed by clusters of black fruit.

Monkey grass uses for L. muscari are as a groundcover under trees or shrubs, as low edging plants along paved areas, or as the front of a foundation planting. Due to its rapacious spreading habit, monkey grass uses for L. spicata are generally restricted to use as a ground cover in areas where maximum coverage is desired.

Dwarf mondo grass is most often used as a replacement for turf grass, but may also be grown in containers or used as a stand-alone plant.

Caring for Monkey Grass

Once established, both of these “monkey grass” varieties require very little maintenance, as they’re fairly drought tolerant, pest resistant and only needs mowing or pruning once annually. In the lawn, foliage should be mowed in the late winter prior to new growth. Set the mower at its highest cutting height and take care not to injure the crown.

Varieties of liriope can be divided every three or four years if additional plants are desired; however, this is not necessary.

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