When to divide liriope?

Liriope

Big blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari), also commonly known as liriope.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Liriope, sometimes called lilyturf, is among our best evergreen ground covers. It multiplies rapidly and requires very little care. It grows well throughout South Carolina.

There are two major species grown in our area: big blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari) and creeping lilyturf (L. spicata).

These two evergreen lilyturf species have slightly different growth habits and degrees of hardiness, but both are favorite landscaping plants. Both plants form mounds of grass-like foliage. Usually the foliage is dark green, but in some varieties it is variegated. There are many cultivars available. They differ in leaf color, size and flower color.

Height/Spread

Most liriopes grow to a height between 10 and 18 inches. Liriope muscari generally grows in a clump form and will spread to about 12 to 18 inches wide. Liriope spicata spreads rapidly by underground stems (rhizomes) and will cover a wide area. Because of its rapid spread, L. spicata is not suitable for an edging but is excellent for groundcover.

Variegated liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’) surrounds mailbox post.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Ornamental Features

Lilyturf forms a dense evergreen groundcover with a grass-like appearance. It blooms in July to August with lavender, purple, pink or white flower spikes. Although the flowers are individually small, they are very showy, since each plant has many spikes of blooms. Clusters of bluish black berry-like fruit follow the flowers.

Landscape Use

Liriope can be used as a groundcover under trees and shrubs and as a massed planting on slopes and banks. Liriope muscari and its cultivars can also be used as low edging plants along paved areas or in front of foundation plantings.

Liriope is remarkably tough. It will grow in deep shade or full sun, sand or clay. It can endure heat, drought and salt spray, but will not take “wet feet”; it requires moist, well-drained soil. Flowers are produced most freely in a sunny location.

Space the plants about 1 foot apart when planting. As the plants grow and mature, they can be dug and separated – usually this is done every three or four years if you want to increase your plants. Division is rarely necessary for the health of the plant.

You should mow off the foliage of these ground covers in late winter before growth starts with a lawnmower set at the highest possible cutting height. Be sure not to injure the crown of the plant when you mow, and be sure the mower blades are sharpened. It is important to prune liriope before spring growth begins – late January in lower coastal South Carolina and by mid-February in upstate South Carolina.

Problems

Anthracnose of liriope (Liriope muscari).
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Reddish-brown spots that appear along leaf margins and leaf tips are caused by a fungal disease known as anthracnose, which is caused by Colletotrichum species. This disease becomes more prevalent with frequent rainfall or overhead irrigation. It causes a rapid dieback of the foliage. The fungus can remain over-winter in dead foliage.

Mow or trim off last year’s leaves in late winter to a height of about 3 inches and remove as much of the debris as possible. Avoid over-watering or watering late in the day. This may be all that is needed to stop disease.

Leaf and crown rot is caused by Phytophthora palmivora (a water mold pathogen). ‘Evergreen Giant’ is a very common cultivar that is planted in the Southeast, and it is especially susceptible to leaf and crown rot. Initially with leaf and crown rot there will be a yellowing of the interior foliage. As the disease progresses, the basal leaf sections will turn brown, and then this discoloration will move further outward on the foliage. If plants are removed, an inspection of the root system will reveal discolored roots that are sloughing off their outer root tissue.

Liriope is also prone to root rot caused by Phytophthora, Fusarium oxysporum, or Rhizoctonia solani. As the root systems decays, the plants will discolor from the base upwards. Root rot may occur in sites that have poor drainage or are over-watered.

Plants that are showing symptoms should be removed and disposed of immediately before there can be further spread of the disease. Fungicides will not cure the plants of this disease, but only slow its progression. Fungicide treatments will leach from the soil after a few weeks, and then the disease will reappear.

Leaf and crown rot of Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

When planting liriope, do not install plants too deeply where the crown of the plant is buried. Keep liriope healthy by watering weekly as needed during summer droughts, don’t over-apply mulch next to plants, and don’t over-fertilize. When fertilizing, scatter fertilizer around plants but don’t let fertilizer granules become wedged between leaves. These things can all stress and predispose liriope plants to become infected with leaf and crown rot. Do not plant liriope in poorly drained sites.

Liriope scale (Pinnaspis caricis) or fern scale (P. aspidistrae) may infest liriope and causes chlorotic spotting (yellow) or reddish spotting of the leaves and foliar necrosis. Cut back the foliage in the late winter and clean up the clippings to significantly help in scale control. Thoroughly wet the infested liriope with a 2% horticultural oil spray (5 tablespoons per gallon of water) after pruning to aid in control.

Species & Cultivars

Big Blue Lilyturf (Liriope muscari): This lilyturf grows in a clump form, making it well-suited for edging. The leaves are a little wider (3/8 to ½-inch wide) and the flowers somewhat bigger than those of creeping lilyturf.

  • ‘Majestic’ is a strong grower that grows to 12 to 15 inches tall. It has large, showy, deep lilac flowers and ½-inch wide dark foliage.
  • ‘Monroe’s White’ has bright white flowers in large clusters. Matures at 12 to 15 inches tall. This variety does best in shade, and has slightly slower growth.
  • ‘Christmas Tree’ has unusual light lavender flower spikes in the form of a Christmas tree. It grows slowly to 12 to 15 inches tall, and prefers shade.
  • ‘John Burch’ has a thin border of creamy yellow edging each leaf blade. It will have less variegation if grown in shade. The flowers are lavender and it grows to 12 to 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Evergreen Giant’ has stiff-textured leaf blades and white flower spikes. Mature height is 18 to 24 inches tall.
  • ‘Densifolia’ is very similar to ‘Evergreen Giant’, grows to 18 to 24 inches tall, and has lavender flowers spikes.
  • ‘Gold Band’ is an excellent specimen plant. It has wide leaf blades with a gold edge and lavender flower spikes. Mature height is 12 to 18 inches.
  • ‘Samantha’ is a green leafed cultivar with pink flower spikes. Mature height is 12 to 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Big Blue’ matures at 12 to 15 inches tall and has less of a tendency to spread by stolons. It has lavender flower spikes.
  • ‘Emerald Goddess’ grows to 16 to 20 inches tall and has lavender flower spikes.
  • ‘Ingwersen’ has ½-inch wide, dark green foliage and blooms profusely with long full lavender flower spikes. However, it blooms the best in part shade to full shade. It matures at 12 to 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Royal Purple’ has deep purple flower spikes and the plants mature at 12 to 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Silver midget’ has dark green leaves with irregular variegation and lavender flower spikes. It grows to 10 to 12 inches tall.
  • ‘Variegata’ has green foliage with white to yellow variegation on the edges of leaves. The flower spike is lavender and the plant matures at 10 to 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Silvery Sunproof’ has leaves striped white and yellow. It withstands sun better than most variegated forms; 12 to 15 inches tall, with purple flowers.
  • ‘Webster Wideleaf’ has lavender flower spikes on 12 to 15 inch tall plants. Widest leaf of any cultivar.

Creeping Lilyturf (Liriope spicata): This lilyturf grows 10 to 15 inches tall and spreads indefinitely.

The leaves are more narrow (1/4-inch wide) than on L. muscari. This habit makes it ideal for a lawn replacement or erosion controlling groundcover. It can be invasive in the wrong location. The flowers are smaller and lighter in color.

  • ‘Silver Dragon’ has slender, highly variegated green and white leaves and lavender flowers. It reaches about 12 to 16 inches tall. ‘Silver Dragon’ is great for lighting up a dark area. It does not grow as densely as most lilyturf.
  • ‘Franklin Mint’ has pale lavender flower spikes above green leave that grow to 12 to 15 inches tall. The leaves are a little wider than those of ‘Silver Dragon’.

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon species) is similar in use and appearance to lilyturf. You can find information on mondo grass in HGIC 1110, Mondo Grass.



Teena Crawford is co-host of radio program ‘Smart Gardening’ on Melbourne’s 3AW. Two years ago she planted her front yard with Liriope muscari as a lawn substitute. On the day Burke’s Backyard visited, Teena’s ‘lawn’ was in full flower, and looked so spectacular that passers-by were stopping to admire it.

Plant details

Common name: Lily turf Botanic name: Liriope muscari

Description:

An evergreen perennial to about 60cm (24″) tall, and 45cm (18″) wide. It has strappy, green leaves and erect stems of bell-shaped, purple flowers.

The genera Liriope and Ophiopogon are closely related and there is some confusion over their botanic names, particularly since some have been renamed recently but are still being sold under their old names. They are both commonly referred to as mondo grass or lily turf.

Varieties mentioned in our segment

‘Monroe White’

– creamy white flowers (also sold as ‘Monroe’s White’)

‘Royal Purple’
– deep purple flowers

‘Samantha’
– pink flowers

Best climate:
Liriope muscari grows in all areas of Australia except for the tropics.

Uses:

groundcover
borders and edging
lawn substitute
shade gardens
pots

Good points:

evergreen foliage
attractive flowers
long flowering
low maintenance
hardy
drought tolerant
easy to grow

Downside:

Needs protection from snails.

Care:

Liriopes like well-drained soil and a position in full sun or part shade.
In late winter cut back ragged leaves, allowing new leaves to grow in spring.
Lift and divide old clumps when dormant in late winter.
Protect from snails.
Teena suggests planting liriope 40cm (16″) apart if you want to try growing it as a lawn substitute.

Getting started:

Liriope muscari is available at nurseries and garden centres. Expect to pay from $10 for 140mm (6″) pots, and from $18 for 200mm (8″) pots.

Liriope Characteristics

Few things can make a garden bed look better than a repetitive border plant. For this purpose, I want something that grows quickly and is relatively cheap because you’re going to be purchasing lots of them. I also want something that is very hardy, and disease and pest resistant.
The plant that fits this bill in just about every aspect is Lily Turf, or Liriope. I always call it Liriope because it’s just fun to say…

Where I live, zone 8b for plant hardiness purposes, my liriope has been evergreen for the last 2 years. Just a few years ago, we had a few very icy harsh days and I wound up cutting it back to the ground once it turned brown.

It came back the following Spring with a vengeance. Over the years I have always been reluctant to cut things back. I have learned this is almost always a good practice, and especially with grassy type plants.

I don’t know if this is always the case but everything you read on the internet says to “cut it back to the ground in the Spring or Fall”. Well I did this once, and all the grass grew out with a square edge where it was cut back, it just got longer. NOT pretty. Luckily the new growth covered it up mostly and it wasn’t noticeable from the road…

Liriope is made up of a dark green narrow bladed leaf that resembles a lush grass, sometimes called Monkey Grass by the way. There is also a variegated variety.

It blooms in early Summer with a tall purple stem that shoots up out of the mounding dense foliage. Afterwards, the blooms are followed by blue-black berries. It’s also a perennial, so will not need to be replanted every year.

Liriope is extremely tough. It grows equally well in deep shade or full sun. It can endure the extreme heat of a southern garden without showing any signs of stress.

It can handle drought well and I have yet to see any signs of disease in all the years I have grown it.

Liriope as a Ground Cover

Liriope also makes a great ground cover for large areas and does well in many different types of poor soil conditions.

As a ground cover, you can just let it grow as big as you want, and only divide if you think it needs it. It won’t affect its growth or blooms to be overcrowded.

Liriope as a Border plant

Used as a border plant, it can quickly become too large for its purpose and will possibly need to be divided as often as yearly depending on personal preference or as a means to multiply the number of plants you have without spending a bunch of money.

How To Divide Liriope

The first thing I always do is plan ahead.
How much space do I need to cover?
Am I making a border or ground cover?
How far apart will they be? About 12 inches is the closest you’ll want them in my opinion.
How much can I divide my present plants without making them look too small?
This may also involve a little bed prep which is always the toughest job in gardening.

Water It Well

Another thing that I feel is important is to plan far enough ahead where you can give it a good soaking to make sure the plant is hydrated and happy before you divide it. I do this for most any plant I am about to cut for propagation.

Digging Up Your Liriope

The next thing to do is to dig up your plant. Liriope roots are shallow but very wide and dense. They can sometimes stretch out as far as the growth of the leaves but will usually stay in a dense bunch.

Just give yourself enough room around the plant to dig and cause as little damage to the roots as possible. They are pretty tough though and can really take some damage.

Dig a little ways out from the plant so as to not damage the roots much

Separating Your Clumps

When I am dividing, I like to lay them out on an old potting soil bag or something to catch the dirt so you don’t make a mess in your yard or wherever you are working.

Next, just decide how big you want your clumps to be. Your size depends on how soon you want to divide again or how big a space you need to cover.

All you need to do is make sure there is a piece of the root “crown” in the resulting split.
This can be accomplished by gently pulling the root ball apart, resulting in many divisions if needed.

Lay your clump on a bag of some sort to save your dirt and make clean up easier

The easiest way to just cut them is with a shovel. Simply slide it into the root ball like you’re cutting an onion. There’s nothing to it. I have done it for years and always had great results.

Simply cut the Liriope Clumps with a Shovel

REPLANTING

When replanting your division, be sure to not cover up the crown of the root.

Gently water them in around the base if possible. If it remains wet, it can cause what is known as “root rot”.

This disease will cause your leaves to start turning yellow and it will eventually affect the entire plant and can possibly spread to other plants.

Divide the clump to your preferred size

That’s about it for dividing your liriope and filling any bare areas or creating a beautiful border for your garden beds with a low maintenance, disease resistant, drought resistant, heat tolerant plant!

How to propagate Liriope

Every year in our nursery we produce thousands of liriope plants. This short step by step guide shows how we propagate liriope.

Select plants

The method we use to propagate liriope in our nursery is division. It’s fast and the success rate is almost 100%.

We select plants from our nursery. You can also dig up an existing clump or search for overgrown stock at a local nursery.

The variety we are dividing in this article is liriope muscari ‘Samantha’. We started our collection with only 25 plants and we now stock thousands.

All Liriope can be propagated by division. In our nursery we propagate Samantha, Royal purple and Munroe white.

Sometimes on a variety such as ‘evergreen giant’, seed may be collected and sown.

Splitting the clump up

Firstly we try and remove as much soil as possible from the plant, this creates a fresh and weed free environment for the new pups as they are starting out.

A good hard shake is generally enough to remove most of the dirt, get your fingers throughout the roots and tease the remaining debris free from the clump.

You do not need to be gentle, they are very hardy.

The clump should pull apart reasonably easily. Gently pull in different directions there is usually a weak point.

If it doesn’t pull apart easily use a knife or garden snips to cut it.

Keep splitting the clumps until they are comfortable to work with.

Once you have a smaller clump you can start looking at selecting single plants.

One 14cm (5.5″) pot gives us anywhere between 5-10 individual plants.

Of course a decent clump dug up from the garden can produce much more.

Even tiny buds, with a small root system like the picture below will grow into strong healthy plants.

Reducing plant shock

Liriope is a very tough plant. We are able to divide it twice a year, sometimes it’s very hot when we are dividing. In this situation we place a damp tea towel over the exposed roots of the divided plants until we’re ready to start potting them.

When splitting the plants apart it’s important that you try to keep as much of the root system intact as you can. Sometime you don’t get as much as you would like, If this happens cut the foliage back. This will stop the plant from trying to keep the excess foliage alive with a limited root system.

Another tip for reducing shock is to water in with a seaweed solution. This helps promote root growth.

Pot your new plants

Once you have your single plants divided up, your ready to begin potting.

Use a good quality potting mix. If the weather is cooler (not summer) you could plant directly back into the garden, just backfill with potting mix, compost or worm castings.

We feed the new plants with a slow release fertiliser, It helps to establish them a bit quicker.

As mentioned before, if your want to give them the best start, water them with a seaweed solution. Either way, make sure their first drink is a thorough soaking.

That’s about it, hope you are enjoying our content and if you would like to see more, please feel free to subscribe. Happy planting:)

Below is a short video showing the above steps.

Propagating by seed

Another useful method of propagation for liriope is collecting and sowing the seed.

The seed will begin to ripen during autumn. It remains on the plant for quite some time. Almost 3 months.

We are in a coolish climate about 1 hr east of Melbourne, Australia. Ive seen ripe seed in Queensland during summer. But down here its always in autumn that i start to notice the seeds.

Once the seed berries turn from green to black they can be harvested and planted.

Seed ripening on the plant Ripe berries

Here in our climate this is an incredibly slow method of propagation, compared to the division method.

The seeds took about 6 months to germinate and another 5 months till the plants were as large as the ones we divide.

Below is a short video showing our seed propagation trial.

Propagation Kit

We have also put together a resource page that contains links to the products we use or similar. If you want to check that out click the link.

Propagate Liriope muscari Samantha Video

This short video shoes how we propagate Liriope muscari ‘Samantha’ in our nursery.

Propagate Liriope Royal Purple Video

This video shows how we propagate liriope royal purple in our nursery. We propagate these by division in late autumn or early winter.

Propagating Liriope Using Seed Video

This short video shows our trail propagating liriope by seed.

Liriope muscari- ‘Samantha’ care

Liriope muscari ‘samantha’ is an evergreen perennial. It forms clumps of slender strappy deep green leaves. In summer it produces clusters of small pink flower spikes.

Samantha is great as a border along shady paths, or under trees, also looks great mass planted and in patio containers.

Grows best in moist well drained soil in a partly shaded position. It is a very adaptable plant however and can be grown in full sun. It will tolerate dry periods and frost.

Cultural notes

Botanical name: Liriope muscari ‘Samantha’

Common name: Lilyturf, border grass, monkey grass

Family: Asparagaceae

Native to: East Asia

Flowers: summer

Position: Part shade/Shade

Height: 60cm

Width: 40cm

Liriope muscari- ‘Royal Purple’ care

Liriope muscari ‘Royal Purple’ is an evergreen perennial. It forms clumps of slender strappy deep green leaves. In summer it produces clusters of small vibrant purple flower spikes.

Royal purple is wildly grown as a ground covering liriope. Looks great as a border, planted between pavers or amongst rocks.

Grows best in moist well drained soil in a partly shaded position. It will tolerate dry periods and light frost.

Botanical name: Liriope muscari ‘Royal Purple’

Common name: Lilyturf, border grass, monkey grass

Family: Asparagaceae

Native to: East Asia

Flowers: summer

Position: Part shade/Shade

Height: 40 cm

Width: 40cm

Variegated Liriope

Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’, also known as Variegated Lilly Turf.

Variegated Liriope is an awesome landscape and I tell you why. It’s colorful, it flowers, it’s attractive and it’s super easy to care. I’ve used this plant in landscape plants for years and 20 years later it still looks good. It never gets too big, it never gets too scraggly, it just looks good.

The only maintenance it needs is to have the top clipped off at the end of the growing season, or really early in the next growing season. That’s it. New shoots come from the ground each spring and it looks amazing all summer long.

Variegated Liriope in Bloom.

Sometimes I use Variegated Liriope in mass plantings, planted as close together as 12 to 18 inches, other times, often times really, I use it to border a long curved walk. Or to border the outside of a large planting bed.

Variegated Liriope used to border a large corner planting bed.

This is an awesome plant to grow and sell for a lot of reasons but it has great sales appeal because it makes an excellent border plant or can be used in a mass planting, but more important than that it’s a plant that you’ll ever regret using in a landscape.

When I was doing a lot of landscaping there were plants that I used in many, if not most of my plantings and there were plants that I would almost never use in a landscape planting because they grew too fast, were to difficult to care for or just because scraggly over time. Variegated Liriope was a plant that I was proud to put in my landscapes because I knew it would look good for 20 years or more.

Border plant, Variegated Liriope

Caring for Variegated Liriope.

This plant is super easy to care for. I touch mine once a year in my landscape. At the very end of the growing season, usually mid November here in northern Ohio we simply pull the top of the plant up into a “ponytail” with one hand and clip off that pony tail below the hand being used to hold it up. That leaves just an inch or two of leaf stubs sticking up.

Come spring the new leaves will emerge and completely engulf what’s left of the old leaves. That’s it! No other trimming required, I never fertilize any of the plants in my landscape, I don’t spray them, I just enjoy them.

Propagating Variegated Liriope.

The best and easiest way to propagate this plant is through simple division. It is the nature of the plant to keep producing more and more new crowns and those crowns can easily be split off and used to start new plants.

The ideal time to propagate this plant is in the very late fall, or early spring. The top of Variegated Liriope does not die back quickly and obviously during the winter months. It droops down but doesn’t really lose it color. And unlike something like Hosta, the leaves remain firmly attached to the plant.

That actually makes dividing it a bit easier. Gives you a handle to hold on to.

Step one. Dig out a plant and put it on your work table or potting bench.

Dividing Variegated Liriope.

This is a complete plant that I simply “popped” out of the ground with a spade. The first thing I’m going to do is rough this plant up a bit by banging it on the potting bench the knock away any excess soil that I can. The goal is to expose and loosen the roots as much as possible.

Dividing Variegated Liriope.

Mission accomplished. After rough up the plant a bit I’ve managed to knock loose much of the soil surrounding the roots.

Step Two. Begin the process of Dividing the crowns.

Using a soil knife to divide Variegated Liriope.

You can pull the crowns apart any way you can by using your fingers to pry the roots apart and break off pieces of the plant. This plant was in my landscape for a number of years so the root mass is really tight so I used a soil knife to cut through the middle of the root ball. After that I was able to tear the plant into pieces with my hands.

Each piece is made up of a single crown.

Variegated Liriope divisions.

Step three. Trim the tops of the divisions.

What I do is gather three, four or five divisions in my hand, lining up the crowns at the soil line, then I snip off the tops leaving about an inch or so that will be above the soil line in the pot.

Variegated Liriope divisions, trimmed and ready to pot.

A Variegated Liriope plug or liner.

Actually this is a liner, but not a plug. A plug is a plant that is grown in a plug tray and can easily be slipped out of the plug tray roots and soil intact. This is a bare root liner. And a liner like this is sale-able as is.

Right now In Our Members Area I’m sure there a people that would jump at the chance to buy some Variegated Lirope liners as shown above. That’s how this business works. You can’t grow and sell a plant unless you have a parent plant, or a number of parent plants that you can use to start building your inventory from. Our members are always on the look out for plants like this that they can buy and when they are offered they scoop them up quickly.

Variegated Liriope liners heeled in ready to be potted.

People are always asking me; “Mike, what do you mean when you say heel in.” Basically that means that I’ve simply placed the plants, usually bare root plants, into a pile of potting soil, or sometimes into the ground temporarily. Usually clumped together like I’ve done here, small bundles then stuck in a hole and backed fill around with soil.

In this case I simply heeled them into potting soil that was already on the potting bench. Once heeled in I wet them down really well to make sure the roots are nice and wet and to wash the soil down around the roots eliminating any air pockets that could dry out the roots.

Recommended: Free eBook Reveals 21 Plants That Are Easy to Grow and Sell Like Crazy

Plants are heeled in the ground can stay that way for weeks in mild, not hot weather. In this case, heeling them in the soil on the potting bench we will get them potted up within the next 24 hours.

As a grower at home you could plant out a bed of Variegated Liriope in your backyard then once a year dig it up and divide it, keep just enough to replant the bed nice and full and sell of all of the extras that you have. In a situation like that I would plant them 6″ on center and dig them every year and divide them.

Dividing them more often is much easier than what I did here because my plants were older, more established, and pretty well root bound. Not ideal when growing to divide and sell. It will work just fine, but if I had a bed to divide often they would come apart nice and easy and I probably wouldn’t have to use the soil knife at all.

There you have it! Growing, selling and propagating Variegated Liriope.

Questions or comments post them below.

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