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Lilyturf, also referred to as mondo grass and liriope, is a grassy perennial that returns for several years after planting. Gardeners most often use lilyturf as a landscaping plant or as a ground cover that keeps soil from eroding. Lilyturf also can be planted as a border or in containers as well as in flowerbeds. The grass-like leaves of lilyturf remain green year-round, and the plant can withstand temperatures as low as minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-28.9 degrees Celsius). Identified by its blue, purple and white blooms, lilyturf comes in varieties such as Liriope muscari and Liriope spicata.
Liriope muscari, which hails from the Liliaceae — or lily — family, features characteristics that include ribbon-shaped, dark green leaves. This species of lilyturf, nicknamed "big blue," can be planted in cooler weather for growth during the spring and summer. Liriope muscari grows as high as 18 inches (46 cm), then develops into grass-like foliage that resembles green carpeting. Gardening experts recommend mowing the lilyturf ground cover in late winter to make room for thick, leafy greens and full blooms during the summer.
A native of eastern Asia, the giant lilyturf variety produces abundant foliage and blooms, depending on the region and the species' cultivars. Some common Liriope muscari cultivars include silvery sunproof, majestic and Christmas tree. Features of silvery sunproof include striped white-and-yellow leaves and purple flowers. The majestic produces dark green leaves and blooms lilac flowers. The Christmas tree blooms lavender flowers shaped like Christmas trees, hence the name.
Creeping lilyturf, or Liriope spicata, is considered to be a miniature version of the Liriope muscari. What attracts some gardeners to the Liriope spicata is its ability to replace lawns that have been damaged by drought. Compared to the Liriope muscari, this creeping Liriope spicata has a slower growth rate, and it doesn't produce as many blooms. Liriope spicata grows as high as 15 inches (about 38 cm), and its flowers also peak by mid-summer.
Cultivars of Liriope spicata include the Franklin mint and the silver dragon. Flower growers can identify the Franklin mint by its wide, green leaves and spiky, light lavender blooms. Silver dragon features a more slender appearance, with lavender flowers and green-and-white leaves. Like Liriope muscari, the Liriope spicata brand of lilyturf has origins in Asia.
Liriope muscari and Liriope spicata display a few key differences as well as some similarities. For instance, Liriope muscari grows in clumps, and the Liriope spicata version spreads wildly across any lawn. To get the most out of these grass-like perennials, gardening experts recommend spacing these plants at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) apart. Both liriope varieties tolerate fertile, well-drained soils. Both types of liriope grow best in shade or partial sunlight, depending on the cultivar.
Pest problems are rare when it comes to liriope, but this grass can develop anthracnose, which is a fungus. Warning signs are brown spots on the leaves and tips. Mowing the lawn, removing old leaves and providing adequate amounts of water throughout the winter and year-round help to avoid this fungal disease.