If you're looking for a plant that tolerates sun or shade, handles the hot months of summer and blooms late in the season, liriope (Liriope muscari) could be a perfect choice for you. Also called lily turf, this plant grows as a clump of narrow leaves that are a bit wider than grass, putting up spikes of bluish-violet flowers in early fall. A naturally attractive plant, giving lily turf a bit of extra care now and then can keep it looking its best all season long.
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Choosing a Variety
Liriope comes in two types, both 10 to 18 inches tall. One is called big blue lily turf (Liriope muscari) and grows as a gradually expanding clump, while creeping lily turf (Liriope spicata) is a rapidly spreading groundcover. The clumping type grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 10, while big blue lily turf grows in USDA zones 5 through 10. For best results, plant clumping lily turf to edge a border or bed, or use it in mixed plantings. This type is about 18 inches wide and does best when multiple plants are spaced about 18 inches apart. The creeping variety can spread aggressively, so only use it as a groundcover surrounded by a barrier to restrict its spread, or in an open area where its growth won't damage other plants.
Creeping lily turf can send runners under concrete that emerge and grow on the other side, and it can also invade naturalized areas.
Giving Basic Care
Lily turf tolerates any type of garden soil that's well-drained, but it grows best in fertile soil. In spring when growth begins, you can increase the soil's fertility by spreading about 1 inch of compost under the plant, and mixing it into the top inch or two of soil carefully, without disturbing the plant's roots.
This plant also tolerates heat and humidity well, and can be drought-resistant once well-established. For a young plant, provide extra water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry to your fingertip. Adding 2 or 3 inches of organic mulch under the plant can also help conserve soil moisture, while keeping down weeds.
For best growth, fertilize lily turf in early spring, when new growth begins, and again in fall, after blossoms fade. Use a water-soluble, 10-10-10 formula, diluting it at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water, but check your product label for further directions.
Avoid fertilizing with chemical-based formulas during summer's heat, because these can burn roots and foliage.
Keeping Plants Tidy
Lily turf grows as an evergreen in warmer parts of its range, but if winter tends to be cold where you live, the plant might look a bit bedraggled in spring, with brown-edged or dry leaves left over from the previous season. Lily turf is moderately resistant to deer and rarely sustains severe damage, but you could also see some destruction of leaves from deer feeding, especially after a hard winter.
Once new green sprouts appear in the plant's center, use a sharp pair of shears to trim back the old foliage, cutting about 3 inches above the plant's base or just above the new sprouts. Clean your blades by wiping them with rubbing alcohol between cuts to discourage spread of plant disease.
Lily turf can develop fungal problems, such as leaf and crown rot, which causes yellowing and browning of interior leaves, and anthracnose, which causes reddish-brown spot on leaves that eventually die back. These can be avoided by watering at the plant's base instead of overhead, to keep foliage dry, and by clearing away plant debris regularly. Remove any plants that show severe symptoms to prevent spread to the entire planting.
The plant might also attract hard-bodies scale insects that resemble dark, raised spots on leaves. Control these by spraying plants until dripping wet with horticultural oil diluted at a rate or 5 tablespoons per gallon of water. To prevent a recurrence, cut back foliage in late winter and clear away the clippings.