By Pat Lea
Q: The monkey grass lining the walk at my new house looks really bad. Can I spruce it up? Fertilize? Thin it out?
A: Monkey grass, usually a cultivar of Liriope muscari, is a very handy edging plant. The muscari, or clumping, varieties will grow slowly and make an excellent border plant for beds and walks. Liriope spicata, often called spreading lilyturf, will grow outward from the center and spread over a wide area. The creeping forms are more often used as a groundcover. Your border plant is remarkably resilient, but it does require some care to be in top shape. The plant grows strong, green, new foliage every spring. You are no doubt looking at several years' worth of worn foliage. Winter weather can damage the old foliage, so that after several years it becomes weather-beaten and miserable-looking. The roots however, are usually fine. Liriope is a very sturdy plant. The best time to trim liriope is winter. Now is a good time, and any time up until about mid-March will work. As soon as the plant starts to grow, any trimming will cut the new tips and the plant will be disfigured for the rest of the year. You will have to get out your lawnmower and set the blades very high, or use a sharp hedge trimmer to trim all the dead and worn foliage off this winter. A string-style weed trimmer is not recommended for trimming liriope because it can shred the growing shafts of the plant. If you must use one, don't grind the stems down, and try not to shred the foliage. A clean cut looks best and is better for the health of the plant. Strong plants don't need fertilization. Liriope transplants well, but it is an energetic project to dig it up, cut and replant it. Trim up your liriope now, and see how it looks in spring. Then decide if you need to thin or adjust the planting.
E-mail Pat Lea at firstname.lastname@example.org.