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The easy-to-live-with liriopes.

"Reliable and versatile, liriopes and ophiopogons have been around a long time, but in the West they're just now getting the attention they deserve," says one devoted gardener. Member of the lily family and native to Asia, these handsome small perennials (commonly called lily turf) are grown more for their grass-like evergreen foliage than for their flowers.

November is an excellent month to set them out or to divide existin clumps. They'll have the winter to establish themselves and be raring to go in the spring.

A mouthful to say, the names of these similar plants are sometimes used interchangeably, though for simplicity's sake, most nurserymen refer to both as liriopes. Their flowers are small but striking--usually narrow conical clusters in shades of violet (sometimes white) on 6- to 12-inch stalks. As cut flowers, they are long lasting; left on the plants, they develop into berry clusters that ripen to a metallic violet or blue or a glossy black, remaining well into winter.

Liriope's reputation for reliability comes from its tolerance of a variety of conditions and its year-round usefulness. Happiest in partial shade and evenly moist, humus-rich soil, it also grows in sun and in moderately poor soil and will tolerage some drought before it looks stresed. Liriope does well with minimum care, staying lush year in and year out. Its enemies, snails and slugs, are easily controlled with a sprinkling of bait through the planting and around its perimeter.

An excellent plant to flank a path or edge a flower bed, it is also a good choice among stones or next to water in a garden; the texture of its narrow, grass-like leaves contrasts well with other greenery. The variety known as creeping lily turf (L. spicata) is a great ground cover, one of the few to work under big trees that gobble sunlight, water, and nutrients.

Big and bold or tiny;

green, variegated, or black

Some liriopes are easy to find at nurseries in gallon cans; others require a search. Check rare plant nurseries or mail-order catalogs, or ask your nurseryman to help. L. muscari, the most common and versatile, is a clump-forming plant that makes an excellent edging. It leaves measure about 1/2 inch wide and 9 to 24 inches long. Dark violet flowers appear from spring into early fall, peaking in midsummer.

The species has numerous varieties. 'Majestic' produces waxy, dark green leaves of the maximum length and flower spikees of rich violet. 'Variegata', which sports first-year growth of apple green the second season. To preserve strong variegation, cut back foliage just as new leaves begin to appear. 'Silvery Sunproof' is similar to (and often confused with) 'Variegata', but its edging is silvery white, and leaves hold their variegation longer. For an even bolder statement, L. gigantea (synonymous with Ophiopogon jaburan) forms large clumps of dark green leaves that can eventually stretch to 36 inches.

To establish L. spicata as a ground cover, space divisions 6 to 10 inches apart. In two to three years, you'll have a thick carpet of dark green glades with pale lilac blooms. To spur vigorous new growth, cut plants back annually in early spring to 1 to 1-1/2 inches high; use hedge clippers or a power mower on its highest setting. Hardy in all Western gardening zones, this liriope is replacing slower-spreading but better-known mondo grass (O. japonicus) as a low-growing cover. Both have leaves 8 to 12 inches long.

Two hard-to-find plants merit a search: O. planiscapus 'Arabicus', with handsome black foliage, and O. japonicus 'Nana', a dwarf with inch-long leaves, especially effective in rock gardens.

Routine maintenance--all that's needed

Liriopes are happy outdoors in all of the West's 12-month garden climates. If an unusual cold snap makes foliage look shabby, cut plants back in early spring. A light annual spring broadcast of a dry complete fertilizer will help keep plants lush and green and ensure good bloom.

Plants wll survive unusually dry conditions, but to keep them looking good, normal summer irrigation is important, especially in full sun and dry-summer areas. Liriopes area easy to propagate by division, and fall through early spring is the best time. Simply dig plants and, with a firm grip where crown and root system meet, pull clumps apart, being certain to get a piece of the fleshy roots with each tuft. Set divisions into soil and water well.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1985
Words:729
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