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Need a plant for the shade? Mondo, dude
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I am often asked for recommendations on what grows best in the shade. In particular, many homeowners call looking for a grass that will perform well in the shade.

While I certainly appreciate an attractive, lush lawn, I am also a fan of shade-tolerant groundcovers, and one of my favorites is mondo grass.

Mondo grass, also known as monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), is an evergreen, sod-forming perennial. The plants are tufted, grasslike and 8 to 16 inches high. The leaves are dark green and fine to medium in texture. The flowers are usually white or white tinged with lilac. Flowering and fruiting occur from July through September.

Mondo grass is often confused with liriope (Liriope muscari). However, the leaves of mondo grass are more narrow than those of liriope, the smaller flowers are hidden by the leaves, and the fruits are blue compared to the black fruits of liriope.

Mondo grass is primarily used as groundcover, often in shady locations where turfgrasses just won’t grow. It is also attractive as a border along paths, between stepping stones or flower beds and lawn, or in rock gardens. Mondo grass competes well with the roots of other plants. Under trees or shrubs, it makes an excellent shade-tolerant lawn that never needs mowing.

Mondo grass grows well in ordinary garden soil, requiring minimum attention once established. Plants thrive in filtered sun to full shade and prefer moist soil. The foliage is usually light green when plants are grown in filtered sun. Plants growing in the shade have attractive, dark green leaves.

The plants are easily established and require little effort. The plants do not need heavy feeding. Mondo grass looks attractive year round. However, the leaves may become ragged by late winter. Shear back the shaggy old leaves in early spring before new growth starts.

Several mondo grass cultivars are available:

The cultivars Aureovariegatus, Variegatus and Vittatus have longitudinally striped leaves with white or yellow and green stripes.

The cultivar Caeruleus has dark green leaves like the parent species and violet blue flowers.

Kioto or dwarf mondo grass grows only to about 4 inches high. Flowers are small — 2 to 3 millimeters long — and light lilac to white.

Nippon is very small (2 to 4 inches tall) and has whitish flowers in the summer.

An interesting related species that has become popular in the nursery trade is Black mondo grass. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) is an interesting introduction from England. The dark purple leaves appear almost black. The plants are about 6 inches tall. In Georgia, black mondo grass should be planted in partial shade.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.