An easy-to-grow, attractive groundcover, mondo grass is especially useful as a turf alternative in shade gardens. Its grass-like foliage forms dense tufts that slowly spread over time and require no mowing. On top of the crisp foliage, small stalks of flowers appear in summer, reminiscent of grape hyacinths. Mondo grass can also make a minimalist statement as a container plant indoors or out.
In many instances, shade gardens can be tricky to plant, especially when it comes to turf grass. With something as low maintenance as mondo grass, you can have the look of a lawn in shady spots, no mowing required! Mondo grass has no problem growing under large tree canopies, even between gnarled roots and rocks. However, if you are planting black foliage varieties of mondo, they will need some sun or the plants will be mostly green in full shade. In the densest shade, you might not see many blooms. Typically, mondo grass blooms in the summer; its short spikes of pale pink or white blooms appear just above (or sometimes in) the foliage of the plants. After the blooms fade, you may also see glossy dark purple to almost black berries.
Mondo Grass Care Must-Knows
Despite what the name might imply, mondo grass isn't actually a true grass. It is in the lily family, as the dainty flowers suggest. The plants are very slow-growing and spread by stolons, or horizontal stems that are just below the soil surface. Mondo grass also has tuberous roots that allows it to store water and nutrients. This makes it easy to divide plants and establish new plantings.
When it comes to light exposure, mondo grass is not too picky. The most common green varieties can take pretty much anything from full sun to full shade. Leaf coloring may vary slightly depending on the exposure, including light green to deep emerald. Full sun is essential for the deep black-leaved varieties. The more shade, the more green the black will become.
Foliage of mondo grass is also evergreen in warmer climates. In cooler climates, there may be some dieback of the leaves, but this can easily be sheared back in early spring before new growth begins. One of the main drawbacks of mondo grass is that they are not very drought tolerant. Once established, colonies can take some drying out, but ideally will need to have consistent moisture without being in standing water.
Typically, mondo grass is used in a landscape setting. However, because of its slow growth rate and small size, mondo grass is an ideal plant for containers. Especially with the popularity of fairy gardens and miniature gardens in general, mondo grass is perfectly suited for these situations and pairs well with many other plants.
More Varieties of Mondo Grass
Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonicus grows to 1 foot tall with linear green leaves. Spikes of pale whitish-lilac flowers nestle among the foliage. This tough plant makes a fine edging. Zones 7-10
Mondo Grass Companion Plants
These vigorous growers are beautiful additions to the garden. They vary from tall, stately plants suitable for borders to others that can be planted as creeping groundcovers. Flowers, too, vary from tight spikes of 1/2-inch to 1-inch cups carried alone or in whorls. Humus-rich, moisture-retentive soil is recommended; some varieties enjoy wet soil and ample water. Several sorts may become invasive and need to be corralled. Note: These are not the invasive purple loosestrife, which has been banned in many parts of the United States.
Japanese Painted Fern
One of the most elegant ferns available for your garden, Japanese painted ferns are washed with gorgeous silver and burgundy markings. Lady fern is equally elegant though not quite as showy. Either will add interest and texture to your shady spots. Closely related to each other, Japanese painted fern and lady fern are sometimes crossed with each other to create attractive hybrids. Unlike most ferns, these toughies will tolerate dry soil. And they will tolerate some sun if they have ample water.
Astilbe brings a graceful, feathery note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun. Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.