Types of Mondo Grass: Dwarf, Black, Green – With Care Guide and Pictures

mondo grass

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon) is a robust, low-growing leafy plant that is an excellent substitute for turfgrass. The benefits of planting mondo grass are that it’s low-maintenance, grows in the shade, doesn’t take over gardens, and stays green all year long. The other varieties of mondo grass include black mondo grass, dwarf mondo grass, and variegated mondo grass.

If you’re looking for evergreen ground cover for shade or sun, then any type of mondo grass is ideal.

This article is a complete guide to growing and caring for mondo grass. You’ll find helpful tips from planting mondo grass seeds to ensuring that the perennial plant thrives throughout the year.

Information About Mondo Grass

Mondo grass is an evergreen, ornamental flowering plant that looks like tufts of long spiky grass. Although called grass, mondo grass is in the genus Ophiopogon and family Asparagales. True turfgrass, such as the types of grass used for lawns, belongs to the family Poaceae. Unlike lawn grass, mondo grass doesn’t require mowing.

Mondo grass has long, thin green blades between 8” and 15” (20 – 40 cm) in length. The leafy plant grows in clumps from tuberous roots that slowly spread under the ground, creating a thick, tough ground cover. On average, mondo grass tufts grow around 12” (30 cm) high.

Mondo grass is a flowering plant that produces clusters of pale lilac-colored flowers on a spiked stem (raceme).

Most varieties of mondo grass—Ophiopogon japonicus and Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’—are not very fast-growing plants. The dwarf mondo grass variety— Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’—is a notorious slow-growing and slow-spreading plant.

Where to plant mondo grass

Mondo grass grows in full sun to complete shade, making this a versatile garden landscaping plant. To grow these dense tufts of strappy leaves, plant mondo grass in well-draining soil. Because this grass-like plant is adaptable, the attractive clumps grow in most soil types—everything from clay to loamy, sandy soil.

To grow mondo grass in your garden, plant the regular varieties between 4” and 12” (10 – 30 cm) apart. The closer you plant your clumping plants, the denser ground cover you’ll achieve. If you want to plant dwarf mondo grass, then leave between 2” and 4” (5 – 10 cm) between the tufts.

Mondo grass is also ideal for evergreen ground cover in mixed beds, along borders, perennial edging, planting under shrubs, or adding greenery to gravel gardens.

It’s fine to occasionally walk on mondo grass—both the regular and dwarf varieties. However, frequent foot traffic will destroy the strappy blades before they have time to regrow. If planting mondo grass in a garden landscape, place stepping stones to walk through the mondo grass area.

Mondo Grass Vs. Monkey Grass

It’s easy to mistake mondo grass for a similar-looking plant commonly called monkey grass or lilyturf. Lilyturf (Liriope) looks similar to mondo grass – it is a clumping plant with arching grass-like blades. Generally, lilyturf species go by the common names of monkey grass, creeping liriope, and spider grass.

Although some people refer to mondo grass as monkey grass, only varieties of lilyturf (Liriope) have the nickname monkey grass.

mondo grass vs lilyturf (monkey grass)

On the left: Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus). Right: Lilyturf (Liriope) which is also referred to as monkey grass

How to Care for Mondo Grass – Overview

To care for mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), grow it in well-draining soil. Mondo grass is an easy-care garden plant and grows well in full sun, partial shade, or full shade. Water the grassy clumps occasionally in hot weather. Although not necessary, you can fertilize mondo grass every spring with diluted lawn fertilizer.

Types of Mondo Grass (With Pictures)

The three main varieties of mondo grass are green mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), and variegated mondo grass (Ophiopogon jaburan ‘Vittatus’). There are also many mondo grass cultivars, with dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’) being one of the most popular ones.

Let’s look in more detail at the various types of mondo grass and how to care for these spreading garden plants.

Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) is an evergreen ground-cover plant that can grow in both sunny and shady areas

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) is a small-growing foliage plant with thin, long green blades. This grass-like plant is a tough ground-cover plant with dense, compact growth. The evergreen perennial landscaping plant helps keep a carpet of greenery in gardens through all the seasons.

The evergreen growth of mondo grass gives it many advantages over lawn turf. Unlike turfgrass, which needs sun or partial shade to grow, mondo grass thrives in shaded areas. This means you can use mondo grass for a soft blanket ground cover under shrubs, trees, or other parts of your garden in continual shade.

Mondo grass grows between 10” and 14” (25 – 35 cm) tall and spreads up to 2 ft. (0.6 m) wide. The dense growth habit and robust root system mean that mondo grass is ideal for suppressing weeds. Although you can walk on mondo grass, it’s not a type of grass for heavy foot traffic.

Mondo grass is a flowering plant with small spikes of pale lilac-colored flower clusters appearing in summer. After blooming, the flowers give way to small berry-like fruits that are an attractive blue color.

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) fruits

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) fruits

How to plant mondo grass

Plant mondo grass in soil that has excellent drainage. If planting small plants from pots, dig in about 2” or 3” (5 – 7.5 cm) of compost. Make a hole big enough for the roots and plant at the same height as it was in the pot. Plant mondo grass tufts between 4” and 12” (10 – 30 cm) apart, depending on your required density.

The planted area where mondo grass grows should be kept medium moist. However, because mondo grass is highly adaptable, it thrives in most soil types, grows in sun or shade, and withstands some drought. Mondo grass thrives in USDA zones 7 through 10.

The ideal areas to grow ornamental mondo grass plants are along borders, as an edging plant, under-planting shrubs, or to make gravel gardens more attractive.

How to care for mondo grass

Mondo grass requires little maintenance for it to thrive. You need to keep the ground moist while the plant gets established. After that, water mondo grass occasionally in the summer just to keep the soil moist. Once established, you only need to cut back the thin leafy foliage every other year to keep it tidy.

How to propagate mondo grass

Root division is the easiest way to propagate mondo grass. Use a garden fork to lift clumps of mondo grass from the ground. Separate the tufts into two using a sharp knife or shovel. Replant the mondo grass tufts wherever you need attractive grasses in your garden landscape.

Every three years, you may need to thin out the dense ground cover growth. This is the best time to propagate mondo grass, and you should take the root cuttings in spring for the best results.

How to grow mondo grass from seeds

Mondo grass can be tricky to grow from seeds. Put fresh or dried seeds in a bowl of water and let soak for two days. Place the seeds 1” (2.5 cm) apart on a tray of sterile potting soil and cover lightly with soil. Mist the soil, cover with a plastic bag and put in a cool shady place. It’s best to plant mondo grass seeds in November. Keep the soil moist, and the seeds should germinate by May.

You can harvest seeds from mondo grass berries near the end of October or buy them from your local garden store.

When the weather warms in spring, you can transplant new mondo grass plants into your garden.

Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)

Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)

Black mondo grass adds interest to landscaped gardens all year round

Black mondo grass is a dramatic landscape foliage plant with thin black arching blades. Also called ‘Black Dragon’ or ‘Ebony Night’, black mondo grass grows between 6” and 8” (15 – 20 cm) tall. Black mondo grass produces pinkish-white flowers and dark-colored purple berries.

Black mondo grass is an ideal plant for adding some drama to your garden. The black grass-like blades are 8” to 12” (20 – 30 cm) long and spread out to create a dense black ground cover. Like all mondo grass varieties, this black variety is an evergreen durable garden plant that grows in sun or shade.

How to plant black mondo grass

Plant black mondo grass in full sun to partial shade. Grow this black ‘grass’ in well-draining, rich soil that also holds some moisture. The best time to plant black mondo grass is in spring so that its roots can get established before winter.

Plant black mondo plants under shrubs, along borders, in mixed beds, or add a dramatic jet-black accent to gravel gardens.

How to care for black mondo grass

Water black mondo grass once a week during the growing season. Compared to ‘regular’ mondo grass, the black variety needs more water. You should water the plant often enough so that the ground is continuously moist and the roots are never ‘standing’ in soggy soil. It’s not necessary to water the black grass-like plant in winter.

How to propagate black mondo grass

The best way to propagate black mondo grass is by dividing the rhizome roots in spring. Use a garden fork to pry the plant tufts from the ground. Then try to separate the clumps in two with your hands or a sharp knife. Replant the ground cover plants between 4” and 12” (10 – 30 cm) apart. Keep the ground moist until the roots are established.

Black mondo grass doesn’t spread fast. So, propagation is sometimes the quickest way to establish a large area of ground cover.

Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’)

Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’)

Dwarf mondo grass has short foliage and is great for planting between stones or paving in the garden

Dwarf mondo grass is a ground-hugging, carpet forming spreading plant. This short mondo grass cultivar only grows to between 3” and 6” (7 – 15 cm) tall with a similar-sized spread. Dwarf mondo grass has small, thin spiky-looking dark green ‘grass’ blades. This evergreen, landscaping ground cover plant produces small white flowers and blue berries.

Dwarf mondo grass is a perfect alternative for turfgrass lawns that require little mowing or attention. Compared to other varieties of mondo grass, the ‘Nana’ cultivar is more durable and withstands moderate foot traffic.

As well as a lawn alternative, dwarf mondo grass grows best as edging, ground cover, borders, or shade-tolerant plants. Additionally, you can plant spreading dwarf mondo grass under shrubs or trees to cover bare ground. Dwarf creeping plants like mondo grass are also ideal for growing between stones or paving in yards.

Of all the varieties of mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’ is the slowest-growing.

Dwarf mondo grass care

To care for dwarf mondo grass, water the tufts of blades in spring and summer enough to keep the ground moist. Mini mondo grass should grow in well-draining soil that retains some moisture. Dwarf mondo grass is tolerant of full sun and grows well in partial shade. Hold off watering during the winter to prevent the roots from rotting.

To care for dwarf mondo grass as a lawn grass alternative, mow the grass once a year in early spring or late winter. To prevent plant damage, set the mower to its highest height settings.

Like all varieties of mondo grass, the dwarf cultivar is also relatively resistant to short drought periods.

Dwarf mondo grass propagation 

To propagate dwarf mondo grass, divide the clumps of blades. Dig up some well-established dwarf mondo tufts and cut the small plant into two or three pieces. Plant the divided plants 2” and 4” (5 – 10 cm) apart wherever you need evergreen ground cover in your yard.

Growing dwarf mondo grass from seeds

Use seeds for growing dwarf mondo grass by harvesting them from the berries in late October or early November. Place in a bowl of warm water for two days. Then, plant the mondo grass seeds about 0.4” (1 cm) deep in sterile potting soil. Mist the soil to moisten it, cover with a plastic bag, and put in a cool, dark place. Keep the soil moist. The new plants should be ready for planting in your garden the following spring.

Variegated Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon jaburan ‘Vittatus’)

Variegated Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon jaburan ‘Vittatus’)

Variegated mondo grass has yellow and green foliage

Variegated mondo grass has arching ribbon-like blades with yellow and green variegation. The dense tufts of grass-like growth have striped leaves that grow between 12” and 24” (30 – 60 cm) tall. As a spreading evergreen perennial, variegated mondo grass creates a carpet of foliage for shaded or sunny gardens.

Due to its resemblance to lilyturf, variegated mondo grass is mistakenly called monkey grass. However, this species, Ophiopogon jaburan, is not in the genus Liriope.

Grow variegated mondo grass as shade ground cover where other ground cover plants won’t grow. This species of Ophiopogon is best grown as edging, under-planting shrubs, border plants, or in rock gardens. The vivid yellow and light green foliage colors are ideal for brightening up any garden landscape.

Diseases and Pests Affecting Mondo Grass

Slugs and snails are the most common garden pests affecting mondo grass. You’ll often find snails and slugs crawling through the grassy blades after rainfall. Signs that pests are affecting mondo grass growth include wilting leaves and chewed blades. After any rain, you should check the mondo grass and remove all snails and slugs by hand, or use organic slug killer pellets which contain iron phosphate as an active ingredient.

Root rot is the most common disease to affect mondo grass growth. Roots start to rot when the ground is overly damp or waterlogged. The rhizome roots can quickly begin to decay and cause the dark green grass blades to turn yellow or brown.

If you notice any signs of root rot, it’s crucial to hold off watering until the soil’s top layer is dry. However, if the mondo grass is growing in a garden area where water tends to pool, you’ll need to improve drainage. To help mondo grass grow better, you’ll need to work compost into the soil.

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