A grass-like ground cover, mondo grass (Ophiopogon) is a lawn alternative in warm climates such as Georgia, according to Sid Mullis of the Augusta Chronicle. Its appearance notwithstanding, mondo grass belongs to the lily family and resembles liriope, another ground cover with wider leaves. Flowers appear in summer and are white or pale purple, depending on the variety. Fruits are blue and berry-like. Mondo grass is evergreen, but won't stand up to heavy foot traffic; for this reason, homeowners may opt to use this plant in a garden situation.
According to the Flora of China, 65 species of mondo grass (Ophiopogon) exist in Asia, with 38 species native to China alone. The natural habitats of mondo grass are forests, hillsides, ravines and near rivers. The most common types of Asian mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus, Ophiopogon planiscapus and Ophiopogon jaburan, have found their way into North American and Hawaiian gardens. Several hybrids are also available from vendors in the United States and Canada.
Varieties of mondo grass range in height from Opiopogon japonicus "Nana" at 2 inches to the 30 inch tall Opiopogon jaburan "Evergreen Giant," (often listed as liriope, according to David MacKenzie in his book "Perennial Groundcovers"). In addition to "Nana," "Gyoku-ryu" and "Nippon" are dwarf hybrids of Ophiopogon japonicus. Deviations from the green foliage of most mondo grasses include the nearly black foliage of the black mondo grass or Ophiopogon planiscapus "Nigrescens" and the variegated leaves of Ophiopogon japonicus "Silver Mist" and Ophiopogon jaburan "Variegatus."
Black mondo grass with its slow-growing nature fits well in containers and in small garden areas. Paired with chartreuse foliage plants such as golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia "Aurea"), black mondo grass creates a singular effect. The variegated and green-leaved types are effective in mass plantings or in a mixed border. Sid Mullis recommends the shortest varieties as lawn alternatives in shady areas where ordinary grass won't establish.
Mondo grass prefers partial to full shade and a moist, well-drained soil, but will tolerate sun and drought if given enough water. According to the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service, mondo grass requires little fertilizer. However, a light application of an organic fertilizer several times during the season will hasten the plants' growth. Sid Mullis recommends mowing an area of mondo grass once in late winter to encourage new growth and to give the area a turf-like appearance. Mondo grass is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 to 11.
Weed the planting area, turn over the soil to a depth of 12 inches, and add compost. Nurseries sell mondo grass varieties in pots or bare root plants that are usually called "sprigs." Plant the dwarf varieties 2 to 4 inches apart and the taller varieties 4 to 12 inches apart. Water until the soil is moist and do not let the plants dry out, especially during the first season.
The most efficient method of propagation is by division, although slow-growing varieties rarely need this procedure. Mondo grass propagates itself by spreading by underground roots.
In the southern areas of the United States, mondo grass can be invasive, although many varieties are too slow-growing to become a problem. According to Washington State University, mondo grass is relatively disease and pest-free.