What if you could have a lush lawn that stays deep green all year, only needs mowing once, never needs fertilizer or supplemental water, is disease and pest free, and looks just as good in sun or shade. Sound too good to be true? Enter Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).
First the bad news; it’s not hardy in areas colder than zone 6 but some varieties are said to be hardy to zone 5. Still, it is said to retain its deep green appearance down to a temperature of 0 F. However, for the rest of the country, Mondo Grass grows well. You’ve seen it in the front of planting beds or between stepping-stones in a shady path. On a larger scale, it can be an excellent alternative to an expensive, high maintenance lawn. That is where I fist saw mondo grass used on such a large scale.
I’ll never forget that cold January day as I pulled up the driveway to scout a location for a show we would be taping for Fresh From the Garden. Brencie, the homeowner and seasoned Master Gardener approached to greet me. Unfortunately the first words out of my mouth were not‘pleased to meet you’, but rather ‘Wow, what a great looking lawn!’ As an avid gardener herself, Brencie understood my sudden diversion and was more than willing to share her story of how she and her husband Dick, sprigged each piece of mondo grass just three years prior.
It is now April and we just completed our taping segment for that show in her garden. Brencie finally cut the Mondo Grass for the one and only time she’ll need to this year. The lawn (is that the right term?) looks better than ever, even after all the heavy foot traffic our crew applied over the past three days. This is an amazingly durable groundcover.
To create the lawn effect that Brencie and Dick have, take small sprigs and insert them into the soil about every four to six inches. They used an electric drill and a long shafted drill bit to make the job easier. Then place a sprig into each hole and water in. By the fourth year, the creeping underground stems will provide complete coverage.
A few more tips will help you get the same great results. First, a pre-emergent applied in early fall and late winter will keep weeds at bay. Next, don’t wait too many years before making the first cut. The lower foliage can turn yellow from lack of light. The best mowing time is late winter to remove old discolored foliage before new growth begins. To propagate this plant, simply dig up a clump, divide out the sprigs, and replant elsewhere.
As I think about the scope of Brencie and Dick’s sprigging project, I admire them for their vision and determination. Filling an entire lawn area by hand with plants spaced just four inches apart must have felt hopeless at times. But just three short years later and for everyday to come, they are rewarded with a lush, beautiful, maintenance free lawn, and a well-deserved and perpetual reward for the fruits of their labor.