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Hakonechloa macra Aureola

Categories:For the Shade Garden Ground Covers Perennials Rare Plants

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Hakonechloa macra Aureola (Hakone grass or Japanese forest grass) is the stuff of myth in the garden world.

It is rare. It is slow growing. It is beautiful.

Hakone grass
Hakonechloa macra Aureola – Japanese forest grass

Hakonechloa macra Aureola grows beautifully in deep shade, with a rich golden tone that brings vivid color to the normally subdued green hues of the shade garden. Japanese forest grass also grows exceedingly slow. It is somewhat of a connoisseur’s plant rarely seen in gardens. I suspect these qualities lead to the somewhat mystical relationships gardeners build with Hakonechloa macra Aureola.

Another cultivar of Hakonechloa to consider is ‘All Gold’, which is reportedly faster growing, more upright in growth, and even more vivid in color. ‘All Gold’ has solid-colored leaves whereas Aureola is variegated.

Hakonechloa macra Aureola
Hakonechloa macra Aureola

Hakonechloa macra Aureola will grow beautifully in shade, but the vivid gold color may retreat to a lighter green color.

The paradox the gardener invariably faces (similar to Hosta Sum and Substance) is the need to site Japanese forest grass where the leaves will not burn…but where enough light reaches the plant to bring out the best color. Consistent and plentiful moisture will help avoid scorched leaves on Japanese forest grass. Morning or filtered light with lots of afternoon shade is one’s best bet.

Consistent moisture should not be a problem since you will probably site Hakone grass in a shady part of the garden. Hakonechloa macra Aureola can be planted near black walnut trees should you be searching for a plant for your garden that can tolerate the allelopathic nature of Juglans nigra.

Hakone Grass
All Gold Japanese Forest Grass

Pruning Hakonechloa macra Aureola

I tend to trim the dead leaves of the grasses and low-growing bamboos back during late winter. It is recommended you do so with Hakonechloa macra Aureola. This season I experimented with trimming half a stand of golden bamboo (Pleioblastus viridistriatus) to the ground while leaving the dead and withered leaves on the other half. I cannot tell the difference between either side, and both are growing beautifully.

I also conducted this experiment with little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) after reading that leaving the withered stalks on will delay new growth in spring. This has proven to be true, as the little bluestem I cut back is 6″ tall at present (approaching mid-May) while the plants left untouched still look like winter.

Hakonechloa macra Aureola is winter hardy in the garden zones 5-9.
You may read that Japanese forest grass only grows a foot or two wide, but my experiences widely differ. It is a clump forming plant that spreads slowly through the years. The specimen photographed here is at least six feet wide. Hakonechloa macra Aureola grows about a foot and a half tall.

Namesake of Japanese River Grass: Hakone, Japan

As mentioned, Hakonechloa macra Aureola is also commonly called Hakone grass. Hakone, Japan is a town in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. Famous for its hot springs, Hakone is also in close proximity to Mt. Fuji.


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