University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


GOLDEN HAKONE GRASS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Each year the Perennial Plant Association, the professional organization of growers and designers, names a plant of the year. This is either a new plant, or one they feel deserves wider use, and grows well in most areas of the country.  For 2009, the perennial golden hakone grass has been voted as the Perennial Plant of the Year.  It is low maintenance, the golden leaves add color to shady sites, and it is useful in many landscape situations.
           
The golden hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'), or golden Japanese forest grass, is native to shaded mountain cliffs in Japan.  Its name derives from the region in Japan (Hakon) and the Greek word for grass (chloa), and the word for large (macra).  It grows 12 to 18 inches tall, and 18 to 24 inches wide.  The fine, long leaves and arching habit resemble a cascading miniature bamboo.           

The main attraction of this ornamental grass are its leaves that are one-half inch wide, four to six inches long, and golden yellow with thin green stripes.  Leaves are tinged with pink and red in fall.  Flower spikes in late summer are inconspicuous.
           
Hardy to USDA zones 5 to 9 (minus 10 to minus 20 degrees average minimum in winter), this grass needs part shade in hot climates.  In cooler climates, with adequate moisture, it will take full sun.  It will tolerate full shade, just being less vigorous and with less golden color.  As with many variegated or golden plants, deep shade means they need more green chlorophyll to make up for the less light they receive.
           
The best soil for this grass is organic or rich humus, moist but well-drained.  It does not like poorly drained soils, heavy clay, or very dry sandy soils. If too hot or dry, leaves may burn.
           
This grass spreads slowly by stolons, but is not invasive or aggressive so is not a threat to nearby plants.  Being a slow grower it will not need dividing for many years.  If you do want to divide it, do so in spring as new growth is emerging.  This is a low-maintenance grass, having few if any pest and disease problems, and usually passed over by deer.  The main maintenance is cutting back dead leaves in late winter or early spring.
           
Golden hakone grass is useful in masses, fronts of borders, woodland gardens, hillsides, rock gardens, containers, wall gardens, Asian-style gardens, edges of streams or water gardens, and as a groundcover.  The gold color is powerful, so use it sparingly unless you desire a bold visual impact.  Try it with purple-leaved coralbells or bugbane, or with golden or blue-leaved hostas.  The fine texture of the grass makes a striking contrast to the bold texture of large hosta leaves.  Other good companion plants include foamflowers, astilbe, epimedium, wild ginger, bleeding heart, and lady's mantle. 
           
This is the most common cultivar (cultivated variety) of this species, and has won an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticulture Society in England.  A similar cultivar, but less bold, is 'Alboaurea'.  White variegation, not gold, is on 'Albovariegata'.  'All Gold' is more upright and a brighter color.  You can find this ornamental grass at many complete garden centers, nurseries, and from specialty perennial growers.
            

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