Japanese Forest Grass (Hakone Grass) Plant Profile

A Grass for Cool, Moist Climates

Golden Hakone grass
Joshua McCullough / Getty Images

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') is a beautiful variegated ornamental grass, a perennial that is one of the rare grasses that thrive in shady conditions. It has arching lance-shaped bright green leaves about 10 inches long, and the plant forms dense spreading mounds about up to 18 inches high and 24 inches wide. This is a very good spreading ornamental grass for shady locations, and it works well as a ground cover in shady areas or as an accent in woodland gardens. The light-colored green and gold leaves help brighten dark areas, and it blends well with blue-flowered plants such as Jacob's ladder or blue-leaved hostas.

Botanical Name Hakonechloa macra Aureola
Common Names Japanese forest grass, golden hakone grass, hakone grass
Plant Type Perennial ornamental grass
Mature Size 12 to 18 inches
Sun Exposure Part shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0; neutral to slightly acidic
Bloom Time July to August
Flower Color Yellow-green
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Woodland areas of central Japan

How to Grow Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass does well when planted in any moist, well-drained soil with a good amount of humus and other organic matter. Amend the soil with compost or peat moss if your conditions are less than ideal.

Spreading mulch over the ground around the plants will help keep the soil cool and retain moisture during summer, and also will keep weeds at bay. In the northern end of the hardiness range, heaping mulch over the mounds may help prevent winter kill. Leaves may scorch in hot weather, and the plant mounds can sometimes heave upward under the effect of freezing winters.

This is a low-maintenance plant. Remove the dead foliage from the prior season's growth any time from late fall to early spring. Or, you can leave the dead foliage alone until spring to afford winter protection. Divide this perennial in spring, if desired.

Light

Japanese forest grass prefers part shade, such as that found in woodland areas. In cooler climates, it can tolerate more sun.

Soil

This plant prefers moist but well-drain soil, heavy with humus. Dense soils should be amended with compost or peat moss before planting.

Water

Japanese forest grass requires frequent watering and moist soil. This is not a plant for arid conditions.

Temperature and Humidity

Cool, moist conditions are preferred, similar to the low mountain forests where the plant is native. Extreme heat or cold may kill the plant. It is reliably hardy to zone five; some cultivars may work in zone four.

Fertilizer

Organic mulch provides all the nutrition this plant needs. If you do fertilize, do it in spring just after the first new growth appears, then omit any feeding for the rest of the season.

Propagating Japanese Forest Grass

Viable seeds are not produced, so this plant is normally propagated by division. Dig up the clumps in early spring, divide them into sections with a spade, then replant.

Common Pests and Diseases

There are no serious diseases or pests that plague Japanese forest grass; not even deer bother this plant

Varieties of Japanese Forest Grass

  • Hakonechloa macra Albostriata: The green leaves on this cultivar have thick and thin creamy white stripes. The plant is more sun-tolerant than the golden forms, and it grows faster and taller, to as much as 36 inches. It may also be more cold hardy than the other cultivars.
  • Hakonechloa macra All Gold: This newer cultivar has brighter leaves and is more upright and spiky in form. The overall plant is smaller and grows slower.
  • Hakonechloa macra Benikaze: With a name translating as ‘red wind,’ this cultivar is green through the summer but takes on varying shades of red as the weather cools off.