Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' - Growing Golden Japanese Forest Grass

GOlden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' )
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description:

If you think all ornamental grasses look alike, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', or Golden Japanese Forest Grass, will change your mind. The dense, low-growing clumps droop and sway in the breeze. But the real allure of Golden Japanese Forest Grass is its golden color, which holds up well in full sun and even partial shade.

With arching gold leaves, striped with bright green, Golden Japanese Forest Grass is a unique ornamental grass.

But it’s a clump forming grass that grows excruciatingly slowly. It will just sit there for a couple of years and only come into its own after about 5 years. It’s worth the expense to get a slightly larger plant.

The flower stalks, or inflorescence, are produced in mid to late summer and really aren’t very showy until fall, when they turn orange or bronze.. They don’t produce viable seed.

Botanical Name:

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Common Name:

Golden Japanese Forest Grass, Hakone Grass

Hardiness Zones:

Golden Japanese Forest Grass grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9.

Mature Size:

This is not a large grass and Golden Japanese Forest Grass is a notoriously slow grower. It should reach about 12-18 inches (h) x 18-36 inches (w), within a few years.

Exposure:

Golden Japanese Forest Grass will grow in  full sun to shade.

Bloom Period:

Yes, grasses do bloom. Golden Japanese Forest Grass send up its inflorescence in mid- to late summer.

They are insignificant, although they do turn a nice bronze or rust in the fall. However this grass is grown for its foliage.

Design Suggestions:

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ seems to work everywhere. It’s short enough to be used on a garden bed edge or on a bank, but it’s flashy enough hold its own in a perennial border.

It also makes a wonderful container plant, maintaining its size for many years and softening pots by cascading over the edges.

Since its color is from its foliage, it makes a great foil for darker leaves and flowers all season long. Burgundy foliage like sweet potato vines, coral bells, and Celosia, pop next to Golden Japanese Forest Grass. I also like it next to the gray of stone walls and walkways.

Other Suggested Varieties:

  • Hakonechloa macra 'Albo Striata’ (’Albovariegata’) – Green leaves with white stripes. More sun tolerant than the gold and grows a bit faster.

     

  • Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' – Newer cultivar from Terra Nova Nurseries. The form is more upright and spiky with a bright gold color. If possible, it’s even more slow growing.

     

  • Hakonechloa macra 'Beni Kaze' (‘Benikaze’) – I’m told Benikaze means ‘red wind in Japanese. This one is solid green during the growing season, but turns shades of red in the fall.

     

  • Carex elata 'Aurea' ('Bowles' Golden Sedge) - Not a Hakonechloa macra, but similar appearance. Careful, this one will spread.

    Growing Tips for Japanese Forest Grass:

    Japanese Forest Grass likes a rich, fertile soil with an average to acidic pH (6.0 - 7.0). It won’t be happy in either heavy, wet soils or dry sandy soil. It really helps the plant to become established if you keep it watered regularly at least the first year. Provided the soil is healthy and rich in organic matter, it shouldn’t need any supplemental feeding.

    Hakonechloa macra benefits from partial shade in hot regions, where the leaves can bleach out to a pale yellow. But it can lose its stripes in partial shade, becoming all gold, and it turns a lime green in full shade.

    Maintenance:

    Japanese Forest Grass will drop its leaves in colder climates and die back to the ground and it can be slow to reappear in the spring. In more moderate climates, the old leaves will brown and rot slightly. In either case, old leaves should be removed in early spring to allow the new growth to come through unhindered.

    Propagation:

    Because it is such a slow grower, you don’t have to worry about it taking over your garden. When it does get large enough to divide, you can do so in either spring or fall.

    Pest and Problems:

    None that are common.