Growing Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Hakonechloa Grass
Peter Stevens/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

If you think all ornamental grasses look alike, Golden Japanese Forest Grass (botanical name: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') will change your mind. 

With its arching gold leaves, striped with bright green, Golden Japanese Forest Grass is a unique ornamental grass. It’s also a clump-forming grass that grows excruciatingly slowly.

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. Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' does not produce viable seed.

Features of Golden Japanese Hardiness Zones

Golden Japanese Forest Grass is reliably perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. This grass should grow about 18 inches tall within a few years, but as mentioned previously, it is a notoriously slow grower.

It will grow in full sun to shade, with the brightest gold color if it is grown in full sun. In shadier spots, the leaves tend to lose their variegation and revert to all green.

Golden Japanese Forest Grass sends up its inflorescence, or blooms, in mid- to late summer. They are insignificant, although they do turn a nice bronze or rust in the fall. It's not hard to see why this grass is grown for its foliage.

Using Golden Japanese Forest Grass

This versatile grass 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 are accentuated next to Golden Japanese Forest Grass. It is also a nice complement next to the gray of stone walls and walkways.

Suggested Japanese Golden Grass Varieties

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

Growing Tips for Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese Forest Grass likes rich, fertile soil with an average to acidic pH (6.0 to 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, the grass shouldn’t need any supplemental feeding.

Caring for Your Hakonechloa Grass

Japanese Forest Grass will drop its leaves in colder climates and die back to the ground during winter. 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.

Since Hakonechloa 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

Hakonechloa is virtually problem free, with no commonly occurring diseases or pests.