Golden Japanese Forest Grass Plant Profile

Hakonechloa Grass
Peter Stevens/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

If you think all ornamental grasses look alike, golden Japanese forest grass (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. Unfortunately, this perennial clump-forming grass grows with excruciating slowness.

The flower stalks (inflorescence) are produced in mid to late summer and really are not very showy until fall when they turn orange or bronze. This cultivar does not produce viable seed.

Botanical Name Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Common Names Golden Japanese forest grass, Hakone grass
Plant Type Perennial ornamental grass
Mature Size 12 to 18 inches tall, similar spread
Sun Exposure Part shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained soil
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 (acidic to neutral)
Flower Color Yellow-green (insignificant)
Bloom Time Mid to late-summer
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9
Native Area Moist cliffs and woodland areas of Japan

Landscape Uses

This versatile grass seems to work everywhere. It is short enough to be used on a garden bed edge or on a bank, and it is flashy enough to 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 the foliage, golden Japanese forest grass 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.

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 is not hard to see why this grass is grown for its foliage.

How to Grow Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass likes rich, fertile soil with an average to acidic pH (6.0 to 7.0). It will not 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 should not need any supplemental feeding.

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 do not have to worry about it taking over your garden. Hakonechloa is virtually problem-free, with no commonly occurring diseases or pests. When it does get large enough to divide, you can do so in either spring or fall.

Light

The brightest gold color is seen if this plant is grown in part shade, though golden Japanese forest grass will tolerate full sun to full shade. But full sun will cause the leaves to turn brown at the tips, while in shadier spots, the leaves tend to lose their variegation and revert to all green.

Soil

Plant Japanese forest grass in a nutrient-rich soil that is well-drained.

Water

Keep this plant moist but not soggy. A thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant will help preserve soil moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

Golden Japanese forest grass is reliably perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. In thrives in all conditions over this range.

Fertilizer

In good soil, this plant requires no feeding. In poorer soils, feed it once in the spring after new growth appears.

Pruning

In early spring before growth begins, cut back the foliage to near ground level.

Propagating Japanese Forest Grass

This plant is easily propagated by dividing and replanting root clumps in spring or fall.

Related Varieties

  • Hakonechloa macra 'Albo Striata’ (’Albovariegata’) has green leaves with white stripes. More sun tolerant than the gold and grows a bit faster.
  • Hakonechloa macra 'Beni Kaze' (‘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) is not a Hakonechloa macra cultivar, but is similar in appearance.