GardenSMART Newsletter Signup
Visit our Sponsors!
Visit our Sponsors and win.


Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Have you tried growing Hakonechloa macra, called Hakone grass or Japanese forest grass?  It is grown for its mounds of lovely arching foliage that only grow about a foot tall, becoming fuller and more graceful with time. The cultivar ‘Aureola’ has satiny, shimmering wide foliage striped in cream, chartreuse, and green.

I have seen beautiful clumps of this grass arching over northern and northwestern garden beds. Several local South Carolina master gardeners have tried, without success, to grow this exquisite grass. I have killed it several times myself. USDA rates it for zones 4-9 and on the Cathey heat zone index, 9-4. It would seem that we should have no problem growing this plant, so what are we doing wrong?

The cultural requirements call for moist shade. This is true to an extent. I have killed it with water and without. I have tried leaving it in its little 4-inch pot to grow larger. It died. I tried growing it in the amended clay. It lasted longer and then succumbed. To find out if the grass had been tested in the heat and humidity of the south, I contacted the National Gardening Institute. 

Pat, from the Institute, had these recommendations: “Hakonechloa has been grown successfully in Texas, so it seems to adapt to the heat and humidity of gulf coast states. Consistent moisture and good drainage are important, as it does not like to dry out, and will not thrive in heavy, wet soils. Try growing in moist, well-drained, fertile soil and provide shade or dappled shade. Such conditions will suit this grass well.”

It appears we should grow it like the herb rosemary. The roots are at the root of the problem. It needs perfect drainage. The roots need to stay moist but they will not tolerate wet, mucky clay, what passes for soil in my garden. The roots rot. If its roots dry out, it dies-just like rosemary, and, like rosemary, no amount of water brings it back. It needs moisture, day in and day out, but it will not tolerate wet roots.

In Armitage’s Garden Perennials, Allan Armitage says of this grass, “I like all the cultivars... I only wish they were a little quicker to grow and more tolerant of the abuse heaped upon them in the Armitage garden.” He recommends part shade, heavily enriched soil, and reliable moisture.

If you have a shorter summer season in your Northern garden, you should have no trouble growing this fabulous grass. If you live in the South and are ready for a challenge, try this grass. I confess that I love it. I am going to give it (and me) one more chance. Armed with new instructions, next year will I have shimmering ribbons in the shade? A gardener can dream.

(This article first appeared in the Master Gardener newsletter, The Green Sheet, in 2004. I am happy to report that I now have a small Hakone Grass clump thriving its second year in a pot, in a spot in my garden that gets about an hour’s worth of sunshine. I purchased two more Japanese Forest Grass this fall on sale. I still dream that one day I will have that large mound, just as I saw in a northern garden many years ago.)

Follow Anne K Moore and Linda Weiss as they blog at Diggin’ It at the Christian Science Monitor website.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

Article URL:

Back to Articles List                               

GardenSMART Featured Article

By Heather Rhoades,, Photographs courtesy of

Cover crops are an often-overlooked way to improve the vegetable garden. Oftentimes, people consider the time between late fall to winter to early spring to be a time where the vegetable garden space is wasted. We think our gardens rest during this time, but this is not the case at all. Read more...

Join fellow garden lovers, history buffs and music enthusiasts to discover the quaint towns and colorful gardens of Holland and Belgium in May of 2018.

This exciting journey will be hosted by nationally known host Eric Johnson, of Public Television's blockbuster show GardenSmart. Your river cruise begins in Amsterdam where you'll see works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Anne Frank's House, and see the city's most famous gardens. Then spend a full morning on the grounds of the most beautiful spring garden in the world-Keukenhof! Visit the picturesque Belgian towns of Bruges and Ghent as well as Kinderdijk, with the Netherlands' iconic collection of 19 authentic windmills that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, history buffs will experience a captivating tour of the WWI trenches of Flanders and WWII Arnhem Battlefield of A Bridge Too Far fame. You won't want to miss this extraordinary garden adventure to Holland and Belgium.

Book by November 15, 2017 and save up to $1200 dollars per person!

To register call: Alki Tours at 800-895-2554

  Click here to sign up for our monthly NEWSLETTER packed with great articles and helpful tips for your home, garden and pets!  
Copyright © 1998-2012 GSPC. All Rights Reserved.