Hakonechloa, Hakone grass, or Japanese Forest Grass, is, as the name suggests, a native to Japan. The grass originates from the Hakone mountains. Hakonechloa is a single species genus, with macra being the species name. They grow in the volcanic rock which, though free draining, does hold some moisture too. The Hakonechloa prefers a semi-shady to shady position as full sunshine will scorch the often yellow coloured leaves. A free draining soil is best for these plants. They will also grow on clay, but the delicate shoots may have trouble breaking through a dried-up top layer. Mulching them with compost or coconut coir should eliminate this problem.
Generally nurseries don’t stock a wide range of Hakonechloa cultivars. If they do stock them, H. ‘Aureola’ is usually the only cultivar they sell. Even though quite a few new varieties have been introduced, this is still the plant that is offered most. Often, when mentioning the collection to other gardeners, the question is asked ‘How many are there?’ as people usually only come across ‘Aureola’. To this day I have collected 20 named cultivars. Some of the cultivars are very similar, but as a collection holder it is important to compare these plants to see if there are any differences.
Hakonechloa are long lived plants and will generally form a nice sized clump within a few years. Designers like this grass as it looks beautiful planted
en-masse. They also do extremely well in pots and will then form a beautiful dome, cascading over the edge of the pot. In fact, this National Plant Collection® was started in pots on a balcony!
Hakonechloa will turn a golden brown in autumn. This foliage can be left on until March, when it should be cut down to the ground. Young shoots are then ready to emerge in April/May.
Hakonechloa are usually propagated by division. This can be done in early spring. The buds are quite easily recognised as they are often reddish and will be sharp and pointy. Division can be done with a sharp knife, or with a border fork.
Recommended cultivars for gardens
Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ – this variety has completely yellow leaves. It is ideal to brighten up a darker corner in the garden.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Nicolas’ – during the spring and summer this plant looks like the ordinary species. From September however it colours up with red foliage. Ideal for underplanting of trees or shrubs.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Naomi’ – a dwarf version of the well-known ‘Aureola’. This particular form has a beautiful pink/red leaf colour in autumn.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Samurai’ – a cultivar selected and introduced by Neil Lucas in 2012. The plants grow quite tall and are vigorous. The leaves are white variegated.