Hakone grass: Fall in love with foliage

For amping up your foliage design palette, there’s nothing quite like the flowing texture of Hakone or Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra). The cultivar with the gold and green stripes above is likely H. ‘Aureola’)

First, my confession. For me, Hakone grass is a case of I can’t always – maybe ever – get what I want. I’ve killed this plant four times. Four.

Despite my record as a serial plant killer, I might be the only gardener in the universe whose luck with this plant has been zilch. While it can take a while to get established, thereafter it usually gets epithets like low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and easy-care. And it takes shade. So I persist, Pollyannalike – hoping the “while to get established” bit includes four instances of Hakonecide.

But just look at these pictures from 2015’s Through the Garden Gate in Lawrence Park. See why?

When you’re designing principally with foliage in shade, the soft, tress-like texture of Hakone grass contrasts beautifully with hostas and ferns, and the gold ones add a pop of brightness.
Clearly, in our US Z5/CN Z6 climate, they do well in a sunnier location, too. Here they offer a massed foundation for a golden smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’). The blue spruce beside it is nicely complementary, too.
I oooooh-ed over the undulating river of Hakone grass in this mixed planting, and will probably come back to this garden in another post. The planting plan gave the relatively narrow border a sense of movement and dimension.
Here, a nice mass of the grass softens the stonework at the base of the steps. See how the periwinkle (Vinca minor) seems to be struggling a bit in the same location? I suppose that’s a testament to Hakone’s drought tolerance. Sigh.

I’m grateful to gardens like these for giving me hope that one day my unrequited love and I will be together. Meanwhile, I’ll support independent garden centres with my proven kill-and-refill technique.


  1. The PNW is supposed to be paradise for Hakone grass. I've seen plenty of examples of it growing beautifully in gardens around here. Although I haven't killed it, I have clumps that are 6 years old, and just not thriving. So don't feel bad about having killed it so many times.

    1. I'd settle for "clumps", Alison. The last pot I planted came back after last winter with just a single shoot. That's one blade of grass. Alas. I have to laugh or I'd cry.

  2. Your pictures are producing serious Hakonenechloa envy! For me, siting this grass in part sun, decent soil and watering seems to lead to success. I'm pretty sure these Lawrence Park gardens have sprinkler systems to allow Japanese Forest Grass to thrive, even in full sun.

    1. You're probably right about the sprinklers, Paul. Yet with other garden pros I've asked to suggest grasses for dry shade, the number one recommendation has been Hakone grass! That's one reason I keep trying. And trying. And crying. And trying. And…

  3. Holy moly, no wonder you love it~it's gorgeous in each of those photos/gardens! I've planted it underneath a shagbark hickory in dry soil and I haven't killed it yet…Of course, it's not exactly thriving!

  4. I have one Hakone grass in a moist area in the shade. I tried to take a piece of it and transplant to my front shade garden with no luck. It died. I am trying once again but placing the transplant in an area with a bit more sun and moisture. I have a feeling it doesn't tolerate dry soil. We gardeners are persistent.

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