a plant i’d order: hakonechloa ‘all gold’

hakonechloa macra All GoldIT GROWS IN SHADE, READS AS SOLID GOLD, and looks good from early May to sometime in winter, I think, faded to wheat-color and partly hidden in snow. Even my beloved former cat agreed on this one: Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ was Jack’s favorite snack-pack among thousands of botanical choices here, apparently delicious fresh or (in the offseason) freeze-dried. It’s the latest thing I’d order if I didn’t already have it, a plant I cannot garden without.

hakonechloa in snowI was watching Jack feast on a faded clump of ‘All Gold’ one morning, just before I sat down to tea with the Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm catalog. Page 86 that year showed photos and profiles of seven varieties of this woodland grass, including ‘All Gold.’  It must be a sign, I thought: first the cat, then the catalog.

Unlike the more familiar variety H. macra ‘Aureola,’ which gets to about 2 feet high and wide, ‘All Gold’ Japanese Hakone grass is maybe 15 or 18 inches in both aspects. Even with the slightly shorter stature, its impact eclipses the gold-and-green-striped cousin’s, and I have quickly forsaken the one Japanese forest grass, as it is also called, for the other.

Though ‘All Gold’ will grow in dark spots, as with most yellow-leaved plants the best color will be had where there is morning or dappled light, bringing you more gold than greenish-yellow.

hakonechola in potMy favorite hostas, Japanese painted fern, Astilboides tabularis and other distinctive woodlanders make dramatically showy, season-long companions for the grass. I keep nine plants of ‘All Gold’ (Zones 5-9) overwintered in my vegetable garden for lifting and ordering into summertime duty in pots, where it is also excellent: no care, but all-season color. That’s seven of them in a 3-foot bowl in a very shady spot, so less gold and more yellow-green (above).

hackonechloaOccasionally some blades will go hot red in fall, a lovely twist, but if you want that feature there are varieties cultivated for their red autumn color, including green then red-and-green ‘Beni-Kaze’ (translates as ‘Red Wind’); ‘Nicholas’ (green shifting to orangey-red); and also ‘Naomi’ (variegated cream and green, turning wine). I’m happy when ‘All Gold’ simply turns wheat shades in October by my path (below). Klehm’s has them all.

hakonechloa in fallThe thing about this grass, in any form, including plain green: It’s got a cascading habit that makes it distinctive. It’s like a wave; never stiff, and never still. A mass if it around a tree trunk creates the illusion of a rippling pool. More is better. Think ocean.

Like the cat and the catalog say: highly recommended. And it fits into my master plan for “making mosaics” (a.k.a. successful underplanting of mixed groundcovers), too. That whole story is here, or watch the video first:

hakonechloa sources:

  1. margaret says:

    I am a frequent visitor and love your site. I bought the ‘all gold’ and the european ginger last year and so far they have not made an appearance. Is it too early or do you think I’ve lost them? I am in zone 7. I once read that if ‘you’re not losing plants you’re not trying hard enough’. I wonder if I should have protected them somehow..

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Margaret. Here the ginger is evergreen, and I cut off its leaves around now to make way for new ones. Did you trim it back in fall? As for the grass, it comes through the ground here in late April-ish, so I would expect you should be seeing it soon. Is everything else up and running already there? Do you have shoots of things like hostas up?

  2. ETHawk says:

    WARNING: I love this grass and planted it in my garden for bright light in dark corners. BAD NEWS: one of our cats nearly died after chewing on this grass, not because it is toxic, rather because the backs of the leaves are very rough with little spines all along the back rib. Our cat was doubled over in anguish and ended up in the Vet Emergency. Our veterinarian who also works in farm country and knows about animals eating the WRONG plants, pointed this out to us. SO the lovely Aureum is gone but the cat survived. A word to the wise.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, ETHawk. My Jack eats Hakonechloa daily…which drives me nuts from an aesthetic point of view…but has never suffered any ill effects these last 8 or 10 years. He loves grasses in general; not much interest in other things (except getting high by rolling on catmint and kiwi vines). Good to have the warning.

  3. tim says:

    is it just the perspective of the last photo where theyre overhanging the path that makes the grasses look much bigger than 18 inches? in that photo they look about a meter wide.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Tim. That’s a clump of maybe three (formerly tiny) plants, so it is wider than a single one would be — but even a single will become a large clump in time…but is easy to divide. I have had the plants many years, and now even some single plants are more than 18 inches across.

  4. Jess Hilton says:

    Always wanted to try it but not sure it wouldn’t melt out in our humidity here in central NC,what’s your take on it?

  5. tim says:

    ahhhh…. that explains it, theyre looking great though.
    i picked up aureola a few months ago, it seems much slower growing than my all gold’s, maybe half the growth rate. the upside is much more denser than all gold, forming a nice round ball eventually (after many years) and doesnt dry out as fast. if only forest grass grew quicker, …i could happily fill the whole garden with it.

    jess, ive never heard of there being a problem with too much humidity, infact they like it moist being a forest floor plant. i have all the most popular grass genus’ in pots and all gold seems to dry out the fastest. i can only imagine a problem in full hot sun or hot dry conditions.

  6. Liz Davey says:

    I have tried several times to grow Forest Grass and astilboides here in MA (Zone 6B formerly 5) . Both of them falter and then die. I have no problem in the same areas with brunnera, hosta and astilbe, ferns, etc.. I want both to grow and thrive but so far no luck at all. I will keep trying but if anyone has a clue to what I might be doing wrong, I would appreciate ideas. Thanks.

  7. James says:

    I’m going to have to try this in my front yard. I have a HUGE yard that is very shady and I’m looking for ideas to fill it up with things that I won’t have to mow or water all that often. I live next to Lake Michigan and the soil is pretty sandy, so I wonder if this grass will work. If not, any other ideas?

    The former owner planted a lot of hostas in accent areas and I think this would be spectacular next to that.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, James. A great plant. If the hostas are working I bet this will, too. Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm (catalog) usually has a good selection of fancy Hakonechloa varieties if you need to locate it.

  8. James says:

    Thanks for the info!!!

    One more question, can you grown this from seed? I was thinking of planting large patches with this and would like to just scatter seed in the spring.

  9. tim says:

    in addition to it possibly not coming true from seed, its also slower growing than most grasses, although ive read the plain green variety is faster and hardier. to do a large area yould probably have to plant seedlings or plug plants.

  10. James says:

    Thanks Margaret and Tim! I appreciate all the help. I guess I’ll have to rethink a little bit since I could see this as being a little expensive for the entire area I want to do.

  11. Kelly says:

    I bought three of these last year and have loved them. As we turn the corner into spring (hostas starting to poke through, hellebores in bloom), I’m wondering–was I supposed to cut the All Golds back? They seem to have gotten through the winter just fine, do I cut them back now? Thanks for you advice and hope for the floundering gardener!

  12. Erin Nesbit says:

    I love hakonechloa ‘all gold’!! i have a small clump of it growing near the garden gate. am curious, i would like to plant under a tree where there are a lot of roots. so it would be in a shallow spot. Do you think it would be ok?

  13. mik says:

    Hi Margaret, love your website! Can’t say enough nice things about your writing, pictures, and general enthusiasm and passion for gardening.

    If possible, can you please tell me which plants are included in the first picture with the grass in the center. I see hostas, ginger groundcover, heuchera, etc. but I’m wondering, more precisely, which cultivars these are. I would like to literally replicate this picture,

    Thank you for your help!

    1. margaret says:

      The hosta is ‘June,’ the yellow grass is Hakonechloa ‘All Gold,’ the ginger is Asarum europaeum, the fern is Japanese painted…and yes, a gold Heuchera whose name I don’t recall but something like ‘Key Lime Pie.’

  14. Diane says:

    I live in zone 4B a couple hours above you in Jay NY. Do you have recommendations for something else similar in size and beauty? I have a lot of beds that a re fairly new, and I need some depth—mosaic—to tie the singular plantings/bulbs/annuals together. I am learning! early sun only, fairly moist soil.

    1. margaret says:

      Zone 4 certainly narrows your options, Diane. Monrovia (the big wholesale plant producer) lists Hakonechloa as Zone 4 here and here, so it might be good to try a plant or two and mulch it after the ground freezes. A lot of beautiful groundcover-ish plants like Tiarella and Heuchera and Brunnera and Bergenia (not the same shape at all) are hardy there I believe, as are the painted ferns and Epimedium and … maybe start by searching for “Zone 4 perennials” on the Missouri Botanical Garden plant encyclopedia then browsing a bit?

  15. Mary says:

    If we want to go ‘all native’ in our plantings, what native grass or sedges might be a good alternative?

    Thanks for the great blog!

  16. Eileen Conklin says:

    I’ve bought 3 of these over the years and lost every one. I am in central NC with a shady and deer infested garden. Expensive, so not sure I’m willing to try again. They’re beautiful though. I get by with ‘Evergold’ Carex instead. Not quite the same.

  17. Sandy Lentz says:

    Hakonechloa is such a beautiful grass. Did you know it comes from Hakone, a vacation area not too far from Tokyo? We visited there and then it dawned on me where the grass I loved came from!

  18. Pamela Irizarry says:

    Margaret, lovely (and encouraging) video and makes me want to plant, plant, plant. However, I’m somewhat uncomfortable planting around established trees. The ground is so dense and I’m so afraid of damaging their roots systems. Any thoughts to pass along as to how to underplant?

    1. margaret says:

      I have some “rules” about that — only using small seedlings or divisions of plants (things I can tuck in with a small trowel, not a shovel), for instance. So it takes longer to look good, but it is more cautious and respectful of the trees.

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