June: Japanese Forest Grass

Most grasses do not do well in shade, as anyone who has tried to grow a dense lawn on a wooded lot can confirm. There are, however, a few ornamental grasses and relatives of grasses that love the low light conditions of a wood edge or an airy forest. Japanese forest grass is one of these. It doesn't like dense shade, but in filtered light conditions it brings gorgeous texture and movement to the landscape.

As you might guess, Japanese forest grass grows naturally in the forests and mountains of Japan where it naturally forms drifts of gracefully draped foliage that ripple like water on breezy days. The wide leaves are similar to bamboo, and in quiet settings, you can hear them rustle as they move. They gradually spread to form dense colonies if permitted, but they are easy to keep in place as well. In addition to bed plantings, they work well in shaded containers.

 Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

Common Name: Japanese Forest Grass or Hakone Grass
Scientific Name: Hakonechloa macra
Notable Varieties: 'All Gold' (foliage is a solid chartreuse), 'Aureola' (green and yellow striped leaves), 'Albo-Striata' (green and white striped leaves
Light: partial to full shade
Size: 12-18"; slowly spreads by underground stems to fill the desired area, but can be maintained in a specific area
Soil: tolerates clay soil
Blooms: inconspicuous
Other Notes: can grow under black walnut, usually not browsed by deer

See other plants of the month.


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