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In the shade

Japanese forest grass can thrive without full sun

In the world of ornamental grasses, full sun is definitely the preferred environment. Sometimes the perfect spot for a soft, wispy ornamental grass is in the shade, but are there any grasses for shade? The answer is yes, but just a few.

My favorite grass for the shade is Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola,’ Japanese forest grass or Hakone grass. It actually prefers to grow in part shade. It can perform equally well in full shade, but the colors are often less intense. There are several types of Hakone grass from green to solid gold, but ‘Aureola’ has green leaves with a long gold stripe. There are a lot of ways this bright golden foliage can work in the landscape. In the fall, when the weather cools, the foliage takes on a slightly pinkish cast, which is quite attractive.

Hakone grass grows about 1 to 1.5 feet tall and is best planted in a consistently moist, but well drained site. It does not do well in very dry soils and the foliage can scorch with too much sun. It spreads by rhizomes, so it can be planted individually or in groups as a ground cover, but it is not considered invasive.  

While it can be used in a wide variety of landscape applications, it has a distinctly graceful appearance and looks good near ponds, water features or rocks. It does slightly resemble bamboo, so it is often used in contemporary or Asian-style garden spaces. This low maintenance grass does need to be cut back in late winter in preparation for the new growth of spring.

If you have a shade garden THAT COULD USE A LITTLE PICK-ME-UP this spring, consider planting the beautiful Hakone grasses. You can choose from solid green, variegated or solid gold. After just a few years in the garden, they will reward you with beautiful cascading mounds of soft grass. Even a dark, shady garden spot can be transformed with the right plants.

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.

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