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Published June 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Perennial Plant of the Year: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

This week I’d like to introduce you to a favorite perennial available to Minnesota gardeners.

By: By Robin Trott, Minnesota Extension Educator, The Osakis Review

This week I’d like to introduce you to a favorite perennial available to Minnesota gardeners.

For gardening novices, a perennial is a plant that comes back every year. Perennials usually have a limited blooming season, so you have to carefully select your perennials for leaf color and texture, as well as blooming time.

Each year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) chooses a superior performing perennial as its perennial plant of the year. Members of the PPA vote for their favorite perennial, and make recommendations for plants to be considered in subsequent years. Past selections include “Rozanne” cranesbill geranium (2008) and “Walkers Low” catmint (2007). This year’s winner is a golden variegated Japanese forest grass called Hakonechola macra “Aureola” (Golden Hakone Grass or GHG).

Plants must be:

•Suitable in a wide range of climates.

•Low maintenance.

•Disease and pest resistant.

•Readily available.

•Easily propagated.

•Multiple season ornamental interest.

Golden Hakone Grass (likened to a miniature cascading bamboo) prefers partial shade, which makes it unique among perennial, ornamental grasses. Its bright yellow and green leaves light up dark areas of the garden, and its low growing, cascading habit makes it an interesting addition to shaded spaces.

GHG grows 12-18 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide and prefers moist, humus rich, well drained soil. Unlike many other grasses, GHG spreads slowly, so it doesn’t dominate your garden or threaten other nearby plants. It is also disease and insect resistant, and it is not threatened by deer (a huge plus in our country gardens!).

It can be used as a border plant, in a massive drift, or in combination with other plants. The PPA suggests pairing it with hosta, tiarella, huechera, cimicifuga, astilbe, bleeding heart or lady’s mantle. In the fall, the leaves become tinged with shades of pink and red, and the plant produces small, inconspicuous flowers. GHG requires minimal care: cutting away dead leaves in the early spring.

Don’t be leery of its listing as hardiness zone 5; many Minnesota gardeners have successfully grown it in zone 4. Winter coverage is recommended in zone 3 or when grown in an exposed location.

June is a great time to add perennials to your garden. Just remember a few basic horticultural tips:

•Prepare your soil bed: dig in organic material such as peat moss or compost to ensure moisture retention, good drainage and optimal root growth.

•Deeply water once a week. (Put an empty tuna can near the plant and when it is full, you have watered the required 1”.)

•Mulch plants (no deeper than 2”) to retain moisture and discourage weeds.

Following these basic steps will keep your plants healthy and happy!

If you have planted GHG or another superb perennial and would like to share your choices for Best Perennial, contact me at (320) 762-3890 or via e-mail at trot0053.umn.edu.

Until next time, happy gardening!

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