Put away your poinsettias and set aside the Christmas cactus. It is time to start thinking spring, and there is no better way than to revel in the announcement of the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year.
That's right, folks. The decision has been made and grass-lovers will be celebrating when they hear that next year's explosion in the plant world will be Hakonechloa macra "Aureola."
I know, I know. You were likely expecting something that blooms prolifically in unusual colors and grows anywhere, but once you lay your eyes on this little beauty, you will likely become a grass-lover as well.
Still have doubts? Then picture this:
You take a refreshing beverage into the garden at the end of a long, hard day at work; home with the kids; or you're just in need of a time-out. Perhaps you've planted this wonderful grass in a container at the edge of the garden, or maybe you decided to go wild and use it as a mass border planting lining your entire perennial collection. Perhaps you needed something for that shady spot right beside your chair beneath your favorite tree. Maybe, by the time you manage to get out to the garden, the evening sky has turned to dusk and the mass planting of "Aureola" is not only gently waving in the breeze, but its shimmering leaves seem to sparkle in the darkening landscape.
Close your eyes and enjoy the sounds of the rustling leaves.
Also called Golden Hakone Grass, Hakonechloa macra "Aureola" is the Perennial Plant Association's 2009 Plant of the Year. According to the Association's newsletter on the grass, the species is native to Honshu Island, Japan and derives its name from Hakon, a region in Japan and chloa, the Greek word for grass.
Only growing 12 to 18 inches tall and spreading 18 to 24 inches wide, the grass arches and is described as ''resembling a cascading miniature bamboo.''
The grass blades are bright yellow with thin green stripes, which turn to shades of pink and red in the fall. The plant does bloom, but the flower spikes are inconspicuous in late summer and into fall.
Surviving in zones 5 to 9, here in northeast Ohio, we just make the cut-off for the plant's hardiness level. It grows best in moist, humus soil that drains well. Before choosing a site for this plant, keep in mind that it doesn't do well in heavy clay or very dry areas. Mixing organic matter into your soil should help, but be sure to top dress with compost as needed to keep the soil amended for this grass.
"Aureola" will suffer if planted in the hottest part of the garden where the mid-day sun could burn its leaves, but if planted in deep shade, you will likely lose some of the color on the leaves. Consider plantings in partially shaded areas, at the edge of a tree line, along a foundation or fence or in containers beneath a patio roof.
The plant will spread by underground runner-roots, called stolons, but their growth is slow and shouldn't be a threat to other plants in the garden. The plant itself also is a slow grower and is not likely to need divided for several years. Deer don't particularly care for this grass, although it should be noted that if hungry enough, deer will eat just about anything.
Just like other ornamental grasses, this plant should be cut back in late winter or early spring, before new growth appears. The PPA recommends planting "Aureola" with darker leafed plants, such as hosta, heuchera (Coral Bells), astilbe and lady's mantle (Alchemilla). If planted along a garden walkway, its arching habit will allow it to cascade over the path. In containers, it cascades over the edges like a waterfall and it works especially well in Asian-style gardens.
Members of the PPA choose the plant of year through a nomination process. To meet the criteria of plant of the year, the plant must be suitable for a wide range of climates and conditions, be low maintenance, pest and disease resistant and provide interest in the garden through multiple seasons. It also must be easily propagated.
Past winners include: 2008, Geranium "Rozanne"; 2007, Nepeta (catmint) "Walker's Low"; and 2006, Dianthus gratianopolitanus (pinks) "Feuerhexe."
While planning your spring garden, be sure to include "Aureola" plants as well.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.