Knowing all you can about Japanese blood grass is absolutely essential before planting this controversial grass. A beauty in the eyes of some gardeners and an abomination in the eyes of others, Japanese blood grass (Imperator cylindrical), a one- to two-foot tall erect ornamental, has become a landscaping favorite due to its emerald blades that change to deep red or burgundy in autumn. But it is non-native to North America and spreads so easily that it is taking over ecosystems, including range lands. In fact, Japanese blood grass is illegal in 25 states.
In 1977, Japanese blood grass was listed as one of the "top 10 worst weeds in the world." However, more recently, it was praised on one gardening website as being one of the "top 10 ornamental grasses." The University of Georgia says that Japanese blood grass, also known as cogon grass, has infested Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Alabama. In fact, this native of Asia is now on every continent except Antarctica. Part of the reason this invasion of Japanese blood grass in farming areas and wildlife preserves is problematic is because its high silica content makes it unusable as forage.
Japanese blood grass came to the U.S. in the early 1900s as a packing material. Soon after, it was being planted in the Deep South for erosion control and forage, but neither experiment worked and, as a result of its tenacious, rhizomatous root system, the grass spread unchecked.
Some gardeners recommend Japanese blood grass, particularly the Red Baron variety, for borders, rock gardens and container planting. Containers may be the wisest choice to limit spread.
Japanese blood grass prefers moist-to-wet, well-drained soil and sun to light shade. It grows particularly well in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Before planting this ornamental grass, make sure that you are not violating any local laws.