How to Grow Grass in Shade
By: Julie Day
Dappled sunlight is better than no sunlight at all.
If you have trees in your yard, you’ve likely encountered the challenges of trying to grow grass in the shade. Lawns have trouble in shady areas for several reasons:
- Most lawn grasses need 4-6 hours of sunlight per day. Shade-tolerant varieties can handle less, but no grass will grow in full shade.
- Sheltered, shady lawn grasses tend to be weak, spindly, and less able to recover from stress.
- In nature, survival is all about seniority, and mature trees and shrubs are stiff competition. The majority of tree roots are in the top few feet of soil, so lawns barely stand a chance under large established trees.
- As trees mature, the soil under them decreases in quality, and you can’t till or add soil without harming the tree.
- Trees shed rainwater, so the soil under trees tends to be drier than the rest of your lawn.
- At the same time, the areas under trees have less air circulation, which makes the area more humid and susceptible to disease.
- Leaf litter and pine needles can smother lawn grasses and often raise the soil pH.
Ways to deal with shady areas in your yard:
- Grass Selection: Certain grasses, like fine Fescue and St. Augustine, do better in the shade than others, and there are specific shade-tolerant blends available as well. Keep in mind that all grasses need some sun, so even shade-tolerant ones will need some partial sun filtering through the trees.
- Naturalize: If you have deep shade, you really should consider giving up the battle. Naturalize the area with groundcover or add mulch and plant shade-loving plants. Don’t add too much soil, or you’ll risk damage to the tree roots.
- Thin Trees: Thinning your trees will allow more air and sunlight to penetrate under them.
- Leaves: Keep the leaves under trees raked to prevent the grass from being smothered.
- Mowing: Set your mower blades as high as possible when mowing shady areas to leave more of the grass blade for photosynthesis.
- Watering: Be sure shady areas get enough water, but water deeply and infrequently to keep disease at a minimum.
- Fertilizing: Use about half as much fertilizer in shady spots as other areas of the lawn.
- Herbicides: Don’t use chemical weed killers or any other product that could stress your lawn grass.
- Reduce Traffic: Consider adding stepping stones or pavers to keep foot traffic off the grass.
- Test Soil: Do a soil test to see if you need to adjust the pH of your soil.
- Overseeding: Apply extra seed as needed to thicken your turf.
Try naturalizing shady areas.