How to Grow Grass in the Shade

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Aug 7, 2020

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When the sun’s shining and the weather is ideal, your lawn is relatively easy to keep a deep green. But once you add shade into the mix, things get a little, well, shady. Whether it’s shade from a tree or a building blocking the sun’s bountiful rays, the grass in a shaded area can struggle to grow.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though. With the nine tips listed below, you’ll learn how to grow grass in the shade and have a yard that’s evenly green and healthy.

Determining the Amount of Shade

Shade-tolerant grass doesn’t mean it’ll grow in the dark. Grasses generally need 4-6 hours of direct sunlight to survive. Shade-tolerant grass can survive on as little as four hours of sunlight. Plus, it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight — it can be filtered or dappled light.

If you have an area in your yard that’s under full-shade all day, like under a tree or along one side of a building, you may want to consider laying mulch or installing other decorative, nonliving landscaping in that space.

Choose the Right Grass

The first tip for growing grass in the shade is choosing the right grass for the job, as only certain grasses do well in the shade. For example, Kentucky bluegrass, buffalograss, and bermudagrass have very little tolerance for shade.

This decision goes beyond whether or not the grass is shade tolerant. You must also choose the shade-tolerant grass that works in your climate too.

If you live further north where you encounter cold temperatures and snow in the winter, you want a cool-season grass. If you’re in the south where the only snow you see is on TV and the occasional wintertime frost is the top story on the evening news, warm-season grass is for you.

If you need a cool-season, shade-tolerant grass, your best options are red fescue or velvet bentgrass. You can also opt for rough bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, or tall fescue, though they aren’t quite as shade-tolerant.

For those who need warm-season, shade-tolerant grass, the best options are St. Augustine or manilagrass. If the area’s not too shady, you can also opt for zoysiagrass.

Tree Pruning

If it’s trees causing the shady spots, you can easily adjust the amount of light hitting the grass through careful pruning. Don’t take off too much of the canopy, but prune enough to allow additional light to hit the turf below it.

You can also “limb up” your tree, which involves removing all the lower branches and raising the canopy. The light can then angle in under the higher canopy and hit the turf below.

Soil Care for Shady Areas

Shade-tolerant grass has different maintenance requirements than full-sun turf. First, they require 50-75% less nitrogen than full-sun grass. So, when you fertilize, do this section separately and adjust the fertilization rate appropriately.

Shade-dwelling grass also benefits significantly from regular soil aeration. Aerate the soil using a tool or liquid aerator right before the peak growing season, which would be late spring or early summer for warm-season grasses and early fall for cool-season grasses.

Overseed Regularly

Even the most shade-tolerant grasses can eventually die in the shade, which is where regular overseeding comes in. Overseeding by hand or broadcast spreader twice a year will help keep that shady patch thick and green.

Overseed once in the spring — just before the leaves begin sprouting on the trees — and once about four weeks before the first frost in your area.

Remember to bump up the watering in the overseeded area until it establishes. Also, avoid mowing that area until the grass is a few inches long.

Minimize Traffic

Again, even the most shade-tolerant grass is weaker in shady areas, making it sensitive to foot traffic. Too much traffic can cause excessive stress and result in yellowing or dying grass.

Limit traffic in the shady area, if possible. If foot traffic is unavoidable in that area, build a pathway through it using stepping stones.

Treat Weeds as they Emerge

Because grass growing in shady areas is weaker than in sunny areas, it’s also susceptible to herbicides. Yes, even selective herbicides can stress the weakened grass to the point of wilting and dying.

Instead of mass selective herbicide application, as you would with full-sun grass, spot treat each weed as it crops up. This may stress the grass immediately surrounding the weed, but it’ll prevent large yellowing patches from broader herbicide applications.

Adjust Your Watering Schedule

Shady areas will retain water longer since the sun isn’t evaporating it at the same pace as the full-sun areas, and too much retained water can lead to fungal disease or root rot. So, if you have an irrigation system, adjust the shady zone to get a little less water than the full-sun areas.

If you rely on rainwater for irrigation, shade-creating trees can also prevent rain from reaching the grass. In this case, perform deep, infrequent watering — generally twice a week — to to the area to ensure it gets ample water.

Raise the Deck

When cutting your grass, lift the mowing deck about ½-1 inch higher when cutting the shady area. The extra grass blade length allows the blades to absorb as much sunlight as possible and achieve photosynthesis.

Grow That Shady Grass Like a Pro

Like that one friend we all had in high school, your lawn can sometimes be a little shady. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have evenly lush turf. With these nine tips, you’ll know exactly how to grow grass in the shade and make your lawn pop.

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