grass for shady area

doucanoeJune 16, 2006

We live in the woods, and most of our grass gets only a few hours of sun per day. Needless to say, it doesn't grow nice and thick like urban lawns. Is there something we can do, or a grass that tolerates medium to heavy shade well? The lawn started as sod, but we have seeded over it every year for 3 seasons with no luck.


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Dear Doucanoe,

Thank you very much for your inquiry. Grass in the shade is not easy as you have found out (if it was, it would be in all the domed stadiums around the world, including the Metrodome.) That being said, the keys here are choosing the right grass and then maximizing the sunshine and air circulation.

There are only a couple of choices for best shade grass in your area. If you have irrigation, the best choice hands down is supina bluegrass. It even spreads in the shade. However it must have moisture and it is expensive as it is not grown in the US. It can cost up $40/lb, and if the seeding rate is 2.0lbs /1000 ft2, you can get expensive in a hurry. If you go this way, one alternative to cut costs is to buy perennial ryegrass as a companion crop and mix at 90/10 P. ryegrass to Supina. The supina will spread throughout the lawn as the ryegrass dies and you will have a nice lawn soon.

If you do not have water, then you need to choose fine fescues for the area. These do quite well in low light and persist in dry soils without much fertility needs.

The trick with all shade grasses is establishment. This is where thinking Âmaximizing sunshine time comes into play. Circle mid-September on your calendar as this is the time when we want to establish the grass, just before the tree leaves turn and fall off the trees. We want to use the late fall for growth and then the sun from early spring to get all the growth we can before the tree leaves comes out and rob the sunshine from the grass again. We center our fertilizer schedules on these time periods as well. This way we are not fertilizing a grass in the shade when it needs sunshine with the fertilizer to complete its growth cycle.

Finally, if there are areas where you can prune a few branches and improve sunlight, this is a worth effort. Also, all efforts to clear underbrush and allow air circulation will be rewarded by better turf as well. Sunshine and air movement are the keys.

Again, thanks for the question and let me know if you have more.


Trey Rogers
The Yard Doctor

    Bookmark   June 21, 2006 at 8:08AM
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Billl(z7 nc)

No grass likes to grow in the shade. Some, like fine fescues, tolerate it better than others, but none like it.

There are a couple of tricks to tilt the conditions more favorably to the lawn, but no magic bullets. The first is to limb up the trees as much as possible. The closer the branch is to the ground, the more consistant shade it provides. Don't go hacking away, but every bit helps. The second is watering. Trees do a great job of sucking up water so grass growing beneath them usually is under-watered. The third is fertilizing appropriately. Grasses that tolerate shade generally are happier with much less fertilizer than KBG growing in full sun. One application in spring and a second in fall is usually plenty. Going with something like the scott's 4 step plan usually just hastens the decline of the lawn.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2006 at 8:23PM
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We cleared about 40 trees in this wooded area to build the house. It is thick woods of Maple, Basswood, Hickory and Oak. Due to the density of the woods, there are really no branches or limbs on any of the trees lower than about 10-15 feet above ground on average. The soil is heavy clay, so when watered it retains moisture very well.

I will give your suggestions a try, thanks!


    Bookmark   June 22, 2006 at 11:14AM
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