Lawn Care: How To Grow Grass in the Shade

One of the most difficult situations homeowners face is growing grass in the shade. It’s a battle you can win, if you cover the right bases in your lawn care regimen. Learn how to succeed in growing grass in shady places.

Will grass grow in the shade?

Most lawn grasses need four to six hours of direct sun to survive. Some shade-tolerant grass types grow as long as light hits that four-hour quota – and that light doesn’t have to be full sun. Four to six hours of dappled or filtered sunlight can fuel the growth of a healthy lawn.

What types of grass grow better in shade?

For cool-season grass, rye and fine and tall fescues offer the most shade tolerance. They require four hours of sun minimum to survive. Warm-season grasses that grow in some shade include zoysia and St. Augustine.

When shopping for grass seed, choose shade-tolerant blends adapted to your region. Buy a blend or mix of seeds for shade because if one type fails to make it, another might. In this case, it’s not budget-wise to skimp on seed quality in order to save money. Pay for a top-quality blend.

Could pruning my trees improve the light beneath them?

Removing lower limbs allows sunlight to reach soil beneath. Pruning interior branches to open the tree canopy permits more sunlight to pass through the tree’s interior to the ground beneath. Removing interior branches also enhances air circulation to the center of the tree, which improves tree health. Hire a certified arborist to prune large trees. Learn the basics of pruning trees. Learn when to prune trees.

Do I need to mow grass differently in shady spots?

In shade, mow 1/2 to 1 inch higher than in sunny lawn areas. This gives individual grass plants more leaf area to capture the limited sunlight that’s available. Try to alternate mowing directions each time you mow.

Avoid scalping shade-grown grass. This happens most frequently in spring, when you haven’t raised the mower since the final fall mowing. Shady lawns can’t tolerate even one scalping; it thins them and they may not recover. Read more about mowing tips for lawn care to get the best result this spring.

I’ve heard trees create dry shade. Does that mean I have to water lawn under a tree more than lawn in the sun?

Under a tree, two things occur to create drier soil. First, rainfall doesn’t always penetrate the tree canopy to reach soil beneath. Second, tree roots absorb available moisture. As a result, turf beneath a tree needs more frequent irrigation. Water these areas deeply to encourage deep grass roots for a healthy lawn around trees.

Should I water more in other shady areas?

If your shade is caused by a building, you don’t need to water more frequently. Grass in shady areas doesn’t use water as quickly as their sunny counterparts. Water only when necessary. Learn more about irrigating lawns.

I finally have lawn growing in shady spots, but it’s always so thin. Can I do anything about that?

Growing conditions and lawn care for grass are tough in the shade. Aim to eliminate any stress the grass experiences, such as foot traffic. Insert stepping stones to protect grass from being trampled.

You can also overseed as often as once or twice a year, in mid-spring or early fall for cool-season grasses, late spring to early summer for warm-season turf. Don’t forget to water after seeding.

Do I fertilize lawn in shady areas the same as the rest of the lawn?

Grasses in shady areas need one-half to two-thirds as much nitrogen as sunny lawns. For lawns beneath trees, fertilize lightly in early spring before trees leaf out, then not again until early fall.

What about weed killers?

To grow grass successfully in shade, you want to minimize stress, which includes limiting herbicide use. If weeds are a problem, make one general broadleaf application in fall. Otherwise, spot-spray weeds with an herbicide as needed. Be sure to read the label to ensure it won’t harm trees. Learn more about choosing weed killers.

What should I do if grass just won’t grow?

If you want greenery, choose a shade-tolerant ground cover that’s hardy in your zone. You can also cover bare soil with mulch. Natural materials such as bark, pine straw or wood chips look nice beneath trees. Light-colored mulches show up better in shady spots. Include stepping stones to add interest.

I’m trying to grow lawn beneath a tree. Does the type of tree affect my chances of success?

In general, it’s easier to grow grass beneath deciduous trees than evergreens that branch to the ground. Beneath these trees, you’re not just dealing with shade, you’re also fighting acidic soil, which doesn’t favor grass growth. You can grow grass beneath pines with a high canopy, which creates filtered light beneath.

The type of deciduous tree greatly influences grass-growing success. Hard maples have dense canopies and shallow roots that make growing anything beneath them a real chore. Grass won’t make it. Dogwood and oak also offer tough growing conditions beneath their branches. Other trees – including locust, sycamore, ornamental crabapples and pears, elms and many more – happily host a carpet of lawn at their feet.