How to Grow Grass in the Shade

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Grasses for Shade

Some turf grass species tolerate shade more than others, and the best grass for your lawn will depend on where in the United States you live. St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a shade-tolerant warm-season grass that is suited to warmer climates; it is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 10. Fine fescues (Festuca spp.) are cool-season grasses that will fare well in shady areas in cooler climates; they are hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7.

Soil and Sun Conditions

Shade-grown grass will do best if the soil in which it's grown is well-drained and rich in nutrients, and although shade-tolerant species need less light than sun-loving species, even they are unlikely to survive in areas that receive less than four hours of sun per day.

Seeding and Establishment

Turf grasses in general should be seeded in the late summer or early fall so seedlings are not subjected to the highest summer temperatures and can establish themselves well before the onset of winter. Because it faces significant challenges in its growth, grass in shady areas is especially sensitive to timing. In particular, young seedlings are at risk if they're covered by fallen leaves in the autumn.

Seed between the middle of August and the beginning of September, and if that's not possible, wait until April.

Mowing Height

Mow shade-grown grass to a higher height than grass grown in the sun so the grass has as more leaf surface area available for photosynthesis. In general, a height of 3 to 3 1/2 inches is adequate.

Tip

  • Mow often enough that you're never removing more than one-third of the overall length of the grass blades.

Watering

Shade-grown grass needs less water than grass grown in the sun. Frequent shallow watering encourages shallow root growth, which negatively affects the development of the grass. Water approximately once a week, giving the turf about 1 inch of water each time.

Fertilization

Grass grown in the shade also needs less fertilizer than grass grown in sunny locations. Overfertilization may make the grass more vulnerable to disease.

Step 1: Determine How Much Nitrogen You Need

Apply no more than 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of turf per year. The first number in a fertilizer's content designation indicates the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer, so, for example, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 1 pound of nitrogen in every 10 pounds of fertilizer. In this example, you'd apply 20 pounds of the fertilizer per 1,000 square feet each year.

Step 2: Make an Initial Application

Apply half of the total annual amount of fertilizer, using a garden spreader, in September.

Step 3: Make a Second Application

Apply the other half of the total fertilizer amount in a second application late in the fall, at the end of October or early in November.

Managing Shade

As much as possible, decrease the amount of shade on the grass. Prune low-hanging tree branches and shrubs to maximize the amount of sun that falls on the turf, and remove fallen leaves and other debris as quickly as possible so grass isn't covered.

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