Homeowners often find that growing turfgrasses in shady locations can be difficult. When attempting to establish a shade lawn, there are several steps homeowners can take to ensure turf growth and maintenance:
- Carefully select the proper type of shade-tolerant turfgrass (species and cultivar) for the location.
- Implement turf management practices that may help mitigate challenges of shade turf.
- Modify the area to make it more favorable for growing turfgrass or try other turf alternatives.
Varieties of Shade-tolerant Grasses
Selecting the proper shade-tolerant variety of turf (species and cultivar) is the most important aspect of successfully growing turf under shade conditions. Turfgrasses are divided into warm-season and cool-season grasses:
Warm-season grasses, such as zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass, are not generally grown in West Virginia’s cool climate, but are grown in some areas of the state with varying levels of success. Certain varieties of zoysiagrass are more shade-tolerant than others, but Bermudagrass will not tolerate shade.
Of the cool-season turfgrasses, fine fescues are best adapted for shady areas. Although they grow quite well in cool, dry shade, they are not recommended for poorly-drained soils or in parts of the state where summer temperatures are above 85°F for prolonged periods.
Certain varieties of perennial ryegrass may also be considered for shady areas. Though they will give a good cover early in the season, they are usually severely thinned by the end of the season; annual reseeding helps remediate this condition.
Certain improved Kentucky bluegrass cultivars have also shown varying levels of adaptation to shade, although most cultivars of this grass species require full sunlight.
Since the amount of light reaching the turfgrass is reduced under shady conditions, it is important that the grasses absorb as much of the available light as possible. To do this, raise the mowing height to a minimum of three inches, which preserves a greater leaf surface to intercept more light and encourages deeper rooting for water and nutrient absorption.
The application nitrogen fertilizer is extremely important in shade turf, as high rates of nitrogen will encourage succulent tissues susceptible to disease and traffic injury. Nitrogen also encourages shoot growth at the expense of root development. Only the minimum rates should be applied to cool-season grasses during hot summer months. If trees have to be fertilized, consider placing the fertilizer below the root zone of the grass. This will minimize the possibility of excessive succulent tissue and shoot growth in the turfgrass.
Shade turfgrass requires a carefully managed watering regime. Frequent, light sprinklings (especially in the evening) should be avoided since these result in shallow-rooted grasses. Instead, employ deep irrigation as it allows the surface of the soil and the turfgrass to remain wet longer. Schedule watering in the mornings to allow moisture to evaporate from leaf and soil surfaces. Turfgrasses grown in the shade should be checked regularly for the presence of fungus or disease so that fungicides may be applied promptly if necessary.
In many cases the shade environment may be modified by removing the lower branches of trees to allow for better air circulation and for more sunlight to reach the turf. This is especially true of trees with branches lower than ten feet above ground. The crowns of the trees can also be thinned to allow more light to filter through the branches, increasing the quality and intensity of light. If dense shrubs or undergrowth obstruct air movement, they too should be removed or thinned. The most drastic yet most effective action might be to remove the tree or replace it with a finer-textured tree.
The best solution will depend upon the overall landscape design, the individual site and conditions, proper maintenance and the amount of time and resources the homeowner is willing to devote. Alternative options are:
Outdoor Installation of:
- Landscape Stones
Author: Clifford W. Collier, retired WVU Extension Specialist and Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist
Last Reviewed: May 2017