Fescue – Planting in Shade

As landscapes mature, lawns which were once sun-drenched gradually turn shady. Grass near trees begins to thin and shade-loving weeds, such as violets, begin to encroach. Some kinds of grass are naturally sun-loving – they have a hard time growing in more than light shade. Other grasses tolerate shade and can effectively compete with weeds.

Fescue grass is the most shade tolerant turf. But even fescue can not grow in the dense shade under dogwood trees or closely spaced hardwood trees. If you are determined to plant fescue in the shade, these tips will help it survive:

• Seed or overseed each fall, using six to eight pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Put out the seed before October: the ground is warmer and roots will grow faster.

• Apply LESS nitrogen fertilizer to shady areas. Nitrogen promotes leaf growth – at the expense of root growth – and the plant will need as much root growth as possible to exist in the shade.

• Mow HIGHER in the shade. Mowing at 3 1/2 inches instead of 3 inches allows more sun-catching leaf surface to gather energy.

• Water whenever the ground is dry – even if this develops in January or March.

Fescue is sometimes sold combined with creeping red fescue or bluegrass. While the other grasses are very shade tolerant, they find difficulty surviving hot summers or foot traffic. Any of the turf-type fescues are good to use in shady zones.

Q: Which is the best fescue seed for a shady spot? Doesn’t someone test them for shade tolerance?

A: The dean of fescue variety testing in Georgia is Dr. Gil Landry at the University of Geogia college of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Griffin Experiment Station. He compares dozens of fescues over several year’s time to determine which do best under Georgia conditions. While some fescues are a bit more shade tolerant than others, Dr. Landry says that the way you manage your shady lawn is more important than which fescue you use. A shade tolerant fescue is one that has deep roots. If you dig your soil six inches deep before planting, any of the commonly available turf-type fescue varieties will do their best in shade.

Q.I have a shady backyard that needs new grass. What sort of grass can I plant that will withstand shady areas and the traffic of 2 small puppies?

A. Tall fescue is the most shade tolerant turfgrass recommended for this area and can withstand moderate foot traffic. September and October are the optimum times to plant fescue. You would be taking a chance if you planted now because it may not become well established before hot weather arrives.

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