Choosing the right grass for a lawn is initially based on how much sunshine the site receives and how much water you are able to apply in the summer. Consider also the amount of labor you are willing to invest in your lawn.
Tall fescue is classified as a “cool season” grass. It stays green year-round. Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, seashore paspalum and St. Augustinegrass are all classified as “warm season” grasses. They are green most of the year but turn brown (or light green, in the case of St. Augustinegrass grown on the coast) and go dormant in winter.
Tall fescue is the most shade-tolerant grass but NO grass will grow very well in less than four hours of direct sunshine (or eight hours of filtered light under tall trees). Six hours of direct sunshine is a minimum for vigorous growth. Red fescue and bluegrass are somewhat more shade-tolerant…but they are not heat tolerant. Plant them only if you can keep the summer temperatures below 90 degrees (hah!).
When it comes to selecting a grass, use these guidelines for the amount of light turfgrasses REQUIRE to grow successfully:
Bermudagrass: full sunshine to very light shade
Seashore paspalum: full sunshine to very light shade
Centipedegrass: full sunshine to very light shade
‘Meyer’ zoysiagrass: full sunshine to light shade
‘Emerald’ zoysiagrass: full sunshine to partial shade
St. Augustinegrass: full sunshine to partial shade
Tall fescue: light shade to partial shade
Since light levels are hard to define, use these examples:
Full sunshine: eight hours of unfiltered sunshine sometime between sunrise and sunset
Light shade: six hours of sunshine filtered through high pine foliage or scattered hardwood trees OR six hours of unfiltered sunshine sometime between sunrise and sunset
Partial shade: eight hours of sunshine filtered through high pine foliage OR four hours of direct sunshine between sunrise and sunset
Shade: all day sunshine filtered through scattered hardwood trees OR direct sunshine only three hours per day
Dense shade: No direct sunshine touches the grass all day, such as the shade under a southern magnolia or the shade between two houses whose shadows prevent sunshine from hitting the earth at all.
No grass will grow well in shade or dense shade. If you have a shady spot, save yourself some grief and plant groundcover, shade-tolerant perennials or cover the spot with mulch.