About Walter  •  Contact Walter  •  Glossary
Gardening in Georgia
St. Augustine  

Food Gardening
Insects / Animals
Tools / Chemicals
Gardening Events
How-To Archive
Seasonal Calendar
Q&A of the Week
Gardening Links

Walter on TV & Radio
Walter's Books

Buy Walter's Book Here!

  Lawns > Bermuda > Lawn - Growing in Shade


Lawn - Growing in Shade

OK. I admit it. I have given up. I came to the conclusion last fall that grass just would not grow in the corner of my lawn near the ornamental cherry trees. The shade there is so dense that my fescue, no matter how lush in April, thinned out to bare soil for five years running. This spring I planted white impatiens, golden hosta and variegated ivy there and the spot looks better than it ever has.

Trees and shade look nice in the landscape. However, it is difficult to grow grass under trees because not only the quantity but also the quality of the light changes in the shade. In full sun, light is in the "near red" range of wavelengths. In the shade it shifts to the "far red," which is less effective for photosynthesis. The result is a reduction in the food needed for turf growth. Leaves and stems of grass plants are thinner in shade. Moisture from dew under trees takes longer to evaporate. The additional moisture may contribute to an increase in disease.

With the deck stacked against it, it is remarkable that any grass grows under trees. If you let experience, rather than me, be your teacher, these tips will help you grow grass in the shade.

CHOOSE RIGHT GRASS Under high pine tree shade, bermudagrass and zoysiagrass can grow successfully. Beneath the shade of a dogwood or an oak, both fail miserably. Fescue is the most shade-tolerant grass that is adapted to the Atlanta area but there is little difference between the various named fescue seed brands.

PRUNE TREES Selective pruning and thinning of limbs within the tree canopy will allow better sunlight penetration. Single tall trees should have all limbs removed below 10 feet. Rake and remove leaves or needles before they accumulate.

MOW HIGHER Grass in the shade should be cut approximately 1/2 to 1 inch higher than the grass growing in full sunlight. This will allow more leaf area to intercept the limited amount of sunlight. Avoid scalping turf in the spring. Decline of turf in shade often begins after a single episode of scalping.

WATER MORE Tree roots compete with the turfgrass for available soil moisture. In addition, the distribution of moisture from rainfall is poor under a tree canopy. The tree leaves block or deflect the rainfall. This yields an uneven soil moisture pattern. As a rule of thumb, turfgrass in shade needs 1 inch or more of water per week. In the absence of rainfall, wet the soil to a 6-inch depth. This may take 2 to 3 hours for one irrigation application.

MINIMIZE TRAFFIC During the summer months, minimize the traffic and activities in the shaded grass areas. This will reduce the wear stress on the turf. If the grass is in a path where traffic can not be avoided, place stepping stones or pine bark to mark the trail.

LIMIT FERTILIZER Grass grown in the shade should receive half the fertilizer than that in the sun. Feed lightly in the early spring before tree leaves come out. Fertilize little or none throughout the summer.

LIMIT WEEDKILLERS Use broadleaf weed controls sparingly on shaded lawns. The best approach for general weed control would be an application in the mid-fall to late-fall period. Spot-spray special weeds like wild violet. Crabgrass controls are not necessary in a shade environment since crabgrass needs a high light intensity to germinate.

USE GROUNDCOVER OR MULCH In areas where even fescue fails, think about using light-colored groundcovers like I did. A layer of pinestraw or pine chips looks much better than bare dirt. As one of my gardener buddies says, �Mother Nature has a plant for your difficult situation. Your job is to figure out which one it is!�

Q: I have tried and tried to get grass to grow in the shade. Is there any grass that will grow in deep shade and not die in the summer?

A: You can try the "Shade Mixture" and the "Miracle Grass" and all the rest - but you are just fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature. Grass - even the shade tolerant ones - needs a certain amount of sunshine in order to grow and be healthy. Some grasses can hardly stand any shade. Bermudagrass thins markedly except under the high shade form tall pine trees. Fescue grass will tolerate shade better than most grasses. But in the deep shade of a dogwood tree or a red maple, even fescue will need to be replanted each fall.

Bluegrass and creeping red fescue are very shade tolerant - but they just can't abide our high summer temperatures. (You'll notice that one of the advertised 'Miracle Grasses' says it grows 'everywhere bluegrass grows'.) It wouldn't be a good choice for Atlanta.)

Three practices will help fescue survive in the shade but they might be counter-intuitive to you. First, mow higher in the shade than you would in the sun. You�ll maximize leaf surface on the grass. Second, fertilize less so the grass won't be forced to grow what it can't support. Third, water more (deeply, once per week) in July and August so the grass is not stressed.

If you combine these three suggestions with removing some of your nearby tree limbs, you might be pleasantly surprised this year. Otherwise, hoist the white flag of surrender and plant liriope, mondo grass, ivy or pachysandra in the deep shade.

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 years' 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.


powered by

Find links, recipes and miscellaneous information Walter mentions on his WSB radio show, and check out Walter's schedule for TV appearances.

Click here to sign up for Walter's e-mail garden newsletter

Click here to check soil temperatures in your area.

Water pansies and ornamental kale after a hard freeze so they can re-hydrate their wilted leaves. Remember to regularly water window boxes and other outside plant containers.

View January Calendar

LawnsLandscapingFood GardeningHouseplantsInsects/AnimalsTools/ChemicalsCool Plants
How-To ArchiveSeasonal CalendarQ & AGardening LinksWalter on TV & RadioWalter's Books
About WalterContact WalterGlossaryFeedback
2009 Walter Reeves The Georgia Gardener. All Rights Reserved.