The common problems facing grass in the shade, tips and resources on how to care for grass in shade

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Grass in Shade

There is really no such thing as a shade loving grass. As a result, everyone trying to maintain good quality grass in shady areas is fighting an uphill battle. Most grass can be improved in shade if you understand the problems grass faces.

There are two problems grass faces in shade: first is the lack of quantity and quality of sunlight. If the grass is under trees or an overhang, there is simply less light striking it. If the light is reflected or filtered, the quality of light is diminished. Grass plants respond by producing long spindly leaves. These leaves are not as hardy as leaves grown in direct sunlight and are more easily damaged by leaf diseases. Less sunlight for the leaves also means a weaker root system that is not as able to recuperate from wear. This is doubly bad when dogs are confined in a small area under a tree. The grass soon disappears due to increased wear and decreased ability to grow.

The second problem for shade grasses is reduced air movement. At night, dew settles on the grass. If the dew stays on the grass into mid-day, this extends the length of time the leaf blades are wet. Foliar diseases need “free water” like dew to spread. Long periods of wet leaves are perfect for disease development. To minimize disease development by shortening the amount of time the leaves are wet, you should not water in the late afternoon or evening.

There are some things you can do to improve grasses’ performance in shade: 

  1. Do what you can to improve airflow so the dew dries quickly. Trim some lower branches or consider reducing the size and amount of less desirable trees and shrubs. Look at your landscape with a critical eye. Consider replacing old, damaged, and overgrown trees with new smaller ones.
  2. Don’t over water the grass in shade. If the shady area is watered by the same zone as a sunny area, the shady area is getting way to much water. For more information, read our page on Overwatering.
  3. Take a moderate approach to fertilization. Don’t over fertilize grass in shade or neglect it altogether.
  4. Select grass species that do better in shade. Some grass species we normally would reject in full sun will survive better in shade. As a general rule, Kentucky bluegrass is not a first choice in shade, but it will be a component in a shady mix of grass seed. The best advice is to go to your local garden center and purchase their best shady mix of grass seed. Follow their advice on establishing. Avoid seed mixes that have annual ryegrass. Early Spring is the preferred time to seed in shady mixes.
  5. Minimize wear traffic. Find another place for the dog if you want grass in shade.
  6. Sometimes, grass in shade will last a few years and then die, requiring reseeding. That may be the best you can do. Don't underestimate the beauty of a well-mulched flower bed underneath a beautiful tree!