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GRASS INFORMATION FOR SHADY LAWNS

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Environmental Factors | Cultural Factors | Shade tolerant grasses | Home Page

Grasses grown under reduced light conditions have reduced plant vigor and hardiness, along with reduced growth of roots, rhizomes, stolons and shoots.  This results in the plants being more susceptible to stresses such as heat, drought, cold and wear and thus often die as a result of the increased shade stress.  Total loss of the turf grasses in a shaded area can result if the light reduction is severe.

If the shaded area receives at least several hours of full sunlight, such as under individual trees... it is usually possible to grow a turf cover.  Growing an adequate turf grass under the shade created by groupings of multiple trees is much harder to accomplish.  Keep in mind that grasses were adapted for lawns from the wide open full sun areas of grassland plains.  Grasses in general were not a part of the dense forest canopy and even today are NOT found within high shade forests.  

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Grasses suitable for shade use are also dependent on the area they will grow in.  As warm season grasses move further Northward their shade tolerance is reduced.

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Shaded grasses tend to be more succulent (contain more water ).. and thus subject to damage due to heat, cold, drought, and wear stresses. Disease and insect resistance also declines relative to the light intensity of the location and the increased succulence of the grass.  Grasses under shade also grow more stemmy and more erect upright, thus they tend to be defoliated more when mowed.  Tree roots also play a big part in reducing the ability of grasses to grow in the shade area.  Just try and dig or rototill under a tree and you will understand that where you cannot dig... neither can a grass root grow.  It is also

There are several types of shade from light shade to full shade to heavy shade and those in between including half shade and dappled shade. A turf for a shaded area must be chosen for its shade tolerant properties. Too much shade can cause thinning of the turf and can even cause it to die out completely. Temperature, however, must also be considered when determining the variety of turf grass chosen. The lower temperature of a shaded area will support some grasses while others will simply not establish.  In heavy shade locations you may be better off planting higher shade tolerant species such as shrubs or ground covers than turf grasses.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER FOR SHADY AREAS

  • 1 - Choose a shade tolerant grass.
  • 2 - Improve sunlight to an area by trimming out limbs.  Trimming lower limbs helps a lot.  You can trim a considerable amount of leaf limbs without changing the ascetic appearance of your tree.  Some experts say up to 35-40% of a trees limbs can be removed to improve light penetration without changing the visual look of a tree.
  • 3 - In high shade areas, consider planting other plants (instead of grasses) that have more shade tolerance such as ground covers and shrubs flowers...Examples include English ivy, red-tip, myrtle, and pachysandra.
  • 4 - Mow the grass about 1/3 higher in shady areas... This reduces the shade stress some by allowing for more leaf surface to absorb sunlight.
  • 5 - Water DEEPLY / but infrequently.  Do not over water as this increase diseases. Shallow watering forces tree roots to the surface where they compete with your grass for water and nutrients.  Too much water can also create disease problems, but you must reach a fine balance on this issue as trees in themselves tend to rob the soil of water, thus requiring higher water needs. 
  • 6 - Fungicides may be required to be applied more in shady areas due to increased disease activity from the lower temperatures, higher relative humidity and decreased wind movement
  • 7 - Tree leaves & grass clippings should be removed from shady areas as they tend to shade the grass and increase shade problems.
  • Adjust the environmental factors for best results
  • Use good cultural practices in your shade areas.
  • Consider using a mulch, paving, straw, or stones if grasses and plants will not survive.
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RELATIVE SHADE TOLERANCE OF
TURF SPECIES

COOL SEASON GRASSES
Shade Tolerance adaptation of Cool Season Grasses
(Growing in cool-season areas)
EXCELLENT GOOD MEDIUM POOR
Red Fescue (creeping)
Velvet Bentgrass
Rough Bluegrass
Creeping Bentgrass
Chewings Fescue
Hard Fescue
Tall Fescue
Colonial Bentgrass
Redtop
Perennial Ryegrass
Meadow Fescue
Kentucky Bluegrass

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WARM SEASON GRASSES
Shade Tolerance adaptation of Warm Season Grasses 
(Growing in warm-season areas)
EXCELLENT GOOD MEDIUM POOR
St. Augustine
Manilagrass
Zoysiagrass Centipedegrass
Carpetgrass
Bahiagrass
Buffalograss
Bermudagrass

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