University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Alter Lawn Care in Shade

May 7, 1998

Picture-perfect lawns under the shade of mature trees—it sounds nice, but probably is not realistic. Acceptable lawns in shade are possible, however, but some modifications in lawn care are needed.

First, prune trees and large shrubs to allow more light to reach the lawn. Pruning vegetation to allow more air circulation will also help the lawn grow better.

Shade-tolerant grasses are also called for. Fine fescues, such as red fescue, are the primary lawn species suggested for shade areas. Kentucky bluegrass prefers full-sun and usually suffers in shade, although there are a few shade-tolerant cultivars. Most shade lawn mixes in garden centers contain fine fescue and shade tolerant Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue offer intermediate shade tolerance.

Keep in mind that even the shade-tolerant grasses need some quality light for good growth. Dense shade, such as a front yard of mature Norway maples, will make things difficult even for shade-tolerant grasses. An alternative for deeper shade is a shade-tolerant groundcover, perhaps combined with mulch, ferns, or woodland flowers.

Care of established lawns in shade areas should be different than lawns located in full sun. Start by mowing higher—near three inches. In addition, fertilize lawns less in the shade, as too much nitrogen can be detrimental to shade lawn species. About one to two pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per growing season is all that is needed.

When shade lawns need water, irrigate infrequently but water deeply. Also reduce traffic over lawns in the shade as much as possible.

Two common problems in shade lawns are moss or shade-loving weeds like ground ivy (creeping Charlie). These problems exist primarily because shade lawns tend to be thin and weak, allowing easy invasion. Follow the steps outlined above to help avoid these problems. Poor soil drainage may also be a factor.

Try controlling ground ivy with a three-way broadleaf herbicide containing 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba. Look for these active ingredients on the product label. Read and follow all label directions.


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