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

Growing Lawns in Shade Ongoing Problem

February 25, 1999

One of the common lawn problems I am frequently asked about is how to grow grass in the shade. There is no question growing a quality lawn in the shade is very difficult. In very dense shade, it’s almost impossible. But there are some points to consider as we look ahead to the 1999 growing season.

Start by recognizing that even grasses considered shade-tolerant 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. Consider shade tolerant groundcovers as an alternative for deeper shade, perhaps combined with mulch, ferns, or woodland flowers. If possible, do some pruning of trees and large shrubs to allow more light to reach the lawn. Pruning vegetation also allows more air circulation over the site, which can help prevent some disease problems in shade.

Fine fescues, such as red fescue, are the primary lawn species suggested for shade areas. Kentucky bluegrass prefers full-sun and usually suffers in the shade, although there are a few shade-tolerant cultivars. Oftentimes sod consisting primarily of Kentucky bluegrass cultivars intended for full-sun is planted in shade, and it quickly declines. 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.

Finally, it is critical to modify lawn care practices for shade areas. Mow higher, preferably near 3 inches. Overfertilizing is a very common mistake; fertilize lawns less in the shade. Too much nitrogen can be detrimental to shade lawn species. About 1 to 2 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.

Moss and weeds often infest shade lawns that 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. Core aerating may help improve soil conditions.

For more information on growing lawns in shady areas, visit Lawntalk.


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