When planting grass seed for a new lawn, our goal is to grow that grass as green as possible, hoping that it grows densely and vigorously for years to come. Sunlight, and lots of it, is one of the most important factors in achieving this goal. Grasses, like all plants, need energy from sunlight to maintain proper growth. Managing and growing grass in the shade can be challenging.
Causes and Effects of Shade
Shade can be caused by all kinds of things, like trees, large bushes, fences, or buildings. Structures like buildings and fences not only reduce sunlight but also air circulation, keeping the grass and soil damp. This increase in relative humidity makes your grass more susceptible to disease and pest invasion. Grasses grown in shaded areas result in elongated grass blades and a thinner turf grass.
Planting Grass Seed in Shade
When planting grass seed in a shady area, select a variety of grass possessing good shade and disease tolerances. This is the most important step when trying to combat shady areas: grass seed selection! Fine fescue has the highest shade tolerance but it’s a cold-season grass, making it a poor option for southern states. If looking for a warm-season grass variety that is shade tolerant, St. Augustine grass is about your only choice. Tall fescue grass has decent shade tolerance, while Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass varieties are considered to have fair shade tolerance.
A thick stand of grass will not grow well in low light so when planting grass seed in shade, it’s best to plant in the fall when tree leaves have fallen, allowing more light. Also, plant at a lower seed rate. Normal seeding rates in shady areas produce too many grass plants and result in poorly established lawns.
If your planted area receives less than four hours of sunlight a day, you can expect your grass to grow poorly. (Even shade tolerant varieties have their limits.) Therefore, remove any unneeded trees or thin them out as much as possible. You will want to mow your grass higher (3-4 inches) in shaded areas and also avoid watering in the late afternoon and evening hours. Try to limit traffic as much as possible and don’t be excessive with grass fertilizer applications.
For more on different grass seed types suitable for your particular state, visit Planting Grass Seed Center’s home page!