Lawn and Garden

Printer friendly PDF Maintaining Turfgrass in Shady Areas

by Clifford W. Collier, Retired WVU Extension Specialist and
Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist

Background

Homeowners often find that growing turfgrasses in shady locations can be difficult. When attempting to establish a shade lawn, there are several steps homeowners can take to ensure turf growth and maintenance:

  1. Carefully select the proper type of shade-tolerant turfgrass (species and cultivar) for the location.
  2. Implement turf management practices that may help mitigate challenges of shade turf.
  3. Modify the area to make it more favorable for growing turfgrass or try other turf alternatives.

The Shade Environment

Shade environments display reduced levels and quality of light reaching ground vegetation, therefore diminishing the intensity and wavelengths of light needed for optimal growth. As a result, the grass roots tend to grow closer to the soil surface and the leaf cuticles are thinner, making the grass more prone to drought and diseases. Turfgrasses grown in shade also exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Longer, thinner, and more succulent leaves compared to those grown under full sun
  • Reduced air movement, which increases humidity and prevents them from transpiring adequately
  • Cooler temperatures, which increases moisture and chances for disease and/or traffic injury
  • Competitive nature with nearby tree roots in need of the same water and nutrients available

Modifications

In many cases the shade environment may be modified by removing the lower branches of trees to allow for better air circulation and for more sunlight to reach the turf. This is especially true of trees with branches lower than ten feet above ground. The crowns of the trees can also be thinned to allow more light to filter through the branches, increasing the quality and intensity of light. If dense shrubs or undergrowth obstruct air movement, they too should be removed or thinned. The most drastic yet most effective action might be to remove the tree or replace it with a finer-textured tree.

Alternatives

The best solution will depend upon the overall landscape design, the individual site and conditions, proper maintenance and the amount of time and resources the homeowner is willing to devote. Alternative options are:

Ground Covers:

  • Ivy
  • Pachysandra
  • Litriope
  • Ajuga

Outdoor Installation of:

  • Deck
  • Patio
  • Landscape Stones

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