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Growing Grass in the Shade

Growing Grass in the Shade, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights for July 2, 2018,
Growing grass in heavy shade is usually not successful.

In April and May, if water is plentiful, most lawns look great. One of the reasons why they start to look bad in summer is shade. Shade from trees. This is especially true of those lawns with pin oaks or silver maples in them. They produce a thick canopy of leaves, reducing the light penetration to the lawn underneath.

What can you do to give the lawn a fighting chance?

First, grow a shade resistant grass species. Zoyisagrass, Buffalograss, most Kentucky bluegrass cultivars, and perennial ryegrass are best grown in full sun. When they don’t receive at least 5 or 6 hours of full sunlight, they start to thin out. Instead, use tall fescue, fine fescues (creeping red, chewings, sheep and hard fescues) and shade adapted cultivars of bluegrass such as NuGlade or Bella.

Second, consider bagging the clippings under trees. Bagging removes decomposing clippings, and anything to remove a shading force will help. This process will also remove fallen leaves and sticks from the tree, which can be a smothering influence as well. The whole idea is to help new plants to fill in from additions of seed or from neighboring areas.

Third, thin the tree. This is a short term solution, and has negatives associated with it, but removal of lower limbs will raise the canopy and allow more light to be received by the lawn underneath. If this action is chosen, do it sparingly…one or two limbs per year maximum.

Usually, this recommendation is limited to branches you hit your head on when you mow the lawn. Look up into the crown of the tree as well and consider removal of crossing limbs or broken/diseased limbs.

When removing limbs high in the tree, hire a tree service. No need breaking your leg over a small area of thin turf.

Finally, give up. This is probably the best approach. Plant a shady groundcover instead. Lamium, barrenwort, ajuga, bishop’s goutweed, lily of the valley, and English ivy are great alternatives, as are shady perennials such as goatsbeard, Japanese painted fern, Solomon’s seal and tithonia.

Who says you have to have turf everywhere?

John Fech
John Fech
Extension Educator - Horticulture
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.

Contact John at:
Douglas/Sarpy County Extension
8015 W Center Road
Omaha, NE 68124-3175
(402) 444-7804

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