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How to Make Your Grass Flourish in the Shade

Lawn & Yard Care

When you imagine your dream yard, lush grass and towering trees are likely part of the picture. Yet you may be surprised to discover that trees and grass don’t always mix well. Tall, branching trees provide shade and serenity, but as they compete for space, nutrients and water, they can also create bare spots where grass simply won’t grow.

All hope is not lost. By simply understanding the basics of how to grow grass in shade, you can easily achieve the lawn of your dreams.

How to Grow Grass in Shade & Under Trees

STEP 1: Look Up to Increase Sunlight

All grass requires sunlight to grow properly. Even shade tolerant grass requires a minimum amount of sunlight every day. As your trees grow taller and fuller, the number of rays reaching your grass decreases. Shade from tree canopies can be a major stress on turf leading to:

The first step to growing grass under trees is to look up. A simple pruning of non-essential limbs can often increase the sunlight your grass needs. Removing lower branches using a tool like the Fiskars PowerGear2 Lopper helps raise the canopy of the tree and allows more sunlight to reach the ground.

If your tree is incredibly full and tall, a certified arborist can help thin the upper canopy so that more sunlight can filter down to the ground. Proper pruning is beneficial to both your grass and your tree.

STEP 2: Look Down to Decrease Competition

Trees are amazingly efficient. They will naturally compete with grass for moisture and nutrients. To win the battle, trees provide their own mulch in the form of leaves. Leaves help the soil underneath the tree retain moisture and nutrients, but they will also smother your grass.

Raking regularly to remove nature’s mulch means you can control the area under your trees. If you want to maintain healthy trees, you should create a mulch bed around the base of your tree.

Adding mulch around your trees can decrease stress by shading and cooling the soil. Mulch can also:

Most importantly, mulch creates a defined space between your trees and your grass, which will greatly reduce competition.

Mulch can be created from leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, compost, wood chips, bark or any other organic material. Spread a generous layer of mulch 4 to 6 inches deep and extend out at least three feet from the base of the tree. Over time, the mulch will smother any competing grass within the mulch area. Reapply as needed to maintain a thick layer.

STEP 3: Add the Essentials – Water, Compost & Fertilizer

In the spring, trees require ample water and moisture for new growth. Luckily, this is a time when soil moisture levels are generally at their peak, making competition with turf minimal. As the year progresses into drier seasons, a lack of moisture could cause your grass to become distressed and more susceptible to pests and diseases.

To avoid these issues, water underneath your trees deeply and infrequently, making sure shady patches get 1 to 2 inches of water each week over the course of two watering sessions. Connect a sturdy hose, like a Flexogen® Super Duty Hose, to a stationary sprinkler and place it near the base of the tree.

In addition to moisture, both trees and grass require the proper soil conditions to thrive. When you’re growing grass in shade, you need a slightly higher fertilization rate than when you’re growing grass in full sunlight.

Apply either compost or commercially prepared slow release fertilizers to the area surrounding the tree in early spring and fall. A light application of agricultural limestone might help maintain a proper soil pH level between 6.3 and 7.0. If you’re not sure about the pH level of your soil, a simple lime requirement test can help you determine it.

What Are Some Shade Tolerant Grasses?

There are several types of shade tolerant grass that will flourish under trees. The following all perform well in low sunlight conditions:

You’ll want to be sure you research and implement the moisture requirements for your species in order to get the best grass for shade in your area.

Do I Need to Mow Grass Differently in the Shade?

Growing grass in shade requires special landscaping care. Each blade of grass requires more surface area to survive. Adjust your clipping height to approximately one inch higher for shaded areas. To avoid stressing the turf, never remove more than one-third of the total grass height at each mowing.

Should I Water Grass More in Shady Areas?

Grass growing in shady areas actually requires less water than grass growing in full sunlight. The key is to water deeply and infrequently. Deep watering encourages roots to grow down, rather than remaining shallow.

Will Overseeding Help Grass Grow in Shady Areas?

Once sunlight, moisture, nutrient and mulching issues have been addressed, overseeding is the perfect way to increase the grass volume in thin, shady areas. Overseed the thin area with grass seed for shade in the spring and fall. Small areas can be seeded by hand casting, while large areas often benefit from the use of a drop spreader.

Should I Apply Weed Killers?

Weeds increase the stress on both grass and trees. Unhealthy shade areas are the perfect places for weeds to multiply. Once growing conditions are ideal, applying a general broadleaf herbicide in the fall can reduce the chance of a weed infestation. Spot spray with a general herbicide as needed for ultimate weed control.

What If Grass Will Not Grow?

Growing grass under trees that create harsh growing conditions can be incredibly frustrating. Evergreens often branch low to the ground and create acidic soil conditions. Even the best grass for shade may have a tough time surviving certain conditions. However, in the most difficult cases, you can still achieve a green look by planting beautiful shade-tolerant ground covers such as English ivy or periwinkle.

Even though you may need to pay a little extra attention to the grass growing in the shadiest spots of your yard, maintaining a beautiful balance between trees and grass is possible.

You no longer need to wonder how to grow grass under trees. With a little sunlight, the right seeding, smart watering, careful pruning and the addition of mulch and nutrients, you can create the picturesque, tree-filled and luscious grassy yard you’ve always dreamt of.

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