How to Use Grass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

How to Use Grass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

How to Use Grass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive at Sod University is which grasses grow best in shady areas. There isn’t a real straight answer to handling shade in a landscape because there are many variables that go into it. These factors include:

  • If you live in the warm season, cool season or transition zone.
  • The number of hours of sunlight your lawn receives,
  • If the shade is coming from a tree that can be de-limbed or adjusted for more sunlight, or if the shade is from something permanent like a building.

A good way to see if a turfgrass variety works in your lawn if you live in or below the transition zone is using warm season grass plugs to test for shade tolerance. If you are located a little higher in the transition zone or above it, a good way to test for shade tolerance is with using cool season grass seed. As a part of a two-part series, Sod University covers how to use grass plugs and seed to test shade tolerance. This week, we cover how to use grass plugs to test for shade tolerance for home lawns located in and below the transition zone. To learn more about warm season and cool season turfgrass, read The Difference Between Warm Season and Cool Season Turfgrass Varieties.

Most homeowners are not definitively able to say how many hours of sunlight their grass gets and are left feeling uncertain with what they can do to problem solve. In general, if the shaded area does not receive at least four hours of sunlight, it will be difficult to grow thriving grass. Purchasing a few slabs of sod to use for a trial is a great way to see if the grass will thrive in your lawn—but this isn’t always possible because some grass varieties are not always available in big box stores or local businesses. This is where grass plugs can help.

Oftentimes, grass plugs can be used to repair damaged areas on an already existing lawn, or to establish a lawn when sod is not readily available or practical. However, purchasing grass plugs is a good way to see how well a specific turfgrass cultivar will perform in shady areas. It’s cheaper than investing in a full sod installation and reduces the amount of commitment (and risk) that comes with buying sod that might not perform well. A cultivar is a specific kind of grass within a species. For example, Floratam and Palmetto® St. Augustine are both St. Augustinesgrasses, but different cultivars.

The relative shade tolerance of the most popular warm season turfgrasses from greatest to least are as follows:

  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Bermudagrass
Using St. Augustine Grass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

The best warm season turfgrass varieties for shade tolerance are CitraBlueTM St. Augustine and Palmetto St. Augustine. While both Floratam and Palmetto are shade tolerant, Palmetto has shown to be one of the best grass cultivars for shade among all St. Augustinegrass. The University of Florida recently released a new St. Augustinegrass, CitraBlue, that is now available throughout Florida as sod and as grass plugs nationwide. CitraBlue exhibits greater shade tolerance and disease resistance compared to Floratam. If you are a homeowner looking for a shade tolerant turfgrass, St. Augustine grass plugs are usually your best options. Palmetto St. Augustine and CitraBlue St. Augustine rank near the top for shade tolerance.

Using Zoysia Grass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

If you are specifically looking for a zoysiagrass, know that the finer the leaf blade, the more shade tolerant the zoysiagrass. For example, EMPIRE Turf® Zoysia is a courser-bladed grass and has moderate shade tolerance while InnovationTM Zoysia is a finer-bladed zoysiagrass and is slightly more shade tolerant.

Using Bermudagrass Plugs to Test Shade Tolerance

If you are a homeowner looking for a bermudagrass, Celebration® and Latitude® 36 Bermudagrass are shade tolerant for bermudagrasses, but they aren’t as shade tolerant as St. Augustine or zoysia varieties. Bermudagrass is the least shade tolerant of all grass species, but these two cultivars rank near the top for shade tolerance compared to other bermudagrasses.

Purchasing grass plugs is a good way to see how well a specific turfgrass cultivar will perform in shady areas. Our best recommendation is to buy a plug tray, water it in and see how it does. If it really starts to thrive, you know you have an option that works for your lawn. If the turfgrass survives but doesn’t really thrive or doesn’t perform well, you’ve saved money by not purchasing a full order of sod that doesn’t work for your yard.

Placing an order of grass plugs to test a variety’s performance before committing to a full sod installation is a smart (and less costly) option for homeowners who want to tryout a specific type of turfgrass. Once you’ve purchased a tray of plugs, make sure you install them properly and take care of them as they establish to your lawn. You can follow our installation guide in a previous Sod University article here. Some recommended tools you may need include a 1” Auger Bit to drill holes into the ground while planting and the LawnifiTM New Lawn Starter Box. The New Lawn Starter Box is a liquid fertilizer program that contains everything newly seeded, plugged or sodded lawns need to establish thick, healthy grass including two bottles of Grow for improved soil health and one bottle of Maintain to feed the lawn. This fertilizer box will give your grass plugs the nutrients they need during establishment.

For more information on handling shade in your lawn, read Choosing the Right Grass for Shade and Growing Grass in Shaded Areas.

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