Growing grass in shady conditions is a common challenge for many homeowners. It is common knowledge that grass cannot be grown in total shade (like all plants, grass requires sunlight to photosynthesize), but the questions “how much shade is too much?” or “what is the least amount of sunlight required to grow a healthy lawn?” are asked very frequently.
The short and simple answer to this question is that in order to survive, a lawn using certain shade tolerant varieties will need at least four hours of direct sunlight, preferably from 10 am to 2 pm. To thrive, a lawn needs even more sunlight. For lawns that receive less than four hours of direct sunlight, an alternative groundcover should be considered. This Sod University article talks about the different types of shade and grass that grows in shade.
Managing Shady Landscapes
The three major factors to consider when managing shady landscapes are 1) the kind of shade challenge the lawn is facing, 2) the shade tolerant grass options available in the region and 3) fungal disease in shady landscapes.
Different Kinds of Shade & Changing Shade
Not all shade is equal, and not all shade is permanent. Filtered sunlight (partial shade) from a tree is preferable to zero sunlight (complete shade) from a building or other large, permanent structure. Trees may be thinned or removed while buildings cannot be altered to accommodate the needs of a lawn. It is important to consider that as a landscape matures and trees grow larger canopies, previously healthy lawns may decline with diminished sunlight. After taking the steps of understanding and managing (if possible) the source of shade, the next factor to consider is the shade tolerant grass options available in your specific region.
Comparative Shade Tolerance of Different Grass Species and Cultivars
Listed below are eleven grass species listed from most to least shade tolerant.
- Fescue, Red
- Tall Fescue
- St Augustinegrass
- Seashore Paspalum
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Perennial Ryegrass
- Bermudagrass, Common
The shade tolerant grass species available for use will depend on where you live. In the cool season areas, fescues are the most shade tolerant. In warm season areas, St. Augustinegrass is the best grass for shade, followed by zoysiagrass. To learn more about cold and warm season grasses and the difference between the two, click here.
Tip: Purchasing sod 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 that comes with buying sod that might not perform well. Learn more about sod plugs here.
Shade Tolerant St. Augustinegrass Varieties
A cultivar is a specific kind of grass within a species. For example, Floratam and Palmetto® St. Augustine are both St. Augustinegrasses, but different cultivars. While both are shade tolerant, Palmetto has shown to be one of the most shade tolerant cultivars among all St. Augustinegrass. In October 2018, the University of Florida released CitraBlueTM, a new St. Augustinegrass with a dark blue-green leaf blade that exhibits greater shade tolerance and disease resistance compared to Floratam. CitraBlue is now available throughout warm season areas in the United States.
Shade Tolerant Zoysiagrass Varieties
Within zoysia grasses, a general guideline to remember is the finer the leaf blade, the more shade tolerant the cultivar. For example, EMPIRE® Zoysia Grass, a medium textured zoysia grass grown in warm season areas, has moderate shade tolerance, while InnovationTM , a finer textured zoysia grasses grown in the transition zone, has greater shade tolerance.
Shade Tolerant Bermudagrass Varieties
Common bermudagrass is the least shade tolerant of all grass species, but there are some shade tolerant bermudagrass cultivars. For example, Celebration® Bermudagrass is one of the most shade tolerant cultivars among all bermudagrasses. Latitude 36® has also demonstrated good shade tolerance.
Whichever grass you choose, a tip for maintaining shade-tolerant varieties is to mow a bit higher than the recommended mowing height. The extra height will provide a greater surface area for the grass to photosynthesize the reduced sunlight it receives in shady conditions.
A Word About Disease
Any turfgrass grown in wet, shady environments is prone to fungal disease. Shade tolerant grasses often struggle or die from disease pressure, not necessarily from lack of sunlight. When selecting a shade tolerant grass to grow in a shady landscape, be sure to budget for several applications of systemic fungicide per year. Additionally, note that to avoid disease it is best to water less in shaded areas compared to areas that receive full sun. Take a look at some of the recommended products for turfgrass disease.
- Coverage: One bottle covers 2,500 sq.ft
- Active Ingredient(s): Propiconazole 1.45% and Lamda-cyhalothrin 0.08%.
- Ease of Use: Hooks up to your garden hose for even spray application.
- Best Used On/For: Outdoor topical/contact fungus and general insect control.
Heritage G Granular Fungicide$44.95 – $84.95
- Coverage: 10 lbs. covers between 2,500–5,000 sq. ft.
- Active Ingredient(s): Azoxystrobin 0.31%.
- Ease of Use: Requires a drop or broadcast spreader for application.
- Best Used On/For: Systemic strobilurin fungicide used to control certain turfgrass diseases.
Armada 50 WDG Fungicide$149.95
- Coverage: 2 lbs. covers between 21,000–53,000 sq. ft.
- Active Ingredient(s): Trifloxystrobin 8.33% and Tradimefon 41.67%.
- Ease of Use: Requires tank mixing and spray application.
- Best Used On/For: Preventative disease control.
Are you interested in trying out a tray of one of the sod plug varieties mentioned above? Be sure to also add an auger bit to your cart! Auger bits are used to drill holes into your soil so that you can easily plant plugs.