Every year I get asked by customers for recommendations on how to get grass to grow in the shade in residential lawns. My first and foremost recommendation is a chainsaw. Grass and trees are enemies, and some areas are so shady that it will be almost impossible to maintain a grass stand, especially under evergreen trees that never let the sun in, spring or fall. However, I realize that this flippant answer is not always acceptable. So let’s discuss ways to improve the performance of grass in the shade.

The most important thing you can do is pick the grass varieties with good shade tolerance. It is generally recognized that the most tolerant grass is fine fescue, followed by tall fescue, then bluegrass, and then ryegrass. My personal and humble opinion is that fine fescue looks good in a no- or low-mow situation, but as a mowed lawn, it is ugly and has no wear tolerance. Tall fescue looks excellent as a lawn and has the added benefit of being more drought tolerant with a deep root system and needing less fertilizer than blue or rye. Not to count out bluegrass or ryegrass—amazing advances have been achieved in breeding and selecting shade tolerance in those grasses.

As displayed in the picture below, Pure Seed is showing some of the results from their shade trials. You can see a few excellent candidates here. Terim is one of the bluegrass varieties showing very good shade tolerance. Advanced Turf Solutions uses Terim in our Advanced TTTF Plus blend, along with three varieties of tall fescue that also have good shade tolerance.

Photo credit: Pure Seed

There are a few other things you can do to promote a healthier grass stand in the shade. I like to use an organic-based fertilizer instead of all-mineral and feed it with lighter rates but more frequently. Applying 0.25 to 0.375 pounds of nitrogen every four weeks is a good strategy. Products like Nature Safe organic fertilizer or a chicken manure blend work well. Biosolids are also an option but would be my third choice of the three.

You can also apply a good liquid nutritional product that contains biology and other growth-promoting compounds like Foliar-Pak Grow-In or Play-On. A monthly application of one of these products will definitely aid the grass in those shaded areas. Lastly, keep the mowing heights up and monitor the irrigation so it doesn’t dry up or turn into a mud pit. Your goal is to keep those roots healthy and as deep as possible.

When a chainsaw is not an option, the above steps can help you succeed. The team here at Advanced Turf Solutions is here to help, but not with the chainsaw!