The Q&A Archives: Grass Under Trees

Question: We have just moved into a house that has several large trees with no grass under them. Roots are appearing above the ground. We would like to plant grass under them but don't know where to start. Should we put some top soil down to cover the roots and then plant seed? When should we plant the seed? Should we fertilize at the same time of planting the grass seed? We have no idea what to do to get some nice grass.

Answer: Growing a lush, green lawn under large trees is a difficult proposition. First, the dense shade makes grass struggle to live, the canopy of leaves generally keeps rainfall directly below the tree to a minimum, and finally, the grass roots will have to compete with the larger, more established tree roots for moisture and nutrients. In your case, with tree roots growing at or above the surface of the soil, mowing the lawn will be difficult. If you add topsoil to make a smooth bed for your lawn, you run the risk of smothering the tree's feeder roots. When you visit parks, arboretums and golf courses and see thick turfgrass growing under trees, you'll know it's possible to achieve, but keep in mind that the effect is high in maintenance and very carefully planned before the trees or turf are installed. Most homeowners don't have the time or resources to duplicate it. I'd suggest planting a groundcover under the trees rather than trying to get grass to grow there. The tree roots will continue to push up over the years and a groundcover such as Ajuga (Carpet Bugle), Vinca (Periwinkle), or Ivy will grow high enough to camoflage the roots. Hope this information helps!

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