The Q&A Archives: Shady Lawn

Question: My small backyard is half covered by a tree. The soil is very clayey around here - getting a lawn that is full and healthy to grow has proven difficult. We've planted and watered and watered, only to get a very fine lawn that eventually withers and dies. The part that gets more sun does better, but is still not good. The other side of the house (sunnier) does better. But the back is not darkly shaded, but lightly shaded. Grass should grow, can't figure it out. I want to test soil, adjust (till?), seed, and cover this fall. I'm looking for instructions/advice.

Answer: You are on the right track in thinking about the soil first! You might want to look at a basic book on lawns; one I suggest is "Lawncare for Dummies" by Lance Walheim (ISBN 0-7645-5077-2) which contains straightforward information about each of the points you mentioned. You might also want to consult with your local County Extension about the best grass varieties to grow in your area and the best timing for seeding and so on. They should also be able to help you with the soil tests and interpreting the results. I would also suggest you might consider using a ground cover other than grass for part of the area. In some situations, grass is simply unable to compete with a large tree and its roots for light, rain, and nutrients and will never be healthy no matter what you do. Good luck with your lawn!

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