The Q&A Archives: Grass Seed for Shade

Question: What is a good type of grass to plant under my trees. I live in the northeast.

Answer: Since shade is a poor environment for turfgrass, it is essential to develop a good management program in shady places. First, select shade tolerant grasses. The fine-leaf fescues are considered the most shade tolerant of the cool-season grasses. Creeping red fescue, Chewing?s fescue, sheep fescue and hard fescue all have shown promise in heavily shaded areas. Some varieties of Kentucky bluegrass and fine-bladed turf-type tall fescue have performed well in moderate shade.

Sow seed in shaded areas in the fall. Fall seedings generally are more successful than spring seedings because they go into the first summer more mature with a better root system and more stored food reserves. Frequent, fall, leaf raking is essential to establishment of grasses in shaded areas. Leaves left on the lawn shade the young seedlings and slow their development.

Turfgrass growing in shade generally requires less total nitrogen than grass in full sunlight because of the reduced rates of photosynthetic activity. Over application of nitrogen on shaded grasses reduces stored food reserves and produces thin cell walls which can cause disease on the turfgrass plants.

Late fall fertilization of cool-season grasses is extremely beneficial in shaded environments. This is the only time of the year when the grass plants under the trees can efficiently utilize the applied nitrogen without competition from the tree for moisture, nutrients and light. Soluble sources of nitrogen applied October through mid-November, after leaf drop, are extremely beneficial.

Other ways to ensure success:
Raise the mowing height. Increased mowing height induces larger root systems and healthier plants.

Irrigate infrequently, but heavily. An irrigation program that minimizes the amount of time shaded areas are moist is beneficial in reducing disease. Infrequent watering also tends to minimize compaction and reduce shallow surface rooting.

Reduce use of the area. Thin cell walled grass plants with little food reserve cannot bear much traffic without sustaining damage. Therefore, any effort to minimize traffic in shaded areas is beneficial.

Provide good drainage. Poor drainage increases the possibility of disease activity.

Remove leaves and debris promptly. Quick removal of leaves and debris all year long is essential as they shade the grass plant and reduce its food making potential.

Good luck with your new lawn!

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