The Q&A Archives: Grass for Shade

Question: I have a section of yard that gets lots of shade and I have tried so many kinds of seed with no success. What is the best seed to use for this area?

Answer: It is difficult to get grass to grow in the shade so you may want to consider growing shade tolerant groundcovers instead. The University of Illinois suggests the following for turfgrasses in shady areas:
Red fescue or other fine fescues are the primary lawn species in shade tolerant mixtures. Among the more commonly used cultivars of the fine fescues are Jamestown, Banner, Barfalla, Checker, Highlight, Koket, Shadow (all chewings fescues); Dawson, Ensylva, Fortress, Pennlawn, and Ruby (creeping red fescues); and Aurora, Biljart(C-26), Reliant, Scaldis, and Waldina (hard fescues). Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue offer intermediate shade tolerance. Perennial ryegrass cultivars for shade include Birdie II, Citation II, Fiesta II, Manhatten II, Palmer, and Regal. Tall fescues best for shade include Falcon, Finelawn, Houndog, Jaguar, Olympic, Rebel, and Rebel II. Kentucky bluegrass generally does poorly in the shade, but some of the more shade tolerant cultivars include Bensun, Bristol, Eclipse, Glade, Nugget, Touchdown, and Victa.

Care of established lawns in shade areas should be different than lawns located in full sun. Mow higher (near 3 inches), and fertilize less in the shade, as too much nitrogen can be detrimental to shade lawn species. About 1 to 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per growing season is all that is needed. When watering shade lawns, do so as infrequently as possible, and water deeply. Reduce traffic over lawns in the shade.

If these practices have been followed but the lawn still fails, there probably is not enough light even for a shade-tolerant grass species. Often a shade lawn mix is seeded, comes up fine, but declines rapidly due to a lack of sufficient light. If lawn grasses have failed, try a shade-tolerant groundcover; or mulch, possibly in combination with ferns or woodland flowers.

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