how to grow grass in shade - Knowledgebase Question

chestnut ridge, Ne
Question by fmtj8m
January 21, 2011
My backyard is mostly shaded with large oaks and maples. I would like to try to grow some areas of grass. I've tried but what starts off in the spring growing stongly, eventually dies off come summer. Is there any type of grass seed you recomend or perhaps some ornamental grasses? Thank you.


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Answer from NGA
January 21, 2011

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It can be difficult to get turfgrass to grow in the shade but with a good management program you should be successful. 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.

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.

If you decide to forego turfgrass altogether, some shade tolerant ornamental grasses include Needle Grass (Stipa calamagrostis). This fine-textured grass is grown for the colourful early blooming flowers. From June on through the growing season, the tan blossoms remain attractive into the winter. This plant sways beautifully in a breeze. Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern sea oats) has wide, light green leaves; Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hair grass) has medium green, narrow leaves and a clumping habit. A final suggestion is Mondo grass, also known as monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus. It is an evergreen, sod-forming perennial. These plants are tufted, grass-like and 8 to 16 inches high. The

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