How to Grow Grass in Shady Areas

Does your lawn look like the picture below? Is it thin, bumpy, and looking overall just bad? Finally, are there a number of trees shading the ground underneath? Trying to grow grass in a shady area can be a challenge even for the most hardcore lawn enthusiast, let alone the weekend warrior.

Follow these steps to better your chances of growing grass in the shady areas of your lawn.

growing grass in shady areas

The first thing to understand is that there are situations where the shade is so dense that you just can’t get grass to grow well. It is possible to get some grass to germinate and it may look okay for a while, but by mid-summer the lawn begins to thin out, and by fall it looks like it did in the early spring.

Provide More Sunlight

If you are up to the challenge, the first thing you need to do is to prune your trees to allow more sunlight to reach the turf. Most grasses require 6 to 8 hours of direct sun to grow well. If the area receives less than that, well, it is going to be more challenging. The difficulty with pruning is deciding what to cut, how much to cut, how to cut. If you are not sure how to handle this job properly, it is often better to hire a professional tree care company.

Planting Grass Seed

The next thing you have to do is decide on what type of seed you wish to plant. In the cool-season grass areas, the grass that works the best in shady areas is Fine Fescue. In the Transition zone, Tall Fescue will do okay in the shade. In warm-season grass areas, St. Augustine is the most shade-tolerant, although I have seen homeowners plant Tall Fescue with fairly good results in shady areas. The problem with most warm-season grasses is that the germination of the seed is poor at best. The better choice is to use sod or switch to Tall Fescue seed.

You have to prepare the soil prior to planting. Broadcasting seed across the area will often result in providing a meal for the birds, but not much in the way of germination. The best thing to do is to core aerate the area first and then broadcast seed. The seed will often end up in the aeration holes where is actually has a better chance of germinating as well as surviving as it grows.

Water the Area

The number one reason as to why seed does not grow is because it is not watered on a consistent basis. Most people start off well and keep the area moist for two or three days, but then life gets busy and the area is not watered for three or four days. Once the seed germinates, it sends out a very short root. If that root cannot come into contact with water quickly, within an hour or so, it will dry out. You should plan on keeping the area moist for at least two weeks. The one good thing about shady areas is that they will not dry out as quickly as full sun areas, but if it gets warm, it will still need water.

Mow Correctly

Shady areas should always be mowed higher than the sunny parts of a lawn. If you don’t want to keep adjusting the mowing height for different parts of the lawn, mow the whole lawn at the higher level. Your lawn will do better in the long run if it mowed high.

Fertilize, But Not Too Much

The newly seeded area should be fertilized to help the new seed develop a strong root system, but it needs less than the sunny parts of the lawn. Too much fertilizer on shady lawns is a waste of fertilizer and can actually harm the grass if the level is too high. Apply about half the amount of fertilizer that you would apply to the full sun parts of your lawn. Weeds may still be a problem, so spot spray them, but wait until the new grass has been up and growing for about 6 weeks before doing so.

Alternative Options

If the seeding does not work, it may be time to switch to using more mulch and shade-loving plants in the area. There are a plethora of these plants on the market, such as hostas, pachysandra, vinca, ivies, etc. Check your local nursery or garden center for plants that grow in the shade. Grass is nice, but sometimes you just have to choose your battles and win the ones that have a higher probability of success rather than growing grass in the shade.