What To Do When Grass Won’t Grow In the Shade

front yard in the shade

This is the traditional time when reseeding of cool-season grasses takes place. Late summer to early fall provides soil temperatures that are warm. This helps the newly seeded seed to germinate and the fall season usually means more rain than the summer season. It is also the time when turfgrasses “heal” themselves from the ravages of the past summer. This is mainly due to an increase in root growth as soil temperatures moderate.

When you are deciding what needs to be reseeded, it is important to understand that there are certain situations where grass just won’t grow. 

No Growth Zones

  • Areas under a tree with a large, dense canopy
  • The north side of a house
  • Areas with structures that prevent enough sun penetration

Often times, your only option is to eliminate the grass all together and switch to a ground cover that will grow in dense shade, use mulch or a combination of the two.

Numerous ground-covers that are adapted to shady environments:

  • Pachysandra
  • Ajuga Liriope
  • Wintercreeper
  • English Ivy.
  • Hostas
  • Lily of the valley

A trip to a local garden center may also provide other options of shade loving plants. Many garden centers offer discounts on plants at this time of year, so picking up bargains is a good possibility.

If you decide to use mulch instead of plant material, be sure to use a good quality mulch. Stay away from bark chips as they contain natural waxes that could prevent water from penetrating the soil.  Three inches of mulch is all that is needed for most areas. Avoid piling up mulch on the base of the tree or shrub which will form what is called a “mulch” volcano.

Later in the fall, when leaves begin to fall, do not allow thick piles of leaves to remain on plant material. A light covering is okay, but a thick layer could mat down the plants growing in the area and could prevent new growth in spring.

Trying to determine how many plants to place in an area can be a challenge. A general rule of thumb for vines or spreading plants is plant one per every 6 inches. 

The easiest way to do this is to figure out the square footage of the area and divide it by 5 feet. Example: 20 square feet will need 40 plants. For plants like hostas, one clump every 1 to 2 feet is a good distribution pattern. In areas where the roots prevent planting, switch to mulch. Remember the 3 inch rule.

Remember that even shade tolerant plants need some sun. If the area is so shady that even shade-loving plants will not work, mulch or decorative stones may be the only option. On the bright side, you can keep weeds under control and the decaying mulch will benefit the trees growing in the area.

If you have questions about your lawn as it relates to the shade  contact your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green!