Many people enjoy the beauty of a house and property with large, mature trees or fringed with heavy woods. Sometimes these homeowners also want an amazing looking turf. It’s difficult to have both. The surrounding trees and plants compete with the grass for sunlight, water and nutrients. Grass is a sun-loving plant. There are few grass types which grow in light to moderate shade and no turf grass is known to grow in heavy shade. Even “shady mixes” perform better in the sun according to Purdue Turfgrass Science Program resources. You generally have to choose where to fight for turf and where to simply yield to the natural setting or other landscape plants.

Lawns require good, consistent nutrition to maintain vigor over time. However, good nutrition alone will not keep a lawn in a shaded setting from deteriorating over time. Thin turf leads to an increase in moss and weeds. If you choose to have turf in a shady environment there are additional actions necessary to maintain (let alone improve) the vigor of your lawn.

  1. Select the right grass – turf-type fescue (TTF) and fine fescues (shady mixes) are best suited to shaded environments.
  2. Thin and raise the leaf canopy to allow more sunlight onto the grass. This will need to be done every few years because trees and shrubs add new foliage each season.
  3. Over-seed regularly (every year or two).
  4. Consistent seasonal nutrition and maintenance care – fertilization, mowing, and timely leaf and debris removal.

The lawn in the pictures is an example of consistent pursuit of the above practices. It was a multi-year process. Even so, the lawn will always be at it’s peak in late spring to early summer (just as the tree leaf cover reaches maturity for the season). As summer progresses, the turf will not maintain it’s density and vigor due to the shady environment. During the fall growing season some re-growth occurs, but not at the level of turf in environments of full sun or light shade.

Here are some additional notes regarding the actions noted above:

  • Shady mix blends perform better in shade, however, the grass lacks structure. Light and fine fescues can give the general appearance of “laying over” and quickly looks “trampled” with minor amounts of activity.
  • The best time of year to over-seed lawns is late summer to early fall. One of the extra challenges of lawns in shaded or wooded situations is most of the fall growing season has full leaf cover followed by the leaf drop. Extra care is needed regarding watering, nutrition and keeping the lawn clear of fallen leaves.

All these factors emphasize the importance of assessing the lawn areas to determine if it is worth the effort and cost of maintaining turf or if the area would be more suitable with ground cover, landscaping beds and plants, or left natural.

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