Care and Maintanance of Lawns in the Shade

This post was written by Turfguy

For the most part, grasses are sun loving plants, and are meant to be grown in sunny situations.  As we all know, this is not always the case.  Lawns under the shade of trees are typically thin, weak and of poor quality.  Maintaining a quality stand of turf grass under shade can be difficult and requires a change in lawn care practices.  For optimum results, turf needs at least 4-6 hours of direct sun per day.  If they are subjected to added stress from excessive wear and tear, then they require even more.

It is not just the lack of light that makes growing turf in the shade tough.  Shade brings on numerous other problems.  Shaded areas tend to be either too damp or too dry for turf, there is a lack of air circulation, the soils tend to generally be too acidic, and nutrients tend to be sucked up by tree roots.  Often, when it rains, the moistures does not get down to the grass, as it is picked up by the leaves on trees before it can get to the soil.

What to do?

The first step is to choose the proper grass types.  Fine fescues are generally recognized as being more shade tolerant than other grass types.  Tall fescues are tolerant of moderate shade levels; they also have the advantage of a deep root system to help them find sources of water that other grass types miss out on.

Secondly, maintain a regular fertilization program, but cut back on the amounts of nitrogen.  Grass in shaded areas tend to be elongated, as they are reaching for sun.  By using high amounts of nitrogen, you are increasing growth of the green leafy part of the plant.  Use fertilizer that are higher in phosphorous and potassium.  Phosphorous is needed to help build strong root systems.  Potassium helps turf to better withstand external stresses, helping to make the plant stronger.  Most people think that they should give shaded lawns a little extra when they fertilize; this is exactly the opposite of what should be done.

Next is to maintain proper moisture levels.  Shaded turf is usually either too dry or too damp.  When the site is too dry, it is caused by many reasons.  Tree roots win most of the battles for available moisture.  Additionally, leaves from trees block most of the rain falling and absorb it before it has a chance to reach the ground.  Soil compaction also causes a lot of the water that does reach the ground to run off before it has a chance to soak in to the soil.  When watering is needed, it is better to water less frequently, but deeper in each instance.  This accomplishes to things.  First it pulls the grass roots deeper into the soil.  Also it keeps tree roots deeper, rather than having them rising to the surface looking for water.  When the site is too damp, it is generally caused by high water tables, or low lands where soils stay damp all the time.  Though it is better to have damp soil rather than dry soil, this brings in additional problems such as diseases.

Along with proper moisture levels it is important to maintain proper pH levels.  Most soils in shaded areas tend to be on the acidic side.  pH is a measure of a soils’ acidity.  A simple soil test will tell you whether you need to lime or not.  Low soil pH prevents much of the nutrients in the soil to be unavailable to turf.  Raising the ph, by applying lime, or Mir-A-Cal, helps to make these nutrients available to the grass plants.  An ideal level for turfgrass is in the range of 5.5 to 6.5.

Raise your mower heights.  Even though grass tends to reach for the sunlight when in shaded areas, it is best to raise your mower as high as it will go.  Longer grass tends to have deeper roots.  Since a grass plant is only as strong as its roots, it is best to have the grass longer.  Additionally, longer grass helps to conserve soil moisture, for those dry sites.

Turf grown in shade is less able to recover from wear and tear.  Reducing traffic on shaded lawns will help the overall turf quality as the plants will need to spend “energy” repairing damage, and have a greater ability to improve its overall appearance.

Lastly, mainly because it takes so much time or money is to let in more light.  The easiest way, depending on the height of the trees is to remove the lower branches.  This lets in additional light while maintaining the appearance of a wooded site.  Another way to bring in more light is to thin the stand of trees.  Removing trees from the site will open up the canopy of limbs, letting in more sunlight.  This also allows for more rain to fall to the ground, possibly improving soil moisture.

By opening up the site, whether by limbing or clearing out trees, this also helps to improve air circulation.  Poor circulation in damp areas increases the chances of diseases.

Turf in shaded areas is rarely as lush and full as sunny sites, but by following the points above, you can help dramatically improve the overall appearance of your shade lawn.

This post was written by Turfguy