Grass Seed For Shade: What Grass Grows In Shade
By: Jackie Rhoades
Grass doesn’t like shade. If you have a lot of shade trees or other low light conditions in your yard, you’re never going to have a lawn. It’s as simple as that. Or is it? Most grass does need a lot of sun. Even light shade reduces the plant’s vigor. Roots, rhizomes, stolons and shoots are all affected. So what’s a homeowner to do? Can you find grass seed for shade? Yes! The truth is that there is such a thing as shade tolerant grass.
Now, before you get too excited, please understand that no plant can survive without some light. No matter what the claims, there’s no such thing as no-light-ever, deep shade grass. But there are things you can do to achieve a decent lawn in areas that receive some indirect light, and the first thing to do is look at what’s the best grass for high shade and work from there.
Varieties Of Shade Tolerant Grass
The following is a list of shade tolerant grass:
Red Creeping Fescue – Red Creeping Fescue is a cool season grass that has an excellent record as a fairly deep shade grass.
Velvet Bentgrass – Velvet Bentgrass also a cool season grass with an excellent record.
St. Augustine – St. Augustine is the best deep shade grass for warm season cover. It doesn’t play well with other grasses because of its distinctive texture.
Poa Bluegrass – Poa Bluegrass is a rough stalk bluegrass that many consider the best grass for high shade because of its indifference to water conditions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mix well with other deep shade grass because of its light green color.
Tall Fescue and Hard Fescue – These fescues are usually found in shade mixtures and have a great rep as grass seed for shade of medium density. They’re some of the best for foot traffic.
Rough Bluegrasses – Rough Bluegrasses have a better reputation as shade tolerant grass than their fine-bladed counterparts. They must, however, have a few hours of direct sun to do their best.
Zoysia – Zoysia grass has a good tolerance for medium shade areas. While it will grow in northern climes, it’s best used as a warm season grass, as it turns brown with the first frost.
Centipede Grass and Carpetgrass – Both Centipede grass and Carpetgrass are great warm season grasses for light shade areas.
Perennial Ryegrass – No discussion of what grass grows in shade would be complete without mentioning Perennial Ryegrass. It’s a quick fix for deep shade. Grass will germinate, grow and make a good cover for about a year. You’ll have to over seed on an annual basis, but if it’s an area where the best grass for high shade won’t grow and you insist on a lawn, it may be your only solution.
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Looking for Carpet Grass That Will Grow in the Shade
Carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis) is a perennial turf grass with wide leaves. It has a pale green color, and, while not considered a high-quality grass, it is hardy and durable. A warm-season grass, it grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 9, and can tolerate some light shade and wet, damp growing conditions. Carpetgrass does not do well in full shade, so you may need to find an alternate turf grass.
Best Grass To Grow In Shade
Say you want a patch of lawn to do fun things on — you know, Frisbee with the dog, tag with the kids, enjoying a cold beverage with your mates — but you think grass can only grow in the sun, and you have shade. Think you’re out of luck? No way. There are a number of grasses that do quite well in low light yards — the trick is choosing one that is right for where you live.
Turf grass sits in one of two categories (cool season and warm season), and there are low-light or shady grasses for both. Here are our 4 best grasses for you low-light people out there — let the Frisbee playing begin!
1. Fine-leaf fescue. This cool season grass offers high quality, low maintenance, and good drought tolerance. The leaf blades are finely textured and grow well even in poor soils, but its traffic tolerance is not the best — so choose this one if the kids are grown and you simply want a shady lawn for sipping wine spritzers. Available in seed or sod, fine-leaf fescue is best kept to a 1.5”- 2.5” height.
2. St. Augustine. One of the most shade tolerant of the warm season grasses, St. Augustine is available in sod or plugs and quickly forms a dense, dark green surface for more vigorous activity. On the flip side, it does tend to be a bit thirstier and susceptible to pests and diseases, but for all the tough beauty it offers, we think it’s a winner. Keep it mowed at 2”-3” for a great appearance.
**Product not available in AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT. For a comparable product in these states click here.
3. Perennial ryegrass. While perennial ryegrass used to be susceptible to gray leaf spot, newer cultivars have a much-improved resistance to the disease, making it a great cool-season grass choice. It’s available by seed and germinates fairly quickly with excellent traffic tolerance, but does not respond too well to heat or drought. And here’s a plus for this grass — it will grow in full sun to moderate shade, making it ideal for yards with varying sun patterns. Mow at a 1”-2.5” height.
4. Zoysia. Zoysia is a warm-season grass that merits a shout-out on both the sunny and the shady grass lists. Although it does best in full sun, Zoysia has average shade tolerance, and is one of the highest quality/low maintenance grasses to be had. Start it with sod pieces and keep it mowed at a 1”-2.5” height.
Runner-up: Centipedegrass. We call this one a runner-up because although it has decent shade tolerance and can be started by seed or sod, it has a yellowish green color that some folks don’t find too appealing, and it can’t boast great traffic tolerance. But since there’s a grass for everyone, centipedegrass deserves to be in the running — we just won’t mention that it’s commonly referred to as “poor folks’ grass of the South,” because that’s just mean.
Tactics to Win!
After two decades of problem solving and pushing my luck with the dogs-shade scenario, I have a few solutions. Pick those you can best balance with your lifestyle of loving dogs, shade, and lawns.
This doggy daycare installed TifTuf. It has worked wonderfully for them (and the dogs).
Grass Care Solutions
Sloan is showing off his Zenith Zoysia.
Blu sees a lush future overseeding Tall Fescue every autumn.
Other Landscaping Solutions
Sometimes dogs, shade, and lawns simply can’t cohabit. In some cases we advise against any lawn because a full canopy of shade is the happy home of several large, vigorous canines. By now we know the winning team. If you can’t beat them, join them!
Barbara Evins' dog is loving her Zeon Zoysia!
- Mulch 3-4 inches deep with shredded bark (instead of having a lawn) to keep down the mud. Mulch again as needed at least once a year.
- Plant a groundcover like monkey grass or Asiatic jasmine - most other herbaceous perennials will not withstand the trampling. Alternatively, plant shade-loving shrubs which are more likely to stand up to the dogs running around.
- Create a dedicated dog area or “dog run.” Most dogs tend to use only part of a landscape – they pick their favorite areas and gravitate toward them. Observe where your dog hangs out and let her tell you where she prefers. Let her have that area and build a fence to keep her out of the lawn areas you’d like to perfect. There are many lovely fence designs and the fence can be installed as a “design element” or focal point of your outdoor living space. When you’re there to monitor her activity, she can be in all areas of the garden with you.
- Similar to a dedicated dog run, train your best friend to go someplace remote (other than the lawn) to relieve themselves.
- We're seeing a growing trend in customers purchasing a few rolls at a time to make dog potties. In conversations we've learned that cheap kiddie pools are handy for lining with sod and getting man's best friend to "go" in there.
- So, this is not exactly a landscaping tip, but if you're looking for a new canine pet, get a male. Why? Males hike a leg to pee on the bushes, while females squat to urinate all over your lawn (as shown in the cone-shaped damage in the first picture).
We’d like to hear more tactics to beating dogs and shade. I know there are some clever ones out there - your friends and I would like to hear them!
Who are the dogs in these pics? Six of them are employees' pets and we introduced them by name. We love our pups.
Disclaimer: These dogs may or may not get to pee on their lawns. I didn't ask. No animals were interrogated or shooed of the lawn in the making of this article.
Daisy is looking forward to hearing your tips & tricks!
Cricket enjoying one of our lawn displays at a Super-Sod store.
Tall and Ornamental Alternatives
When normal turfgrass fails or becomes tough to maintain in shady areas, you can choose to plant tall and ornamental grasses. These are basically used for decorative purposes and can keep away the ugly bare spots in areas of your lawn that are covered with shade.
Some of the best ornamental grasses for shade include:
- Japanese forest grass
- Blue grama grass
- Korean feather reed grass.
- Autumn moor grass.
- Fall blooming reed grass.
- Little Miss maiden grass
Most of these grow fast, forming beautiful arching clumps with foliage. The leaves are sometimes variegated. The foliage coloration is what makes these grasses a great choice for decorating shady areas of your lawn.
Hi, Alex Kuritz. here. Growing up I remember that my family had one of the best lawns in the neighborhood. Richly green and lush. I did a lot as I grew up in terms of caring and tending for not only my family’s lawn but also my neighbors. I can say I have years of experience, and I am here to share it with you.
Please leave your comments below as I try to respond to everyone that has questions.