While some grasses adapt better to shade than others, none will grow in deep shade. By choosing a grass that tolerates shade and that is adapted to your growing area you can establish a lawn in a lightly shaded area that gets several hours of full sun per day.
Shade Tolerant Grasses
Among the grasses that grow in cool areas of the country, called cool season grasses, creeping or red fescue and velvet bentgrass are the most shade tolerant. Used by itself or as a mixture red fescue is good in all types of turf areas, including lawns, parks, ball fields, cemeteries, and airfields. With its fine texture, thickness, and low growing habit, velvet bentgrass is a popular choice for golf greens in the far north.
Rough bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, and hard fescue have good shade tolerance in northern areas, but not as good as red fescue or velvet bentgrass.
St. Augustine grass and manila grass have excellent shade tolerance in warm season areas from the Texas gulf to the Carolinas. St. Augustine grass produces a thick dark green lawn in full sun or moderate shade. Manila grass is a fine-textured, dense type of zoysiagrass.
Maintenance for a Shady Lawn
Mow grass in shady areas one-third higher than in sunny locations. The increased blade surface absorbs more sunlight. Remove leaves and grass clippings from the lawn because they reduce the sunlight that reaches the grass. Trim surrounding trees, especially lower branches, to increase sunlight.
Water deeply and infrequently. Deep watering penetrates the roots of the grass, where shallow watering encourages tree roots to come to the surface and compete with the grass for water and nutrients. Too much water, however, leads to disease problems. Watering a shady lawn is not the same as watering a sunny lawn; it may take time to achieve the correct balance between too much and too little water. A walking sprinkler can be set to put the correct amount of water on.
Shady lawns do not need as much nitrogen fertilizer as lawns that get more sunlight. Use deep root feeding to feed trees in lawns in order to prevent high levels of nitrogen from reaching the grass.
Avoid walking on shady lawns. Foot traffic is more damaging to shady lawns, which are in general more fragile.
Alternatives to Grass for Shady Areas
In high shade areas where sunlight cannot be increased by trimming branches of trees, plants other than grass may be more successful as groundcovers. As with the grasses, suitable plants depend on climate and growing conditions. Possibilities include pachysandra, ivy, moss, periwinkle, sweet woodruff, and many others.
Where no plants will grow straw, woodchips, or mulch can provide effective and attractive cover for the ground. Paving stones, bricks, or gravel are other options that can be incorporated into the landscape in places where plants do not thrive.