Solved! The Best Grass to Grow in Your Shaded Lawn
A shortage of sunshine in the yard is no problem when you plant one of these shade-friendly grasses.
Q: We’d like to refresh our landscape but our yard doesn’t get much direct sunlight. What’s the best grass to plant in the shade?
A: Shade is a key consideration whether you’re establishing a new lawn or reseeding or resodding existing turf. When a sun-loving turf grass like Bermuda doesn’t get at least four to six hours of direct, midday sunlight each day, it can lose color and tolerance to drought and disease, or become oversaturated with rain or irrigation to the point that toadstools or other fungi emerge. While all grasses require some sunlight, there are shade-tolerant varieties that thrive with only four to six hours of partial sun (i.e., direct sun in the morning or afternoon) or dappled sun (which is filtered through the leaves of trees). Read on to learn the best grasses to plant in shade for a vibrant, long-lasting turf.
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Know whether your area grows cool-season and warm-season grass.
Turf grasses come in two temperature categories: cool-season and warm-season. Cool-season grasses thrive in regions with early spring and fall temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, such as Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and New England. Warm-season grasses grow best in regions with summer temperatures ranging between 75 to 90 degrees, such as the Deep South and the lower southeast and southwest.
Cool-season grasses generally tolerate shade better than their warm-season counterparts.
But your choice should ultimately come down to the region where you reside. If you live in the so-called “Transition Zone” between the north and south, where both cool-season or warm-season grasses can thrive, choose a cool-season grass for a shaded lawn.
Still, you can choose a shade-tolerant species no matter where you live! The best cool-season grasses for shade include fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass.
- Fescue: This family of narrow-leaved, dark green grasses boasts higher shade tolerance than any cool-season grass due to its deep roots. Fine fescue (particularly of the Creeping red or Chewings variety) is the most shade-tolerant among the Fescues, followed by Tall Fescue (e.g., turf-type, dwarf-type varieties). Both grass species can thrive in lawns that get at least four hours of partial or dappled sun a day.
- Bluegrass: While there are many sun-loving species in this family of grasses with flat, narrow, or folded bright green to blue-green leaves, a few can thrive in a lawn with shade. The most shade-tolerant of these are Rough bluegrass, specifically the Sabre cultivar (i.e., a special grass variety produced through selective plant breeding), which can survive on four hours of partial or dappled sun daily. The Glade and BenSun cultivars of Kentucky Bluegrass can do well when they get four hours of partial sun daily.
- Ryegrass: This shiny, finely-textured dark green grass prefers to be in the sun, but it can tolerate shade. The shade-tolerant variety is Perennial Ryegrass, which can thrive for several growing seasons if it gets at least four to five hours of partial sun daily. It doesn’t do well in dappled sun.
The best warm-season grasses for shade include St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Centipede.
- St. Augustine: This coarse, light to dark green grass has been hailed as the most shade-tolerant warm-season grass. The most shade-tolerant cultivars include the Sapphire, Seville, Palmetto, and Bitter Blue. These cultivars usually need at least five to six hours of partial sun each day to thrive.
- Zoysia: This grass retains its thick, soft, light to medium green color even in shaded lawns, but it usually needs six hours of partial sun a day for survival. The key to a lush turf is to choose one of the newer, more shade-tolerant grass cultivars, such as Diamond, Cavalier, Crowne, and El Toro.
- Centipede: While Centipede grass grows best in full sun, the light green creeping grass can also live on shaded lawns. Oaklawn and Tennessee Hardy are two shade-tolerant cultivars, which need six hours of partial sun daily.
Use combination grass in a yard with a few shady spots.
If only a confined region of your lawn is shaded—say, the area under a large tree—plant combination grass across the lawn to ensure a uniform look. For example, if you plant a grass blend containing a shade-friendly Fescue and a sun-loving variety of Kentucky Bluegrass (e.g., Kenblue), the overall turf will remain healthy even if the bluegrass does poorly in the shaded areas, as the Fescue will hold up in these spots. Just be sure to regularly prune overgrown lower branches of nearby trees to permit sunlight to pass through to the grass below.