Managing Turf in the Shade

Maintaining a thick, healthy lawn in shady areas can be tricky. In densely shaded areas, the amount of light that reaches turf is reduced in overall amount, quality and intensity.  The limited amount of light that the turf can access reduces the ability of the grass plant to produce and store carbohydrates needed for growth and development.  The result is that the turf will thin overtime as it is unable to recover from abiotic and biotic sources of stress. 

So, what can be done?  There are several management practices that can be effective in breathing some life back into turf residing in shady areas.  The first option is to have the tree canopy overhanging the turf pruned/lifted to allow more light to be present.  As a general guideline, turf should receive at least 4 hours of sunlight during the day. While many types of grass are listed as shade tolerant, all plants need light to thrive regardless of their ability to tolerate shade.

Maintaining turf at reasonably taller heights will also help improve overall turf health.  The increase in leaf surface area will allow the plant to make better use of available light and build the energy reserves necessary to stay thick and healthy.  Maintaining taller turf in shaded areas will also assist in reducing the amount of stress put on the plant. 

In these areas you may also find tree roots close to the soil surface competing for moisture and nutrients.  This further hinders the grass plant’s ability to develop and deal with stress.  While soil moisture may be in short supply due to competition, there can be an increase in surface moisture and humidity due to lack of airflow in shady areas.  As a result, disease pressure will be higher in these spaces than in areas that are open which have good airflow and where foliage dries off early in the day. 

Choosing the right turf species and cultivars is exceptionally important to optimizing turf maintenance and development in shade as well.  Some turf species like Fine fescues are known to do well in shaded areas where moisture and nutrients are in short supply.  These types of grass also do well when maintained at taller heights and are better suited for colder climates.  Depending on your location, Tall fescues do relatively well in shaded areas and are found to perform well in milder cool season climates closer to the transition zone.  Many dense shade mixes like ProScape Shady Turf Supreme incorporate a mixture of the best performing grass types to provide optimal results. 

For more tips and information on managing shady areas in your turf, talk to your LebanonTurf sales representative, contact your local distributor or reach out to our customer service department at 1-800-233-0628.