Shade in your lawn is a double-edged sword. In the Southeast, where summers are hot and humid, shade can be a welcome relief as you enjoy your outdoor spaces. But the same shade that keeps you comfortable in the heat of summer can spell doom for your turf. Most turf requires full sunlight for at least 8 hours a day to thrive. However, many lawns just don’t have that much light. So what alternatives are there? Is there a type of turf that can tolerate shade better? We’ll try to help you determine the best turf for shade to help your lawn stay thick, even under the trees.
The Effect of Shade on Turf Grass
Let’s start by saying that there isn’t any turf that will thrive in deep shade. Deep shade is any area that never receives direct sunlight, such as an area between two homes where the shadows persist all day. However, areas of your lawn that receive dappled sunlight or get at least 4 hours of direct sunlight are candidates for more shade-resistant turf grasses.
Any grass needs sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow. When grass doesn’t get its full share of those vital ingredients, it doesn’t grow as well as it could. In an area shaded by trees, lawn grass receives less light. The grass roots are also in competition with the tree roots for vital nutrients. A large tree can spread out roots far beyond the area covered by the tree’s canopy. And most of those roots grow within six inches of the surface, close enough to compete for nutrients with grass. Without irrigation, grass that grows in the shade of a tree would also receive less water. However, in an irrigated garden, the problem is actually the opposite. Shaded areas don’t dry as quickly as parts of your lawn that receive full sun. So the main danger is overwatering, which raises the risk of weeds and fungus.
Grass that grows in shade will grow thin and spindly as it stretches to reach sunlight. It is also more sensitive to other stresses, such as foot traffic and overwatering. Even in the best circumstances, turf grown in shaded areas will have weaker, shallower roots. Shaded grass also grows more slowly, as it receives fewer of the ingredients necessary to grow.
Choosing a Shade-Tolerant Turf Grass
Most grass does best in direct sun. That means even shade-tolerant turf cultivars will be weaker in the shade. In general, cool-season grasses perform better in the shade. But here in the Southeast, where warm-season grasses are preferred, some still do better than others. Among warm-season grasses, Zeon Zoysia Grass is the best suited for partial shade. Partial shade means 50% sunlight all day, or 100% sunlight for at least four hours each day.
One example of commercial Zeon Zoysiagrass in the shade is Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. Initially, the amphitheater was planted with bermudagrass, which grows well in the hot Atlanta summers. But when it became apparent that the amphitheater would need a cloth shade cover, they switched to Zeon Zoysiagrass. The groundskeepers were amazed by how well the turf grew in the partial shade of the cloth shade cover.
Adjustments for Growing Turf in the Shade
If you want to grow turf in the shaded areas of your lawn, you will have to make some adjustments to both your cultivation practices and the area around the turf. With the right management, you can grow healthy turf even in partial shade.
Choose the Right Turf
Growing turf in a shaded area starts with the right turf. Among warm-season varieties, Zeon Zoysiagrass stands out as an especially shade-tolerant cultivar.
Selectively Prune Tree Branches
Even Zeon Zoysiagrass needs 4 hours a day of direct sunlight or 8 hours of at least 50% sunlight. To allow for enough sunlight, you may need to prune some of the trees that are creating the shade. Prune branches below eight feet to allow for direct sunlight in the morning and evening, when the sun is low. For taller trees, prune branches in the lower third of the tree. Selectively pruning canopy branches to thin the canopy can also help create more partial sunlight in the middle of the day.
Fertilization and Soil Management
It’s important to fertilize shaded areas just as it’s necessary to fertilize the rest of your lawn. However, turf in shaded areas grows more slowly, and needs less fertilizer than sunny parts of your lawn. Use half as much fertilizer on shaded areas as in the rest of your lawn.
Also, a tree’s root system can have a significant effect on the soil around it. Check the pH of the soil in the area where you are trying to grow turf. It may be necessary to add lime or otherwise adjust the pH.
Increase Mowing Height
Shaded turf receives less sunlight, so you want to make the most of the sun that does reach the grass. The green blade of the grass absorbs sunlight for photosynthesis, effectively feeding the plant. The longer the blade of grass, the more surface area the plant has to absorb sunlight. It’s generally recommended to mow Zeon Zoysiagrass to about one and a half inches, but in shaded areas, you can increase that to two or even two and a half inches.
Turf in shaded areas grows more slowly than in full sunlight, so it may not be necessary to mow the shaded areas every time you mow the sunlit areas. Instead, keep track of the growth in the shaded area and maintain a separate schedule to keep it at the correct height.
In general, shaded areas will stay moist longer and require less irrigation. However, in the heat of the summer, trees can soak up a lot of water and may out-compete the turf for water. Keep an eye on soil moisture to determine when you need less or more irrigation. You will likely have to adjust irrigation levels throughout the growing season. In any case, irrigation requirements in shaded areas will not be the same as in sunlit areas, so it should be monitored separately.
If you are attempting to grow turf in a shaded area, you want to give your turf as much access to sunlight as possible. Fallen leaves block sunlight, so be sure to rake and remove fallen leaves as quickly as possible. While large amounts of fallen leaves only pile up during the fall, individual leaves may fall even during spring and summer. Check for fallen leaves or other debris throughout the growing season, and remove anything blocking out sunlight as soon as possible.
Even lush, healthy-looking turf in shaded areas is weaker than similar grass growing in full sunlight. Shaded turf will not recover as quickly from traffic, and it is more sensitive to compacted soil. Minimize traffic in shaded areas to improve the health of the turf and the surrounding trees.
Weeds in Shaded Areas
While shade is not ideal for turf, it is perfect for many types of weeds. The moist soil and reduced competition from turf may allow weeds to flourish. Treat shaded turf with a preemergence herbicide in early spring. It may also be necessary to treat shaded turf with postemergence herbicides later in the season. Some herbicides can damage trees and shrubs, so be sure to read any warnings on your herbicide before applying it. If the weeds are not too prevalent, it may be preferable to remove them by hand.
Disease in Shaded Turf
Decreased airflow, increased moisture, and weaker turf are the perfect conditions for turf disease and fungus. Homeowners should monitor shaded turf closely for signs of disease and apply fungicide at the first signs of fungal disease. Also, it is important not to overwater in shaded areas, since increased moisture and slower drying times can exacerbate disease conditions.
Zeon Zoysiagrass Is the Best Turf for Shade
When it comes to growing warm-season turf in shade, Zeon Zoysiagrass has repeatedly outperformed other cultivars. Zeon Zoysiagrass is recognized by homeowners and professionals alike. It is the best option for keeping a healthy lawn even when you can’t guarantee direct sunlight, and it is available in the Southeast exclusively from The Turfgrass Group growers. You can find a grower for Zeon Zoysiagrass and our other excellent varieties here.