What Grass Grows In Shade and How Do I Grow It?

Shady areas are terrific for keeping cool, but not necessarily for growing grass. Here are some tips to help you grow grass in shade.

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Shade is helpful for keeping our homes cool and providing respite from the heat when we spend time outside. But when it comes to growing grass, shade can present some challenges. We checked in with Joe Churchill, senior turf specialist with Wisconsin-based Reinders, Inc., for his tips on which grasses grow best in the shade and how to best make that growth happen.

How Can Grass Grow In the Shade?

Grass that grows well in shade is extremely efficient at photosynthesis, the chlorophyl-producing process that triggers growth in organisms including grass, plants and trees, Churchill says. Sunlight is always necessary for this process, but in varying amounts and strengths, depending on the plant species. Some types of grasses perform best in full or partial sun, while others grow better in indirect sun to heavy shade.

Note that there are benefits that come with a partially shady situation, too. “It keeps the grass from drying out too quickly,” Churchill says. “In a drought cycle, quite often the best looking grass is in the shade because it’s protected from the heat and the baking of the sun.”

What Types of Grass Grow Well in Shade?

When considering growing grass in shade, one factor to consider is your climate. For warm-season climates (optimum growth temperatures between 80 and 95 F) The Lawn Institute recommends the following varieties, starting with the most shade tolerant: St. Augustine, centipedegrass, zoysia, bahiagrass, carpetgrass and Bermudagrass. In cool-season climates (optimum growth temperatures between 60 and 75 F), and again, starting with the most shade tolerant, consider fine fescue, bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue or perennial ryegrass

“The key to improving grass cover in shade is to be sure you’re giving yourself every chance possible by choosing not only species that are shade-tolerant, but even within the species there are varieties that are more shade loving than others,” says Churchill.

Tips to Grow Grass in the Shade

The solution, Churchill says, depends on the type of shade you’re dealing with.

  • If the shade is from a building or structure, the grass will likely stay moist longer and not require much water at all since it’s getting so little sunlight.
  • If the shade is from a tree, you’ve got challenges: The tree acts as an umbrella, moving rainwater away from the grass underneath, and it competes with the grass for groundwater. Churchill suggests two things that allow more sunlight and rainwater to pass through the branches and reach the ground: raising the tree canopy, or removing lower branches to create porous shade. He also suggests overseeding (adding grass seed to an existing lawn) or reseeding (replanting grass seed) under trees to enhance density.

And there’s always the possibility that your yard does not have enough sunlight to grow grass. “That’s where you throw in the towel on grass and look at groundcovers and non-grass vegetation that does much better in low light than even the most shade-tolerant turf grass,” Churchill says. He suggests consulting your local garden center or extension service for ground cover recommendations that best fit your geography and landscape. Besides groundcover, other options may be shade-loving perennials, and even wood chips or river rock.

Susan B. Barnes
Susan B. Barnes has nearly 19 years of professional travel and lifestyle writing experience, with recent bylines in Allrecipes.com, Delta Sky, American Way, CNTraveler.com, Garden & Gun, Global Traveler, World Nomads, Gulfshore Life, Southwest: The Magazine, AARP.org and Go Escape Gulf Coast. She has previously written for Food & Wine and Southern Living, too.