Growing Grass Under Trees

Match these shade-tolerant grass types with your climate zone for a winning combination.

The key to growing grass under trees is to match shade-tolerant varieties with your local climate. Red and tall fescues work in cool-weather zones and St. Augustine grass works in warmer areas.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

The best grass for shady areas

Growing grass under shade trees isn’t easy, but one key to success is choosing the right shade grass species and planting method for your region. In cool-season areas (check the zone map at, you’ll get a better result using seed rather than sod. Sod is grown in wide-open fields under conditions that favor sun-loving grasses. Choose red and tall fescues for shady areas in Northern zones. Garden centers will have grass seed mixes formulated for shade. Late summer and mid-spring are the best times to establish cool-season grasses in shady areas.

In warm-season areas, St. Augustine grass is probably your best choice for moderate shade. Unfortunately, this species is not currently available as seed, so the only way to plant it is with plugs, sod or sprigs (a significantly more expensive proposition). St. Augustine grass has limited cold and drought tolerance.

To help ensure success with shade grasses:

  • Don’t skimp on the prep work. You’ll need to rototill before planting and keep the area watered and weed free to give the grass time to fill in.
  • Selectively prune tree limbs to allow more light to reach the turf and improve turf quality.

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