Which Grass Types Cannot Grow In The Shade

By Brian Mounts | Nov 23, 2021

Getting healthy, vigorous grass to grow in the shade is not easy, but it isn’t impossible. For it to happen, it’s essential to match the correct turfgrass type to your lawn situation. Which often brings up the question, “what grass can I grow in the shade?”

The truth is, numerous grasses do well in the shade, so the list of possible options is lengthy. When asked about growing grasses in the shade, it’s easier to talk about which grass types cannot grow in the shade and should be avoided.

The tricky part, though, is there isn’t a straight answer to this question either. Some cool-season grasses tolerate more shade than warm-season types, but not all of them. But some varieties of a specific turfgrass species vary in their shade tolerance too. This inconsistency means you have to remember the different turfgrass varieties within a species have varying shade tolerance.

When you’re looking to seed a spot in your lawn with limited sun exposure, as a general guideline, avoid planting the following grass types.

Bermudagrass is the least shade-tolerant of all of the grass types. As a species, it needs at least 4 hours of direct sun daily to thrive. Beware, though. Not all Bermudagrass won’t grow in the shade. A couple of newer varieties—TifGrand and TifTuf Bermuda—have been bred to be a little more shade tolerant.
Even though St. Augustine grass is known to be a shade-tolerant warm-season grass, Floratam, a variety of St. Augustine grass, has no shade tolerance whatsoever.
Most varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, another warm-season type, don’t grow in the shade. Keep in mind that the newer ‘Glade’ and ‘Bensun’ cultivars do tolerate light shade.
Buffalograss has a reputation for being quite shade-intolerant as a species and isn’t recommended unless there is plenty of sunlight. However, ‘Prestige’ has better shade tolerance than other varieties and can grow in the shade.

One of the things to remember about turfgrasses is most of the common turfgrasses in the United States aren’t from here at all — they were introduced from Eurasia and North Africa by European settlers. They’re native to savannahs or plains-type habitats, making them sun-loving plants. So when the grasses are planted in the shade, you’re subjecting them to an environment out of their comfort zone.

Some turfgrasses have adapted to be more efficient at photosynthesizing in low light conditions, but the ones listed above haven’t changed their ways.

How To Grow Grass In Shade Or Under Trees

Growing grasses under trees and in other shaded areas presents numerous issues. Generally, grasses require large amounts of sunlight, hence there prevalence is open plains and other areas with high sun exposure on the ground level.

While some species of grass does do well in areas without large amounts of sunlight, these types are few and far between and face their own set of challenges when growing near and under trees. The competition with the tree for sunlight, nutrients and water make it difficult for grass to grow without careful care.

A tree’s canopy will not only block most sunlight from reaching ground level difficult (impairing photosynthesis) but the leaves will catch the majority of rainfall leaving the soil dry. As both grass and trees try to occupy the same ground, the soil will become less fertile again leaving the grass at a disadvantage as its root system is not as deep.

Pruning of a trees lower limbs will allow for more sunlight to reach the ground and encourage the growth of grass. Limbs that are found below eight feet should be removed entirely while further thinning in the upper parts of the tree will allow for more light. As sunlight is a critical component to photosynthesis, and hindrance on the ground level should also be removed.

Deposits of dead leaves or much will block all sunlight no matter how well pruned a tree is. When combined with a shade tolerant grass (such as fine fescue) chances at success are higher.

Grass seeds should be sown in the early spring and fall months when the foliage is thinnest, this allows more sunlight to reach the grass during germination. Care should be taken to ensure enough water is being given as well- doubling the amount of water and fertilizer applied will ensure the soil has enough nutrients to support both the tree and grass.

When mowing, cut grass found under trees at a higher level that grass out in the open. Increased height in grass will encourage root growth to help better compete for nutrients. An additional benefit is that the grass will have an increased drought tolerance again helping as water is at a premium.

Grasses that are stressed are less tolerant than those that are grown in ideal conditions. Shade stressed grasses will be far more susceptible to high foot traffic. Reducing traffic on shaded areas removes stress from the grass and allows it to continue to grow in adverse conditions.