|I have met and spoke with many homeowners who want a lawn to be able to do all the things that you can do on a lawn. But when you have large trees in the yard, casting shade for most of the day, you are in for a battle. Shade that comes from trees is the worst kind because not only does it shade your lawn, but the trees also compete for moisture, whereas shade from buildings is usually not that much of an issue. Basically, it comes down to wanting a lawn in the woods. Depending on what types of trees, and how many, will determine if it is possible. Most lawn or turf type grasses need four to six hours of direct sun to survive. Shady grass types will grow if they are still getting that minimum of four hours, but the good part is that it does not have to be full sun. Four to six hours of dappled or filtered sunlight can work as well for a shady lawn mix.
If I look down and see moss growing I am usually quick to say, why don’t you just plant it with some shade loving shrubs and perennials, are you really going to occupy this space or is it something to view from the window? I then try to remember that I am biased, and I would rather have the plants, especially if I can go down the street and use an open space, covered in turf, built for everyone to share that I do not have to take care of. If it is possible and the answer is “I still want a lawn”, then there are some options. You can find different seed mixes for shade available at hardware stores, garden centers, Southern States, etc. You can find all kinds of advice on how to maintain them online or, if you are lucky, from someone who has an established lawn in the shade.
This brings me to the point of this article that I wanted to share with you. I read something recently that went against one rule that I have heard over and over regarding growing lawns in the shade. That one rule is: Mow high. Because plants (your lawn) are starving for light, the idea is that you set your mower for a higher cutting height so that plants have more leaf area to capture more sunlight. So, mowing high in a shady lawn would normally reduce the amount of time spent on mowing. But the story I read, mentioned that their grass was mowed short, less than 1”! In the spring months, the grass was mowed every 3-4 days and then once a week in the summer and fall. This produced a thicker carpet of short grass that had more leaf surface than a thinner stand of turf with taller blades. Normally, you might hear that cutting your lawn short encourages shallow rooting, because all the plants’ efforts are spent in regrowing the top. And let me point out that some varieties of the same type of turfgrass respond better to shorter mowing, that not all Kentucky Bluegrass is the same for example. Now this lawn was also watered routinely once a week in the summer for about an hour or more – remember, any lawn (sun or shade) will do better with infrequent, deep watering rather than frequent, short run times. Deep watering also helps provide the competing trees the water they need rather than stealing it from the turf.