Lawns for Shade – How to Grow a Lawn in Challenging Conditions

5 min read

How to get a lawn to grow? This can be a challenge, especially if your new grass seeds struggle to thrive beneath trees or in the shade of buildings and fences. Happily, this article has plenty of tips and advice to help you care for your lawn despite these setbacks. Here are our tips on lawns blocked by shade.

Grass Needs Light

It’s a biological fact that grass needs sunlight to survive, so constant shade can be a massive hindrance. Sunshine provides the plants with energy to gather simple molecules from its environment and turn them into the food it needs for growth. When in the shade, you’ll notice that grass grows rapidly, in a desperate attempt to reach sunlight. But this type of growth is weak and the grass will not be able to support itself. Before too long, the plant dies.
Consequently, a lawn in the shade can be patchy, pale and weak. For lawns in shade – here’s what you can do to improve their health and appearance.

Try to Reduce the Amount of Shade

Reducing the amount of shade, within reason, is often the most effective method of recovering blocked grass. Of course, you can’t move another house or cut back trees that belong to a neighbour, but options like trimming back your own shrubs and trees, choosing a trellis instead of a solid fence and moving objects that cast a deep shadow will help the grass on your lawn enormously.

Hedges, shrubs and trees can be pruned more than once a year – depending on the species and whether or not there are birds nesting in them. As a result, it is often best to prune ornamental shrubs in winter, while the plants are dormant and again in spring/summer immediately after flowering.  Nonetheless, do take advice from a horticulturist as plants like fruit trees are a different kettle of fish – be sure you know what you’re doing before slicing into them.

Raise the height of the mower

A modified lawn care regime could be the trick to a healthier lawn. So many of us in the UK like to keep our lawns mown really short, yet grass “harvests” life-giving sunlight through its leaves. The bigger the total surface area of the leaves is – the more sunlight the plant can harvest. Therefore, the more sunlight it harvests, the healthier it is.
For lawns in shade, where sunlight is in short supply, your grass will truly appreciate being allowed to grow a little bit longer, perhaps maintained at around 5cm long. It will take on a deep green colour, and you will rarely see any signs of Fusarium Patch Disease or Redthread Disease.

It feels lovely beneath bare feet, softer and cooler than my Dad’s lawn which is virtually shaved at least twice a week (because he is recently retired and uses his mower as an excuse to escape from Mother.)
My husband grows different grasses – wheat and barley mainly (he’s a farmer). In my experience, it doesn’t matter what length your grass grows to – if it’s all the same length it will look amazing.

Mow little and often

The best way of really stressing any lawn is to let it get long and then suddenly cut it really short. That’s too much of a shock to the system. In a sunny garden you might get away with it because the plants have a good enough energy source to help them recover. In the shade, you’ll weaken the plants.
Mow at least once a week and take off no more than 20-25% of the length. For example, if you let your grass grow to 5cm, cut it down to 4cm. Standard advice for lawn mowing says reduce the length by one third. Lawns in shade are not standard lawns. They need a more considerate regime.

David Hedges-Gower the renowned lawn care expert swears by sharp mower blades and he’s right. Blunt blades rip the grass leaving ragged edges that don’t heal well. Sharp blades slice through the grass and pretty much seal the wounds as they go.

Products that can help…

lawn feed shade tolerant turf

Feed regularly

Give your lawn every opportunity to thrive by ensuring it has the correct nutrients to hand. Be particularly vigilant if your lawn is trying to grow beneath trees and shrubs. Remember, it will be sharing nutrients with those bigger plants.
So, winter feed is vital for lawns for shade, because it will help build up the root system. In spring and summer choose a good quality feed – like Vivid Green – and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter.

Dealing with moss

Moss is a problem in shaded lawns and almost always will be. By keeping the grass healthy and the sward thick you will be able to keep moss under control to an extent. Scarifying in spring and autumn to stop moss in its tracks and sometimes using sulphate of iron will be required, but only when absolutely necessary.

Be waterwise

Many do not realise that there are two sorts of shade. Dry shade and damp shade. Managing the water in either type of shade is important. You don’t want your lawn to die of thirst, or constantly suffer from disease through being too wet.
So, managing water is about managing soil. So…… Aerate lawns for shade regularly using a hollow-tine aerator. This lets rainwater penetrate dry soil and it helps excess water drain away from wet soil.

Make sure the air can move around an area – if it’s boxed in on all four sides there is no air movement and lawn diseases can flourish

Choose Shade Tolerant Grass Species

Modern plant breeding means that you can buy shade tolerant turf and grass seed that actually does what it says on the tin. It won’t tolerate deep shade, but in dappled shade beneath trees or where the lawn is shaded for only part of the day, Shadesman +Turf from Turfonline is ideal.

For lawns for shade, check out Shadesman Turf

If All Else Fails….

Consider growing a shade tolerant mini-meadow. You could underplant with crocus or bluebell bulbs for spring colour and then enjoy beautiful wildflowers in the early part of the summer. The wildlife in your garden with definitely thank you for it!

More about shade tolerant turf and growing wild flowers in your lawn

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