How to Grow Grass in the Shade

Shade trees help keep your home cooler and add a warm aesthetic to your landscaping, but getting lush, green turf to grow under these dense canopies can be a frustrating experience. Grass that's struggling to survive in the shade tends to be spindly and patchy, and it's also more susceptible to stressors like high humidity, drought, extreme temperatures and disease.

However, with the following tips, you can help your lawn grow healthy, vigorous turf in the shaded areas of your yard.

 

  • Pick the right grass seed. Choose quality seed thatʼs appropriate for the climate in your area. Cool-season grass species that do better in the shade include fine fescue and rye, while St. Augustine and Zoysia are best to grow in warmer climates.
     
  • Raise the mower deck. Shade grass should be kept longer so it can absorb as much sunlight as possible. To help it grow, raise your mower cutting deck ½-1" higher and donʼt remove more than 1/3 of the blade length. Allowing grass to grow longer also encourages deeper root growth, which is vital for healthy grass. After mowing, rake up clippings promptly to keep the fresh-cut grass blades from being damaged. 
     
  • Fertilize less frequently. A lack of sunlight inhibits photosynthesis and slows grass growth, so it doesnʼt need frequent feeding. Applying too much nitrogen can actually harm the root system, but shade grass can benefit from the potassium in fertilizer. For best results, apply a slow-release fertilizer with equal parts potassium and nitrogen in the spring and again in the late summer.
     
  • Keep trees pruned. Low-hanging branches can block sunlight from reaching the lawn, so prune limbs 8-10' up from the ground when growing grass in the shade. Pruning these lower branches also improves air movement, which is needed for evaporation of rain and dew and to keep humidity under control. Air circulation also helps inhibit moss growth and disease.
     
  • Water deeply and less often. Grass in shaded areas should be watered deeply and less often than sunny portions of the lawn. Frequent, light watering doesnʼt allow for proper root growth and it encourages shallow tree root growth that competes with the grass for nutrients.