shade tolerant grass

The Best Grass That Grows In Shade

If your garden isn’t in full sun then you may have trouble growing certain species of grass. But I’m hard pushed to think of many homes that have the sun in their garden all day so it’s worth thinking about the best grass that grows in shade.

No matter whether your lawn is in partial or full shade for most of the day, it doesn’t mean it has to look unhealthy and sparse. This guide covers some of the most shade tolerant grasses.

When it comes to planting grass, you have to think about all of the same factors that would affect any other type of plant in your garden. Different types of grasses have different needs. Some will thrive in full sun while others prefer a shadier location.

Choosing the right type of grass for your garden will ensure that it has the best chance of remaining lush, green and healthy. If your lawn is shade for much of the day, the following grass varieties will suit your garden well.

1. St Augustine

There are several different cultivars of St Augustine grass. If your lawn spends most of the day in shade then you’ll want to be careful to choose the right one. The best varieties for shaded locations are bitter blue, sapphire, seville and palmetto. While they are warm season grasses, they will tolerate shade extremely well.

That said, there are other varieties of St Augustine that don’t do as well in the shade. They’re usually OK for lawns that have part sun and part shade and the most common is called floratam. What’s more, this type of grass does not need quite as much sunlight as things like bermuda grass.

One important thing to remember is that St Augustine is not suitable for lawns that are in complete shade for all of the day. If the shade is a result of overhanging trees then you might have some luck trimming everything back to reveal a little more sun. However, you may still notice problems such as the lawn being prone to disease, stunted growth and sparseness all as a result of a lack of sunlight.

st augustine grass

How Much Sun is Needed?

How much sunlight St Augustine grass needs will depend on which variety you have planted. Some are, as we have learned, much more resistant to shade than others. If you’ve chosen something like seville, sapphire, bitter blue or palmetto then you will probably get away with them only receiving four or five hours of direct sunlight a day.

However, if you have opted for floratam, and this is the most commonly sold type of St Augustine grass, then this needs much more sunlight and will soon struggle when placed in constant shade. Typically speaking, you’ll want to give this grass between six and eight hours of direct sunlight a day.

2. Zoysia

Zoysia is a very shade tolerant species but as with any plant, it’s going to do better when it has a spot that gets at least some sun every day. However, it is also incredibly tolerant of low light conditions which puts it way ahead of the game compared to something like bermuda grass. If you are faced with a choice between these two species, I would always recommend going for zoysia.

Zoysia is a warm season grass and it does well in a variety of conditions including subtropical parts of the United States like Florida.

When choosing the right type of zoysia grass, you will need to choose between several different cultivars. Most people would agree that something with much finer blades is better for shady areas and while there are a few to choose from, I would recommend zeon. This is a type of zoysia grass that’s often used on golf courses .

Geo zoysia is also worth considering if your lawn is in shade for much of the day as it is not only tolerant of this but it also does well with a lot of foot traffic without becoming overly stressed. If you have a low light lawn then zoysia is a brilliant choice especially over things like rye and fescue. That said, you should be careful as some varieties, like emerald zoysia, can be heavily affected by weeds when left in shade for too long.

zoysia grass

How Much Sun is Needed?

It’s essential to keep in mind that while zoysia is resistant to shade, it’s always going to prefer being in the sun. That said, this warm season grass will still thrive quite well when it only gets between three and four hours of direct sunlight a day.

I would highly recommend this species for lawns with a lot of surrounding structures like trees and buildings that cast shadows over it through the day.

3. Fescue

Fescue is a cool season grass that is quite tolerant of shade. Although with that in mind, I should point out that in very shaded areas, it won’t do anywhere near as well so if your garden is in full shade, fescue might not be the best option.

Tall fescue is not only rather resistant to shade but it’s also great if you live somewhere without a lot of rainfall as it’s a pretty drought resistant species as well. It’ll also do well in soil that’s not all that fertile so I’d say it was a very resilient species overall. With that in mind, as with other grasses, it will do better when it has a good amount of sunlight.

There are other options if tall fescue isn’t available to you or you simply don’t want to use it. The best alternatives are chewings or red fescue, both of which are excellent cool season grasses. Finally, you might opt for fine fescue which is incredibly common in the northern United States and its very tolerant of shade.

fescue grass

How Much Sun is Needed?

For most varieties of fescue, you’re looking at the need of around four to six hours of sunlight a day. But the good news is that this doesn’t need to be direct; if it’s filtered in any way, that will still be enough.

Although, if there are trees around the lawn, this filtered sunlight might not be sufficient so you will need to make sure that you properly maintain your lawn in other ways. Later in this guide, there will be some tips on how to grow grass in the shade.

4. Perennial Ryegrass

There are quite a few varieties of ryegrass but not all of them will do well in the shade. Fortunately, perennial ryegrass is not one of these and is a good choice for gardens that don’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

Perennial ryegrass is a cool season grass so it’s better suited to climates where the temperature doesn’t exceed 77ºF.

Another great reason to choose perennial ryegrass is that it’s not too fussy when it comes to moisture. Even if the summers are a little wetter, the grass will still do particularly well. In fact, moisture is a great thing for perennial ryegrass. In hot summers, you will often see this variety dried out, especially when the temperature gets too hot. Do keep in mind that, when it comes to sunlight, only direct sun will help the grass thrive. Anything dappled won’t be enough.

perennial ryegrass

How Much Sun is Needed?

As I have mentioned, perennial ryegrass will not do well in filtered sunlight. This could be seen as one of the downsides to this grass and if your lawn doesn’t receive at least four to five hours of direct sun every day, it isn’t worth planting this grass species. 

5. Rough Bluegrass

Again, there are many different types of bluegrass so it’s important to choose the right one. One of the best for shaded spots is rough bluegrass. Not only is it very tolerant to shade but it will also do well in cooler climates and in wet soil.

However, if you live somewhere with a hotter climate then rough bluegrass might not be right for your garden as it tends to die off in patches during a hot summer. The result is a lawn covered in bare spots.

You might also want to consider Kentucky bluegrass which is another shade tolerant species. This is another cool season grass and while it does need some sunlight, it’ll do well in a shady area.

rough bluegrass

How Much Sun is Needed?

When it comes to growing a rough bluegrass lawn, you’re going to need to make sure that the grass receives at least four hours of sunlight every day. The great thing about this type of grass is that it isn’t too fussy if it doesn’t receive direct sunlight; filtered sunlight will be more than sufficient.

How To Grow Grass in Shade

Not all grasses will do well in shade but even for those that will, you have to think about how you’ll care for your lawn if you want to get the most out of it. Here are some handy tips for growing grass in the shade. 

  • Mind how you cut the lawn. One of the most important things you can do to help your grass grow in the shade is to raise the cutting height on your mower. The reason for this is that the grass will have a greater surface area which allows it to photosynthesise better even when there isn’t a lot of natural light. When you mow your lawn, this can stress it significantly and when you cut it too short, it can take longer to recover from the mow when there’s not much sunlight. 
  • Don’t over water your lawn. Your lawn does need water but when it is in the shade, its needs are not as great. Adding too much water can clog the lawn because it’s not going to evaporate as easily. This can result in many different problems such as fungal diseases, thatch and more weeds. 
  • Hold back on the fertlizer. We know that you want to treat your lawn to make sure it is healthy but this might be detrimental when growing it in a shaded area. This applies when your lawn is fully established so make sure, at this point, you cut back on how much fertlizer you apply. Generally speaking, you will only need to treat it with half the amount of nitrogen based fertilizers than you would when treating a lawn in the sun.
  • Don’t walk on the grass. This is a sign we often see on people’s front yards and there’s usually a good reason for it. When a lawn spends most of its time in the shade, this can make it more prone to damage, especially when it is walked on. To avoid this, don’t walk over the lawn unless you really have to. When you do walk on it, keep your feet nice and light. 
  • Keep your lawn clean. A healthy lawn is not a cluttered lawn so if you want it to thrive in the shade then you’ll need to make sure there isn’t any debris. This means regularly using a lawn sweeper to rid the grass of any fallen leaves and other items.

Other Planting Alternatives

In some cases, you simply won’t be able to plant a lawn that’s going to thrive in the sun. While nobody likes to admit defeat, sometimes, we have to. There are artificial lawns that you can use and some of the high end products actually look incredibly realistic. What’s more, the maintenance is much easier and there’s no chance of the grass dying.

But if you don’t fancy faking it then you might choose to plant some ground cover plants that do well in shady spots. There are a whole host of options for ground cover but what works well in your garden will depend on the local climate so it’s worth chatting to a specialist at your local garden center for more information.

Summary

Growing grass in the shade does take some care and attention but by choosing the right variety, you are much more likely to be successful. Things like perennial ryegrass, zoysia and St Augustine are all great; just be sure to choose the right cultivar. Also remember that most types of grass will also need at least some sunlight every day so select something that’ll fit in with the conditions of your garden.

Andrew Fisher

Andrew Fisher

Andrew is a dedicated father of three who really takes pride in his lawn and garden. You'll find Andrew behind the scenes of almost everything Edge Your Lawn produces. When he's not helping readers find all the information they need, he's in his backyard working on his lawn and garden landscaping. This year he hopes to build an outdoor deck and sort out his veg patches.

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