Growing Grass in Heavy Shade

By Allyn Paul, filed under Landscape Tips, Lawn Tips.

Big Pappa asks…“Can I grow grass in heavily shaded areas?”

 In short, if given the proper amount of time and effort, “yes” you can grow lush turf in a heavily shaded area. And you don’t have to break your back or your bank to do it.There are many factors that come into play with this topic, but I think I can answer 80% of readers’ questions about shaded turf by making a few assumptions.

  1. The shade is caused by a large tree(s) and not by your house being 5 feet away from your neighbors’.
  2. The trees causing the shade are deciduous (lose their leaves in winter, ie: Maple, Ash, Oak) and NOT evergreen like a Pine or Spruce.
  3. You are willing to put in a little effort and have some patience in the process.

Pruning is Important 

Be prepared to use some power tools baby! Break out the chain saw or “saws-all” with a tree-cutting/pruning blade. (I like to use a cordless saws-all because it is lightweight and easy to control)
You need to climb up in the tree and thin it out by removing internal cross branching. You also want to allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy. It doesn’t take a lot of sun getting through to improve grass production. In the industry, it’s referred to as “dappled sun.” When pruning, keep in mind, you
need to be artistic and visualize each limb you are removing to make sure it doesn’t ruin the overall shape of the tree. I have included some pictures of a job I recently did for my friend, Bryan. You will notice how we raised the canopy height by removing lower limbs and thinned it as well. (look, you can actually see his house too!) I’d love to expound on the proper techniques for pruning and thinning trees, but space will not allow, so I have included a happy link here for you to learn more. Just keep in mind, you’re not gonna hurt the tree! Thinning a tree allows healthy air circulation, and also lets the tree concentrate more energy to the leaves on the outer edges where the sunlight is anyway.
 Just remember, our primary purpose in thinning and pruning the tree is to allow natural sunlight to trickle through to the ground below.

The Grass Seed

Secondly, you need to purchase a good quality shade mix grass seed. Do not go cheap here. The more expensive grass seed is better “filtered” and contains less garbage. (garbage being weed seeds and invasive grasses) More expensive seed is also genetically engineered to perform better in extreme conditions. DO NOT buy seed labeled as “quick grow” “winter mix” or “general purpose.” It must be labeled for SHADE.The best shade seeds will contain some amounts of Fine Fescue, Creeping Red Fescue and maybe some perennial ryegrass. Always buy a mix so if one cultivar suffers, the others will pick up and fill in.


There are 3 requirements for grass seed to grow.

  • Seed-to-soil contact. Throw the seed down on bare ground only! Don’t sew it into an area full of dead, matted turf…rake it out first. (if you have some thin turf there that is still living, it is ok to let that stay) It is also necessary to cover freshly laid grass seed with peat moss or top soil about one-half-inch thick. Erosion mats work very well also, but cost more. If your soil is heavily compacted, it’s best to loosen it to a depth of 2 inches prior to seeding, using a stiff-bladed rake.
  • Moisture. Grass seed must be continually damp for 10 days to increase the germination rate. It only takes about 15 minutes of light sprinkling 2-times a day to achieve the proper moisture levels.
  • Temperature. I recommend night-time temps be at least 55 degrees consistently so the baby seedlings don’t freeze their tender crowns off! 

Further Considerations: Buy enough seed to re-apply 3 or 4 times over a 4-week timespan. Seed is cheap…lay it down often and heavily! Do not try to lay sod in heavily shaded areas. It will die! 99% of all sod you buy at the nursery has been grown in bright sunlight. That turf is used to full sun and will not adapt well to shade. In fact, it won’t adapt at all.

If your heavy shade is caused by an evergreen tree like a Pine or Spruce, then your main problem is a highly acidic soil condition that develops from lost needles. In this case, your best option to to build a tree ring around the evergreen and plant a nice ground cover like English Ivy. Most grass seed will not tolerate heavy acid levels and shade combined. Please feel free to post further questions in the comment section.   


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13 Responses to “Growing Grass in Heavy Shade”

  1. Big Pappa Says:
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    Thanks for answering that. I never have had a good answer from anyone! Dugg it too, so we will see if the rest of the world likes the answer.

  2. Allyn Paul Says:
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    Big Pappa–thanks for the Digg and comment. I hope you are able to get some results (once winter is over). If you have any further or specific questions, please feel free to contact me or post em’ here. Good luck! AL

  3. Josh Says:
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    Very helpful, Big Al. My biggest complaint about lawn care is the time that it takes. It needs to move higher up my priority list.

  4. NWI Blog Carnival | 1-30-08 Edition | NWI Blogs Says:
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    [...] Paul presents Growing grass in heavy shade | Life and Lawns posted at Life and Lawns, saying, “It’s all about loving that lawn baby! I am a lawn [...]

  5. Daltonsbriefs Says:
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    Al, congratulation on the NW Indiana Blog Carnival inclusion, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see some of our fellow local bloggers start to work together.

  6. Chris Says:
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    Hi Paul,

    I’m going to take a look at your site because I have a brand new yard that doesn’t have any grass and doesn’t have any shade trees yet. I’m thinking that I’m going to end up doing a lot of research about planting a lawn when the temps warm up.

    I think our covenants require sod for the front yard, so I might also have to check with you about that as well.

    Also, it’s great that you participated in the Blog Carnival. Let me know if you ever want to host a NWI Blog Carnival — you can email me at the email I used for the comment. The service I’m using makes it really easy — just cut & paste. (Steve will be hosting the next one).

  7. Growing Grass in High Traffic Areas | Life and Lawns Says:
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    [...] Grass in High Traffic Areas By Allyn Paul, filed under Lawn Tips. Not long ago, we talked about growing grass in heavy shade. This time, we will explore your options for growing grass in areas where heavy foot traffic is a [...]

  8. How to seed and fill in bare and thin spots in your lawn | Life and Lawns Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] “Growing Grass in Heavy Shade” [...]

  9. What Type of Grass Seed Should I use for my Lawn? | Life and Lawns Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] the midwest.  Their primary use is in blends with either Tall Fescue or Kentucky Bluegrass on shady lawns.  While they can be planted alone, usually they are a part of a mix.  Creeping Red is the most [...]

  10. Which Grass Seed to Choose. All About Grass Types | Chicago Lawn Company Guide Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] the midwest. Their primary use is in blends with either Tall Fescue or Kentucky Bluegrass on shady lawns. While they can be planted alone, usually they are a part of a mix. Creeping Red is the most [...]

  11. How to Winterize Your Landscape Trees and Shrubs | Life and Lawns Says:
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    [...] It’s also a great time to clean and thin out those large trees that are keeping your from growing grass in heavy shade. Let some sunshine [...]

  12. JERRY WELCH Says:
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    I tried to grow grass in a heavy shaded area. It started out great, but as time went on the grass begain to die. the is still some of the grass, but not like before. The seed it bought was for shade and sunny areas. I watered contianuly aand as I said it for looking great. I live is SD. HELP HELP HELP!

  13. Allyn Paul Says:
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    if it is under evergreen trees, then the soil will not accept grass.
    if it is under regular deciduous trees, then you need to first thin and prune them, and next get “dense shade” seed.
    that will do the trick. Think “dappled sun”

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