Does your lawn struggle to thrive beneath trees or in the lea of buildings and fences? Here are our tips on lawns for shade.
It’s a biological fact that grass needs sunlight to survive. Sunshine provides the plants with energy to gather simple molecules from its environment and turn them into the food it needs for growth. In the shade, grass grows very tall very quickly in a desperate attempt to reach sunlight. But the growth is weak and cannot support itself. Before too long, the plant dies.
A lawn in the shade can be patchy, pale and weak. But here’s what you can do to improve its health and its appearance.
Try to Reduce the Amount of Shade
Trimming back shrubs and trees, choosing a trellis instead of a solid fence and moving objects that cast deep shade will help your lawn enormously. Of course you can’t move a building and if the trees belong to a neighbour you can’t cut them back either so you may have to change the way you manage your lawn.
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. I like to prune ornamental shrubs in winter, while the plants are dormant and again in spring/summer immediately after flowering. But do take advice from a horticulturist. Fruit trees are a different kettle of fish – be sure you know what you’re doing before slicing into them.
Lawns For Shade Need An Adapted Lawn Care Regime
Raise the height of the mower
So many of us Brits like to keep our lawns mown really really short. Scalped almost. Personally I don’t understand that. 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. The more sunlight it harvests, the healthier it is.
Where sunlight is in short supply, your grass will truly appreciate being allowed to grow a little bit longer. My own lawn is maintained at around 5cm long. It’s a deep green colour, its lush and I 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. So 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. If your lawn is in the shade, it’s not a standard lawn. It needs a more considerate regime.
Keep your mower blades sharp
I can’t repeat this advice often enough. 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.
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.
Winter feed is vital for lawns for shade, it will help build up the root system. In spring and summer choose a good quality feed and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter.
Deal 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. I’m not a fan of expensive moss killers. I do sometimes use sulphate of iron on my own lawn but only when absolutely necessary. I strongly advise scarifying in spring and autumn to stop moss in its tracks.
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, neither do you want it to constantly suffer from disease through being too wet.
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.
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!