Shadow grass refers to any type of grass or combination of grass varieties that are shade tolerant.
The shade can range from partial shade (some sun during the day) to full shade (shady for most of the day). Shade can also refer to speckled shadows (light-penetrating shady branches) and light or heavy shadows (under different tree tops). Some grasses thrive better in different degrees of shade.
Types of grass
Common grasses like Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass are no shade lovers. They thrive in full sun or moderate sun, and seed mixtures that are heavy in these types of grass are often the reason why grass doesn’t appear to grow in shade. The best shadow grasses of the cool season come from the fescue family.Standard grass seed mixes usually contain around 1/3 fescue, and between the three varieties a dominant species will emerge, largely depending on the amount of sunlight it receives. Very shady areas will likely need a custom seed mix.
Creeping red fescue is the best performance, but is often mixed with hard fescue and thimble fescue to more easily adapt to different degrees of shade and different types of soil. Reed fescue also thrive in the shade and it is not uncommon to find it in seed mixtures that are specialized in shade.
Each fescue species contains many different cultivars, some of which are preferred for their disease resistance, drought tolerance, or soil adaptability.High-profile varieties will drive costs up and are primarily used in high-end applications such as golf courses. A medium-priced variety should be fine for most shady lawns. Cheaper seeds are likely to result in lower germination rates and disappointment.
Fescue and endophytes
Fescue is one of the rare lawn grasses that can harbor endophytes. Endophytes in grass are a type of fungus that lives in symbiosis with the plant. The endophytes do not harm the grass: their presence has even been shown to be beneficial for the health of the lawn. The presence of endophytes enables the grass to better withstand stresses such as heat and drought, and provides an element of insect and mammal resistance. Endophytes are naturally found in some cases, but grass seeds can also be inoculated after harvest and are a safe, natural way to provide another level of defense against disease, pests, and other plant stress. Seed inoculated with endophytes must be stored in a cool, dry environment, otherwise the benefits will be greatly reduced. Therefore, it is important to order seeds from a reputable source with fresh inventory.
Warm season shadow grass
The best shade grass in the warm season is St. Augustine grass, but it cannot be bought as seeds. It needs to be blasted or planted as a lawn. Zoysia grass and millipede grass are also decent shade grasses for southern climates, but the more northerly the lawn, the less these grasses thrive in the shade. Closer to the transition zone and including the transition zone, fine fescue is better suited for color tolerance.
Under a shady tree
When trying to grow grass under a tree, keep in mind that the new grass lacks sunlight and is in direct competition with the trees for water and nutrients. Make sure there is enough soil to hold the grass between the tree roots. The grass will likely need help with additional watering and fertilizing. It would also be helpful if the tree or trees could be thinned out by pruning to allow as much available sunlight as possible to penetrate the canopy.
Sometimes the reason grass doesn’t want to grow in a shady area is because it wasn’t meant to be. In shady places it may be necessary to think outside the box. If grass doesn’t seem to be growing under a tree, a mulch bed might be an option. Ground covers like pachysandra are also acceptable alternatives to planting grass. Annuals who love shade could be planted under trees or the area could be left undisturbed and completely natural.