When Grass Won’t Grow in the Shade

Source:  Neil Sperry, Weekly E-Garden Newsletter

Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me for a recommendation of a great grass to grow in the shade.  Or, they tell me they had a fine-looking lawn at one time, but that now it’s mostly bare ground and weeds. I ask if they have trees, and they say, “Oh, yes. But they’re not the reason.”  That’s when I know it’s going to be a lengthy discussion. They continue, “But the grass was beautiful there just a year or two ago, and now just look at it….”  I remind them that the trees have grown a lot larger in those couple of years.  They continue, “Yes, but I had the tree thinned so more light could get through it….”  That’s when I usually shut down the dialog, worn out from all the “but-but-but” comebacks. Here’s what I try to explain:

  • St. Augustine is our most shade-tolerant turf grass.  However, even it requires 5 or 6 hours of sunlight to thrive in North Texas.
  • In North Texas, our winter cold is hard on St. Augustine, so the more difficult it is for the grass to rev up and start growing in spring.
  • If you try to plant new St. Augustine sod in a shaded location, that adds another element of challenge to it – suddenly it has to cope with all that shade and getting a fresh start on growing, but it also has lost most of its root system in the process of being dug.

Where all this leads…
If you have a heavily shaded area of your yard, and if grass has failed you repeatedly there, don’t expect some miracle cure to that situation.
1. If you’ve tried St. Augustine and if it has failed;
2. And if you’ve already removed all the branches and unwanted trees that you care to;
3. Then it’s time to turn to a shade-tolerant groundcover that can take the place of the turf grass. 
4. Your best choices of groundcovers to grow in the shade include regular mondograss (monkeygrass), liriope, English ivy, purple wintercreeper euonymus, Asian jasmine, ferns and, Algerian ivy. Ajuga is handsome, but limit your plantings due to its susceptibility to disease.