Grass Rejoices in Sunlight – So, What About Shady Spaces?

— Written By and last updated by Diane Lynch

Q: What type of grass can I grow in shady areas?

A: Turfgrass, trees, and shrubs are all desired in the landscape to add variety and beauty. However, having a lawn among trees and shrubs in the landscape can be a challenging task. A common question is how to have a lawn around trees and shrubs where it is shady.

When attempting to grow grass under trees and shrubs you run into several problems that make growing grass in these areas difficult. When you grow turfgrass and trees in the same area, the trees and grass will have root growth in the same area. All these roots will be competing for limited nutrients and water. With nutrients and water being limited in this area, vigor and growth of the trees and grass will be reduced.

Another problem that will make it difficult to grow grass will be that the shade from the trees or shrubs will prevent sufficient light from reaching the grass causing a reduction in growth. As a result, the grass will not be as healthy and will have a lower tolerance to heat, cold, disease, drought, and wear stress.

Typically, disease problems are more frequent and severe in the shade because there is higher humidity, reduced air circulation, and prolonged periods of dew on turf. Due to these factors, grass grown under trees and shrubs may perform well for the first few years but will show a steady decline in density over a period of years.

Unfortunately, there are not many solutions to the problems associated with growing turf next to trees. First, if the area gets less than 4 hours of sunlight per day, it is too shady for any lawn grass to perform well and you will need to consider other options for the area. If the area is heavily shade, it is best to forget trying to grow grass in the area and instead mulch the area.

If you are considering trees to plant in the landscape within the turfgrass, you can think about trees that provide a less dense canopy. Trees with dense canopies that will make it more difficult to grow grass include: maples, oaks, and beeches. Pines, poplars, and birches produce more open shade.

Even though all grasses perform best in full sun, there are some lawn grasses that will tolerate light or partial shade. Of the warm-season grasses, St. Augustine has the best tolerance of partial shade. Zoysiagrass is more tolerant to partial shade than centipedegrass. Bermudagrass has extremely poor tolerance to any amount of shade.

In general, lawn grasses will suffer in shaded areas especially under trees. It may be best, to consider mulching or planting something else in shady areas instead of struggling with growing grass. The shady areas may provide a nice location for a shade garden in the landscape. One positive way to look at converting a shady area to something other than turfgrass is that it can reduce the amount of mowing during our hot, humid days of summer.

For additional lawn and garden information contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at, or stopping by Room 100 of the Wayne County Extension Office (208 West Chestnut Street, Goldsboro).

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• Visit our website at Click on “Lawn & Garden” on left side of webpage.
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Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs:
• Visit the ‘Ask an Extension Master Gardener’ booth at the following locations this week to get answers to your gardening questions, pick up soil testing supplies, and have weeds, plants, or pests identified:

  • Friday, May 1st from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Goldsboro Farmer’s Market Opening Day at Herman Park
  • Saturday, May 2nd from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Antique Farm Equipment Days Show at Wayne County Fairgrounds

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Jessica Strickland
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533
Phone: 919-731-1520
Fax: 919-731-1511