Shade can be hard on turfgrass, but it’s still possible to grow a lush lawn in the shade by choosing the right grass species and giving it care that’s appropriate for lower light conditions. Although the best grass for the shaded areas of your lawn depends on your climate and the type of light your lawn receives, there are a few shade-tolerant species that should be at the top of your list to consider.
Assess Your Conditions
No turfgrass truly loves shade, but some can tolerate it because they’re more efficient at photosynthesis than other grasses. Even the most shade-tolerant grasses require at least three to four hours of direct sunlight for part of the day, also called “partial sun,” or four to six hours of dappled sunlight every day.
Although cool-season grasses fare better in the shade overall, your climate should determine which type of grass you plant. If you live in a region where early spring and fall temperatures fall between 65 and 75 degrees, such as New England, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, choose a cool-season grass.
Warm-season grasses are a better choice for regions with summer temperatures ranging between 75 to 95 degrees, such as the Deep South and the southwest.
If you live in the in-between region known as the grass transition zone, choose a cool-season grass for shaded areas. For a yard with a few shady spots here and there, use a seed mix that contains at least some shade-tolerant species.
Shade-Tolerant Cool-Season Grasses
Fescues (fescue spp.) – This genus of narrow-leaved, dark green grasses tolerates shade better than any other cool-season grass thanks to its extensive root system that reaches 2 to 3 feet deep. These grasses thrive in lawns that get at least four hours of partial or dappled sun a day.
The fine fescue group is the best option for shade, particularly strong creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. rubra) and Chewing’s fescue (Festuca rubra subsp. commutata). The tall fescue group is the next runner up.
Bentgrass (Agrostis spp.) – The traditional European golf green grass, bentgrass is loved for its fine texture, dense turf, and medium-dark green color. Velvet bentgrass (Agrostis canina) is the species best suited to shady areas. It thrives in the cool, wet climates of the northern U.S., especially coastal areas, but the transition zone is too warm for it.
Of the three common bentgrasses, velvet bentgrass is the lightest in color, and has the finest texture and highest density. Because of this, it’s at risk for overwatering and overfertilizing, so learn its needs if you decide to plant it. Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) is also moderately shade tolerant, but colonial bentgrass is less so.
Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne) – This is a popular go-to solution for areas that get at least four hours of direct sunlight. It won’t do as well in filtered or dappled light, though. It does well in cool, coastal areas, but tolerates heat poorly and needs attentive watering.
It’s a fast grower, which means more frequent mowing, but it should be left at 3 inches during hot periods. When healthy, it forms a lush, fine-textured turf that keeps its glossy dark green color even after the first few frosts. Note that annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) isn’t as shade tolerant.
Bluegrass (Poa spp.) – This group of grasses is better known for its sun-loving varieties, but it includes a few that survive well in the shade. Roughstalk bluegrass (Poa trivialis) tolerates shade better than fine-bladed bluegrasses. The Sabre cultivar in particular can get by on four hours of partial or dappled sun daily, although direct sun is preferable.
Poorly drained, compacted soil isn’t a problem for this grass. Its light yellow-green color doesn’t blend in well with many other cool-season grasses, so it’s not common in seed mixes. If you prefer the deep blue-green of Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), consider the Glade and BenSun cultivars, which can grow well in light shade.
Shade-Tolerant Warm-Season Grasses
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) – The broad, flat blades and 6-inch-deep roots of this grass that let it maintain its dark blue-green color in drought conditions also help it thrive in the shade. Although it’s the most shade tolerant of the warm-season grasses, it still needs at least five hours of partial sun a day.
The Sapphire, Palmetto, Seville, and Bitter Blue cultivars are your best bets for shaded areas. The last two cultivars also offer a richer color and finer blades than others. Floratam, the most popular cultivar, is the only one that truly needs full sun.
In addition, St. Augustine’s good salt tolerance makes it popular in coastal areas. It’s the least cold tolerant warm-season grass, though, and goes dormant when the soil temperatures fall below 55 degrees.
Zoysiagrass (Zoysia spp.) – Six hours of partial sun a day is enough for this fine-textured grass to form lush, healthy turf. Zoysia japonica is the most common species and the only one available in seed form, but it’s not the most shade tolerant. Newer cultivars of Zoysia matrella, such as Shade Tuff, Cavalier, and Diamond, handle shade better, but they still don’t like deep shade or waterlogged soil.
The key to Zoysiagrass’ renowned drought-resistance is its ability to go dormant. Under drought conditions, it enters dormancy and turns brown while other grasses wilt. As such, it’s the first to turn brown in fall and the last to green up in spring.
Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) – Most cultivars of this medium-textured, light yellow-green creeping grass prefer full sun, but the Oaklawn and Tennessee Hardy cultivars can get by on six hours of partial sun a day. This grass does well in sandy, acidic soils, but tolerates salt and wear poorly.
Because it doesn’t go dormant, it’s vulnerable to cold damage. It’s a slow grower that needs relatively little maintenance. The light color isn’t to everyone’s taste, but trying to deepen it with fertilizer can kill the grass.
Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) – This grass is best known for its heat and drought tolerance, and while it prefers full sun, it tolerates limited shade better than many warm-season grasses. It’s an option if you’re in a hot climate, but your lawn gets a little dappled shade for part of the day.
Pennington Argentine Bahiagrass is the most shade-tolerant cultivar, and it’s often found in “sun and shade” seed mixes. It also produces a darker color and finer texture than the popular Pennington Pensacola cultivar. Bahiagrass often gets by on rain alone, but will wilt and turn a blue-gray shade to let you know when it needs watering.
Several types of grass can thrive in the shade, but each has its own requirements. To find the best grass for the shaded areas of your lawn, start by determining your grass zone and your property’s light conditions. Then read up on the common shade-tolerant species to find one that will thrive in the conditions you have.