Countryside Landscape
Serving Muncie & East Central Indiana
Phone: 765-744-6500

Improving Lawns in Shaded Areas

One of the many problems that I come across in landscaping is establishing a nice turf grass in shaded areas of lawns.  Shade trees play a vital role in our landscapes by providing shaded areas for the cooling of our homes and outdoor living spaces.  Although we reap the benefits of shade trees we also run into problems associated with the competition of shade trees and our turf grass.  Shade trees compete with turf grass for light, water and nutrients which often causes the turf grass to become more succulent with elongated leaves and restricted roots.  Considering these factors we often find that maintaining a dense, healthy turf in the shade a challenge, if not impossible.

Sometimes when I look at an area of thin grass I try to evaluate whether or not the area needs turf grass or if there is another alternative than a lawn.  Some homeowners may be better off to turn the area into a landscape bed with a shade tolerant groundcover or even mulched or gravel paths.  For many shaded areas it may be more practical and more attractive to use something rather than turf grass.  Unfortunately, some homeowners have large areas that turf grass is the only alternative so I will list a few suggestions to help improve these areas in the shade.


Selectively cutting back limbs and removing small trees will allow better penetration of sunlight and also increase air circulation in shaded areas.  This practice can have some success but will need to be repeated yearly or every other year as the areas fill back in. 


As with all areas of your lawn, it is crucial to mow at a 3-3.5 inch height.  Mowing at this height will allow for increased photosynthesis and will also increase the depth of the turf grasses root system.


Most often, shaded areas are over-watered versus lack of water.  Deep and less frequent irrigation is more beneficial than shallow, frequent irrigation.  This practice will help reduce disease pressure in these areas.


High traffic on weak turf grass is deadly for these areas.  Like all parts of your lawn, increased traffic compacts soil and weakens already stressed turf grass.

Fertilization and Pest Management

Shaded turf grass grows far less than turf grass in the sun thus it needs less fertilizer than a sun loving lawn.  Applying 1.0 # of Nitrogen per 1000ft2 in September and again in November should be plenty for the year.  Unfortunately, weak areas in all lawns allow weed and disease to take over as well.   Shade-loving broadleaves such as wild violets or ground ivy have a huge advantage in shaded areas and will often thrive over turf grass.   These weeds are difficult to control and even when you are successful at controlling them the turf grass is slow to fill the areas back in. 


Over-seeding may be the only management to this problem but does not always prove to be easy.  Early fall seeding (mid-August to mid-September) is the best time to seed cool season grasses.  If is crucial however to maintain regular irrigation and fertilization to encourage the best germination rate.  Also, be sure to keep falling leaves off of the area to allow maximum sunlight to the new seedlings.  While all turf grasses perform best in the full sun versus the shade, some grass species will perform better in the shade.  In most of the state, tall fescues or fine-fescues are the best choices for shady areas.  Consider using the following mixes for the shade:

100% tall fescue

50% fine fescue & 50% Kentucky Bluegrass

50% Fine fescue, 30% Kentucky Bluegrass & 20% perennial rye grass

Article was written by Mike Van Horn.  If you have any questions please feel free to reply at anytime.  Thanks!!!!

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