The short answer is, you can’t. This is probably the single biggest issue lawn care companies face day after day, and unfortunately, there really isn’t a good solution. Folks typically do not want to remove trees to improve their lawn, and they aren’t happy to hear a lawn care professional tell them there isn’t a grass variety that does well in the shade…even shade varieties don’t do well in the shade! Our rule of thumb is you need 3-4 hours of sunlight to grow decent quality turf, regardless of variety.
Our best advice to improve the quality of turf under trees is to prune the tree up as high as you can to increase the amount of light entering from the sides and under the canopy. You can also continue seeding every fall (the best time is in late August/early September) and see what you can get to survive. You’ll have to do this every year. David Gardner, Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University suggests these 4 practices to help maximize turf health in shade (click here for the full article):
- Increase mowing height – longer leaves mean more light collection
- Reduce fertilizer rate – cut your fertilizer in half to reduce excess leaf production.
- Water heavily but infrequently – minimize the time the foliage is wet will reduce disease risk and stress
- Closely monitor weed, insect and disease issues – turf under shade stress is more likely to have a variety of problems
If you have already tried all the above, or prefer not to work that hard to grow grass, it’s time to ditch the grass and expand your mulch rings out to the edge of the tree canopy. It is an elegant look and is also good for your tree(s). You can also plant the under-canopy area with shade tolerant plants like ferns, hostas, etc. Limit your frustration and expense by growing grass in the sun and finding alternate solutions in the shade.