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Growing Grass Under Trees

Shading that reduces direct sunlight to about four hours of sunlight per day can create many low light realated problems in lawns.

  • Less growth and vigor
  • Lower tolerance to heat, cold, disease, drought and wear stress.

                                                                              

    These methods may help turf grow better under trees.

    Select Shade Tolerant Turfgrasses

    Cool-season grasses - Tall fescue is a common choice in Central and North Georgia. Fine fescues may survive in some situations. When establishing cool-season grasses, it is best to seed or sod early enough in the fall so there is sufficient time for the turfgrass to mature before leaves cover the ground. During the fall remove leaves by raking, blowing or bagging when mowing to prevent smothering of the grass. Cool-season turfgrasses will grow long after deciduous trees have dropped their leaves.


    Warm season grasses
    – Some St. Augustinegrass cultivars have suitable tolerance to shade.  Examples include Palmetto, Mercedes, and Raleigh.

     Similarly, some zoysiagrass cultivars are tolerant to limited light environments. Zoysiagrass cultivars that have good tolerance to shade include El Toro, JaMur, Zeon, and Zorro.  These species have performed well under a heavy hardwood shade for 5 years. Cavalier has also been reported to have good shade tolerance while the older cultivar, Meyer, has fair tolerance.

     In general bermudagrass is intolerant to shade. Two newer cultivars, TifGrand and Celebration have shown good persistence under shade conditions.  These cultivars may be options in environments where the grass receives 6 hours or better of filtered to intermittent shade.  Likewise, centipedegrass needs the same light conditions as these two bermudagrass cultivars.

     Use turfgrasses adapted to your area of Georgia. Fine and tall fescue are adapted to north Georgia. Dependent on the variety; zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and bermudagrass can be grown throughout the state. St Augustine is commonly grown in south and middle Georgia, but the same cultivars that perform in the shade persist into the Atlanta area.

     

    Turf Management in Shady Areas

     Raise the mowing height to the highest recommended height. This increases the leaf area and helps the plant capture more sunlight, thus manufacture more "plant food".

     Nitrogen needs for turfgrasses are generally 50% lower in shaded environments than recommended for full sun. This generally means no more than one to two pounds of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per year.

     Test soil to determine lime and fertilizer needs. Surface applications of fertilizer are generally preferred for trees and turfgrasses.

     Irrigate deeply and infrequently to encourage deeper rooting and to reduce the humidity and time the grass leaves are moist. Since moist conditions encourage disease, irrigate in early morning and follow the State’s outdoor watering guidelines.

     Remove tree leaves, grass clippings, and any other debris that might prevent light penetration or encourage disease.

     Follow a good pest management program to reduce competition from weeds, and injury from diseases and insects.

     Control traffic to reduce wear injury. The added stress of traffic can easily cause the loss of grass in shaded areas.

     It is generally a bad idea to attempt to grow grass up to, and onto, the trunk of a tree.  This practice is not good for the grass nor the tree.

     

    Environmental Management

    Ornamentals that have dense canopies and shallow roots normally make turfgrass survival difficult even if proper management practices are used. When possible, select trees and shrubs that are deep-rooted and have relatively open canopies. Some species that generally cause fewer problems include sycamores, many oaks and most elms. Undesirable species include ash, willow, poplar and some species of maples.

     Selectively prune branches, particularly low branches, to aid in air movement and light penetration. Ideally, the lowest branches of trees should be at least 8 feet above the soil surface. Remove any unnecessary trees and shrubs. Use recommended species and sufficient spacing between plants when placing new plants.

     Consider other alternatives if quality grass cannot be maintained, even after following sound management practices and using recommended species and varieties. Other options you may consider are:

  • Removing trees or shrubs.
  • Planting an appropriate shade-tolerant groundcover, such as ivy, ajuga, liriope or pachysandra, rather than a turfgrass.
  • Cover the area with a 2 to 3 inch deep mulch extending from near the trunk out to the reach of the branches. Do not pile mulch against the base of the trunk.
  •  For additional information on turfgrass management, visit the University of Georgia turfgrass webpage at www.GeorgiaTurf.com.

     

     Contributors to this article include:

    Debbie Shaughnessy, HGIC Information Specialist and Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University

    Gil Landry, Center for Urban Agriculture (retired) and Kim Coder, Warnell School of Forestry, The University of Georgia

    Clint Waltz, Extension Turf Specialist, The University of Georgia



    Please share this information with others in the landscape industry. For more information:

    Call your local Extension Agent at (800) ASK-UGA1 or locate your local Extension Office at http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/statewide.cfm

    www.GeorgiaTurf.com

    For more Landscape Alerts please visit the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture

     

     

     

     

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