The right lawn for shade

Author: Stefan Palm   Date Posted: 9 January 2017 

Its and interesting topic and one that lots of people have to deal with. Which lawn do you choose if you have a shady area to plant in? The answer lies in how much shade you have and in what you are going to do with it.

Even trying to articulate how much shade you have can be tricky and often confusing in the market place. In our lawn store, when trying to understand how much shade a customer has, we ask the following question, “How many hours of sun per day would you get in the most shady position in your lawn?” By sun, we mean direct, unfiltered sun. As soon as its dappled, we would consider this shade. It might take a bit of time to answer that question – you might have to spend a day paying special attention to where you are going to plant. If you know you have some potential shade issues and you want to plant lawn, it’s definitely worth the effort in discovering the answer to that question.

The next question is, “what do you want to do with it?”. How you intend to use the lawn is an important consideration when choosing a lawn for shade as shade tolerant lawns can often be the types that are not particularly hard wearing. If you had a pet for instance, you’d want to make sure your lawn could tolerate both shade and hardwearing traffic.

As a general rule, if you have more than 5 hours of sun per day, you can plant almost all varieties of lawn in South Australia such as couch, kikuyu, buffalo, tall fescue, rye etc. If you get less than 5 hours of sun per day, your options decrease as now you are starting to get into shady territory. Lawns like couch (Santa Ana, Windsor Green, Conquest) and kikuyu (Sterile, dwarf, Kenda) really need more than 5 hours per day of full sun so they are the first to drop off when things start to get shady. I wouldn’t push these boundaries either because if you plant sun loving grasses in shady areas, they won’t survive. That leaves lawns like buffalo, tall fescue, fine leaf rye and even ground cover lawns like dichondra repens.

Tall fescue, fine leaf rye and Dichondra are the most shade tolerant. They will grow in environments with very little sun however keep in mind that these lawns are neither drought tolerant nor hard wearing. They are more for ornamental purposes or for areas that won’t get used much. They should be avoided if you have a dog as they are not self repairing and do not tolerate dog urine.

If you intend to subject your lawn to more traffic like sport, pets and family fun, then you’ll need something a little more hard wearing. Soft Leaf buffalo may be the answer. Its not as shade tolerant as tall fescue and fine leaf rye but it is more hard wearing and more drought tolerant thanks to its self repairing nature. I’d recommend you have at least 3 hours of sun a day at a minimum to plant buffalo. Any less and it will wear very quickly and be slow to recover.

 I have to say here that high traffic and shade is the most difficult combination for a lawn and if this sounds like you, then you may have some more chin scratching to do. The more shady the area, the slower a lawn will grow and the less resilient it will be. I have seen many people plant buffalo only to see it fail because of excessive shade and excessive traffic. High traffic lawns in the shade have to be managed. By that I mean, if you notice it is wearing out and not recovering, you may have to limit traffic, or rethink areas that are thoroughfares.

There are situations where high shade and or high traffic may mean natural lawn is not a viable option and in these circumstances you will need to either think hard about how you expose your lawn to traffic or think about other options like synthetic grass.

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