The right lawn for shade

Author: Stefan Palm   Date Posted: 21 March 2023 

What's the best lawn for shady areas? It's an interesting topic and one that lots of people have to deal with.

With the sun starting to become lower in the sky as we move deeper into Autumn, shade can become more pronounced, and it's not only shade cast by trees; it's shade created by two-story dwellings and tall retainer walls, which is typical of today's suburban blocks, especially in hills areas. 

The best lawn for shady areas depends on how much shade you have and the purposes for which you are wanting a lawn. It's important to consider these two things because they will help you understand and choose the right type for your specific circumstances. Some lawns prefer more sun than others, and some have better tolerances to wear and tear than others, especially in the shade.  

How much shade do you have?

The best way to understand how much shade (or sun) you have is to ask yourself a very specific question, that being: How many hours of direct sun do you get in the shadiest position of your lawn?  By sun, I mean direct, unfiltered sun. As soon as it's dappled, you 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 a lawn, it’s definitely worth the effort in discovering the answer.

As a general rule, if you have 5 hours of sun per day or more, you can plant almost all varieties of lawns in South Australia, such as couch, kikuyu, buffalo, tall fescue, rye etc. Often, areas that are shaded by a wall or a building will still get 5 hours or more of direct sun so don't write off any varieties till you've had a good look at your area to establish its level of sun exposure. 

If you get less than 5 hours of sun per day, your options decrease as, at this point, you are starting to get into shady territory. Lawns like couch (Santa Ana, Windsor Green,) and kikuyu (Sterile, dwarf, Kenda) really need more than 5 hours per day of full sun to thrive. I wouldn’t push these boundaries either because if you plant sun-loving grasses in shady areas, they won’t do well. That leaves lawns like buffalo, tall fescue, fine leaf rye and even ground cover lawns like Dichondra repens.

What do you want to do with the lawn? What's its purpose?

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.

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 tall fescue is neither drought-tolerant nor hard-wearing. It is more for ornamental purposes or for areas that won’t get used much. It should be avoided if you have a significant amount of traffic or a dog, as it is not self-repairing and won't tolerate dog urine. Dichondra repens, on the other hand, has some drought tolerance and self-repairing qualities. While it won't sustain a high level of traffic, it is an excellent choice in heavy shade situations where you have some traffic.

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, such as Kings Pride, may be the answer. It's 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 be less hardwearing and slow to repair.

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 shadier the area, the slower a lawn will grow and the less resilient it will be. 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 for a period of time till it recovers or even 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 consider other options like synthetic grass.

What are your best options for shady environments?

Santa Ana or Windsor Green Couch (Bermuda grass)
How much sun?: Needs 5 hours or more of direct sun. While couches are sun-loving lawns, they will tolerate some shade

  • Moderate shade tolerance. Needs 5 hours or more of sun. 
  • If you have more than 5 hours (or even right on 5 hours) between October and May, I'd still recommend you consider these types, especially if you have pets. 
  • Excellent durability
  • Available in turf
  • Excellent drought tolerance
  • Pet tolerant
  • Can be planted year-round, although September to May is the best time of year
  • Self-repairing

Kings Pride Buffalo
How much sun?: Needs 2-3 hours per day of direct sun. A great choice for moderately shady areas where durability and drought tolerance is required. 

  • Good shade tolerance. 
  • Available in turf
  • Pet tolerant
  • Can be planted year-round, although September to April is the best time of year
  • Is self-repairing

Tall fescue
How much sun? Can grow with no sun at all. Ideal for heavy shade situations but won't tolerate high traffic or pet traffic. 

  • Excellent shade tolerance
  • Available in seed and turf
  • Is not pet tolerant
  • Can be planted year-round
  • Is not self-repairing

Dichondra Repens
How much sun? Can grow with no sun at all. Excellent for heavy shade and has some drought tolerance and self-repairing qualities. 

  • Extremely shade tolerant
  • Australian native plant
  • Ground cover lawn with a kidney-shaped leaf
  • Available in seed and seedlings
  • Some self-repairing qualities
  • Drought tolerant
  • Extremely low maintenance
  • Very slow growing
  • Sow seed in the Spring for best results

If you have a shade-related lawn enquiry, give us a call at 8298 0555 or send an email to