Improving shade lawns
Radio interview source: Zac Reicher, Turfgrass Professor, University of Nebraska
Grass thrives in full sun, so shady areas make maintaining lawns a challenge.
Zac Reicher is a turfgrass professor at the University of Nebraska. He says grass growing under trees and in other shady places doesn't grow as well because it's fighting for light, nutrients, and water. He strongly recommends not planting grass at all in these areas and instead opting for shade-tolerant ornamentals. However if grass is what you prefer, the right maintenance practices help keep it healthy. For example, mow a shady area as high as you can.
"Three-and-a-half-inches is great. Don't try to mow it any shorter than that because you want to maximize the photosynthetic area of that grass plant to help partially compensate for the lack of photosynthesis," says Reicher. "The water is kind of tough because at certain times the area might be really humid underneath there and have too much water. But then when we get into the drier part of the year, if it's a tree shade, then the tree will be competing against the turf for that same amount of water."
Reicher says it's often better to under-water shaded turf to minimize diseases such as powdery mildew and dollar spot. Selective pruning and thinning of tree limbs allows better penetration of sunlight and increased air circulation.
He also recommends doing what you can to keep foot traffic off of the grass.
"That's the other thing when you get into a shaded lawn," says Reicher. "Lots of times you have dogs, or children, or maybe a swingset or something like that underneath the shade also. If there's more than one stress of the shade alone, the grass is not going to have any chance underneath there."
If you plan to over-seed a shady area, be sure to choose the right mix. Reicher says even though grass seed do much better in full sun, some mixes perform adequately in the shade.
More on selecting grasses for shady areas
Grass not growing as well as it should? Here are some common lawn care mistakes
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