Shade Lawns

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by Smallaxe, Sep 27, 2011.

  1. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    I've developed a system of shade lawncare over the years of trial and error, and this is what I've gotten so far...
    Regular fescues/kbg with minimal fertilizer, ONLY in the fall works best... mow high for maximum chorophyll and always mulch mow... stay away from 'cides in the shade areas except for spot spraying broadleaf, root inhibitors for CG are unnecessary in that CG never grows in the shade if there is already grass there... there is little tolerance for the stress of 'cides, in the shade... none of the conventional rules apply...

    Has anyone else had any success with shade lawn and have any tips, to make this most difficult of situations work???
  2. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    Smallaxe I'm an all shade yard guy and have been doing the same, an informal list of do's and dont's that I think are critical.

    Extreme care should be taken when watering. Most lawns have sunnier and shadier areas, learning to account for that when putting down water is one of the most important things to keeping a shade lawn.

    I think poa supina is really the key to shade and it is capable of more than I think any lawn care specialists really know. My front yard is 100% poa supina, and right now I get no sun. Literally, zero. I haven't gotten direct sun in 3 weeks on one blade of the grass.

    In spring it starts that way, by mid-summer it gets from 2-6 hours depending upon location, and by early September it gets no sun, ever.

    The hype on poa supina is that it spreads very aggresively, so much so that if seeded in low %, say 10 (experts say), it will overtake the rest of the lawn within a few seasons. It only requires wear (foot traffic, etc), which wears out all the grass...but the poa regenerates the fastest.

    It spreads so much it actually needs to be mowed no higher than about 3" or so, beyond that it becomes thatchy. Ideally I mow it around 2-1/4" or so. It can be mowed low, even in shade, to just over 1".

    So here's my take. Anything will germinate, but fescues imo are not really a great option for the long term. They drown easily in heavy rains, it mats down, it spreads but slowly. It looks nice but not great.

    In shady areas, I would mix fine fescues with at least 10% poa supina (the higher the better), and also add say 10% or so high quality traditional bluegrass. The huge downside to poa supina is its cost, around $30-40/lb!

    It's very expensive, but it works. Would clients buy it or allow the high cost? I don't know that, but I can tell you (and show you in pictures) that the stuff is beautiful and aggressive, truly the underutilized shadegrass due to cost. But at say 10-20% the cost becomes manageable for someone who wants a great lawn.

    If someone needed 60lbs of bluegrass, and bought 6lbs of poa, that's very pricey but then again, is $250 for seed (total, say) really so bad if the results are there?
  3. jfoxtrot9

    jfoxtrot9 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 288

    I tried for several years with the traditional aerate/overseeding of these areas. (I know that you are not a big fan of smallaxe, but I DO have good results on many lawns to prove that this works well for to improve and thicken lawns, maybe it's somewhat location, idk.)

    In shade areas, I will get germination (I use fine fescue in these areas), but after all the leaves fall and are removed, then after the hard winter, there is usually none of that grass come spring.

    This past spring I decided to try something new. I have two lawns with pretty dense shade, about 8k square ft between the two. As soon as I was able to aerate in the spring, I tried the aerate/overseed in the spring instead. Once the ground warms and without such dense shade before the leaves come out on the trees, I got much better germination and the grass lasted!...Well, untill about July/August, then it began to thin out...There is still better grass coverage than there has for years but I wonder if I may be on to something. I guess the real test of time will be to see what they look like come next spring.

    I will say that this method gave the best lawns that both of these lawns have seen since I have managed them. So well that one of the customers has requested that I aerate the rest of the lawn in the fall and use this same method in the spring for the shade area.

    I will anxiously watch this thread for better ideas!
  4. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    I'm glad to hear you concur with the careful irrigation on shade grass thing... every one seems to think more = better, but I too discovered that it is a death sentence to shade lawns...
    BTW, using Poa Supina is cheating... :)
  5. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    Not sure why it would thin out in July/Aug unless it was fertilized and given too much water or not enough... It's usually good once I get the grass established...
  6. jfoxtrot9

    jfoxtrot9 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 288

    Would like to know myself. Thought I had it figured out. Just sent in a soil sample for one. It might be too much fertilizer as it did get regular timed apps...
  7. JDiepstra

    JDiepstra LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,511

    Man I hate shade. I agree with you guys, do not overwater and ya know what I mow those areas as infrequently as possible as well. I tell customers if there want their grass to grow in a very shady spot, they need to remove branches from the trees to let sun through.
  8. RigglePLC

    RigglePLC LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,670

    Wife and I have planted "shade seed" with rye, blue and fescue on our shady west side many times. (irrigated). But the fine fescue never seems to survive, bluegrass neither. The main thing left is the perennial rye.

    I feel that the high soil temperature of late summer increases respiration in the roots, causing them to get shorter and shorter until they cannot support the grass plant any more. Result in heavy shade, bare dirt. Very thin in medium shade.

    I will look again. I want to be sure whether it is blue or rye that remains.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2011
  9. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    You actually already have the answer, you just don't recognize it.

    The reason that every master gardener will tell you not to try and grow grass in the shadiest places is, simply put, because it won't grow.

    It will germinate. And depending upon what type of grass it is and how much sun it is getting, it may last for a few months. But inevitably it dies. In spring I know exactly what you mean, no leaves on the trees and such and it made it for say 2-3 months. But it thinned out and died. And when grown in Fall, it "disappeared" more or less by the next spring.

    The bottom line is that you did a good job and that seed simply is not viable in those conditions.

    Next spring order yourself an overseeding's worth of poa supina. For 8k you could go say 50% poa supina and 50% (previous mix that withers after a while). Faster results with 100% poa supina but it really does spread fast enough that you don't need it.

    I wrote the seed company an e-mail asking about how it works in very low sun and they told me it will grow with pretty much no direct sun. They suggested 2 or more hours, fine fescues may work, under 2 only poa supina will survive, and will actually thrive. That sounded like b.s. to me but I wanted a lawn so I did it anyway. It's exactly what they said.

    When the rain let's up in a few days I'll take some pictures.
  10. jfoxtrot9

    jfoxtrot9 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 288

    Well, you have my attention and interest. I am going to certainly look into and consider.

    With it's aggressive nature, does this grass also move into sunny areas or does it shy away from?

    What is the color compared to KBG?

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