Florida's native live oaks and pines might be stunning, but they're often a homeowner's worst enemy. The heavy shade can lead to a brown, patchy lawn. Tired of feeling like you're the HOA's worst enemy? Check out our guide to find the best grass varieties for shady areas.
First, How Much Sun Does Grass Need?
Let's start by clearing up a few misconceptions about lawns. Many people think they can only have a great lawn if it's in strong sunlight all the time. However, too much sun can scorch and overheat your lawn.
The typical Floridian grass just needs at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Without this sunlight, your grass might grow a little slower or even die back.
If you've got a shady lawn, don't give up hope. As long as you pick a shade tolerant grass, you can get a great lawn with as little as four hours of filtered sunlight.
Best Shade Tolerant Grass
Now it's time to get to the part of the article you're here for. Let's take a close look at common types of grass and see if they're suited for low-sunlight lawns.
St. Augustine Grass
This sod grass is a Florida classic for a reason. It stands up to our heat and humidity better than most other grasses, and it creates a lush, dense sod. There are a few specific varieties that do especially well in shade.
Seville St. Augustine
This St. Augustine sod is particularly sturdy. It can handle salty soils and high-traffic areas with ease, and it retains its dark green color even in drought. Usually, Seville does best if it can get at least six hours of sun a day.
Palmetto St. Augustine
Palmetto is the best shade tolerant St. Augustine grass.
Bitterblue St. Augustine
At Natural Green, we prefer installing the Bitterblue variety of St. Augustine over Seville and Palmetto St. Augustine. We recommend Bitterblue over Palmetto and Seville because of its higher level of resistance to the Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV). There is currently no cure for SCMV, and it is currently very active and destroying yards in Pinellas County.
Classic St. Augustine
Also called Floratam grass, this is the most common St. Augustine variety. Its shade resistance isn't as great as some other varieties, so it does need at least eight hours of sun a day. However, it's still a better choice than cultivars like Bitterblue.
Zoysia is often called the "barefoot grass" because of its signature, soft feel. It's especially shade tolerant, so it only needs around four hours of sunshine. A nice perk of Zoysia is that you can grow it from seed, so it's easy to patch bare spots if necessary.
Bermuda grass has a reputation for being one of the sturdiest grass cultivars. However, it's not really the best choice for a shaded lawn. This warm season grass tends to need around seven hours of sunlight a day. Without a full day of sunlight, it quickly starts to thin.
Bahia typically prefers full sun all day long, but it's not an awful choice for a shady lawn. It does better than Bermuda in the shade since it just grows more slowly instead of thinning. Another bonus is that it tolerates the poorly drained soils common in shady spots.
Centipede grass is both shade and heat tolerant. This grass tends to prefer moderate shade and gets between four to six hours of sun each day. Just keep in mind that this grass isn't as salt tolerant as St. Augustine and Bermuda, so it won't do well along the coast.
Tall fescue is one of the most shade resistant options out there. This great grass can actually survive on as little as three hours of direct sun. Just remember that it tends to prefer cooler temperatures.
This grass is very sensitive to heat, so most Floridians won't use it. It tends to need cooler temperatures and plenty of direct sun. However, if your lawn has a lot of filtered shade, there's a chance Kentucky bluegrass might work.
This is a favorite in Pinellas county because it's extremely salt tolerant. This sturdy grass can also handle a variety of light conditions, so it can thrive on as little as six hours of sun a day. If you've got a shady, salty lawn, this is the right grass for you.
Like its taller cousin, fescue does a great job in shade. It also has a denser, thicker look that works very well for lawns. As long as your lawn gets around four hours of sunlight per day, fescue can flourish.
Temperatures above 100 degrees kill rye grass, so most Floridians are understandably wary about using it. It won't work for most Florida lawns, but it is nicely shade resistant. Usually, it only needs around five hours of partial sun.
This grass is an annual version of Kentucky bluegrass. It does do well in cooler, shadier lawns, but it can be a pain to reseed.
This soft, fluffy prairie grass is a neat alternative to traditional lawns. However, despite being drought friendly, it's not a great choice for shady Florida lawns. It usually needs full sun.
This grass is a great choice for shady lawns. In fact, many landscapers like to plant it directly around the base of trees. Palmetto turfgrass only needs about three hours of sunlight per day, and it looks very similar to traditional St. Augustine.
Is There A Full Shade Grass Species?
Full shade species are less rare than full sun species. Even the best grasses for shade still need three to four hours of sun a day. There are some shade-loving varieties like ryegrass and fescue, but those don't do well in Florida heat. For most Floridians, the best choice will be a shade resistant St. Augustine or Zoysia cultivar.
How To Get Grass To Grow In Shade
As you can probably see, the most important thing is just picking the right variety. Once you settle on a shade-loving grass, follow these tips to improve its growth:
- Cut grass at a higher mowing height
- Use less water
- Remove weeds promptly
- Avoid too much nitrogen-heavy fertilizer
- Don't let people walk on it a lot
- How Shade Affects Lawn Grasses
In Florida, shade can be a little useful. It keeps grass at a slightly colder temperature, so you get less scorching.
However, shade also cuts back on the amount of sun your grass gets. Since plants need sun to photosynthesize their food, they get less nutrition in shady areas.
Adjustments To Help Shaded Grasses
Since shaded grasses get less nutrients, you have to baby them a little. Anything that stresses grass, like weeds, short cuts, or high foot traffic, is a bad idea.
Don't forget about the slower growth rate either. Since shaded grasses grow more slowly, they need less water and nitrogen. Some research shows fertilizers with more potassium can help your grass withstand shade.
Alternatives To Shade Grass
As much as we love grass, we do have to admit it's not always the best solution. In areas with deep, dense, constant shade, almost no grass will flourish.
You might want to look at alternative ground cover options. Ferns do especially well in shade. Some other good options include dwarf lily, English ivy, mimosa, and jasmine.
What Kind Of Grass Should You Grow Under Shade Trees?
Ultimately, it all comes down to your lawn's unique needs. Seville St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Centipede are always solid choices.
However, if your lawn is fairly chilly or damp, Fescues and Bahia can work well. For coastal lawns, Seashore Paspalum often is a great option.
FAQs About Shade Tolerant Grasses
Got any other questions? Here's a quick guide to shade resistant grass.
What Grass Grows Best In The Shade In Florida?
In most cases, St. Augustine is ideal. Cultivars like Seville do well in shade, and they can tolerate the high heat and moisture of Florida.
What Grass Grows Best In Full Shade?
Altogether, the grasses that need the least amount of sun are various types of ryegrass and fescue. Just keep in mind that these grasses hate high temperatures though.
What Grass Grows In Shade Under Trees?
Fescue, bluegrass, and some types of St. Augustine grow well in shade underneath trees. If the trees are pines or other trees that add a lot of acidity to the soil, you might want to consider a variety like centipede instead.
Does St. Augustine Grass Do Well In Shade?
Some types of St. Augustine, such as Seville and Delmar, do great in the shade. However, more traditional cultivars tend to struggle if they get less than eight hours of sun a day.
Now that you know a bit more about shade tolerant grasses, are you ready to get the lawn of your dreams? Just picking the right grass cultivar makes it way easier to have a lush lawn. And remember, if you'd like a little help, we're happy to step in. Our team provides high quality lawn care services in Pinellas County. Contact us today to learn more!