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How To Grow Turf In The Shade

The Basics

At the most basic level, your lawn needs sun, water and air to survive.

What makes grass grow?

Grass feeds itself just like any other plant, and it needs:

  • Carbon dioxide – absorbed from the air through the leaves
  • Sunlight – absorbed by a green chemical in the leaves called chlorophyll
  • Water – mostly absorbed by the roots in the soil and travels up the stem of the plant

Green plants absorb energy from the sun to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and nutrients, called sugars or glucose. The plants use the sugars as food for growth.

This process is called “photosynthesis”.

Why is grass green?

Grass uses sunlight to produce a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll absorbs light at two different wavelengths, blue light and red light, but reflects green light, which is the light that we see. 

In winter, expect your turf to lose some colour. Days will be shorter. Therefore, your turf may not receive enough light to produce as much chlorophyll. This does not mean the grass is dying. 

Which is the best turf for shaded areas?

Grass absorbs sunlight through its leaves. Knowing this, it makes sense that most turf will suffer in the shade. But some varieties do better than others. 

Buffalo varieties are unique. They perform well in the shade (with a minimum of three hours of sun per day) because they grow a broad leaf with more surface area to capture light. We call these varieties “shade tolerant”. Our buffalo varieties available to order are Sir Walter and Palmetto

See the table below for our varieties and their shade tolerance: 

Turf variety Leaf size Shade tolerance
Wintergreen couch Fine blade 30%
AussiBlue couch Fine blade 40%
Empire Zoysia Medium blade 50%
Palmetto soft leaf buffalo Broad blade 70%
Sir Walter buffalo Broad blade 70%

Tips for growing turf in shaded areas:

  • Choose the right variety – buffalo is the most shade tolerant; either Palmetto or Sir Walter.
  • Water your lawn less in shaded areas. There will be less evaporation than grass in full sun, so your grass will stay wet for longer. Constantly wet turf can develop disease and fungus. Water deeply, only when necessary. 
  • Never mow more than 1/3 of the leaf and always remove the clippings. Extra length = extra surface area for photosynthesis to occur and gives your grass energy to grow.
  • Trim trees to allow more sunlight onto your lawn. 
  • Use 1/2 the amount of fertiliser on the same schedule as the rest of your lawn. 
  • Keep traffic to a minimum. Turf grown in shaded areas will be less wear tolerant than turf that is grown in full sun.
  • Don’t expect perfection. Turf growing in the shade will be weaker, no matter the variety.

Still can’t get turf to grow in the shade? Here’s what to consider

Hardscaping with rocks or paths where grass won’t grow, e.g. between the side of your house and a 6ft fence.

Extend or plant gardens directly under trees. Trees and grass will compete for water and nutrients; the tree generally wins within its dripline radius.