Seeking refuge in the shade on a hot day is even more soothing when you sink your feet into lush grass. Several types of grasses can be grown in shade, if the growing area gets at least four hours of sun a day. Seed mixes of cool-season grasses selected for shade are readily available and should be sown in the early fall, no later than mid-September. Finding shade-tolerant warm-season grasses is more challenging, but not impossible. These should be seeded in late spring or early summer.
The most shade-tolerant grasses for cool season lawns are tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and fine fescues (Festuca sp.). These grasses are often sold in seed mixes designed for shade that include multiple fescue species.
Other cool season grasses that do well in shade include rough bluegrass (Poa trivialis] and the Kentucky bluegrass varieties 'Bensun' and 'Glad,' which tolerate light shade. These grasses are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones 2 through 7.
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is the most shade-tolerant warm-season grass, but it's rarely available from seed. It has a narrow hardiness range, only growing in USDA zones 8 through 10.
Zoysiagrass (Zoysia sp) has some shade tolerance, particularly the cultivars 'Belaire,' 'Cavalier,' 'Diamond' and 'El Toro.' Zoysiagrass cultivars are hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9. This grass species is typically propagated from sod, plugs or sprigs, but seed is available. Once established, zoysiagrass is heat, drought and traffic tolerant.
Seeding a New Lawn
Prepare soil by covering the area with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic matter, like well-composted manure. Till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Sow grass seed using a rotary or drop spreader. Tree roots will compete with grasses for nutrients and soil space, so maintain a grass-free 2- to 4-foot diamater around trees.
After seeding, rake the seed to lightly cover it. Follow this by mulching with one bale of straw per 1,000 square feet for warm-season grass and 1 to 2 bales for cool-season grass. For the first 15 to 20 days, water to keep the top 1/2-inch of soil contantly moist.
Keeping Shaded Grass Healthy
To help keep shade-grown grass healthy, mow at least 1 inch higher than is recommended, as this ensures that as much leaf surface as possible is available to take in light. Minimize problems from nearby trees by trimming until the lowest branches are at least 6 feet above the ground.
Shaded grass should be fertilized sparingly by applying no more than 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each year. A dry lawn food with an N-P-K ratio of 20-0-10 contains 20 percent nitrogen, so it can be applied at the recommended rate of 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet, up to three times a year.