Why Is My Grass Struggling in the Shade?

Lawn CareTurf Maintenance

Is your turfgrass struggling in the shade? Various factors keep your grass from thriving–expanding trees, unsuitable species of grass and trees, stress, and more. Identify the problem, implement proper care practices, and consider a turfgrass alternative if necessary.

An unpleasant surprise for homeowners is discovering patches of sickly or sparse grass in areas where it once thrived.  

Thin, receding, or bare patches of grass happen for several reasons. Let’s take a look at troubleshooting such conditions, tips for proper care of shaded grass, and suggestions for turfgrass alternatives.


You may wonder why your once-thriving grass is now struggling. Or maybe you’ve been trying to grow grass in shady spots for years and are still unsuccessful. What’s the problem?

Ask What Has Changed

Examine what has changed over the years. The trees on your property have likely grown, providing more shade and developing more expansive root systems than they used to. Maybe you have installed a shed, play structure, or other outdoor feature that creates more shade. 

  • Have you adjusted your turfgrass care to compensate for this change?

Are the Conditions Right?

Perhaps your turfgrass has always struggled in the shade. Look at both the types of trees and the type of grass on your property. 


In general, evergreen trees don’t support much turfgrass growth. Between a dense canopy and acidic soil, the environment around evergreen trees makes it difficult for grass to grow. (Not to mention the layers of needles dropped by pine trees that block sunlight and water.)

Most deciduous trees–like sycamore, elm, and locust–should not prevent grass from thriving, but certain deciduous trees do. Hard maple, dogwood, and oak grow in a way that make it very difficult for grass to survive at their bases.


Unfortunately, only some turfgrasses can survive without full sun. St. Augustine and Zoysia grasses do the best in shady conditions. If you have a different species, it simply may not be suited for shade.

So, what to do about it? Unfortunately, St. Augustine is the only grass that can survive without full sun. If you have a different species, skip over troubleshooting and think about how else you can use the area.

Care for Shaded Grass

Follow these tips to care for shaded grass and promote its healthy growth:

  • Mow grass ½ inch to 1 inch higher in the shade than in the sun to give blades more opportunity to collect sunlight.
  • Reduce stress to your grass: install stepping stones and use a minimal amount of herbicides.
  • Fertilize less: shaded areas need only half or two-thirds the amount of nitrogen as the amount applied to grass growing in full sun.
  • Give shaded grass more water than grass in sun. Tree canopies block rainfall, and turfgrass competes with tree roots for moisture.
  • For grass shaded by buildings, water less. Turfgrass here is not competing for moisture and absorbs water less quickly than grass in sunny areas.

Alternatives to Turfgrass in Shady Spots

If you’ve decided that the conditions just aren’t right for turfgrass growth, or your rehabilitation attempts are unsuccessful, take the opportunity to do something else with the space.

  • Fill the patchy or bare areas with a natural material like light-colored mulch, wood chips, or pine straw. 
  • Choose a shade-tolerant groundcover for greenery.
  • Create a relaxing sitting area by installing pavers leading to a simple bench or table and chairs.
  • Plant a garden bed with shade-loving flowers, groundcover, and other ornamental plants.

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