Best Types of Grass for Shade

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 12, 2024

Having a seamless, lush carpet of grass can tie together your entire landscape. Bright green grass makes lawns look picture-perfect, and healthy grass with deep roots can hold the soil in place to prevent erosion or weed infestations. However, some landscapes simply don’t provide good growing conditions for most types of grass.

Frequent foot traffic, poor soil nutrient content, and droughts can make your grass struggle to grow, but the biggest challenge a lot of grass faces is shade, especially if your lawn was seeded with full-sun grass varieties. In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the best grasses for shade, explore some of the challenges to growing these grasses, and provide maintenance tips so your grass can thrive, even in the shade.


Understanding Shade in Your Lawn

Almost all lawns have some degree of shade, but how much shade your lawn receives can affect what grass species will grow best. Different portions of your lawn may also receive different levels of shade and sunlight. There are three main categories of shade: dappled sunlight, full shade, and partial shade.

Dappled Sunlight

Dappled sunlight is a bit of an ambiguous category. It refers to areas that receive plenty of light, but that light is diffused through tree leaves, grasses, or other surfaces. If you have grass under a tree with thin branches, for example, that grass receives dappled sunlight that’s occasionally blocked by the tree but is still more intense than most partially shaded areas.

Full Shade

Full shade conditions mean your lawn receives four hours or less of direct sunlight a day. It may receive more indirect sunlight, but almost all grasses and types of ground cover require some minimal amount of direct sunlight. Within the full shade category, there’s also dense shade, a category reserved for areas that receive zero hours of direct sunlight and have only some access to indirect sun. Few plants and grasses can survive in these conditions.

Partial Shade

Partial shade, also known as partial sunlight, refers to areas that get four to six hours of sunlight on most days and have some additional indirect sun exposure. Partially shaded areas may be on the eastern and western sides of your homes, which receive either morning or afternoon sunlight.

Before you start looking at different shade-tolerant grasses, it’s important to assess your lawn and know what shade conditions it has. Keep in mind that southern portions of your yard will typically receive more sunlight than northern portions. Also, the plants and features around grass, including patios, gazebos, and fences, will impact the amount of sunlight the ground receives.

Challenges of Growing Grass in Shade

Most popular grass varieties are cultivated to handle sunny growth conditions, and they can struggle to grow well in shady areas. Here are some challenges that will negatively affect grasses in shady lawns:

Damp Conditions

Sunlight and the heat it provides evaporates morning dew, condensation, and puddles of water after a rainstorm. However, when there’s limited sunlight, there’s less evaporation, and that water lingers. As a result, it can drown the grass or keep water pushed up against the grass’s root, inviting rot and pests. The excess moisture and extra hazards it attracts can make grass grow poorly.

Fungal Diseases and Rot

The dampness and lack of sunlight contribute to fungal diseases and rot in low-light lawns. Most fungal diseases—such as brown patch lawn disease and fusarium—thrive in moist, shadowed conditions. Mold, mildew, and general rot can also spread through underground grass roots and the blades of infected grasses. Once a disease infests a patch of your grass, removing it can be very difficult.

Low Levels of Sunlight

One of the most direct problems of growing grass in the shade is insufficient sunlight. Most grasses need direct sunlight to photosynthesize and produce their glucose food source. Without enough food, the grass will stop growing and not be strong enough to fight off diseases.

Plant Roots and Tree Roots Compete for Resources

Your fence and home block some grass, but shrubs and trees are often the bigger culprits, blocking the grass around them from receiving much sunlight. They also may be taking the soil-borne nutrients and water in the ground away from your grass. When there’s not an excess of moisture introducing rot and disease, there’s too little.


Best Cool-Season Grasses for Shade

Of course, not all grasses require full sunlight to grow. Plenty of popular grasses thrive in dappled sunlight, partial shade, and full shade conditions. Before you start looking into different varieties, ask yourself the following questions:

Below are some of the best cool-season grasses available.

Bluegrass

Bluegrass, specifically Kentucky bluegrass, is a popular variety of cool-season grass. It can thrive in moderate or medium shade conditions, requiring at least four hours of direct sunlight. Because it’s moderately tolerant of drought, shade, cold, and heat, bluegrass is used as ground cover in northern states—it can grow almost anywhere in typical northern lawn conditions. It thrives in USDA zones 3 to 7.

This type of grass grows aggressively, meaning it can quickly fill in sparse patches and carpet your entire lawn. Once you plant bluegrass, you’ll have a thick yard of dark green grass throughout the fall and spring.

Fescue

Fescue grass is a great cool-season grass for most of the United States and grows well in zones 3 to 8. It’s a perennial grass that prefers full and partial sunlight, so the further north you are, the more sunlight it needs. While fescue is slightly more sensitive to shady spots in cold weather, it makes up for it by being able to grow in almost any type of soil. If your lawn has clay soil or acidic, silty soil, fescue can still grow.

Ryegrass

Homeowners in the Southern United States, in zones 8 and 9, can grow ryegrass. This grass is built for partial shade and full sunlight conditions and grows well in zones 4 to 9. It’s also a favorite for homeowners with yards that experience a lot of foot traffic, as perennial ryegrass is very hardy and handles wear better than other cool-season grasses.


Best Warm-Season Grasses for Shade

If you’re preparing your lawn for the summer or just want a warm-season lawn, switch your focus to warm-season grasses. These are some of the hardiest shade-tolerant grasses for warm-season lawns:

Centipede

Consider centipede grass if your yard has dappled shade and partial shade in between sections of fully sunlit grass. It’s shade-tolerant and will grow uniformly across different patches of your lawn. It grows best in hardiness zones 7 to 10 but is sensitive to cold conditions and alkaline soil. Because the nutrient requirements and acidity level of centipede grass differ from most turfgrasses, test the pH level of your soil before choosing this grass.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine grass is a popular variety of grass found in Florida and other warm regions. It can grow in hardiness zones 7 to 12 and handles acidic soil with pH levels 5.0 to 8.5. It’s a thick, lush grass that’s dark green throughout the warm seasons. There are many varieties of St. Augustine grass, with the most shade-tolerant variety being Palmetto St. Augustine grass. It can thrive on as little as three hours of direct sunlight.

Zoysia

Zoysia grass is a thin-bladed type of grass that has a beautiful bright green color. It requires only four hours of direct sunlight and can thrive in either acidic or neutral soil conditions. Zoysia is also one of the most versatile warm-season grasses because it can grow in zones 5 to 10, which include most of the continental United States.

To grow this grass, plant it in the late spring or early summer. It spreads through rhizomes that reach across available space but can be slow to establish and grow.


How to Grow Grass in Shade

Selecting the right type of grass for your shady lawn is an important first step. Assessing the amount of sunlight your lawn receives, the pH level of the soil, and the hardiness zone you live in will also help you find the right variety. Before you plant the grass, there are a few steps you should take to ensure it has the best possible growing environment.

  1. Remove weeds, twigs, and debris: Clear your lawn so the new grass can grow over previously weedy patches.
  2. Prepare the soil: If you have dense or compact soil, aerate it before installing new grass. This will break up the soil, make nutrients more accessible, and increase seed-to-soil contact. It will also restart the clock on aerating your lawn if you perform this task annually. Between aerating the soil and applying the seeds, apply a layer of high-phosphorus fertilizer and soil conditioner over the lawn.
  3. Apply the grass seeds: Use a seed spreader to cover your lawn. Walk slowly and ensure you cover the ground evenly. Cover the lawn area four times, applying a quarter of the seed volume and walking in a different orientation each time to minimize the risk of clumping or inconsistent coverage.
  4. Water the lawn: Immediately after applying the seeds, apply a fine spray of water across the lawn. Repeat this every couple of hours for the first several days, but be careful not to overwater—you want the ground to stay moist but not waterlogged.

These steps will give your new lawn the best growing conditions for taking root and growing. Some grass varieties, such as bluegrass, grow very quickly, while other grasses, such as zoysia, will take longer to settle and spread into a seamless carpet of grass.

Be patient and continue to keep the ground moist until the grass reaches 4 inches or the recommended maximum mowing height for your specific variety. Once your grass has reached maturity, mow your grass. After it has gone through three regrowing and mowing cycles, it’s ready for the typical recommended watering cycle for the grass variety.


Lawn Care Tips for Shaded Areas

Once your lawn is established, shade-tolerant grasses require a bit of extra care and attention. Here are a few lawn care tips to maintain these grasses:


Our Recommendation

Trying to grow grass in shaded parts of your lawn, especially under trees or around your fence line, can be frustrating. Typical full-sun grasses don’t grow well in these environments and are vulnerable to disease and weeds.

By switching to shade-tolerant grasses that fit your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and soil pH level, you can grow a thick, lush lawn more easily as part of your total landscape design. If you’re unsure which grasses are right for your lawn, consider hiring a landscape company or lawn care provider to help you decide.


Best Types of Grass for Shade FAQ

What grass grows best in full shade?

The grasses that grow best in full shade are zoysia grass and hard fescue, and they also grow well in partial shade. Consider alternative ground covers such as moss for full-shade environments with fewer than four hours of direct sunlight.

How can I improve the growth of grass in shaded areas?

You can improve the growth of grass in shaded areas by regularly monitoring for overwatering and disease. Discoloration and mildew growth are signs of overwatering and disease. If needed, adjust your watering schedule so the ground stays moist but not waterlogged and consider hiring a professional lawn care company to assess your lawn and treat it for disease.

Can you grow grass under a tree?

Yes, you can grow grass under a tree. Thin trees cause dappled sunlight or partial shaded growing conditions, which many shade-tolerant grasses can handle. For thick trees that cause heavy shade, consider ground cover alternatives or having a ring of mulch around the shadiest parts of the tree.

How often should I water grass in shaded areas?

Water grass in shaded areas with two deep watering sessions per week. Even shade-tolerant grasses need deep watering, especially under trees that might block or absorb rainwater.

Is there a type of grass that doesn’t need sun?

All grasses need some sun. Shade-tolerant grasses such as St. Augustine and zoysia can handle partial shade conditions.