The Truth About Shade Tolerant Grass in Minnesota

Shade tolerant grass still needs 4-6 hours of sun per day at the very minimum. Preferably morning sun while the grass is photosynthesizing. In the afternoon and evening the plants shut down because it gets too warm and the grass plants go into “protective mode” therefor the sun in the late hours of the day does nothing for the shade tolerant grass plants needing the minimum amount of sun per day.

Shade tolerant grass is very fragile. It has a very fine leaf blade almost “needle like.” This type of grass, (fescue) simply cannot withstand heat, disease, foot traffic, dryness, and especially Minnesota winters.

We get calls every year, with constant questions on what people can do. Unfortunately, there is no real solution. Most options we recommend is either invest in several thousands of dollars of tree trimming or mostly likely actual tree removal in order to get grass to grow, to seeding the lawn several times a year over and over again so it looks nice for a short period of time, or going to an alternative such as ideas like shade gardens or laying down mulch or just plain giving up trying and letting the area go back to wild.

So, what can you do to help try and prolong shade grass in the lawn?

Do not mulch your leaves in the fall! Mulching leaves into finely chopped pieces and letting it sit on the lawn all winter is the number one killer! This creates mold and smothers the crown of the grass plant.

Height of cut. Try to keep the shade grass higher so it can be less stressed out. A higher height of cut allows the grass to be taller and retain 20-30% more moisture during the summer months, thus protecting the plant from wilt, foot traffic wear, and funguses from stress. A higher height of cut allows the grass to be more mature and shoot up more plants creating density as well.

Fertilize. Early spring and late fall fertilization will give it the jump it needs in the spring and the preparations in the fall for winter.

Just how bad can winters be?

Remember, shade grass is growing in shade so it is used to having readily available moisture. Therefore, shade grass has a root system of only 1” to maybe 3-4” at the maximum. A hard winter with ice and freezing cold will have no problem killing shade grass and you having to start all over again planting new grass or in other instances of just slowly watching your grass disappear over a few years’ time before you try re-seeding again.

Re-seeding in the Spring

Let’s remind ourselves of trying to re-seed in the Spring. Remember we live in Minnesota! We get tons of flash flooding all of April and May while trying to grow grass. If you hire a company to do your seeding, don’t expect to be covered from rainstorms. The best option is to seed yourself or have a hydroseeding company come and do the work. Hydroseeding sprays the seed down with a cellulose material so the seed sticks to the soil and doesn’t move.

What about Moss?

If you are seeing moss in the shaded area of the lawn that is a dead giveaway  the area is not getting proper sunlight. Moss grows in conditions of 4 hours of sunlight or less so do not expect shade tolerant grass to do very well. As stated above, shade tolerant grass needs more like 6 hours of sun per day to have a chance and that is the bare minimum and don’t forget, -It has to be “morning sun” for shade tolerant grass to grow!