The Dreaded Shade Areas

Areas of increasing shade can really mess up your yard!  All of a sudden, you notice your bermuda grass thinning out under the trees.  Or you might even have (gulp) bare areas.  You keep mowing and watering, hoping your grass will somehow reappear, but it doesn’t.  What happened?


Apparently, your trees got bigger, creating more shade than your full-sun grass can handle, causing it to decline.  So what now?


Don’t worry – you have a lot of choices.  The following solutions apply in any shade area.


  • Plant fescue
  • Plant ground cover
  • Make a shade garden
  • Make up your own solution.

Let’s talk about these!


Plant fescue under the trees in the fall.  Fescue is a cool-season grass.  You can grow it in full sun in climates farther north, but here in Oklahoma, in our transitional zone, it’s really too hot for fescue, so we grow it in the shade.  You must seed it in the fall (the beginning of its growing season) and then overseed it every fall thereafter.  Since it’s really too hot for fescue in our climate, you will lose some of it during the summer, due to the heat.  Overseeding it every fall will keep it thick and healthy.


Your fescue in the shade will be a different color than your bermuda or zoysia grass in the sun.  It must be mowed higher than your bermuda grass, and it will stay green all winter, while your bermuda is brown and dormant. 


SUMMARY:  Great solution, if you don’t mind having two types/colors of grass in your lawn, mowing each grass at different heights, and having to reseed it every year.  If you like the idea, but don’t want to do the work, please see our pages on seeding, or just get a fall fescue seeding estimate!


Plant ground cover under the tree.  You would be amazed at how many different kinds of beautiful, low-maintenance ground covers there are!  English ivy, ajuga, pachysandra or creeping phlox, to name a few – and they all spread.  Most of them are readily available at local nurseries.


SUMMARY:  Great solution!  You don’t have to seed every year, you don’t have to mow it, and you have a wide variety from which to choose.  Just remember that “spreading” means you will have to contain it somehow, so that it doesn’t get out into your lawn.  Some edging should do the trick!


Make a shade garden.  This takes a little initial work, but can be well worth it!  If you put in perennial shade plants, they will come back every year.  Perennial = always there, or comes back every year.  Annual = only lives one season.   Hostas are great, easy-to-grow shade perennials, and they come in many sizes and colors.  They get larger every year, so you can divide them if you wish.  Other choices are coral bells, ferns of all shapes and sizes (some are perennial and some annual, so be sure to check before you buy,) columbines, or black negligee snakeroot.  (Really!)  If you want to leave some room for annual color, you can plant impatiens or caladiums for bright color splashes, or even tropical plants that you can dig up in the fall to bring indoors, or just let them die with the rest of the annuals.  Some shade shrubs like hydrangea or aucuba make a nice center or focal point.  Just be sure you contain the garden with rocks or edging, and don’t dump a foot of dirt over your tree roots!


SUMMARY: A shade garden can be a lot of fun, if you enjoy plants and digging in the dirt, and caring for them.  Choosing shade perennials will cut maintenance to a minimum. 


Make up your own solution.  In Oklahoma, shade is still a rather nice commodity.  So make yourself a place.  Lay some pavers and sit a fancy bench on it.  Maybe even one of those little garden sets – two little wrought-iron chairs and a little table.  You can drink lemonade in the shade, and the wrought iron chairs will be cool on your shorts-clad legs.  Or maybe you’d rather have a birdbath, and hang bird feeders and suet-holders from the trees.  Or a hammock, where you can read a book or doze.  Or put in river rocks and one of those funky purple gazing balls.  The possibilities are endless!


SUMMARY:  Riding your bike around in your neighborhood, or driving around in other neighborhoods is a great way to get ideas!  That way you can look at other people’s pink flamingo gardens and decide whether or not they look stupid before you do your own!


shade garden