Made for the shade: Choosing turf species
Have you been struggling to keep turf alive under the trees, roof overhangs and the north side of your house? A tall order, for sure.
One of the most critical decisions in maintaining a landscape is that of choosing the best grass species. If the grass species chosen turns out to be inappropriate, changing to another can be costly and labor intensive. Thus, it pays to consider the choice carefully.
In all cases, strive to put the right plant in the right place. In shady situations, there only are a few grass species to choose from.
Many shady site turfs fail because they predominantly are Kentucky bluegrass. It forms a medium-textured, green to dark green turf of good turf density.
The agressive soil-forming habit of bluegrass is attributable to its strong rhizome development, lateral spreading potential and excellent recuperative potential.
It has fair high temperature tolerance and good to excellent cold temperature tolerance. Some cultivars are pest susceptible. Choose the shade adapted cultivars of bluegrass for mixing with fine fescue.
Tall fescue has medium texture. The recuperative potential is low, as it is a bunch grass, and most cultivars do not spread laterally. Tall fescue has a very extensive root system that is used to draw on soil moisture reserves and resist insect-feeding damage; thus, it is considered pest resistant and drought tolerant.
It has fair cold temperature tolerance and good to excellent heat tolerance. Tall fescue is used on home lawns, low-budget athletic fields, acreages and highway turfs. A big advantage of this species is that it can be used in landscapes where only 3 to 4 hours of sunlight are received.
A group of grass species possessing needle-fine texture are the fineleaf fescues. The group is made up of hard fescue, sheep fescue, creeping red fescue and chewings fescue.
Although there are minor differences, they are grouped together for practicality. Except for creeping red fescue, these are bunch grasses and do not significantly spread. They are medium to dark green and exhibit good to excellent shade tolerance, and are predominantly mixed with shade tolerant cultivars of bluegrass for use in turf areas that receive 3 to 6 hours of sun per day.
If the landscape site receives less than 3 hours of sunlight, turf will fail to trive. In these situations, consider installation of groundcovers that will serve a similar purpose, yet maintain green cover in shade.Some scenarios will call for solid masses of groundcovers, and others can be interplanted with shade-adapted perennial flowers for a diverse appearance.
Functionality can be added to a groundcover bed by adding a path, or a meandering group of stepping stones to allow movement through the landscape. Consider varigated bishop's goutweed, lamium, Japanese spurge, periwinkle, baltic ivy, aguga, creeping mahonia, lily of the valley and ginger as choices in shade. For more information, go to the backyard farmer website.
An important point to remember in the selection of turfgrass is that a "magic grass" -- one that uses little or no water, seldom needs mowing, withstands heavy use in a deeply-shaded area -- simply does not exist.
The challenge for the homeowner is to use the information in this article to match the attributes and features of potential grass species with your needs and desires for the landscape.