Shade Solutions for Thinning Bermuda Grass

Frequently, we are asked “Why is my grass so thin under my trees?” or “What can I do about the bare spots under my trees?”

This decline is caused by a lack of sunshine, either because your trees (or your neighbor’s trees) are growing larger and causing more shade areas in your lawn, or turf was sodded in an area without enough sun to sustain it.  Bermuda is a full sun grass, and while Zoysia or St. Augustine can take some shade, it cannot survive heavy shade.

We have some suggestions for this condition:

Plant a shade grass like fescue in these areas in the fall

Good points

  • You will have grass again in these areas.
  • If you live in northwest Arkansas, Tulsa, OK, or the Huntsville, AL area, we can do it for you if you don’t want to or don’t know how.  (Ask your tech for a quote on Fall Aeration and Overseeding.)
  • If you want to do it yourself, see our seeding page for complete detailed instructions:
  • It’s beautiful grass!

Bad Points

  • Fescue requires somewhat higher maintenance than Bermuda, Zoysia or St. Augustine.  It must be overseeded every fall since we are in a transition zone where it’s too hot for fescue.  It may require extra watering in the 90+ degree weather.
  • It will be a slightly different color and texture than your Bermuda, Zoysia or St. Augustine, and it will be green when your bermuda is still brown and dormant.
  • You will have to mow it at a taller height than your bermuda, zoysia or St. Augustine.
  • Can withstand less traffic (not good in an area where kids and dogs are stomping on it.)
  • Overseeding and planting of fescue MUST be done in the fall (the start of its growing season) to enable it to get a good root system down.  Doing it in the spring is temporary - it will look great until the heat of the summer.

Plant some shade-tolerant ground cover.

Good points

  • There are many nice spreading ground covers to choose from: English ivy, ajuga (pictured), vinca minor or sweet woodruff, to name a few.  
  • Very low maintenance – water it, and it comes back every year 

Bad Points

  • Initially, you will need to make a flowerbed around the tree that includes some kind of containment – rocks or edging - or the ground cover will creep out into your lawn.
  • May need occasional trimming and cutting back
  • Word of caution – don’t plant wild violets!  While they spread and have pretty flowers in the spring, they WILL get out into your lawn, and you will never get rid of them!

Make a shade garden. Shade garden with ferns & hostas

Good points

  • Absolutely beautiful! 
  • Many, many plants to choose from – perennials like hostas, ferns, Jacob’s Ladder, Lilies of the Valley and aucubas, as well as annuals like impatiens and tropical plants.
  • Your neighbors will think you possess esoteric gardening abilities and will linger and stare wistfully when they’re walking the dog.

Bad Points

  • Depending on the size of the area, it could mean some hard work initially.
  • If you choose to add color with annuals like impatiens and begonias, you will have to spend money on them every year.
  • Like any flowerbed, it will need weeded and mulched.  Mulching in late fall is important – you can just dump crunched-up leaves on top of hostas and ferns to protect them against cold winter temperatures.

Note:  If you have visible surface trees roots, don’t dump a foot of dirt over them!  Do make a map of where they are so that when you are planting, you can avoid those areas.  Your plants will grow larger and cover the blank places, so it won’t look funny.  Or, you can place decorative rocks in those areas so you know not to dig there in the future.

Do something else.

  • Put down a little soil and cover it with some nice rocks or paving stones.
  • Put in a gravel area and a bird bath.
  • Build a small deck around the tree and get some Adirondack chairs.
  • Use your imagination!

When choosing any grass or plants, make sure they are hardy for the zone you live in. All our service areas are in zones 6b-7b, as follows, as defined by the USDA.

6b – Memphis, TN, and Tulsa, OK

7a – Ft. Smith, AR, & northwest Arkansas

7b – Little Rock & Conway, AR, and Birmingham & Huntsville, AL

See the zone map.

 
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Bare areas under tree

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As the tree grew larger, the bermuda couldn't receive enough sunlight.

Ajuga

ajuga

Ajuga is a spreading, shade-loving ground cover that sports spiky purple flowers in the spring. Different varieties are available, but this purple and green type is most readily available.