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Help! I Can’t Get Grass to Grow in the Shade!

St. Augustine grass, the most common turf grass in Westchase and Northwest Hillsborough yards, produces lush and amazing lawns.

But the greatest challenge to its growth are shaded areas, especially grassy areas below trees. What are the tricks to keeping it alive?

Buy the Right Cultivar

First, know that there are different kinds or cultivars of St. Augustine grass. Floratam, the most commonly sold cultivar in lawns and garden stores, largely requires eight hours of sun per day. Plant this St. Augustine cultivar in a shaded area and keeping it alive will be an uphill battle. Instead, when replacing sod in the shade, use the St. Augustine cultivars called Seville, Delmar, Sapphire, Palmetto or Bitter Blue. Reputable sod companies will know what you’re talking about when you inquire about them. Even these more shade-tolerant versions, however, require six hours of sun.

If the shaded area is in your backyard, consider foregoing St. Augustine cultivars altogether and using a grass more suitable for shade, like Zoysia.

Rake Those Leaves Up

Florida’s trees lose their leaves between January and March. Sod beneath trees often struggles or even dies out at this time in yards where leaves are not kept off the grass. Wet leaves sitting on top of sod can kill the grass in less than a week. Don’t let your lawn company simply roll over the leaves, cutting them up and dropping them back into the soil. This changes the acidic content of the soil, causing grass to struggle.

Talk to Your Lawn Guy

Many lawn care companies simply don’t know how to cut grass. The worst ones will cut it so frequently and so low to the ground, they’ll kill it. While some St. Augustine grass in sunny, well-watered areas can thrive while being cut at a height of two to three inches, if your lawn guy cuts shaded areas to this height, the entire area will eventually die. In shaded areas, the longer the grass blades are, the more sun they will absorb. Longer blades also mean longer, healthier sod roots. Shaded areas of St. Augustine should not be cut any lower than four inches at any time. If your yard has any shade in it, insist your lawn guy keep all your grass at a minimum four inches tall. If he doesn’t respect the minimum height, fire him and hire a new company.

Watch Foot and Mower Traffic

Shade tends to thin and stress turfgrass. Don’t further stress it with unnecessary foot traffic. During the winter months, have your lawn guy stay off shaded areas with mowers until the areas absolutely need to be cut.

Reduce Fertilizer and Water

It may seem counterintuitive, but shaded areas should be fertilized less than the rest of your lawn. Too much nitrogen depletes carbohydrates and weakens turf. Shaded areas also are often overwatered, further stressing vulnerable grass.

Trim Trees or Rethink Your Landscaping

Many grassy areas in Westchase front yards must, by neighborhood rules, consist of St. Augustine. If the area is particularly shaded, say receiving less than 70 percent of the overhead sun, consider thinning the overhanging tree branches to give the struggling areas more sun. If that doesn’t work, consider planting the area with shade tolerant plants instead. Just remember that in Westchase, 40 percent of the front yard must be St. Augustine sod or Florida Friendly Landscaping. Just be sure to get approval from the HOA before you change your yard’s landscaping.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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