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Growing Shade-Tolerant Lawns

 by Ray Ridlen

Quite a few of homeowners who planted their yards with new trees 12 to 15 years ago have probably come to the conclusion that even though all that shade is now a wonderful thing during these hot, summer months, it isnít the best recipe for a healthy Bermudagrass lawn. Without plenty of sun, Bermudagrass will not flourish, which means that some homeowners with an abundance of trees may find that a shade-tolerant lawn is a much better solution for ground cover.

The shade-tolerant grass best suited to the climatic and soil conditions of Oklahoma is a Tall Fescue turfgrass. Varieties that have performed well in the National Turf Evaluation Program test plots in Stillwater include Rebel Century, Rembrandt, Millennium, Wolf Pack and Cross Fire II. Most of these varieties can be found at area garden centers. According to Dr. Dennis Martin, OSU Extension Turf Specialist, any of these varieties will perform well. But rather than choosing one of these varieties, homeowners may want to try putting together a mix of several of these seed varieties and using it rather than one specific variety. Also, during the last couple of years OSU Extension specialists have recommended adding about 10 percent by weight of Kentucky Blue Grass to the mix. Since Tall Fescue is susceptible to Brown Patch Disease, the Kentucky Blue Grass mix can often keep large areas of discoloration from disrupting a beautiful lawn.

Homeowners need to begin the move from Bermudagrass to Tall Fescue by first killing out the Bermuda. A glyphosate solution can be sprayed on the grass in two applications, about two weeks apart. Then the fescue mix can be seeded. The best time to seed is mid September. This timing allows the grass to become well established before the leaves start falling from deciduous trees. If the grass is still young and tender when these leaves fall, they can suffocate the grass or the grass can become damaged when the leaves are raked or picked up.

Broadcast seeding can be a successful method for putting down the seed. A slit seeder is the preferred method and most rental facilities carry them. The most important aspect of seeding is achieving good seed/soil contact. Turf specialists usually recommend that homeowners sow eight to 10 pounds of seed per thousand square foot of lawn. The seed needs to be kept moist until it germinates, which usually takes about 10 days. Fertilizing isnít recommended until after the first mowing.

Even though the Tall Fescue grasses are shade tolerant, home owners should remember that they still need some sun to grow. Tall Fescue Turfgrass needs a minimum of four hours of sunlight per day for optimum growth. For areas so hidden underneath tree branches that they get virtually no sun, ground cover plants like English Ivy, Vinca or Monkey Grass are recommended.

Homeowners who have well-established bermudagrass who would like to see a green lawn year round might benefit by seeding rye grass into their Bermuda. Even though this means the lawn mower has to stay running year-round, it also means the lawn will be green and flourishing as well.

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