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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