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Buffalo Lawn Care
Growing Turf Grass In Shade
By Todd Layt
Keeping a lawn alive in shade is not too hard if you follow the right guidelines. Firstly it is important to choose the right lawn type. Couch, Kikuyu and Queensland Blue Couch can only tolerate 15% shade, although if you mow it 60mm to 75mm high it can cope with up to 20 to 25% shade.
Zoysia can cope with 40% shade for heavy wear areas and up to 55% with low wear, if you mow the lawn at 60mm or higher. This is about 4 to 5 hours of sun per day. Buffalo grass is the best turf in shade, and can cope with 50% shade with high wear at normal mowing heights, 60% shade with moderate wear and 70% shade with low wear if it is mown at a height of 60mm or more.
This is about 3 to 4 hours of direct sun per day, or dappled sunlight from trees for a good proportion of the day. The best Buffalo for shade in independent Department of Primary industry and Horticultural Australia research was Sapphire® Buffalo (below).
Basically, in easy to understand terms this means you may get up to 10% better shade tolerance compared to the poorer shade tolerant Buffalo types. This extra can however make the difference to a successful lawn or a failed shade lawn. All these lawn types can handle full sun as well. If you have more than 70% shade, unfortunately traditional turf grass is not the answer. Shade loving ground cover plant lawn alternatives
Dicondra is very shade tolerant and spreads to form a lawn. It is not super drought tolerant, but if adequate water is used and paths and stepping stones are implemented to remove wear pressures, it can give you a lawn that copes with up to 85% shade. To get to 90 to 95% shade you need a Liriope ground cover.
Isabella® Liriope (right) is the best choice as you can mow it once per year in winter, refreshing its appearance, again use stepping stones and paths to reduce wear. Mini Mondo is another alternative, but it is much slower to establish than the Isabella® Liriope, and more prone to weed invasion.
Assuming you have less than 70% shade, what are the best ways to keep a healthy shade lawn? Firstly you can prune trees to try to take the shade level form 70% to 60% which will make a big difference. Before installing the lawn, make sure the soil preparation is right.
Ensure the ground is not compacted and mix in a good amount of organic material, from which the shade lawn will benefit for years to come. Make sure there is adequate drainage, as wet shade lawns often find it hard to survive. Mowing for most of the year at 60mm or higher really increases a lawns shade tolerance.
Buffalo lawn can truly benefit from being mown between 75mm and 100mm for most of the year. In late spring or summer when the lawn is getting most sun, it is a good idea to lower the mowing height just once per year. Drop it to say 40mm or 50mm depending how long your lawn was originally, and collect the clippings. This will keep thatch in check and help the lawn rejuvenate. The lawn may look brown and scalped for a couple of weeks, but it will recover quickly provided it was fertilised at least a few weeks prior to mowing it short. Just do this once per year.
Keeping weeds out of the lawn will help. Broadleaf weeds are easy to take out with selective herbicide or hand weeding. But a healthy well fertilised Buffalo lawn is usually able to outcompete weeds. Shade lawns need a good and specialised fertilising regime. The key is to only use slow release fertilisers, as too much fertiliser in a short period can harm a lawn in shade. Slow release fertiliser releases a little every time it receives water, resulting in regular frequent small fertiliser doses, which keeps your lawn in a healthier condition.
Fertilise it about 4 times per year with a moderate application of good slow release fertiliser, usually in spring, summer autumn, and in parts of Australia that don’t get under minus 5° Celsius, in winter as well. If the shade is from trees, their root system will often take nutrients away from shade lawns, and in these circumstances, it is necessary to use higher rates of slow release fertiliser.
Deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering applications. Frequent shallow watering can encourage trees to have shallow roots systems that take the water and nutrients from the lawn, and also reduces oxygen flow to the root zone of the lawn grass. Check the pH of the soil, with the optimum for turf grass being (pH 6.3 to 7.0). Very low or very high pH will generally result in a very poor shade lawn.
Simple chemical kits are best, like the INOCULO test kit. Avoid the electronic testers, unless you want to spend $400 on a good one. In my experience the cheap electronic ones simply don’t work correctly. If your pH is out, there are simple remedies to fix it.
Keep the lawn well aerated if the soil is prone to compaction, and if the soil starts to become water repelling, use a wetting agent a few times through summer. Remove fallen branches and leaves that can damage the lawns growth.
There are different types of shade. Building shade is the toughest to deal with and a Buffalo lawn needs at least 3 hours direct sun per day in this situation, which would equate to the 70% shade level. Buffalo lawns generally cope with the sun level being near zero in the winter months, as long as in spring the sun light comes back up to the 3 hours for low wear, or 4 hours for moderate wear. Trees will often let filtered light through, and pruning can improve the light received by the lawn. Sometimes it may be necessary to prune quite a few branches. Plan where you put new trees, so the aspect is friendly to your lawn.
Finally, watch out for lawn grubs in shady areas. Hopefully these tips will help you have a healthy