We all love Bermudagrass for its rich textures and deep lush greens for most of the year. It is also a popular choice because of its high adaptability, suitability to various environments, and its low maintenance needs. Yet, can we get these benefits with a variation of Bermuda grass that is shade tolerant?
The best shade tolerant Bermuda grass is produced by Super-Sod, a division of Patten Seed Co. The TifTuf brands of Bermuda are designed to withstand extreme heat and moderate shade. Though this is a well engineered product, the shade claims have been shown to be a bit more hype than reality.
Now, while all lawns require a healthy dose of sunshine, some of us have significantly shaded areas in our yards. Is Bermuda the right choice in such a case? Just how shade tolerant is it?
Let’s find out.
- 1 Can All Bermuda Tolerate Some Shade?
- 2 How Much Sunlight Does Bermuda Need?
- 3 How Do You Grow Bermuda In The Shade?
- 4 Alternatives To Bermuda For Shaded Areas
- 5 What Bermuda Grass Is Shade Tolerant?
- 6 The Final Touches On Shade Tolerant Bermuda Grass…
Can All Bermuda Tolerate Some Shade?
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a famous warm-season grass that is native to parts of Africa, Australia, Asia, and southern Europe. It’s hardy nature and ability to both retreat to dormancy and withstand hot climates make it popular in many other parts of the world.
As you probably know, these places are renowned for being on the sunnier side. Therefore, you can be sure that the grasses from these regions would be sun-loving, and that is absolutely the case with Bermuda grass. Those looking for full sun tolerant grasses can rely on Bermuda grass.
Bermuda Grass is not shade tolerant when compared to other varieties of plants. Its nature is to withstand heat, while fending for itself in the shade is not one of its strengths. Though some varieties claim to be ‘shade tolerant’, this is considered by most as advertising hype rather then reality.
Even with genetic tinkering, agricultural engineers haven’t been able to alter the inherent nature of Bermuda grass to change it from a full sun to a full shade type of grass. The best they can do is make it tolerable to some partial shade. Though there are claims to the contrary, there isn’t a good shaded Bermuda option.
How Much Sunlight Does Bermuda Need?
Is there a specific amount of sun that heat tolerant plants like Bermuda grass needs? If it is direct sunlight, how much should Bermuda grass get?
Research shows that Bermuda grass requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day, with optimal conditions of 8 hours. It requires vitamins, as well as blue and red sunlight rays, essential for photosynthesis. Wide-open areas like parks, campuses, and golf courses are its ideal settings.
For Bermuda to shine in all its glory, shade is counterproductive. Though it can tolerate a mild amount each day, it is not wise to force any plant to function in a way that it is not designed for.
In this case, putting most every type of Bermuda in moderate shade or greater for extended periods will cause many problems. The lawn will soon show signs of distress and thinning.
Really just looking for a good Bermuda grass seed to get the benefits of this full sun grass in your lawn, I would recommend what we have used for clients and our own yards, Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Bermudagrass from Amazon.
What Happens To Bermuda Grass In The Shade?
If Bermuda is deprived of sufficient sunlight, it will develop problems. It will grow at a slower rate than normal, for starters, and it may not have the stiffness that we commonly associate with this species of grass. Over the course of even one year bare spots can develop and entire areas can die away leaving thin unhealthy sections behind.
Additionally, sun-starved Bermuda is much more vulnerable to disease and fungal infections. Common problems include Brown Patch, Fairy Ring, and slime mold. Grass will also have a tougher time fighting off frost injury if it is in the shade.
Besides the stunted growth and disease-proneness, Bermuda grass in the shade will not have effective runners. These runners (also known as stolons and rhizomes) are essential for grass’ exploration of new soil as it seeks to establish itself and spread.
Tips On Identifying Bermuda Not Getting Enough Sun
So, if you are wondering if your Bermuda lawn is struggling with a lack of sunlight you’ll have to check for a few red flags. These are three definite signs that Bermuda grass could be exposed to too much shade and for too long each day.
- The first sign that Bermuda is not getting enough light is thinning out. Healthy Bermuda grass is dense and lush. If your lawn is thinning out, there’s a good chance it’s not getting its sunlight needs met. This could progress over the course of a year to bare patches of varying sizes.
- Another sign is elongated stems. The grass may grow abnormally long as an attempt to seek out sunlight. This will normally be seen through the thin foliage and bare spots of the first sign. They will be easy to notice when compared to regular sized stems.
- Recurring diseases and fungus problems are other things to look out for. If you’re constantly dealing with diseases, especially in the same problem areas, you might want to observe how much light the grass is getting. This happens to many types of grass that are failing and becoming thin.
How Do You Grow Bermuda In The Shade?
To get the best out of your Bermuda grass, you might have to make a few landscaping changes. Naturally, different properties (and owners) can accommodate more changes than others.
Lower Mowing Height
The easiest change is your mowing height. Simply adjust your deck to a higher position when mowing Bermuda grass in the shade. We recommend you leave it at about 4 inches. While this may not prolong the grass’ exposure to sunlight, it will maximize its light absorption potential.
Trim Hedges Casting Shade
Secondly, you should trim overgrown hedges and bushes that may be blocking sunlight. In some cases, you might even have to cut a few trees.
Another way you can help your shaded Bermuda is by adding fertilizer. You can use compost or store-bought NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) fertilizers to help the grass compensate for the lack of sun. However, in such instances, you want to be moderate with your application of nitrogen because too much can burn the grass.
Keep Foot Traffic Low
We also recommend that you install footpaths to discourage foot traffic over your grass. You can also install barricades to prevent children and pets from accessing the shaded grass. Minimizing traffic over the grass is especially important while the grass is recovering from a disease or dormancy.
If for whatever reason, such changes are not possible, you might want to switch to more shade-tolerant variations of Bermuda.
Yes, various breeders and geneticists have come up with strains of Bermuda grass. Through hybridization with multiple other grass species, scientists have been able to at least curb some of Bermuda grass’ inherent weaknesses, including shade intolerance.
Unfortunately, present technology can only take geneticists so far, as even these new Bermuda strains still require the at a bare minimum 5-hour sunlight exposure for peak results. The problem is, it becomes difficult to muster 5 hours of direct sunlight in most shaded lawn situations.
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Alternatives To Bermuda For Shaded Areas
So, if genetically modified Bermuda still fails to cut it for your property, you might have to go for a different species of lawn grass. There are types that give a similar look and feel to Bermuda, and some that can mimic its properties. Yet, for those areas that are shaded for much of the daytime, there are only a few options.
Luckily, these types of grass that can handle the shade a little better than Bermuda do exist. Let’s look at a few…
St. Augustine Grass And Shade
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) grass is a great alternative for Bermuda. This species requires less than 4 hours of daily sunlight exposure. In fact, more than 6 hours is considered overkill for St. Augustine grass.
St. Augustine grass, sometimes called Charleston grass, has a broader leaf and is fairly coarser than Bermuda, but with similar low lying pile, it could be a good alternative for shady spots. It has the same green in warmer months and brown dormant cycles in the colder periods.
The best way to get this grass started in your shaded areas is to introduce plugs into the edge of the bare or thin area affected by shade. This aggressive spreading grass will send out tendrils and soon overtake the area.
I recommend these plugs that can be delivered directly to your door from Amazon. St. Augustine Palmetto -18 Live Extra Large Grass Plugs
Shade and Zoysia Grass
Zoysia grass is another one. Already famed for its resistance to foot traffic, Zoysia is also quite hardy in shady areas. Word of warning…Zoysia will still grow slow in the shade so you might have to make landscaping adjustments as well.
Brought to the United States in the later part of the 19th century (the 1800s), Zoysia Japonica is sometimes called Korean or Japanese lawn grass. According to Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension, this is the only Zoysia seed that can be bought commercially.
The leaves are a compromise between the thin blades of Bermuda and the coarser, broader leaves of the St. Augustine grass. It is a general turf and lawn grass that is most commonly introduced by plugs rather than seeds.
Though it is not a perfect solution, if your area to be covered has moderate to light shade, Zoysia can be your answer.
I recommend these to start your Zoysia lawn available here from Amazon… Zoysia Plugs – 50 Large Grass Plugs
Perennial Ryegrass Mixes
If you are wanting to go a completely different round with a taller, less turf oriented grass, then one of the main ingredients in any shady grass mix is Perennial Ryegrass. According to
Have a look at Ryegrass. It can survive all year round and has very few maintenance requirements. Shade tolerance is very high, and you are unlikely to encounter any diseases or recurring fungi with the right mix.
You can definitely go with pure Perennial Ryegrass, but due to its delicate nature alone, it is better if it brings some friends alone. Most Ryegrasses are the first to sprout and appear, but especially in hotter months is can die back a bit. According to Perdue University’s Department of Agronomy the best shade resistant combination to mix with Perennial Ryegrass is as follows:
- 50% Fine Fescue
- 30% Kentucky Bluegrass
- 20% Perennial Ryegrass
So if you are wanting to go with the best chance to have a full lawn in the shady parts of you yard, then this is the mix for you.
What Bermuda Grass Is Shade Tolerant?
As we already touched on, modern science has given us the tools to manipulate genetics and come up with new variations of plants, including grass. Of course, it has not taken long for the commercial world to get in on this awesome technology.
There are companies like Super-Sod that market a shade tolerant Bermuda grass that is purported to be more tolerant than other types of Bermuda grass. Though this seems to be the case, their TifTuf Bermuda is only slightly more shade resistant and is not the best choice for shaded lawns.
If you are dead set on getting Bermuda grass established in your shaded lawn areas, then TifTuf will probably be your best bet. Just keep expectations to realistic levels and it could be the solution you were looking for. As for the claim of ‘shade tolerant’, it is difficult to claim and substantiate for any variety of Bermuda grass.
Is TifTuf Bermuda Shade Tolerant? Really?
American lawn product company Super-Sod’s TifTuf Bermuda grass is arguably the most popular “GMO” variant on the market today. Though our purposes here is to look at the shade resistant nature of the grass, it is popular for several other features.
TifTuf boasts finer blades than traditional Bermuda grass. It also has a richer and deeper green to it, and it is noticeably denser. It is also one of the more sturdy and hardy Bermuda grasses, by design.
While TifTuf retains Bermuda grass’ trademark drought resistance, the genii at Super-Sod claim to have been able to equip the grass with up to 50% more shade tolerance. Most that have tried it are not as convinced as company spokesmen and women that this number is completely accurate.
To some, this claim is like the slogans of ‘Now With Flavor Crystals’ or ‘New And Improved’. There may be some additive or new version of a formula, but the benefits are hard to quantify past mere claims.
The TifTuf shade resistant Bermuda grass is reported to require 4-5 hours of sunlight, well-draining soils, and minimal competition for soil resources. The tolerance is a result of the thinner leaf blades and a greater light absorption surface area than regular Bermuda grass.
There are hit and miss reports of success with this short amount of direct sunlight, but with some dedicated effort and strategic landscaping, it is feasible. Yet, there is another issue.
The problem with these sorts of claims made by companies about plant products in general is that though they normally undertake rigorous testing before making them, this testing are in very controlled laboratory environments.
Spring compost topdressing may be required once a year to keep diseases such as Spring Dead Spot at bay. Other than that, you shouldn’t expect too many problems in lightly shaded areas. More shade than this and the limits of this product could easily be exceeded.
Super-Sod markets the product for both commercial and residential properties. TifTuf is so-called because it is very wear-resistant and suitable for high-stress activities like soccer and baseball.
The Final Touches On Shade Tolerant Bermuda Grass…
To truth is, Bermuda grass is not a good choice for shaded areas. If you like it as a lawn surface in other areas, it can serve you well in locations that get a lot of sun. Trying to force most anything to do what it was not designed to do will usually end up in some degree of failure.
There are a great many things people have used Bermuda for, but simply put, shady portions of a lawn is not one of them.
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