Bermuda grass is not very tolerant of shade. Therefore, a lawn that has tall trees and objects that block direct sunlight may not be a good choice for Bermuda grass.
To answer your question – does Bermuda grass grow in shade and does it tolerate shaded areas, the short answer is that this warm-season grass requires a minimum of 7 hours of direct sunlight to thrive.
The following guide highlights my experiences with Bermuda grass and includes Bermuda grass sunlight requirements and the affects of shade on Bermuda grass.
Bermuda grass sunlight requirements
Bermuda grass requires at least 7 hours of direct sunlight each day to do well. Any less exposure leads to poor growth, susceptibility to diseases, and retarded growth. This lawn grass is usually preferred by many lawn owners because of its tolerance to drought and heat during the months of summer.
Bermuda grass has a higher light requirement compared to many other turfgrasses. It will not grow well in shaded areas (areas with low light conditions). The growth and development of this turfgrass depends on the duration of light per day cumulatively.
The intensity of light is very important but that’s not all. Duration of sunlight over the length of the day also affects the growth of leaves, rhizomes, and stolons
Some varieties of Bermuda grass have improved resistance to shade or less sunlight exposure. However, they do not do as well as Zoysia and Ryegrass.
Examples of such shade-tolerant lawn grass varieties include the one produced by the Tifton Experiment Station, the TifGrand™ Bermuda(Tift No.4, ST-5). This hybrid is known to have superior shade tolerance over all other bermudagrass cultivars.
Effects of Shade on Bermudagrass Lawns
Growing warm-season grass such as Bermuda grass in shaded areas subjects it to poor conditions. If there’s a dense canopy around your lawn, you’ll start to notice some undesirable signs. Trees with low branches and tall buildings can only mean there will be long hours of shade on your turf – sometimes much less than the minimum sunlight exposure for a healthy lawn.
Here are signs Bermuda grass isn’t getting enough sunlight:
- Abnormally elongated stems: In low light conditions, usually less than 60% full sunlight, bermudagrass lawns start to develop elongated leaves, stems, and internodes.
- Thining lawn: Your lawn will start to thin out due to reduced lateral growth since the grass experiences reduced photosynthesis. A sparse turf means your lawn will be creating room for the growth of weeds such as crabgrass, quackgrass, and dandelions.
- Reduced tolerance to disease: Shaded areas of a Bermuda grass lawn will most likely suffer from turf diseases such as fungal infections, moss, root problems, etc. The reason for this is that dew settles on the leaves for longer hours compared to areas with longer exposures to sunlight. Here’s a guide on diagnosing common turfgrass diseases.
No one likes a thin, leggy lawn. Those tall stolons and thin leaves do not look good at all. A good lawn should be lush, thick, and full. Bermuda grass grows sideways, making it the perfect choice for most people looking for warm-season turfgrass. Check out this guide on proven ways to make Bermuda grass thick, fuller, and greener if you’re experiencing density issues.
Shade Tolerant Bermuda Grass Varieties
It is highly believed that grass varieties that have thin leaves do well under shady conditions. “…finer leaved varieties of any grass are more shade tolerant than coarser leaved varieties – possible finer leaves = more leaves per square inch = more leaf surface to help capture limited sunlight.”
In such light, celebration Bermuda grass would be the best for shade. This is because it appears to have finer leaves and can easily achieve a denser turf structure. It can tolerate reduced light much better than other varieties.
However, this is not a studied and proven fact. Only testing would produce more tangible and reliable results.
Note that even shade-tolerant varieties of turfgrass require a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight to survive and thrive. It is important to keep tabs on the daily sunlight requirements for Bermudagrass.
Shade-resistant grass alternatives
There are grass options for areas that don’t receive direct sunlight. For example, if you’re looking for cool-season grass that thrives in shaded areas, try growing both tall and fine fescue together will do great. Ryegrass is another option that would be great for a lawn with shade.
A homeowner looking to grow warm-season lawn grass on a shaded lawn can also opt for St. Augustine grass, which requires a maximum of 5 to 6 hours of direct sunlight to flourish. Another great option is Zoysiagrass.
In general, if your lawn is beneath trees and shrubs, try the following shade-resistant grasses instead of Bermuda grass:
- Palmetto St. Augustine grass: This variety is highly tolerant to adverse soil and climate conditions. It does well under shade, drought, and even frost conditions.
- GeoZoysia: This one is a fine-bladed turfgrass with great resistance to shade. It has a great color, making it a good choice for growing lush lawns.
It is very difficult to find a lawn grass variety that would be completely shade-resistant. However, there’s always some care you can try to improve your bermuda grass to grow better under low light conditions.
Let’s look at what you can do to help.
How to Care and Improve Bermuda Grass in Shade
A turf that’s under a canopy can be a challenge to grow. You’ll find it thin and sometimes patchy even if you water and feed it as required. However, there are a few tips you can follow to try to improve the growth and health of Bermuda grass under shade.
Here’s what to do:
- Prune trees and canopy above and around the lawn to improve sunlight penetration to the grass underneath.
- Mow the grass in the shaded areas slightly higher than the recommended Bermuda grass mowing height. This will enhance the sunlight-capturing ability and improve the growth and performance of your turfgrass.
- Reduce traffic on shaded areas of Bermuda grass. Additional stress on the shaded areas will worsen the growth of your turf.
- Apply recommended amounts of nitrogen on your Bermuda grass. Avoid applying excess of it as this mistake can lead to burning and higher shade intolerance.
Keep in mind that before planting, you can test an area with a few plugs to determine if it is too shady for your type of grass. Bermuda grass is, in my opinion, one of the best hardy turfgrasses you can grow in your lawn. Always perform a soil test before planting Bermudagrass or any other type of grass.
We have Bermuda in our back yard and it gets some sunlight, but likely not 8 hours of it. We have some drainage issues and noticed this winter that the grass has significantly thinned out as opposed to the last three years we’ve lived in this house. We live in NW GA, and we have compacted clay soil. Also, our lawn treatment service was put down pre-emergent about two months ago. Could we aerate and take our chances with over-seeding? I’m willing to risk losing money on seed to try it. If so, what type of seed to use?
Thanks for writing in. If pre-emergent was put down I would not put seed down for another 30 days at least. I’d give that a good 90 days before seeding.
However, you really should not need to seed Bermuda as it can fill in bare areas fairly quickly. A good fertilizer spread lightly every 3 weeks during spring should ramp up the activity. Put down about half of what is recommended on the label.
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You’ll want to address the drainage issue somehow as standing water on any grass usually isn’t good for long periods. That and not enough sun will thin out Bermuda. If there is any way to thin out the trees to allow for more sunlight would be good. If not you may want to consider the area to be grassless or make a landscaped area in it if it allows for it.
Your lawn treatment guy ’should’ be able to help out if you call them. But they may not. I’ve dealt with lawn care companies in the past and some are good but you just need a tech that seems to care 🙂
Hope that helps.
- Richard Duble: Bermudagrass
- Mississippi State University Extension: Selecting and Managing Turfgrass for Shade
- USGA (February 2015): New Shade Tolerant Bermudagrass Arriving Soon
Hi, Alex Kuritz here. Growing up I remember that my family had one of the best lawns in the neighborhood. Richly green and lush. I did a lot as I grew up in terms of caring and tending for not only my family’s lawn but also my neighbors. I can say I have years of experience, and I am here to share it with you.