Most homeowners are obsessed with their lawns. Unfortunately for local lawn-watchers, we in Dallas have a collision of conditions that make growing the perfect lawn a challenging feat. Our soaring summer temperatures force us to plant shade trees. Grass does not love shade. See where I’m going with this?
As soon as spring hits, homeowners start reaching out to lawn-care professionals to help them solve their lawn woes. All too often, large shade trees are the culprit. While we all want to have both a lush lawn and big shade trees, the reality is that at some point, most of us are going to have to choose one or the other.
Lawn grasses are, by their nature, sun-loving plants. They really need a good six hours of direct sun to thrive and withstand weeds and pests. While certain types of grasses, such as St. Augustine and Zoysia, can tolerate less sun, they are not by their nature shade plants—and there’s a big difference. These grasses still need a good four hours of sun to perform.
There is also a big difference between a strong, healthy lawn and one that is barely hanging in there. Lawns that are subjected to too much shade inevitably go into decline: They start thinning out or fall victim to disease, weeds move in, and eventually you have either all weeds or bare dirt.
“But my neighbor has shade and their lawn looks great!” you cry. Remember that every property is different, and not all shade is equivalent. Your neighbor might be able to grow a nice St. Augustine lawn under her trees because her lawn receives more direct sun or bright light than yours. This could be due to the placement of the tree and house with respect to the sun, or because her tree has a higher canopy, thus allowing more light underneath it. The species of tree and its growth habit will also influence the density of shade it offers.
Another thing to consider is that large trees require a good amount of water and nutrients, robbing your lawn of those same key survival ingredients. Combine this with low light levels, and you’re bound to have lawn decline and bare patches under your trees.
It’s important to know that no amount of water or fertilizer can replace light. And thinning your tree to let more light through won’t do the trick either—in fact, you might potentially harm it for good and make it more susceptible to storm damage. Trees should be pruned in order to best maintain their health and structural integrity; not those of your grass. While some strategic thinning of a dense tree can be beneficial, many trees in Dallas are severely over-pruned in order to cater to lawns.
So what’s the solution? Understand that as trees grow and cast more shade, you’ll probably lose the grass and will have to replace it with shade-loving groundcovers and perennials. No landscape is static; as trees and plants mature, conditions will change, and you’ll need to adapt. Work with your landscape architect or designer to create a “succession plan” for your lawn as trees mature.