Testing Grass Seed in a Shaded Garden

A no-nonsense review with before and after photos

Written by Daniel Woodley. Reviewed by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Lawn Care on 7th May 2020. Updated: 23rd February 2023.

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Growing a lush, green and healthy lawn in a shaded garden isn’t easy but is possible, provided you use suitable grass seed that’s tolerant of shade.

I’ve successfully created a near-perfect lawn despite my garden being north-facing and surrounded by 4-metre-high shrubs.

I still have to overseed in the spring due to the winter causing a few bare patches but overall, I’m pleased with the results.

On this page, I’ll show you which seeds I used and the steps I took to get the most from the poor conditions.

I’ve also published a few before and after photos so you can judge the results.

I Recommend Two Products – Here’s Why

I know from experience that if you buy just one grass seed product, there’s a chance only some of the seed will germinate and you’ll need to buy more and reapply the seed.

Obviously, with less light coming into the garden, some of seeds will fail and won’t germinate.

Old packets that have been on the garden centre shelf for too long often have a low success rate. The worst I’ve seen is about a 25% success rate, which meant around 75% of the seed didn’t germinate.

Anyway, here are the photos of my test lawn which is in a shaded garden.

As you can see there’s a small house, two tall pine trees and a row of 4-metre-high shrubs surrounding the lawn.

Before:

After:

Closeup Photo Taken The Following Summer

This photo is a closeup of the grass which I grew from seed and in a shaded garden:

The Grass Seed I Tested

I used two different products and also made sure each contained several different varieties of grass. I know from experience that some grasses perform well in drier soils, some in damp soils, and some have good resistance to disease while others don’t.  Some cope well with foot traffic, while many are less hard-wearing. For these reasons I always recommend products with several different mixtures of grass seed, so you have a better chance of success regardless of the conditions in the garden.

GroundMaster Shady Premium Grass Seed

With good reviews online and with previous experience of using this brand, I purchased GroundMaster for Shade.

It contains three varieties of grass:

  • Strong creeping red fescue.
  • Slender creeping red fescue.
  • Chewings fescue.
Groundmaster shady

A1 Lawn Seed For Larger Shaded Gardens

Containing seven different varieties of grass including three fescues, this product ticked all the right boxes for me:

  • ‎Strong Creeping Red Fescue
  • Meadow Grass
  • Browntop Bent
  • Dwarf Perennial Ryegrass
  • Smooth Meadow Grass
  • Hard Fescue

Step by Step Guide to How I Created Our Lawn

I recommend reading my in-depth guide to growing a grass lawn in a shaded garden but if you’re in a hurry, here’s how I seeded and tended to the new lawn:

September:

  • I used my tree pruner to cut back, thin out and top the boundary shrubs to allow more light into the garden.
  • I treated the lawn with a systemic weedkiller to kill weeds, existing clumps of grass and roots. As I wanted to protect bees from the chemicals, I then covered the area with a tarpaulin.
  • One week later I skimmed off the dead grass and weeds and then turned over the soil.
  • I then raked the soil to remove the weeds and grass roots.

Early October:

  • I added some fine compost and levelled the soil.
  • I waited 5 days for the soil to settle and pulled out a few weeds that had persisted.
  • I then added granular fertiliser and gently raked it into the surface.
  • The seed was then laid, treaded in and kept moist for the first month.

Winter Months:

  • I pulled out any large weeds but otherwise left the lawn alone and avoided walking on it.

Late March and Early April:

  • I treated the lawn with Weedol concentrate to kill off any broad-leaved weeds without harming the grass.
  • One week later I overseeded any bare patches of soil, of which there were only a few.
  • During an unusually warm and dry spell in early April I watered the grass daily and applied a seaweed extract fertiliser which is a little weaker than many others on the market.

Looking Forward:

  • I’ll continue watering weekly and more frequently during drier spells.
  • In the autumn I’ll add more fertiliser, weedkiller and a sprinkling of seed as required to fill any bare patches.
  • Raking and aerating will be considered during year two or three.

What I Would Do Differently

While this isn’t the first lawn I have laid from seed, I did make a few errors, due mostly to laziness:

  • There are several dips and raised areas of the small lawn so next time I’ll be more careful with the levelling.
  • Some of the original wild grass, which is very clumpy and grows faster than our new grass, has persisted. Next time I”ll apply more systemic weedkiller and be more thorough with the raking out of the old weeds.

The Best Grass Varieties For Shaded Gardens (based on my research and experience)

I have plenty of experience in growing grass in shaded gardens, and I’l also done lots of research. If you want to create your own grass mix for a shaded garden, I think you should consider these varieties: Creeping red fescue (slender or strong) – spreads sideways by rhizomes, slow growing and produces fine needles. Hard fescue – noted for its upright growth and tolerance of shade, drought and poor soil. Perennial ryegrass – is popular as a companion grass that blends well with many other varieties, drought and shade tolerant. Meadow grass – also known as Kentucky Bluegrass is known for its density and tolerance of shade and is hard-wearing too. Browntop bent – thrives in poor soil and is often found in bowling green lawns and golf greens.

Update 2021/22

The winter period was harsh on the lawn as the garden got very little sunlight; around half of the lawn got no direct sunlight at all during the winter months, and the grass thinned out, moss took hold, and it all looked a mess.

In the spring, I applied Viano Moss Killer (see my review here), scratched the soil with a rake and then overseeded the entire lawn.

By summer, the lawn was back to health:

Our lawn in autumn

My testing and experimenting over the last few years have confirmed what I already knew, it is possible to grow a lush green lawn in a shaded garden but it will always be an uphill battle, you’ll probably need to reduce foot traffic on the lawn and it will need demossing and overseeding each year after winter.

Meet The Author: Daniel Woodley

Daniel has over 18 years of experience in the construction, home improvement, and landscape garden industries.

He previously worked as a project manager and has experience in managing teams of tradespeople and landscape gardeners on both small and medium sized projects.

Daniel is also a keen gardener and enjoys growing unusual plants and tending to his lawn.

More About Daniel Woodley.

Daniel Woodley

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by Elizabeth Smith.

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