What to Do When Grass Won’t Grow Under Trees

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A beautiful green lawn is a homeowner’s dream. However, you might find areas close to trees where your grass is not able to grow as thoroughly as areas that are in fully exposed to the sun.

These shaded areas are not able to maintain full grass throughout the season. It can be frustrating to experience this, and people often want to know what they can do about it. 

Continue reading to learn what to do when grass won’t grow under trees.

Why Your Grass May Struggle to Grow Under Trees

There are three primary reasons that grass may struggle to grow under trees:

  • Shade
  • Competition for nutrients and water
  • Allelopathy

It is important to understand these issues so that you can plan your landscaping accordingly.

Let’s look at these in more detail…

1. Shade

The first reason that grass struggles to grow under trees is shade.

When a tree is young and has less cover, grass can grow.

The problem is that the tree will grow and it will produce shade over the grass under it.

Grass loves and thrives in sunlight, and when it is deprived of it, it will struggle to grow and may eventually die. 

Even though you can find grass that claims it can survive in shade, it isn’t true.

All grass does best in full sun.

Even if some grass can survive in partial shade, it is usually a mix of grass and contains some grass that may sprout, but it won’t survive and look like the rest of the lawn.

2. Competition for Nutrients and Water

Another reason that grass struggles to grow under trees is that it has to compete with the tree for nutrients and moisture.

Trees are hardier and can tolerate conditions with less moisture and nutrients, and they usually win this battle.

If the tree has full coverage of the ground below, the soil may end up being dry because rain can’t get to it through the canopy of the tree.

This makes it harder for grass to survive.

3. Allelopathy

Allelopathy is the production of biochemicals by plants, and they can interfere with plants that they come into contact with.

In essence, these allelochemicals can act as weed killers for other plants that are in the area.

Certain types of trees, such as Maple, Walnut, and some Oak trees release allelochemicals and will make it hard for grass to grow underneath.

What You Can Do With These Areas the Won’t Grow

There are a number of different ways to handle this situation.

You need to consider all of your options, and then you should decide on the one that works best for your budget, the layout of your yard, and how much time you have for maintenance. 

Some people choose to prune the tree and thin out the canopy so that they can grow grass anyway. 

You can also choose different types of plants whether you are using plants as a ground cover or planting a garden. These can be attractive options, and you can choose plants that do well in your climate. 

You can also cover the ground with nonliving items, such as mulch or gravel.

This can create a neat look that requires virtually no maintenance.

You can even create a patio that can service as an outdoor oasis where you relax in the afternoons. 

How to Help Grass Grow Under Trees

If you plan to try to grow grass under trees, you need to know that it will not be as thick as the rest of your lawn.

By choosing a thinner grass, such as fine fescue that can tolerate shade, you may be able to grow some grass under the tree.

It is important to make sure that you get the grass enough water and clean up leaves that fall from the tree because they can prevent the grass from surviving.

Even grass that tolerates shade needs around four hours of sunlight a day.

You need to make sure that some light can get to the grass. If the tree has a thick canopy, you will need to prune it to make sure that sunlight can get through. 

The grass will compete with the tree for nutrients, so it is important to feed it.

However, you should not use too much fertilizer because it is high in nitrogen.

Grass in the shade requires less nitrogen, but in place of it, you can use organic compost.

You will also want to keep the grass a bit longer than you otherwise would because there will be more surface area to take in the sunlight.

Finally, you should try to minimize stress to the grass under the tree. In addition to cleaning up the leaves and any debris that covers the grass, you should avoid walking on it or letting your pets run around on it.

Landscaping ideas Where Grass Won’t Grow

If you have areas in your yard where grass won’t grow, you likely want an alternative solution.

There are a lot of things you can do that will look great.

You can choose what will fit in best with your yard and decide how much time you have to devote to maintenance. 

Synthetic Grass

One option is to plant synthetic grass.

It looks identical to natural grass, but it doesn’t require the maintenance.

There are several different types of synthetic grass.

First, you can use Polyethylene turf grass. It is a bright green color, and it is soft and pliable.

Another choice is Nylon grass, which is also strong and can handle more traffic. Nylon grass holds up well in hot climates where you experience high temperatures.

Another type of Polypropylene grass, which is very affordable, but it is not as durable as the others. 

Grow a Garden

Another option is to grow a garden.

You can combine shrubs, flowers, and other plants to create a nice garden that is attractive and will do well in the shade.

It is important to pay close attention to the needs of the plants you use so that they are spaced properly.

Plants need to be compatible because they can steal each other’s nutrients.

Perennial plants are a good choice because they require less maintenance and are easy to take care of.

Build a Patio

You can also build a patio in a shaded area.

This can be a place where you can sit and enjoy your yard.

There are many different materials you can choose from when you go with this option, and it can really make a difference in your yard.

Build a Pond

One other idea is to build a pond near the tree or the shaded area. It can be whatever size is ideal for the layout of your yard. There are a lot of different ways to work this idea into your yard.

Other Alternatives to Grass

If you don’t want to make the effort required to grow grass under trees, there are other options you can try.

Mulch and Gravel

Sometimes people want to do this because the landscaping will look great and this approach requires less effort. For example, some people simply mulch around the bottom of the tree. 

It is hard to find plants that are tolerant of both drought and shade. You can find ground cover that is alive, but you can also find nonliving options. Gravel is one option that people use because it is attractive and easy to maintain. It requires no water or effort. 

Artificial Grass

Some people choose to install artificial grass. This is a low-maintenance option, and it still looks like grass and ties in with the rest of your lawn. 


There are a couple of living alternatives that do well in partial or full shade. Periwinkle is a flowering vine, and it can offer cover under a tree. Another great option is Sedum ternatum, which is also called woodland stonecrop. It also tolerates drought and can offer cover under a tree.

You should look for drought-tolerant plants that can tolerate shade in your climate zone if you want to plant an alternative to grass under your tree. Your other choice is to choose a nonliving option, which requires very little maintenance.

Final Words

Trees are an important part of your outdoor space, but they can make it difficult to grow your grass evenly.

Grass thrives on full sunlight, and trees can make it hard for many kinds of grass to survive.

Although you can buy grass that claims to grow in shade, it will never grow the way that it would in the light.

Look over alternatives for these problem areas in your yard, and choose the one that works best for you.

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