Asked on Mar 06, 2012

Oak trees & Grass

by Linda
I have two huge oak trees in my front yard and I have trouble growing grass under the tree canopy. The ground is currently covered with dead oak leaves, but I plan on trying to convince grass to grow this spring. I have put down St. Augustine sod in the past and it has not survived. I have an inground sprinkler system so water is not an issue. I don't know if the shade is the issue or the acidity of the soil. Does anybody have any suggestions for successful grass under these conditions?
  20 answers
  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Mar 06, 2012
    How much sun really gets into the area? You need at least 5-6 hours for any grass to grow, regardless of the purported 'shade' tolerance.
  • Linda Linda on Mar 06, 2012
    There is filtered sun light all day - the branches are not densely packed.
  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Mar 06, 2012
    I am guessing here that the light is not adequate. Are the tree roots on top of the ground and visible?
  • Linda Linda on Mar 06, 2012
    The roots are not visible on the trees. Before I put sod down last year, I added tops oil and compost. The soil may be to acidic from the oak leaves. I have tried lime to balance, but didn't have much luck with keeping the sod alive. I put down rye grass seed in December, but our winter was so warm I think it was too warm for it to germinate.
  • Linda Linda on Mar 06, 2012
    Oops, that was supposed to be topsoil not tops oil :-(
  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Mar 06, 2012
    Obviously, we cannot see the exact size, spread, and thickness of the canopy, but I am going to assume that the issue is too much shade. But, usually, even with too much shade, the sod will not die out within the first year. It will usually grow, but over just 2-3 years, it will thin out until it is almost entirely gone. You might have other issues to deal with, such as improper pH of the soil, or even possibly overwatering the sod. We had a client a few years ago that almost killed their bermuda sod by overwatering it. Luckily, I stopped by 2 weeks later and stopped them. The sod, while being overwatered, was looking the same as if it was dry, so they kept watering it. The bermuda recovered and looks great now. Can you take a photo and post it showing the area and the size of the trees and canopy?
  • 3po3 3po3 on Mar 06, 2012
    It might be worth getting a soil test to check your assumptions about the acidity. You can get reliable, reasonably priced soil tests through most cooperative extension offices. Also, have you considered xeriscaping the space, maybe with some shade- and drought-tolerant groundcovers. Without grass, you don't have to worry about watering and don't have to worry about the shade.
  • I have a similar challenge under a large shade tree in my front yard. My neighbors said that nothing grew under my tree for twenty years until I planted asparagus ferns. They formed a great green bed under the tree for years now.
  • I expect the St. Augustine to slowly die again. Deep shade,and roots is not going to work for this grass. I would not throw money away on past failures but would rather you add high quality garden soil and add groundcovers such as, flax, liriope, aztec , asiaic Jasmine or mondo. caladieums can be added for summer color. If the grass dies again you will have to add the groundcovers anyway so save yourself some money longterm.
  • You may want to have the local farmers cooperative come out and do a free soil test so you know what you are dealing with. I would try a mix of Hostas & a ground cover like ajuga...if it will grow in your market. I've used ajuga, it's kind of a purplish low grower in shady areas in Atlanta and it's done well. It's also great for helping with erosion.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 07, 2012
    Linda, I am going to join the chorus and say you need to give up on grass in your front yard. Filtered sun is not adequate for any type of grass; it needs a minimum of five to six hours of direct sun. If your soil is indeed acidic (the only way to really know is a soil test), you have the perfect situation for growing camellias and azaleas. Or consider the ground covers Garden Rebel recommended. And please be careful with the amount of soil you add on top the root zone of your trees. You don't want to stress them and create a much bigger problem.
  • Erica Glasener Erica Glasener on Mar 07, 2012
    What about an alternative like dwarf mondo which is evergreen and grass like but doesn't need mowing.
  • T D T D on Mar 07, 2012
    Nature will always win! I have had the same issues here and now, when grass refuses to grow I eliminate it in that area and add landscaping. What a lovely shade garden you can have. Perhaps add a nice bench and a few azaleas. Just incorporate both trees into a planting area if they are in close proximity to each other. Would love to see photos.
  • Deborah C Deborah C on Mar 08, 2012
    I agree with Douglas about adding soil over the trees root zone. Tree roots need oxygen, that is one reason they grow at and near the surface of the ground. Except for trees that have a tap root, the roots spread out many feet away from the tree and not as deep as you might think.There are a lot of choices for shade loving plant material, some of which have already been mentioned. Know your zone, and have fun!
  • Linda Linda on Mar 09, 2012
    Thanks for all the suggestions. The area is large 50 ft by 15ft , so I will have have to find some budget friendly/shade tolerant plants to go in the area.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 09, 2012
    Linda, the best way to stretch your dollar is to buy smaller plants. In Florida, a one-gallon plant is usually a third the price of a three-gallon plant. It will settle into your yard faster, require less water to do so and generally catch up to the size of the three-gallon plant in a season or two. Also, this is the season for plant sales put on by local gardens and garden groups. They're a great place to get good prices. Good luck!
  • Pam Y Pam Y on Mar 09, 2012
    I have two oak tress and grass won't grow so what I've done is opened the area around the tree because of all the roots sticking out and planted small shallow plants such as vnka which grows nicely there.
  • Dale B Dale B on Mar 09, 2012
    Linda, if you use mondo or dwf mondo, you can usually find those in 4" pots that are very thick and overgrown. These can be divided into individual pips and plugged in at 6-8" intervals and keep the cost affordable. Good luck!
  • Jeannie C Jeannie C on Mar 09, 2012
    I re-sodded the sunny areas of my yard in Jacksonville, Fl in the late Spring or early Summer once and was told to buy Palmetto Grass, a type of St. Augustine Grass for the Shady North Side of the Home with lots of Oak Trees. They sold it starting in November. I was told this by a large Sod Grower who supplied the Home Depot's in Jax. We ended up selling the home and never sodded that area. I'd find a local Sod Farmer who will sell to You Wholesale and can deliver it to you. If you try right now You may still be able to find some otherwise, You may have t wait until November.
  • Keith B Keith B on Mar 09, 2012
    You propably won't get grass to grow. I would sugest loose mulch and hostias