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Monday - February 04, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Turf
Title: Sowing grass for shaded lawn in Texas
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I'm renting a home for short period of time, hence I would like to make this as simple, but as beneficial as possible. The backyard soil is degraded and compacted so I would like to try and use a "bio-tiller"- ideally sow some native grass seed whose root system can loosen up the soil over time and also provide good ground cover. I have quite a bit of leaf litter that I can spread lightly as mulch over the seeds. I also have a pretty shaded yard with patches of sun here and there. I have read that inland sea oats do well in these conditions, though I do not know if the seeds will propagate in untilled soil. I am open to other suggestions, even something other than grasses- however I would prefer a perrennial because I am not sure if my successors will do much landscaping.


First, I am going to refer you to Planting Tips for Native Grasses, an excellent article by Native American Seed. You will see that they recommend removing any weeds or plantcover that exists in the area and then lightly tilling the soil before sowing the grass seeds. They also describe a method, solarization, for destroying existing vegetation. Removing existing vegetation and lightly tilling is the ideal way to sow your grass seeds and the method that will give the best results. However, since you are trying to avoid any mechanical tilling, you might be able to have some success by raking the surface to loosen some of the soil before sowing your seeds. It is absolutely imperative that the seeds are in contact with the soil. You might get some grass seeds to sprout without loosening the soil and then covering them lightly with your leaf litter; but to have real success, loosening the soil, sowing the grass seeds and then covering them lightly with the soil will ensure that you get a better yield for your seeds.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) is an excellent choice for shade and part shade. It is also a very attractive plant and reseeds itself. Here are some other grasses that will grow in shade and part shade:

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Bouteloua hirsuta (hairy grama)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye)

Eragrostis intermedia (plains lovegrass)

Tridens flavus (purpletop tridens)

You might also consider one of sedges. These are often available in local nurseries that specialize in native plants (see our National Suppliers Directory for a list in your area) as small plants, rather than as seeds. Here are a couple that do well in shade and part shade:

Carex planostachys (cedar sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)


Chasmanthium latifolium

Bouteloua curtipendula

Bouteloua hirsuta

Elymus canadensis

Elymus virginicus

Eragrostis intermedia

Tridens flavus

Carex planostachys

Carex texensis


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