is upon us after a long somewhat typical New England winter, the Red Sox
opening day has arrived, the birds are singing, and the last of the snow is melting
and revealing the lawn and yard spring work we have to do.
As the snow piles
melt, we now see; the missing lawn that was relocated by the plow guy, the littering
of tree limbs, sticks, and pine cones dropped by your favorite neighbors tree,
the load of leaves you forgot to pick up last fall from your other favorite neighbors
tree, and last but certainly not least, a good majority of the dog food you
bought all winter that now covers the back lawn in neat little piles. Amazing.
Here in the
early spring we also notice how the landscape plantings have changed and the lawn
in general isn’t as thick as it was last fall.
There are thin and bare areas that certainly didn’t exist last year. Or did they?
As each year
goes by, we sometimes may not notice the subtle changes that have occurred on
the lawn until after several seasons have past.
One particular change that occurs over time in the landscape, and with
lawns especially, is the amount of sunlight.
That neighbors tree dropping more leaves now than you can handle is also
casting a bigger shadow on the lawn.
Lawns will thin more and more quickly as light is diminished to less
that 4-5 hours of direct light. The lawn
that supported so much activity over the years is now looking old and worn out.
The adjacent gardens and shrubs that
once flourished, no longer bloom and now bend toward what little light that
dapples through the aging tree canopy and lawn in these areas is sparse or
So now is the time to get more light back into
the area to help provide more growth again of the lawn and understory
plants. Removing lower limbs that can
easily be handled is a start and will buy some time but inevitably the
landscape beneath needs to change or the tree needs to go. If the
tree is valuable and removal isn’t an option, you will want an expert to get
further up to get larger limbs and as well perform some thinning of the tree
canopy. The benefit of the tree
(especially if it is your neighbors tree) probably outweighs the loss of lawn
area and poorly performing plants beneath.
If this is the
case, the landscape can be adjusted into a shade environment planting and
expanded into the old lawn area by use of shade tolerant plant material. Shade gardens can be very attractive and
useful for wildlife.
Pachysandra make for good shade ground covers as do the many varieties of Hosta
to fill in your shade areas. As well, moss
and fern that grow well in the shade are great plants to help create a shade
garden and provide for erosion control of the soil. Add a few
stepping stones and a stone bench or two for the finishing touch and you have a
nice garden sitting area on summer days.
Management of a
shade lawn that is on the edge of the minimum light requirement is much
different than when it had been in full sun.
Along with the amount of sunlight, we also need to consider grass types,
fertilizer nutrient levels, water and mowing. Cool season
grasses require a minimum four hours of sunlight
in order to survive and flourish. Any
light conditions under four hours will thin the turf stand significantly. There are many new cultivars of cool season
grasses that have become available over the past few decades. The three main grass types for our New
England cool season are Fescue, Ryegrass and Bluegrass. Fescues and Ryegrass will generally perform
better in the shade environment. There
are Bluegrass varieties that will also do well in shade such as Poa
seed, you will notice blends will be available for either sun or shade. Keep in mind that even the shade tolerant
blends require that four hours of direct light!
If the area is not getting this amount of light, other considerations will
need to be made.
Grass plants in shade areas do not
require as much nutrients as plants growing more rapidly in full sun. Over fertilizing can actually weaken plants
as they do not photosynthesize as much as in full sun and process nutrients and
sugars less quickly. Shade areas are
also more vulnerable to traffic and grass will damage easily. As areas become darker environments with less
light, moss generally will take over as there is no longer competition with the
Sun lawn areas being more capable
of more photosynthesis will grow more rapidly.
But with that in mind, plants require more nutrients to feed on along
with more water to keep up. The best
conditions for lawn area are where there is just enough shadowing during the
mid day time periods and more than four hours of direct light.
Another problem that can occur is
where a lawn or landscape area has a large tree or multiple trees removed. Now the area that was accustomed to minimum sunlight
is now in full sun. Plants will begin to
suffer significantly and desiccate more quickly. Lawns accustomed to shade that become full
sun environments will need to be provided more water and nutrients. Grass varieties that are more sun tolerant
can be added through overseeding methods to get the lawn to flip back to liking
the sun again.
As with all gardening and
landscape planting, it’s about the “right plant in the right place”. Sunlight requirements is just one of the
considerations when choosing plants for your landscape or grass seed for your
lawn. Caring for your lawn as well requires
more than just cutting it down every week.
Knowing that shade and sun lawns need to be treated differently is a big
start in getting good results and a lawn that will perform well and look good
from season to season.
For more information on this topic
or if you have other lawn questions feel free to contact us.