Can I wish for grass in this yard?


Hi there!
We are currently looking into buying a home and fell in love with one…except for its backyard :-/
We were wondering if we can hope to have grass in there if we give it a little love, or is it a lost cause?
You can see attached the actual yard surrounded with cedar hedges and several trees.
Thanks for your help :)


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.

Lawns are still viewed as the ultimate outdoor carpet, providing a multipurpose surface, suitable for relaxation or play.

The following are the ideal conditions required for growing a beautiful lush lawn:

  • deep, fertile, well-aerated loamy soil with lots of organic matter, good drainage, and a slightly acidic pH (6.0 to 6.5)
  • regular supply of water
  • minimum of 6 hours of sunshine each day
  • moderate foot traffic

The first thing to consider is how you are planning to use the lawn. Will it be utilized as a play area or simply for relaxation. Secondly you need to do a do a site assessment. Is there a drainage issue, does water drain well away from the site or does it pool in specific spots? Are there areas that receive less than 6 hours of sunlight? Are there insects and weeds already present? From your photo there appears to be a considerable amount of weeds. Was there ever a lawn in the space, if so did the lawn die due to neglect? Lack of water? Lack of sunshine? Poor drainage?

If you decide to go ahead with a lawn  begin by clearing  the existing soil of any debris (branches, concrete, plastics, large stones) and weeds. Loosen the existing soil if it is compacted then correct the grade in areas that do not drain properly.

Lawns in Canada consist mostly of cool season turfgrass, which have their main growth periods in the spring and fall. To seed or sod is the next question. If you decide to start your lawn from seed, there are a number of different type of seed combinations now available at your local garden centers. What type is the best for your space is determined by your site requirements.  Sod varieties available are limited and may not necessarily be the best for your site conditions.

Some grass varieties you will find are:

Kentucky bluegrass-needs more sun (especially in the morning) than many other grasses

Fine fescues -are more shade tolerant and will do well on sites with only 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day, or only late day sunlight.

Ryegrass is very tolerant of wear and is suitable for play areas.

Purchasing a seed blend containing a variety of  grass species increases the range of growing conditions and may allow the lawn to be less vulnerable to pest damage than a lawn with only one grass variety. How to Start a lawn from Seed is an excellent resource providing step by step instructions.

If you decide that your growing conditions are not suitable for a lawn, try growing other ground cover plants more adapted to the area. Remember, right plant, right place increases your chance of success.

The Toronto Master Gardeners have produced a guide to lawn alternatives that you may find useful – it offers suggestions for soil amendments and care as well:

With the implementation of the pesticide ban in Ontario we have seen an increase in the number of homeowners who are embracing the use of groundcovers as a lawn alternative. Whats not to like – groundcovers sprawl across the ground but don’t grow tall, spread quickly and are relatively maintenance free, smother weeds and fill in pathways. You might  be interested in the booklet ‘Grow Me Instead’ from the Ontario Invasive Plants Council suggesting some native groundcovers.  Click here.  Also, here is an article that lists some possible groundcovers for shady areas: 

Lastly, there are a number of archived posts on our website dealing with lawns. Simply type “lawns” and “groundcovers” into the search bar located to the right of the page.