Grass in full shade


Have checked out the Gardening Guides, bur found no answer. We live in Port Hope on what used to be a dairy pasture. The soil is clay. We have stretches of lawn which are beneath maples, and they get little sun during the day. We’ve tried tall fescue because it’s supposed to be shade tolerant, but with little luck. Is there another kind of grass we should be using, or do we have to resort to some other ground cover, e.g., European ginger?


Dear gardener, your location sounds wonderfully bucolic to me since I am in the centre of the city.

Thank you for asking this question of the Toronto Master Gardeners. Growing grass in clay soil that is root bound and shady is not easy! But you are not alone with this problem.

Please consider growing alternatives to grass for your shady area is a great idea. Grass is not native to our area, takes an inordinate amount of care and nearly perfect environmental conditions to thrive, and is not a good plant for the pollinator insects that we desperately need to attract and look after. Even grasses that are advertised as perfect for shady areas do not do very well and have to be replaced every year. My suggestion to you is to grow ground-cover plants instead. Here are some links to other posts that offer useful advice:

The Toronto Master Gardeners TMG) have answered this sort of question a number of times. This article offers grass alternatives for a shady, wet area that has a clay soil. The ground covers that it mentions are mostly native plants and hence are good for attracting pollinators and will thrive with little care once they are established.

One way to go about choosing good ground-covers, as suggested in a previous post, is to go around your neighborhood and see what is growing there already. Since it is easy to take cuttings from ground cover plants, ask for a few cuttings from your neighbours and try them out in your area.

Just in case you would still like to consider growing grasses in your shady area, here is a Toronto Master Gardener article that offers some clumping grasses that might thrive (depending upon your soil and how much sun you do get).

Finally, the Toronto Master Gardeners have outlined the basics on how to have a healthy lawn. This article can be found here.

Enjoy your spring in the country, and I hope your plants thrive.