Stop the insanity

How to deal with shade trees and a lawn going bald

White picket fence on lawn

White picket fence on lawn

Years ago I must have touched a hot stove, as I’ve never touched one since. Many are probably in the same boat, ignoring their parent’s comment “not to do it” but ­learning that we should have listened.

Along those lines, Albert Einstein has been credited (though with little actual proof) with the definition of “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Like touching a hot stove and expecting it to be cool and metallic.

Or more importantly, trying to seed a lawn in the shade.

Now, not wanting to call the kettle black, I should be upfront and state my yard is practically 100 ­percent shade. For a couple of years, I attempted to establish a golf course-quality turf in my yard, and failed miserably. Thus began the love affair with hostas, ­heucheras, ferns, and shade-loving shrubs, and the ­realization that it was one of those best life decisions.

Maybe someone did one of those I-could-have-had-a-V8 smacks to the forehead, or maybe I ran into a low-hanging branch. Anyway, the whole world of turfgrass fell into place.

While the turfgrass industry ­markets shade-loving turfgrass, the truth of the matter is that the only grass you can get to grow in the shade is the type you find in the middle of the forest.

And, of course, as much as you search, you won’t find anything. That’s because there isn’t any.

All turfgrass need some light. Sure, the fine and sheep fescues will tolerate some shade, but not complete shade. Maybe 50% shade. And even then, it’s still a fine-bladed grass that can maybe stand a couple squirrels or cats scurrying over it, but no child or dog.

But we keep attempting and that’s because nature loves a good joke.

The only halfway decent grasses for the shade are the cool-season ones – those that thrive in cool weather but dislike temperatures above 85.

So, to get a nice lawn, we sow the grass seed in the fall or early spring, though the former is a zillion times better. The grass ­germinates in ideal September temperatures, and within a month starts to fill in, just as the leaves are turning color and ­dropping. All of a ­sudden, the grass takes off and grows like a teenager, and we marvel with puffed out chests how great our ­growing abilities are.

Come spring, the grass greens up quickly and the mowers whirl into action. The grass is green and lush.

Then, wham! The trees fully leaf out and all that wonderful sunlight ­disappears. The grass thins as fast as

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinois.edu

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinois.edu

some people’s hair and then weeds invade.

But we succeeded once, so the male chromosome tells us we could ­succeed again. Right? So, we try it again next fall. And the ­following fall. And the ­following fall ad infinitum. Great growth and then thinning.

So, what can you do?

Keep at it with the mind totally closed off to the term “insanity,” thin the branches of the trees to allow more light in, and of course summer’s heat. Remove the tree. Move. Or plant lots of hostas, heucheras, ferns and shade-loving shrubs

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