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Variety in shape, size, and color in a landscape is beautiful. Within a given region, the number of species of plants available for use is diverse, giving each landscape the opportunity to be unique. While the individual species chosen may vary from one to the next, most landscapes are a confluence of naturally existing trees, selected ornamentals, and turfgrass.

At Nature’s Turf, we offer programs for both ornamental plants and turf, meaning we often run into situations where natural trees, woody ornamentals, and turf aren’t harmoniously occupying the same space. All require light, water, and similar nutrients to live and grow. Competing with a healthy tree is a tall order for turf, pun not intended. Trees have voracious appetites, large root systems, and the upper hand when competing for light. They may not be the only feature shading our lawns, however.

Trying to Grow Turfgrass with Limited Sunlight

Sunlight duration is a fundamental consideration when choosing the turf species for your landscape. Typically, hybridized bermuda requires at least 7 hours of sunlight. Hybridized zoysia requires at least 4 but performs better the more it gets. Other factors such as individual species, time of day, length, direction, and quality of light should all be considered when selecting the turf species to use. Whether planting for a new build or renovating a landscape, striking the balance between available light, the natural landscape, structures, and turf is key.

If structures are impeding light, your options may be limited. If your house faces south, for instance, it could be shading the backyard for considerable portions of the day. The same can be said for fences, out buildings, or any other permanent structures. In situations such as these, often the best solution is to reduce the turf area. Placing beds along fence lines or structures may feel like surrender for a turf lover, but it is simply the act of directing more attention to areas where turf will most willingly grow. Repurposing areas where turf can be a challenge is a terrific landscaping strategy. At this moment you may be thinking, “But this blog is about trees, right?”

What If Trees Are Limiting the Sunlight?

Trees may absolutely be contributing to your light problem. In a typical residential setting, the tallest trees in your yard are likely much taller than your house. This means they can often limit available light to your turf even earlier in the day than any of your permanent structures do. Unlike those permanent structures, there are a few methods that can be considered for remedying light obstruction from trees.

Audit your landscape for available light. As mentioned above, first determine if the turf type in your yard is the optimal type. The right choice may be to use two turf types. If the front yard has bright, direct sunlight, bermuda works well, but a tree-filled backyard may benefit from a zoysia variety. Making these considerations is often the best way to have healthy turf while minimizing landscape modification.

Prune the limbs causing obstruction. Pruning the limbs can be beneficial if the requirements for the turf at the margins of your landscape are nearly met but would benefit from a little more light. Removing low limbs may allow for a better light angle, and thinning branches allows more light to filter through the canopy. If done correctly, this can also be beneficial to the tree. Watch this short video for an explanation of how to limb trees properly.

Remove or relocate the trees creating the shade. This method is often the first place our minds land. Removing trees may be the best solution when the wood line and a house or other permanent structure are close together, creating constant shade. I won’t mince words. Tree removal is dangerous. They are heavy and can be unpredictable, meaning risk should be considered for yourself and your property. Consulting a trusted professional specializing in tree removal is ideal. As a bonus, they often employ arborists capable of advising if the best choice is complete clearing, thinning based on a metric such as caliper size, or selective clearing based on which trees would be best to leave standing.

Repurpose the space. Lastly, just like for permanent structures, repurposing the space is perfectly fine. This could be in the form of bed extension for trees already separated in bed space. The extension or creation of a bedline at the margins of the landscape or woodline limits the visible thin areas created by competition. In the most extreme cases, doing away with a turf area can be considered if maintaining the trees is your goal. Again, this isn’t surrender for us turf lovers. This is accepting that placing our attention in smaller areas where conditions are optimized can result in better visual appeal.

How Do I Know What The Right Choice Is?

Consult a professional you trust. At Nature’s Turf, we have experienced staff members ready to help. We will ask pertinent questions that will help identify the right choice for your landscape. Typically, the right answer to the grand quandary becomes obvious in the answers of smaller questions.

Important Takeaways:

  • Landscapes are usually a combination of natural trees, woody ornamentals, and turf. Each of them are competing for the same water, light, and nutrients.
  • Light competition isn’t always caused by trees. Taking a good look at light angles may lead you to identify a permanent or semi-permanent structure as a component or the culprit of shade troubles.
  • Trees are regular obstructions. They have large root systems and always win the competition for light. If trees are your challenge, you have a few options.
    • Determine if the turf type is optimal for the space. Is there a better option?
    • Look at the light to decide if pruning or limbing trees would offer enough light to be sufficient for your turf.
    • Removal or relocation of trees may be the right move, but professional aid is advised. Trees are bigger and heavier than they often seem.
    • Sometimes, lessening the turf area and repurposing a landscape area is the best solution.