When it comes to sunlight, Australia – just as we are in so many other ways – is a lucky country. For most of the nation cloud cover is the exception, not the rule. As such, we have historically leant towards the growing of plant-life that enjoys plenty of UV exposure. Our lawns are no exception.
Because of Australia’s climate, all bar the most southern reaches will be home to conditions that suit warm season grasses. This can be an issue, because warm season grasses tend to lean more heavily on the sun for growth than their cool season counterparts.
Shaded backyards weren’t an issue for Australians of a generation or two ago, when everyone had their open, uncluttered quarter-acre block. As our cities and towns have become more and more condensed, however, we find ourselves in shadier and shadier territory. Whether it’s your neighbour’s house, your garden fence, or trees around the edge of your yard, shade can play a significant part in the backyard of a modern day Australian, no matter how cloudless the skies above the house are.
So you have a backyard that often struggles to see the sun. Which warm season lawn will suit you best? Which grass varieties can cope with the fact that they aren’t going to bask in that summer glow?
The Worst Choices
Before looking at the grasses that were built for the job, let’s look at those that simply aren’t. Unfortunately for shaded Australians, this category will include some of the country’s most popular lawns.
An Australian favourite, unfortunately couch is best suited to the wide, open, sunny spaces that are provided by big backyards and sporting fields. Without a good, steady flow of UV, couch will soon brown off. In fact, couch has a shade tolerance rating of just 10 percent, meaning that the grass will begin to be negatively affected by the shade if it is out of the sun for just 10 percent of the day.
An Australian stalwart that finds itself in much the same position as couch, kikuyu is another severely shade-phobic grass, with its tolerance also hovering around the 10 percent mark. If you have even small patches of your lawn area that are prone to being shaded, you’ll find that kikuyu will quickly develop bare patches.
Note that, while these two varieties might not be suitable for less than sunny conditions, they are still good for other uses.
Shade Friendly Grasses
Thankfully, there are other choices available. While every grass will benefit from some level of UV exposure – fuelling that all-important photosynthesis – some are better at coping with a lack of sun than others.
Our first stop is zoysia, a great all-rounder of a grass that is also up to dealing with shade. On top of its terrific drought tolerance, hardiness, and pest and disease resistance, it’s also got a shade tolerance of 40 percent.
This is ideal for backyards that have more temporary shade issues, such as overhang from a neighbouring property’s trees and buildings, or lawns with trees, bushes and shrubs around their edges.
When talking shade tolerance, no grass does it better than buffalo. With a tolerance percentage of between 60 percent and 70 percent, buffalo needs next to no sun to survive, and only a little more to thrive.
Perfect for yards with heavy shade, such as those with a large tree planted in amongst the lawn, or in built up areas of Australia that are also prone to more cloud cover, buffalo will happily grow in the shadiest of conditions. You just need to ensure that you’ve got a consistent lawn maintenance routine in place, and the rest will take care of itself.
So in terms of shade, there is a clear order of preference for warm season grasses. For areas with high levels of shade, a buffalo grass will be the safest bet. For areas that are prone to moderate levels of shade, your choice can extend to zoysia. If your lawn will see little to no shade, either a couch or kikuyu variety will enjoy the conditions.
If you have any questions regarding the shade levels and grass choice for your backyard, don’t hesitate to contact a friendly seed specialist at McKays.