Refreshing the Lawn in Shady Areas

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
As we’ve talked about many times in this column, it is difficult to maintain a quality lawn in this part of Oklahoma. The preferred turfgrass of choice is tall fescue, a cool-season grass, but even the best varieties struggle from time to time. Drought, high temperatures, competition from tree roots, traffic and disease are just some of the factors that cause it to decline. With this in mind, it’s not unreasonable to expect to have to come in and reseed from time to time.

Fall is the preferred time of year to seed cool-season lawns, whether that is to freshen up an existing lawn, or seed a new one. Follow these guidelines for your best chance of success:
  • If you haven’t had one done in a few years, collect a sample of soil and have it tested to determine what the nutrient needs are for the area. Contact our office for more information if you are not familiar with the process.
  • If the area has a large number of weeds, we suggest spraying them with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate.
  • Rake, scarify, aerify or very lightly till the area. Avoid a deep tillage because tree roots are going to be present in almost all cases involving a shady lawn and tilling can be very detrimental to the tree’s feeder roots. The idea is to create a firm but loose seedbed. Don’t be concerned about removing the remainder of the weeds after spraying as the decaying plants can serve as a mulch for the new seed.
  • Apply fertilizer per the results of the soil test.
  • Apply 7-8 lbs. per 1000 square feet of a good quality turf type tall fescue. You may also select blends that contain a small percentage of kentucky bluegrass. Avoid all-purpose blends that contain annual or perennial ryegrass, fine fescue or other cool season grasses as they just will not hold up in our summers
  • Rake the area and lightly pack it down. This doesn’t require dedicated machinery like a roller. Going over the area with the wide tires of a riding lawnmower or utility vehicle will work just fine. If the area is small, a good foot-stomping even works. The idea is to insure the seed is in good contact with the loose soil. This is a critical point as it helps the seed retain moisture as you begin watering.
  • Water. Be careful to avoid flooding the area and washing seed away, but make sure the surface stays moist for at least two weeks. After about 7-8 days, you should begin to see small seedlings emerge. Once the majority of these seedling get an inch or so high, you can begin to allow the soil surface to dry out slightly between waterings. The slight drying also encourages the new plants to drive their roots deeper in search of water, leading to a stronger plant as it matures.
  • Begin mowing when the seedling reach 2.5-3” or so. Regular mowing will encourage the plants to fill out quicker plus it will help keep weeds under control.
  • It is normal to have some weeds. There are no products labeled to selectively take weeds out of a new stand, so mowing and mechanical control (hoeing or hand-pulling) are your only options. Chemical weed control can begin in the spring if desired.
  • Once winter settles in, remember to water occasionally if we don’t get rain or snow. Also, prevent leaves from accumulating so thick that they smother out the new grass. This can be done by additional mowing, or raking, whatever works best. Keep in mind that chopped up leaves can be beneficial, slowly releasing nutrients back into the soil as they break down, and as a mulch, as long as they are not too thick.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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