Will ornamental grasses grow under trees?

Answered by Tom Adger

Ornamental grasses have varying levels of tolerance to different growing conditions, including shade. While most grasses prefer full sun to thrive, there are several species that can adapt and grow well in shaded areas, such as under trees. These grasses are typically referred to as shade-tolerant or shade-loving grasses.

When considering growing ornamental grasses under trees, it is important to understand the specific conditions that exist in that area. The amount of shade, the type of tree, and the root competition will all play a role in determining the success of the grasses. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Amount of shade: Shade can vary from dappled sunlight to deep shade depending on the tree’s canopy density and the time of day. Grasses that can tolerate shade will generally prefer areas with some filtered sunlight or at least a few hours of direct sun.

2. Type of tree: Different tree species have varying degrees of shade tolerance and root competition. Some trees have dense canopies that block out most sunlight, while others have a more open structure that allows more light to filter through. Additionally, certain trees have shallow, dense root systems that can compete with grasses for nutrients and water.

3. Grass species selection: Choose grasses that are known to tolerate shade. Some popular shade-tolerant grasses include:

– Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra): This grass has a graceful, cascading habit and thrives in partial shade.
– Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa): It is a clump-forming grass that can tolerate a range of light conditions, including light shade.
– Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium): This grass is known for its attractive seed heads and can tolerate light to moderate shade.
– Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca): It is a low-growing grass that can tolerate partial shade and is often used as an accent plant.

4. Soil and moisture conditions: Trees often compete with grasses for moisture and nutrients in the soil. Ensure that the area receives adequate water and consider adding organic matter or mulch to improve soil fertility and moisture retention.

5. Maintenance and care: Regular maintenance is crucial for the success of ornamental grasses under trees. Remove fallen leaves and debris to prevent them from smothering the grasses. Lightly prune the lower branches of the tree to allow more light to reach the grasses.

Personal experience:
I have successfully grown ornamental grasses under trees in my own garden. I have a large maple tree that casts shade over a portion of my lawn. I selected shade-tolerant grasses such as Japanese Forest Grass and Northern Sea Oats to plant in this area. While the grasses didn’t grow as vigorously as those in full sun, they still added texture and interest to the shaded area. Regular watering and occasional feeding helped keep them healthy.

It is possible to grow ornamental grasses under trees, but it requires careful consideration of shade levels, tree species, grass selection, soil conditions, and maintenance. By choosing shade-tolerant grasses and providing the necessary care, you can create a beautiful and unique landscape under the shade of trees.