Will Grass Grow Through Mulch or in the Shade? The Age Old Question Answered

Many people face issues when it comes to creating a beautifully manicured lawn in spaces with trees and other obstructions. It can be difficult to maintain an even coverage in the shaded areas that trees create. Although it isn’t an easy task, growing grass in the shade is certainly possible with the right techniques.

Without proper due care and attention, grass does not stand a very good chance of surviving in shaded areas, or it may become worn and patchy. Despite this, there are certain seed types and particular conditions which are favourable to growing grass in shaded areas. By adhering to these, you can achieve a healthy lawn, even beneath your trees.

However, it is not always a good idea to cultivate grass beneath trees, as it has the potential to cause problems which may threaten the life of the tree. For this reason, some people seek to create mulched beds around their trees instead. In addition, when re-landscaping a garden, many people wish to replace grass with mulched flower beds. However, placing mulch over the top of grass comes with its own unique set of problems.

Beneath mulch, grass tends to thrive, which causes many people experience the opposite problem of trying to prevent the grass from growing in these conditions. Grass has the ability to germinate and send roots down within the mulch itself, practically making it a hotbed for seed growth. This can be frustrating, as many people lay mulch down over the grass in their gardens in the hopes of creating a new look, only to find that this was a futile exercise as the grass begins to grow back through.

Here, we will take a look at how you can encourage grass-growth in shaded areas, and how you can seek to prevent grass from growing through mulch.

How to Grow Grass in the Shade


When it comes to growing grass in sun-speckled or shaded areas, you must first consider whether your conditions are favourable for grass growth. There are number of factors which may cause difficulty when it comes to this matter, usually relating to the trees which are causing the shade. These issues include the following:

  • Dense Trees – Thick trees with large and dense canopies create more solid shade, blocking out a lot of sunlight. This can prevent any grass underneath from obtaining the level of sunlight it needs to survive. They can also prevent essential rainwater from reaching the soil, as it gets caught on the canopy.
  • Low Hanging Trees – Trees which have low hanging branches, or foliage that comes down to the bottom of the trunk also pose a problem for grass for the same reasons – they can block water and sunlight.
  • Shallow Rooted Trees – Trees such as Maples and Beech have shallow roots which spread closer to the surface of the soil rather than reaching deep down. This is problematic for grass growth, as they suck the water away from the grass’s roots, making it more difficult for the grass to flourish.
  • Evergreen Trees – These pose a problem when it comes to attempting to grow grass beneath the tree or in the vicinity. Not only do evergreens have a tendency to have low growing foliage, which we have already discussed as troublesome, they also create acidity in the soil, which is unfavourable to grass growth.

However, there are a number of ways in which you can offset some of these problems and encourage a thick and healthy coverage. Here are just a few of them:

  • Use the Right Seeds – There are many different seed types when it comes to grass, and it certainly pays to get it right. Certain blends are specifically designed to work well in shaded areas, so be sure to buy these if you are hoping to grow grass in a patch with little sunlight. Fescue blends are some of the best for this purpose.
  • Branch Removal – If you are struggling to grow grass beneath a dense tree, you may wish to opt for branch removal. By taking away lower branches and thinning out the density of the tree in general, you can increase both the amount of sunlight and the amount of rainwater hitting the soil below. This will provide the grass with the essential ingredients it needs for survival.
  • Minimise Footfall – Grass in shaded areas is vulnerable to thinning, which is why you should minimise footfall in these sections. Ensure that any thoroughfares run through unshaded areas to allow the shaded patches to thrive.
  • Give Nature a Helping Hand – Grass in shaded areas struggles as a result of not receiving enough of the nutrients and water that it needs to get by. For this reason, it may need a little extra attention. You should give these areas more water and more fertiliser than unshaded areas. You should also leave shaded grass a little longer in length when mowing – under no circumstances should these areas be scalped.
  • Additional Seeds – You can top up a patchy area of grass in a shaded spot by seeding it once or twice a year. This can give it the boost it needs to rejuvenate itself.

How to Stop Grass Growing Through Mulch

The problem with growing grass beneath trees is that you will inevitably have to mow it, which has the potential to damage the tree’s roots spelling disaster for the tree itself. This is why many people wish to switch from grass to mulch beneath their trees. However, if grass already exists in the area, they face the frustrating issue of it growing back up through the mulch.

Digging the grass up is not only time consuming, but likewise has the potential to damage the tree’s roots beneath. So, in the opposite vein, here are some techniques on how you can prevent grass from growing up through mulch and damaging your trees roots or ruining your newly landscaped garden.

  1. Landscape Fabric – When it comes to preventing grass-growth through mulch, landscaping fabric can be laid on top of the grass and beneath the mulch to create a layer that will kill the grass and stop it from sprouting through.
  2. Newspaper – For an alternative to landscape fabric, newspaper can offer a very cheap, simple and natural option. By simply laying around five sheets of newspaper over the top of the grass before applying the mulch, you can create a biodegradable layer which will naturally smother the grass before decomposing beneath the mulch.
  3. Edging – If you are not applying mulch directly on top of the grass, but fear that the seeds may encroach on your new flower bed, then why not edge them? By creating a shallow trench around your beds, you can prevent the roots of the grass from venturing into their territory.
  4. Chemicals – Beyond these tricks, chemical treatments are your only real option. This method should be taken with caution, as chemicals are liable to destroy all plants in your garden, not just the grass, unless they are used carefully and sparingly. When applying an herbicide, you should spot-spray and shield any other plants or flowers that are in the vicinity using cardboard or plastic.

Mulch or Grass?

Whether you opt for mulch or grass in your garden is a matter of personal choice and aesthetic taste. If you opt for grass, be sure to mow carefully in areas where it may be covering the roots of a tree. When laying mulch over the top of grass, don’t forget to take precautions so that the grass doesn’t grow through and ruin your hard work.

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