Three grasses that grow from seed, St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Japanese zoysia (Zoysia japonica) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) are rated by Texas A&M University as having the highest shade tolerance for grasses commonly grown in Texas. Their growing qualities make them suitable for different parts of Texas.
Degrees of Shade
The quality of shade differs. No grass will grow well in full shade. They all need some sun for photosynthesis, but some will grow under moderate or “dappled” shade.
- Some will grow under full or heavy shade, meaning they're in shade most of the time.
- Moderate shade means that if they're in full shade during the middle of the day, they get full sun in the morning and afternoon.
- Dappled shade means the sun is filtered through the leaves of a tree.
St. Augustine Grass
Coarse-textured St. Augustine grass is a warm-season grass, meaning it is green in summer and goes dormant, losing its color, in winter. St. Augustine grass prefers hot, humid climates and grows well around the Gulf Coast and East Texas. It does not tolerate drought well, limiting its use in drier parts of Texas. It will grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10.
St. Augustine grass is a thick, lush, dark green grass used mainly for lawns, not playing fields, because it does not tolerate traffic.
It tolerates moderate shade, but grows thin and spindly in dense shade. You can mow it from 1 to 3 inches tall, every seven to 10 days at 2 1/2 inches tall and every 10 to 14 days above 2 1/2 inches tall. If it is growing in moderate to dense shade mow it 3 inches tall every 10 days.
St. Augustine grass has been traditionally been established by laying sod or planting plugs that spread by creeping surface stems called stolons. More recently, seeded varieties have been developed, including cultivars grown in Texas.
Of the three species of zoysia grass available to home gardeners, only Japanese zoysia can be started from seed. Considered "ideal for home lawns" by Texas A&M, zoysia species will grow in USDA zones 5 through 11 and will thrive in all parts of Texas. Japanese zoysia has a coarser texture than the other Zoysia varieties
Although Japanese zoysia will not tolerate shade as well as St. Augustine grass, it tolerates drought extremely well, making it a good choice for shady conditions if you live in Southwest Texas. Like St. Augustine grass, it is a warm-season grass, meaning it is green in summer and goes dormant in winter, turning tan.
Zoysia grass growing in full sun should be mowed 1 to 2 inches high every five to seven days with the same mowing schedule but slightly higher if it’s grown in shade.
A cool-season grass, tall fescue is greenest in spring and fall. It will grow in USDA zones 2 through 7. In Texas, its use as a lawn turf is limited to north and west Texas areas where the USDA zones range from 6a through 7b.
With proper care tall fescue will grow in dense shade that warm-season grasses cannot endure. Improved varieties stay green during winter to provide a green lawn year-round.
In fall and spring mow tall fescue 2 inches high, raising it to 3 inches during the heat of the summer or if it is growing in heavy shade.