Tough Places to Grow Turf

As versatile as lawn grasses may be, there are many locations where they just won’t flourish.  In general, a lawn needs at least 5 hours of sun each day, a large uninterrupted area, well-drained soil, and a relatively flat grade or slightly rolling topography.  Slopes, shade, compacted soils, heavy foot traffic, and poor air circulation should prompt you to consider alternatives. Resist the temptation to try to make due with grass on a poor site.  The chart below offers simple solutions for several common problems.

Problem Possible Solution
Thin turf under shade trees Plant shade-adapted groundcover or grasses
High-traffic areas Install bluestone, flagstone, or other pavers
Moss or mildew in shady area Remove turf and moss, plant shade-adapted perennials and add wood chip mulch.  Consider removing or pruning nearby trees to allow more sunlight penetration.  Test the soil to determine if the pH is a problem.
Grass on steep slope Plant junipers, Hall’s honeysuckle, crown vetch, or other ornamentals on the slope

A hell strip is an awkward area between the sidewalk and the street, surrounding your mailbox, or falling between your lawn and the neighbor’s driveway. Grasses grown in these areas are apt to become stressed by heat from the street and sidewalk, salt spray, and soil compaction from heavy traffic. They aren’t the right plant choice. Instead consider short ornamental grasses and heat tolerant perennials such as yarrow, junipers, fleeceflower, sedum, coreopsis, lilyturf, daylilies, and gazania.

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John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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