Dealing with Patchy Grass Under Trees

While trees make for beautiful lawn decor, they can sometimes cause problems for the grass and other plants underneath it. Because of this, it can create an inconsistent appearance on your lawn and require professional lawn care to fix.

There are a few reasons why patchy grass occurs under trees:

  • It’s dry. The grass under trees is situated around the roots which dominate in water consumption. The causes grass to compete for water, causing it to fall short on getting the water it needs.
  • Tree chemicals. Some trees secrete chemicals that keep other plants from growing. Trees like the black walnut do this, preventing the grass and flowers around it from growing.
  • Shade. During the growing months, the leaves of trees block much of the sunlight needed by grass to grow. This not only stunts growth, but also deprives it of nutrients.
  • Fungal disease. In some cases, the turf may already have fungal or bacterial diseases that stop grass from growing. These will need to be identified separately and treated on a wide-scale approach.


In most instances, patchy grass can be combated successfully to revive the grass underneath trees and allow it to flourish over longer periods of time. Some of the remedies for dealing with patchy grass under trees include:

  • Planting shade-resistant grass. Grass like fine fescue and St. Augustine require minimal sunlight and sustain well under shaded areas. If your lawn doesn’t already have this type of grass, you may need to wait until the off season before overseeding and planting any new grass.
  • Pruning trees to allow for more light. Cutting off branches and leaves in strategic spots allow not only extra light onto the grass but it may even encourage trees to grow more vigorously.
  • Eliminating the grass entirely. Instead, plant groundcovers that deal well under the shade and don’t require as much maintenance as grass. Some suggestions are: hosta, pachysandra, vinca, ajuga, lirope.
  • Using mulch. Another option to groundcovers is mulch, which can be composed of several different organic materials, most commonly wood chips and soil. First, kill the remaining grass and spread pre-emergent herbicide. Place the mulch about 4 inches deep. Mulch sustains much better under the shade and even give your landscaping a new look.
  • Limiting foot traffic. When people or pets walk over grass, it immediately shortens the amount of life of plants. To avoid accelerating the decline of grass, block off the area to prevent further foot traffic from going across it.
  • Grow moss. Like groundcovers, moss is highly drought tolerant and easily blended with the landscaping with its green color. It requires an acidic pH level in the soil (below 7.0) and can be planted with a moss planting mix. 

Whatever you decide to do, don’t mow! Patchy grass doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be removed in order to be remedied. Treating it with fertilizer or letting it die off naturally before planting a shade-tolerant grass type is a better option that simply scalping the grass with a lawn mower. 

For more ways to treat patchy grass, reach out to us here to find a lawn care professional in your area. Our network of experts can provide the services and lawn care plans specifically tailored to your yard.

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