Trees and lawns are two of the most common features of many yards. But the two don’t always coexist well. Many homeowners and business owners alike find that their grass struggles to survive underneath trees. In turn, grass care can damage these same trees.
If you face these challenges, you may wonder how you can help your beautiful lawn and your valuable trees to live well together. To help, here are a few tips for any property owner.
1. Choose the Right Tree
If you want to plant a new tree, be sure the tree is one that will be lawn-friendly. Lawn-friendly trees work well with the amount of irrigation common to lawns, generally lose their leaves for part of the year, and have root systems less likely to impact the lawn.
Avoid trees that are known to kill plants underneath them. For example, walnut trees, sugar maples, and junipers can all cause damage to plants below. These are known as allelopathic trees.
2. Have the Tree Serviced
Regular tree maintenance will help the lawn in several ways. Most importantly, it thins out the canopy of branches so that more sunlight gets through and reaches the grass below. You may also be able to trim the tree in ways that provide more light to certain problem areas of the lawn.
In addition, tree maintenance prevents damaged branches from falling on the lawn and sap or diseases from contaminating the grass below.
3. Keep Grass at a Distance
When a tree is in the middle of a lawn, the temptation is often to allow grass to grow right up to the trunk. This isn’t good for young trees in particular, as the grass can rob the trunk and roots of light, water, and nutrients. It also means that mowers, trimmers, and edgers might get too close to the tree and cause physical damage.
If your lawn is structured like this, change the boundaries of the lawn around the tree to include a natural barrier between the two. Some yard owners install tree rounds, but these should be carefully managed to avoid causing the same problems (root damage, sunlight blocking, or compacting) a lawn would cause. Instead, consider organic or inorganic mulch and a decorative border that is more mower-friendly.
4. Change the Grass
If you already have an existing tree or you are determined to plant a certain type, consider instead how the grass below might be altered to accommodate the conditions. In cooler climates, fescue, bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and ryegrass all tend to develop better in shady locations. You may be able to simply reseed the area around the tree or the entire lawn, depending on your yard layout.
If you still have difficulty getting grass to thrive, try replacing it with a shade-loving groundcover like pachysandra or English ivy. Groundcovers provide a lush, green appearance that will harmonize with your lawn but make care easier.
5. Check the Soil
Not all lawn problems stem from too much or too little sunlight. Trees fight with delicate grasses for the nutrients in the soil, so a soil test might reveal an imbalance that limits the grass’s growth based on the specific needs of that species of grass.
You may also need to adjust your fertilization type and tailor it to grass that grows at a slower pace under less sunlight. Additionally, keep in mind that the organic material in the soil can deplete when you remove leaves, clippings, and debris during maintenance.
6. Alter Your Watering Schedule
Your trees and lawn compete for the same water, but trees tend to win over grass as they are thirstier. Most sprinkler systems are designed to water based on what the lawn requires, but trees can soak up that water before it can benefit the lawn. Alternatively, because watering is often only as deep as grass roots, the tree may still not get enough to thrive.
To counteract this, check your irrigation plan to ensure that both lawn and trees get enough. In the height of summer, too, you may need to provide additional water for thirsty trees.
7. Look for Other Activity
Analyze whether activity in the area is contributing to lawn problems independent of shade and water issues. For instance, if kids or pets like to play under the tree’s cover, they can trample and damage grass that is already more fragile than the rest of the lawn. Any neighborhood pets or wildlife that dig under the tree could also be a culprit.
Where to Start
Whether you’re planning to add trees near your lawn or already face challenges with the grass below, start by consulting with the lawn and tree care pros at Schulhoff Tree & Lawn Care, Inc. For more than 80 years, we have served property owners looking to make their yard the best it can be. Call today to learn how we can help yours.