How Much Light Does My Lawn Need?

Sunlight on fresh sod in Sandy Springs, GA

Sunlight is one of the most important growth factors for lawns. Plants need light to photosynthesize and produce energy to grow. They can do this even without direct sunshine, but often less efficiently, and some grass may not thrive in shady spots, such as Bermuda. So, how do you know how much it needs? 

If you asked a fellow gardener for advice on a plant that wasn’t growing well, they might want to know what exposure the lawn gets. Knowing this gives you a general idea of the light conditions and can offer a clue as to whether that is the problem. Directional exposures tend to be similar in all of North America: North sides of buildings are shadier while the south sides are sunnier and hot. If your lawn faces east, it may get a lot of sun in the morning and be shady all afternoon, while the West side is just the opposite. Here’s a useful graphic to help you determine sunlight direction in your yard.

 

Your house isn’t the only thing that might block the sun. For example, a large tree on the south side of the house can shade an area. And a neighbor’s house may keep the east side shady all day. Seasons change sunlight, as well. When the sun is lower in the sky in early spring and fall, it will cast longer shadows in different spots, perhaps giving you shade where it’s usually sunny during most of the growing season. Knowing these conditions for your lawn will help determine whether you have enough light to grow certain plants. Though it may sound simplistic, take a walk around the lawn to see how much sun and shade your yard gets. Jot down notes about which areas are bright, dim, hot or cool, and do this for all times of day and in all seasons.

Lawns that receive full sun, meaning 6+ hours of direct sunlight, are versatile because any grass will grow very happily. If your yard gets part sun, meaning 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, we would suggest choosing a shade-tolerant sod that will still be pretty and green despite not as much sunlight. For example, our most shade-tolerant grass is Geo Zoysia, a thin blade that only needs 4 hours of sun and would be a great option. Our Empire Zoysia, a wide-blade, dense turf, would thrive with 5+ hours of sun.

Need more light? There are a few tricks to changing the amount of light your garden or lawn receives. Paint structures or walls white and choose light-colored hardscaping materials to reflect light into the yard. Water features and mirrors can also direct light to areas that are dark and shady. Another option is thinning the trees’ crown, allowing more sunlight to filter through the canopy.