I live in Germany (near Frankfurt so about 50 degrees latitude) and have a rather tiny lawn. It doesn't get a lot of light, especially in the winter, and frankly it rains a lot here and the patch is often wet. We have rolled out grass twice, but in both cases it turned to mostly clover and moss within about 3-4 years. I am not sure what the drainage is, nor do I really know how much light it gets.

I would like to have nice grass, and it is really very small, maybe 5x20 meters so I can afford to give it a fair amount of care. But I am not really sure what, and am not really sure what I have to deal with.

So my question is: how should I start to profile my lawn, maybe measure the sunlight and moisture (and anything else?) over a year or so to decide what kind of grass will grow best, and if installing a drainage system of some sort is necessary.

Should I get some Arduino soil moisture measuring devices? Maybe some light sensing ones too? Or are there simpler methods I don't know about?

  • The moss, in particular, says it probably does not get much light; if you want turf grass you may be doomed; evidently "green short stuff" does not suit your taste, or clover and moss would be fine.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


A thorough job starts underneath the grass. Turf grows best and can better withstand lower light with a good soil that is drained.

  • take a spade and cleanly cut out a one foot (30 cm) square of turf
  • remove the square of turf by undercutting at least three or four inches. Place to one side
  • dig a hole about 30 cm deep and observe the soil type and drainage
    • when you compress a clay based soil in your hand it will remain a lump
    • sand or high organic soils should break apart
    • consult your neighbours or the local university for information on the typical ph of the soil. A ph of 6.5 to 7 (neutral) is ideal. A soil test kit will help
  • what happens when you put a bucket of water in the hole? Free draining soils are usually sandy. Clay soils don't appear to drain at all.
  • when you are done, fill the hole with the soil and add the turf square back

For the size of area you have to deal with consider removing all grass and soil down six inches and adding new soil with a high amount of organic matter. Sod or overseed with a shade tolerant grass.

If this sounds a little too much then it will take more time. Every year, spring and fall, top dress with up to 1/2 inch (1 cm) of compost or soil with a high amount of organic matter. Overseed spring and fall with more grass seed.

Finally, mowing practices play a big part in turf health. The usual culprit is cutting too low.

  • Get a mower that really shreds the clippings and leave them on the lawn.
  • Cut high in the summer and lower in the fall.
  • Ask your neighbours about their best practices.
  • Avoid the trap of fertilizing heavily with a high nitrogen fertilizer. This will make the grass grow fast but at the expense of a good root system.
  • Slow release fertilizers that are season specific can be quite helpful.
  • Good advice, but don't you think I should be measuring light too? My neighbors are all just as clueless as me, and have pretty much the same problem.
    – Mike Wise
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 23:54
  • @MikeWise Unless you can change the light levels by cutting down trees you have to work with what you have The topsoil, drainage and type of grass are all the things you can change.
    – kevinskio
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 10:49
  • So I was thinking knowing the light levels would help me both select the right kind of grass and have realistic expectations. And yeah, I can "influence" the tree coverage somewhat.
    – Mike Wise
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 10:51
  • I also agree with much of this answer, except for this one point. In a low light condition, letting the grass grow and cutting it too tall can make it bunchy or leggy. Golf courses have such dense low mat grass because they mow it so close to the soil. I am not saying you want to duplicate this, but it is an extreme example of why to not let grass grow too tall. Under full sun conditions however I agree 100% with this answer.
    – Escoce
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 14:42
  • Knowing the amount of light the grass will get will be helpful, but I'm not sure the high-tech solutions are necessary and it seems they'd be very difficult to set up well, since every corner of your lawn is likely to get a radically different amount of light, and the amount it gets will change over the course of the seasons. I think there really is no substitute for spending a little time observing the spaces.
    – michelle
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 21:18

I live at 48N (about the same as Stuttgart) on the U.S coast between Seattle, WA and Vancouver,BC Canada. My lawn is on the north side of my house and slopes down, northward away from my house, about 10 degrees. It rains constantly here as well, except in July, August, and part of September (irrigation is necessary then or the grass will go dormant brown). My grass gets enough sunshine to remain healthy, now for more than 10 years.

The lawn originated as sod installed over a fairly sandy, well draining, subsoil. The only problem I have is moss growing in the grass and it will overpower/replace the grass during the winter. Because this has only happened in the last few years, I think it is because the organics in the soil have begun to breakdown into clays. Water drainage of clay loams can be improved by simply applying gypsum powder. The moss, itself, can be killed by products containing zinc sulfide powder - there are many on the market in the U.S. ('Moss Out' is one).

In summary, I don't think you need to be concerned about adequate light. I think you need to be most concerned about having adequate drainage.

  • If it's that small and depending on usage, would you consider a camomile lawn? That way it won't need mowing. May be worth a thought. It doesn't have to be grass?
    – user13638
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 12:12
  • I've tried a camomile lawn. It does need to be mowed occasionally, or it will mat, which I found unattractive. This got worse with age. But, I honestly think it depends on your landscape esthetic.
    – user13580
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 19:00
  • It was worth a shot. The advice above I would completely agree with. The better the foundations and preparation the better the lawn will be. If any trees are nearby maybe the canopy could be raised to allow more light. Having said that if there is no shade the lawn would dry out and need watering. If you want a lawn that looks like a bowling green it will need to be cut short and often. If you would like a lush green sward leave it to grow until about 2" high and then leave it longer than most others. It will stay green for longer but will still need cutting to keep it at about 2" long.
    – user13638
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 20:09

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