Reducing the amount of water provided to the turf during the overseed transition is the most important first step of the process. To give you a better idea of what’s involved, here is the general process followed.
While winter and summer climates in the desert differ greatly, green grass can be enjoyed throughout the year. This is accomplished by growing Bermuda grass during the summer and Ryegrass during the winter. Rye is best overseeded between early and mid-October. In general, you can plant when nighttime temperatures consistently reach 60°F. Planting Rye Grass too early can result in the newly germinated grass needing excessive water, causing fungus to kill it.
Furthermore, when the weather is still hot, Bermuda is still actively growing and will compete with the Rye seedlings. If you plant Rye too late, germination will be slow because the weather is not warm enough. Therefore, the window of opportunity is relatively small. It is best to scalp Bermuda grass as short as possible before overseeding. It will be easier to mow if the height is gradually lowered in the previous weeks. It is usually best to cut it to around half an inch in height. Watch out for any high sprinkler heads when you are scalping. Flag them and lower them if needed.
After scalping, the Bermuda should be de-thatched. For smaller lawns, a hard rake may be sufficient. For larger areas or if thatch is thick, a power rake rental will save a lot of effort. It is important to remove thatch so that the Rye seed will be in contact with the soil.
Next, sow the grass seed using a drop spreader. Use 12 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet of lawn. Spread 6 pounds per 1000 square feet in one direction and then spread another 6 pounds per 1000 square feet in the opposite direction for a smooth, even application to avoid stripes or bare spots. Hand seed around the edges or any place the spreader did not cover.
Check the sprinklers for full coverage of the area to make sure there are no dry spots. Apply Ammonium Phosphate fertilizer (16-20-0) to the seeded area so the newly emerging roots will have readily available nutrients to establish on. Water the new seed as needed to maintain continuous moisture on the seed. Irrigate in short cycles at least 3 to 4 times per day.
For extra insurance, you can cover the seed with a ¼” layer of manure or compost. This will help keep birds off and keep the seed moist. Good germination can be achieved without the cover if you are in the perfect weather window, just make sure the seed never dries out.
The Rye seed will germinate in a week to 10 days. Once germinated, gradually reduce the watering cycles and increase the watering time as the new roots establish in the soil. Do not over-water or the new grass will go yellow quickly.
Your new lawn should be ready to mow about one month after you plant the seed. Ryegrass likes to be mowed weekly at about 2.5” to 3”. Keep to a regular mowing schedule, don’t over-water, and fertilize lightly once a month until February and you will have a great winter lawn.
Very soon, the summer turf we love in the desert Southwest will turn from green to light brown and go dormant for the winter. Dormant Bermuda grass may look dead, but it’s actually going through a natural, healthy process. In fact, allowing the dormant grass to go brown without overseeding can lead to a healthier Bermuda lawn the following summer.
If your community decided not to overseed with winter rye, it was most likely to conserve water and money. Suspending the overseeding process for at least one season allows Bermuda to use each day possible to make and store carbohydrates. This will result in a quick rebound to green and rapid springtime growth. Without the competition of persistent winter rye late into spring, Bermuda will become dense and healthy weeks before overseeded turf will.
The following are tips to care for dormant Bermuda during the winter months:
- In early November, limit the watering cycle to once a week.
- Mow once every 2-3 weeks, or as necessary. There is no need to fertilize dormant lawns.
- Limit an abundance of activity on the dormant grass. It is weak and can develop bare spots easily.
- Control any weeds that develop in the lawn with a post-emergent herbicide. Remember when the grass is dormant it is light brown, so weeds will stand out and detract from the overall appearance of the lawn.
- Fill in any ruts or indentions with screened fill dirt to eliminate hazards and level out the lawn.
Either route you chose, we hope this information is helpful in understanding the process. Wishing you the best autumn season!