My Newly Overseeded Winter Lawn Using Perennial Rye Grass

Here where I live in Arizona, we get a bit longer of a summer growing season for our grass.  In fact, this past year, it wasn’t until the last half of October that conditions were even right for overseeding.  Typically, the recommendations are that you don’t overseed your lawn until the average overnight temperatures are not below 55-65 degrees and your daytime temperatures don’t exceed 75-85 degrees.  These are the optimum temperatures for getting the best germination of your rye grass while minimizing the competition from the bermuda.

The key to getting a lush, green lawn is really in the preparation.  Ironically, you will not hear us talk much about planting grass at Patio Covers Place because we really emphasize a more xeriscaping and more drought resistant landscape for where we live here in the desert, but a little grass here and there can be grown without too much water waste.

overseeded winter grass

Here is how our overseeded lawn turned out.

Of course, if we’re being technical, ANY grass grown in the desert that requires watering is wasteful.  The fact is, people have it, so why not discuss how we can do it in a way that yields the greatest results, in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible.  This is our real goal with all of the sustainable living and design elements we discuss, whether that is building a patio shade structure or gardening and landscape designs.  If you want to opt for a much more responsible ‘lawn’ consider synthetic grass. The current types look and feel like the real thing without the watering, mowing and waste that a real lawn provides.  If you’re not quite reading to make that step, follow these guidelines for getting your winter grass looking great.

Preparing to Overseed

The first thing you’ll want to do when it gets close to the time to plant your seed is to eliminate the competition from your underlying bermuda.  The trick to doing this is to ‘fool’ it into winter mode by cutting off the water schedule by 50-60%.  This will put it into more of a dormancy period and slow any growing.  If you have been fertilizing, you’ll also want to make sure you stop this about one month prior to overseeding.

So, you stopped watering by quite a bit and now you need to mow the lawn.  You’ll want to end up with a very ‘scalped’ lawn.  Depending on the height and density of your current grass, you may need to make several passes.  Your final pass should have you cutting the lawn with the lowest setting on your mower.

Then, once the grass is cut and the clippings are collected, you’ll need to rake up any additional clippings.  Also, de-thatching at this point is a great idea.  You need to have near bare dirt so that your rye will be able to germinate properly.

Choosing Annual or Perennial Rye Grass

Depending on your tastes, you’ll have the option of an annual rye, a perennial rye or a hybrid.  Basically, you’ll want to go with the perennial.  It comes in more lush, it’s darker green and it will not grow as fast in the spring as the annual tends to do.  Fescue is another option and you can find it at Home Depot as well.  Knowing what your square footage or acreage of your property is, you can use the suggestions on the product you’re buying to determine how much you’ll need.

In our case, we only have a small patch of grass that is about 200 square feet.  It requires just one 3-pound bag of seed for my needs, which I purchased at my local Home Depot.  It is just a mile from my house, so it’s just too convenient not to use for our small lawn.  We like the look of the grass, can play there with our son and it just feels good under your toes.  It requires watering, but the rest of our landscape is xeriscaped with Palo Verdes, Ironwoods, a Mesquite and other native species of shrubs and plants.  We use a 1/4″ Apache Gold ground cover for the ’empty spaces’ around our property.  In fact, the trees require no watering at this point and are only about 4 years old now.

When spreading the rye seed, you want to use either a hand spreader that sends the seeds out in an arc fashion or by using a push spreader.  For larger lawns, you’ll want to use the push type.  Hand spreaders are great for smaller areas, it’s what I use for mine.  Make sure you have good coverage and there are no bare spots.  Sometimes, you will not notice this until after germination.  No big deal, just spread some more then.

After this is complete, you can get a much better and stronger turf by dragging a rake across it in both directions to help the seeds set into the soil.  This will also help create a great bed, over which your topsoil or mulch mix can go.

Topsoil: To Use or Not To Use

Again, we like the idea of organic gardening and landscaping here, so if you are going to do it right, use a natural and organic compost material. You are looking to spread it about 1/4″ thick on top of your seeded lawn area.  You are mainly using it to provide a moisture retaining effect.  It will also help nourish and fertilize by its organic composting nature as well.

de-odorized steer manure from Home DepotIn the previous year, I didn’t cover my seed with anything – sort of an experiment in rogue-minimalist-water-conservation landscape mode.  Our seeds did germinate, but this year’s grass is looking much thicker, healthier and more lush.  This time around, we used de-odorized steer manure – also a product from Home Depot.  I opted for the deodorized one and, truth be told, I didn’t look into how the odor is removed, but the thought of that manure smell outside our bathroom window and back sliding glass door that we like to keep open during this great time of year was not appealing.

How Often Do You Water An Overseeded Lawn?

This is a common question and the answer can seem a bit excessive, actually.  It is recommended that you water your seed 3 times per day for a period of 2 weeks, until the seedlings are about an inch tall.  Then, you can water one time per day for a longer period to ‘irrigate’ them.  Ultimately, when your grass is 1 1/2 inches to 3 inches tall, you can water once every 3 days or so.

Watering in this way is painful to think about, especially here in the desert, there’s just no way around that.  If you commit to having a lawn of this type, you are going to be using water and you are going to be wasting it – period (namely here in the desert southwest). In other places, you can rely on some rain and such to provide you with some water – the most balanced and the free kind!  Having said all of this, I watered my lawn once each day at about 7 a.m. for 4 minutes for 2 weeks.  My lawn looks great, but also gets considerable shade from our house and a palo verde.  Some days, when the temperatures were in the low 90s (yes, they were still this hot in early to mid-October), I used a garden hose and sprayer attachment to keep the seeds moist.

There are ways to conserve here as well.  The use of rainwater collection systems can be great for watering potted plants, patio gardens, a raised planting bed and other areas.  But, for a lawn, it is hard to utilize this type of system. It needs too much water, likely more than anyone would have stored through the fall and winter, in any case.

Mowing the Winter Lawn

The first mowing of your rye lawn is not recommended until the grass is at least 1 1/2 inches tall.  Some experts in the lawn field call for a 3 inch height.  You only want to cut about a 1/2 inch off the grass at a time or no more than 1/3 of the height.  Keeping your winter grass at about 1 1/2 inches is a good height.  Sharp blades are also important as it will help the grass from being pulled up out of the ground.

If you follow these steps, you should be able to enjoy a great looking and lively and lush winter lawn.  If you have any suggestions or comments regarding other best practices or ways of growing a ‘sustainable lawn’ please feel free to contact us. If it’s helpful and useful, we’ll update and edit this article to include your suggestions.  Thanks for stopping by today!

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