Fall brings cooler temperatures to the low desert and that means Bermuda lawns will start transitioning to dormancy. While overseeding is not a water-conserving practice, no one can argue that winter lawns are beautiful. They add color to what might otherwise be a drab, colorless landscape. October is the time to overseed for anyone who wants a lush, green winter lawn. Here are a few pointers that will increase your chances of success.
- Overseed when nighttime temperatures are consistently below 60°F.
- Overseeding is hard on existing lawns. Do not overseed any lawn that has not been established for at least one year.
- Most people in the low desert overseed Bermuda with ryegrass. Choose annual ryegrass, hybrid ryegrass or perennial ryegrass. Do not mix or combine them. Perennial ryegrass is known to be the best looking. It is darker in color and has the best turf qualities. Annual and hybrid rye are lighter in color and less dense. Because of this, they will need to be allowed to grow a bit higher than the perennial and they require more mowing. You will need 14 to 18 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.
- Any heavy dethatching should have already been accomplished the previous month or earlier. Mow existing Bermuda back to a total height of ¼ to ¾ inches. This practice called ‘scalping,’ removes grass blades and makes room for the newly sprouting ryegrass seeds. It is best to achieve this height by mowing in ¼-inch increments, making several passes over the lawn if necessary. Save the grass clippings for top dressing.
- The best way to apply seed is with the use of a spreader. Walk back and forth with the spreader and apply half of the seed. Then change direction so that you are at a 45-degree angle to the first passes; apply the second half of the seed.
- Rake lightly to make sure the seeds reach the soil. Sometimes turning the rake over accomplishes this easier than if you use the sharp tines. Cover the seed with the saved grass clippings or mulch, but do not pile top dressing higher than ¼ inch.
- Initially, water seed 2 to 4 times a day for about 10 minutes each time, until the new seedlings emerge. Then cut back to once a day for approximately 10 minutes each time until the grass is two inches tall.
- Begin mowing when the grass reaches two inches in height. Do not mow wet grass or the seedlings may be pulled out.
- Winter rye usually requires fertilization about every three weeks. Use a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer and follow directions on the package. A fertilizer with a nutrient ratio of 21-7-14 would be a good choice.
- Maintain the winter lawn as efficiently as possible by watering every 3 to 10 days, for about 15 minutes. Water only to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Test watering depth with a soil probe or screw driver. Insert the tool into the ground and note the depth at which it stops. Adjust watering schedule accordingly to attain a 4- to 6-inch depth.
A winter lawn in the low desert should remain nice and green until mid-May, when daytime temperatures climb up around the century mark. At that time, stop watering for about two weeks to let the ryegrass die back. When you resume watering the Bermuda should come out of its dormant period.
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