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For The Garden

Overseeding With Ryegrass

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: September, 2009, Page 108
Illustrations by Michael Gellatly

There are distinct cool and warm growing seasons in the low desert, with different types of turf thriving in each. Because our temperatures range from 25-degree winter nights to 120-degree summer days, it is impossible to find one grass type that will remain green and healthy all year long, according to Phoenix agronomist Mike Hills of Seed Research of Oregon. Instead, desert gardeners who choose to have year-round green turf must overseed their warm-weather bermuda-grass in fall with cool-season ryegrass.

Hills points out that overseeding is not necessary for the health of the lawn, nor is it a legal requirement of any city, county or state government in Arizona. (Homeowners’ association rules vary.) “If temperatures are mild and remain above freezing at night, and above 50 degrees during the day, bermudagrass lawns may remain fairly green and actively growing through Thanksgiving,” Hills reports.

Once the frosts of a typical November hit, however, bermudagrass turns brown and goes dormant until February or March, when temperatures warm up. “That’s just a few months without a green lawn in a typical winter, and it provides a respite from mowing and fertilizing, while conserving water,” notes Hills.

If you decide to overseed your bermudagrass, experts recommend waiting until it has been established for one year. Also, bermudagrass recovers faster in spring and stays healthier if not overseeded year after year. According to Hills, many professional turf managers in the southwestern U.S. overseed every other year to strengthen the health of their base bermudagrass and to help control weeds during the coolest months. Following are tips for overseeding.


1. Overseed mature lawns between late September and mid-November, when nighttime temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

2. Four to six weeks prior to overseeding, stop fertilizing your bermudagrass.

3. Cut irrigation frequency in half a few weeks before your overseeding date.

4. Stop mowing your lawn one week before overseeding.

5. The day of overseeding, mow bermuda-grass as low as your mower will go—preferably down to one-half inch high—and remove the clippings from the lawn.


1. Spread ryegrass seed in amounts specified on seed packaging.

2. Rake in the seed to promote good soil contact.

3.  Cover seed with one-quarter inch of weed-free forest mulch, composted steer manure or grass clippings. Top-dressing helps maintain moisture and moderate soil temperatures needed to promote seed germination, and deters birds from feeding on the seed.

4. Water 3 to 4 times daily for 5 to 10 minutes until seeds germinate in 5 to 7 days.


1. After ryegrass begins to establish, around the third or fourth week, gradually start reducing irrigation to every 3 to 7 days in November and December, then every 7 to 14 days for the remainder of the season, depending on local conditions and rainfall. For healthy ryegrass, irrigation must run for longer periods than the original 5 to 10 minutes, allowing water to soak 4 to 6 inches deep with each irrigation. This promotes a vigorous root system that can withstand longer periods without water.

2.Do not mow until ryegrass grows 2 inches tall; then mow lightly, no lower than 11/2 inches tall. After ryegrass establishes (each plant has 3 or 4 shoots), it can be mowed to a lower height, if desired.

3. Do not fertilize until after the first mowing. Feed monthly with a complete fertilizer, such as 21-7-14, 16-6-8, or one that is similar.

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