When to Plant Winter Ryegrass

Green lawn and cactus in Phoenix


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Many people think that due to the hot, dry climate of the desert, it'd be impossible to maintain a lush, green lawn for very long. However, while it does take a bit of planning, a luxurious lawn is totally possible. The key: a different summer lawn and winter lawn, each of which employs a different breed of grass in order to make the most of a difficult (and ever-changing) desert climate.

Naturally, two different types of grasses make for two different lawn care strategies. Many desert dwellers opt for drought-resistant bermudagrass in the summer, which loves the sun and goes dormant in the winter months. They'll then follow up their summer bermudagrass landscape with winter ryegrass (also known as perennial ryegrass), which this article will help you learn to care for.

Winter Ryegrass Basics

Winter ryegrass is one of the most popular cool-season lawn grasses in the United States, gaining favor with farmers as well who use it as a pasture grass for livestock. It grows quickly and is able to maintain its green coloring all through winter, treating homeowners to a lush lawn filled with turf-like grass. It boasts great cold tolerance, making it the ideal choice for areas of the country that want to seed over their summer grass with a cool (not cold) hardy varietal. It's also commonly used as a temporary grass to boost the appearance of a property, while a more long-term grass, like Kentucky bluegrass, gets established.

When to Plant Winter Ryegrass

Ryegrass does not survive the warmer summer months, so you'll need to replant it every fall, typically in October, or when the temperature at night is consistently around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Established ryegrass will stay dark green until the middle of May, when it quickly dies off as temperatures approach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in most desert climates.

How to Plant and Care for Winter Ryegrass

Before seeding your lawn with winter ryegrass, you must scalp and de-thatch your summer grass. To do so, cut back and thin the remaining grass on your lawn (typically Bermudagrass in a desert environment) using a lawnmower or power rake—this will allow room for your new ryegrass to grow by making sure the seed gets down to the soil.

Once you prep your lawn, it's ready for planting. Planting winter ryegrass is typically referred to as over-seeding because you're planting the seed over existing Bermudagrass. Keep in mind, the better the quality of your grass seed, the more beautiful your yard will look (and the longer it will last).

Winter ryegrass should be kept to between one and two inches long and needs to be watered and treated with fertilizer more frequently than warm-season grasses. It may also occasionally benefit from a good deep soaking with help from irrigation.

When to Plant Summer Bermudagrass

If you've planted Bermudagrass already in a previous summer, don't worry about replanting it again. Even though it may have withered or browned, it didn't die—in fact, it just became dormant while waiting for temperatures to warm back up again. Come early May, your Bermudagrass should begin growing again. Water your lawn frequently during this time to foster new growth, and try to limit the amount of activity that takes place on the dormant grass (no picnics for a bit!) to minimize the development of bare spots. If you're planting summer Bermudagrass for the first time, you can do so from seed. However, the easiest (and quickest0 way to score a great looking lawn is to lay sod instead.

Carefully maintain your bermudagrass throughout to summer to keep it looking its best. Keep a balanced mowing schedule, avoiding mowing too frequently (or too low), which can scorch the grass. It's also a good idea to mow and water during the early morning hours before the sun gets too hot.

If the idea of taking care of a second type of grass come winter doesn't appeal to you (or you just want to conserve water), you can plan to keep your Bermudagrass all year long without overseeding it. Just keep in mind that it will likely die and turn brown for the winter months before coming back to life in the spring.