How to Plant Winter Ryegrass in the Desert

Green lawn and cactus in Phoenix


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Due to the hot, dry climate of the desert, it's an interesting—and often challenging—location for gardeners as winter and summer are very different. In Arizona, for example, many locals have summer lawns and winter lawns to keep their grass green year-round. They do this by growing Bermuda grass in the summer and ryegrass in the winter. So before you move to the desert, perhaps consider the upkeep of landscaping your new home.

When to Plant Winter Rye Grass

Because ryegrass does not survive the summer, you'll need to replant it every fall, usually in October. A general rule is that when the temperatures at night are consistently around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you're ready to plant. Ryegrass stays dark green until the middle of May when it quickly dies off as temperatures approach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Plant Winter Rye Grass

First, you must scalp and de-thatch the summer grass. That means that you must cut the grass back and thin it to allow room for your new grass by making sure the seed gets down to the soil. You'll need a lawnmower and maybe even a power rake for this step.

Once you prep your lawn, it's ready for planting. The planting of the ryegrass in the winter is called over-seeding because you're planting the seed over existing Bermuda grass. Remember, the better quality your grass seed, the more beautiful your yard will look. Opt for a grass type that is suited for a desert climate, such as perennial ryegrass instead of annual. The perennial variety germinates faster, has a finer leaf texture, a darker green color, and is more vigorous.

When to Plant Summer Grass

If you had already planted Bermuda grass in a previous summer, you don't have to replant it again. Even though it may have withered, it didn't die last winter—it just became dormant waiting for warmer temperatures. Around May it will start to grow again, so make sure your lawn is getting enough water to grow. Try to limit activity on the dormant grass to minimize the development of bare spots. If you're planting summer grass for the first time, you can do so from seed, but the easiest way to have a great looking lawn is to lay sod.

There are two main reasons that people will have only summer grass. First, planting winter ryegrass takes some effort and lots of yard work. Second, having a lawn uses quite a bit of water. Some people conserve water by not planting a new lawn in the winter. If they don't, the yard will look dead/yellowish until the perennial Bermuda grass returns.

Desert Grass Tips

To plant grass successfully:

  • For greener grass, mow less frequently and on a higher setting. It's also a good idea to water during the early morning hours.
  • For those who have a homeowners' association (HOA), check first to make sure you may plant a lawn at all, and if you can, whether or not they have to approve the plans.
  • Winter and summer grass over-seeding schedules also affect golf courses. It's more difficult to play golf during the seasonal grass transition as it makes the course choppy and uneven. The grass is also sometimes left longer than usual because the golf courses don't want to trim the new winter ryegrass too early. If planning to golf in the fall or spring, you may want to call ahead to inquire about the condition of the greens.