Consider overseeding for winter color
Published: Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 12:51 p.m.
With the cooler fall days, the time is approaching when lawns may be overseeded for winter color.
As our warm-season grasses become dormant and turn brown, some residents elect to grow a cool-season grass to provide color during the winter months.
Typically, ryegrass is the grass of choice for overseeding home lawns. It is a good choice because it is readily available at local feed and garden stores. It's reasonably priced, and the seed germinates quickly, offers rapid growth and has tolerance for sun or shade locations.
If seeded properly, ryegrass will provide a dense cover throughout the winter season, and when temperatures exceed 85 degrees, the grass will die out and disappear, leaving the warm-season grass to come in in its place.
Before investing in ryegrass, there are a couple of things to consider.
First, there is some preparation that should be done to the lawn, to insure a thick, even stand. Realize also that the grass will need to be mowed occasionally, and even though winter temperatures are much more agreeable for mowing, some people prefer to have the winter off from this task.
During the germination period, it will be necessary to apply irrigation to get the grass started, although once it is established, little additional irrigation will be necessary unless we experience drought conditions.
To make this project manageable, it may be desirable to select only the front lawn for overseeding. Let the backyard and other lawn areas lie dormant.
If you decide to pursue this, you will have a choice of either annual ryegrass or perennial ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is a coarse-textured grass with leaves measuring 5 mm to 7 mm wide. Leaves are medium-green in color, and the seed is approximately one-third the price of perennial ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass is a much darker color, and leaves are finer textured, measuring 2 mm to 4 mm wide. While it is more expensive, it is more tolerant of drought and warm temperatures. It is best to wait to pursue this project until daytime temperatures are consistently in the low- to mid-70s. When seeds are sown and high temperatures follow, seeding germination is reduced, which will affect the thickness of the stand. So it is important to wait until temperatures are right to initiate the project.
Begin the preparation process by raking the grass thoroughly to remove all debris. Next, cut the grass slightly shorter than normal and bag the clippings; the object here is to give the seed as much opportunity as possible to fall on soil. Consider a final raking to remove any additional material and further loosen the soil. If your lawn has a heavy thatch layer, you may decide to forego overseeding this year and address the thatch problem in the spring using a vertical mower or a power rake. Thatch is a loose, intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots that develops between the zone of green vegetation and the soil surface. Thatch build-up begins when turf produces organic debris faster than it can be broken down.
If you have thatch, and determine you want to overseed this year, it will be necessary to double the recommended seeding rate.
Once the seedbed is prepared, seed at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn using a broadcast spreader. To establish a uniform stand, sow half the seed by walking in one direction and the other half by walking at right angles to the first. After seeding, rake the ground with a stiff broom to ensure seed is not trapped in the grass layer.
The second important element in successfully establishing the stand is watering. Seeds will continue to sit without moisture, so proper irrigation is critical to success. Apply a light irrigation (10 – 20 minutes) once or twice a day until the seed has germinated, usually in 7 to 10 days.
Water daily over the next 2 to 3 weeks, applying ¼-inch daily. Be careful not to overwater. Once established, water infrequently as needed to keep grass from wilting.
Infrequent mowing will be required during the season. Mowing should begin when the overseeded grass is about 1 to 2 inches above the permanent grass. When spring arrives in March, discourage the ryegrass by mowing the grass each week to the recommended height for your turf variety.
As temperatures warm, the ryegrass will recede and the permanent grass will assert itself to grow in place of the rye.
When properly installed and maintained, winter ryegrass provides a pleasant boost to the winter landscape. While it isn't for everyone, it may have merit to enhance the “curb appeal” areas of your lawn.
David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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