Winter Grass

Overseed your warm-season turf with winter grass. Learn tips for success—and reasons to consider skipping it.

Lolium perenne ~Manhattan~ (01) Habit

Lolium perenne ~Manhattan~ (01) Habit

Lolium perenne ~Manhattan~ (01)

Not looking forward to your lawn’s winter look? Planting winter grass may be the answer. If you’re unhappy seeing your warm-season turf swap green for a dormant dirty blonde hue, consider the bright green beauty of a winter grass lawn. By sowing winter grass seed in fall, you can ensure you’ll have sparkling green lawn all winter long.

Winter grass refers to a type of ryegrass that’s used to overseed warm-season lawns. There are two types of winter grass used: annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne). Both types adapt well to sun or shade situations. Annual ryegrass, which is sometimes called Italian ryegrass, is cheaper and dies out readily in late spring following an autumn planting. Annual ryegrass texture is coarser compared to its perennial cousin, and the color is a lighter green.

Perennial ryegrass seed is pricier and in cooler areas or mild-winter regions, it can actually survive for years (like any perennial). This can be a problem because perennial ryegrass can crowd out your existing turfgrass. Perennial ryegrass doesn’t perennialize in areas with hot summers, like Phoenix, because this grass just can’t take the heat. Count on perennial ryegrass for a finer texture and darker hue. This is the grass that’s commonly planted on athletic fields in winter in warm regions.

Probably the trickiest part of planting winter grass is getting the timing right. You need to sow this seed while days are warm enough for the grass to grow, but while nights are cool enough that your existing warm-season grass won’t compete with the ryegrass. Planting windows vary from mid- to late-September to late November. If you plant too late, ryegrass won’t have enough time to establish and mature into plants that withstand freezing temperatures. Check with your local extension office to fine-tune the planting window for your area.

Follow these tips to succeed with planting winter grass. Make sure you start with certified, weed-free seed to avoid adding a chorus of weeds to your lawn. Follow recommended seeding rates. Ryegrasses are a type of bunch grass. If you try to save money by seeding lightly, you won’t get a thick stand of grass.

In some instances you shouldn’t overseed a warm-season lawn with winter grass. Areas with water restrictions aren’t good locations for planting winter grass. Ryegrass requires heavy irrigation for a week after planting, guzzling local water supplies.

15 Striking Plants for Winter Color

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Cabbages and Kales

Ornamental kale and cabbage are some of the most popular winter annual plants. They lend a completely different texture to a winter landscape bed. Once the plants are hardened by cooler night temperatures they can survive most cold winters.

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Camellias

Camellias prefer acidic, moist yet well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. They flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. The waxy-petalled flowers linger long on plants, displaying shades of red, pink, coral, white and bicolors. Plants are evergreen, growing to form shrubs or small trees. Once established, camellias are drought-tolerant.

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Winter Jasmine

Jasminum nudiflorum or winter jasmine is an exceptionally trouble-free plant to grow.

Holly Bush

Hollies bring an eye-catching display of evergreen leaves that is often punctuated with bright red or gold berries.

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Winterberry Holly

Winterberry hollies are deciduous, and the berry-bedecked branches truly stop traffic. (Even this lizard stopped to take a gander at the beautiful berries!)

Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster is another leafy evergreen that you can depend on for a dazzling berry show in even frigid winters. It's a fast-grower and can be used as a striking groundcover.

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Japanese Maples

Japanese maples often have artistically shaped trunks. The contorted branches on this shrub or small tree come into focus as winter arrives.

Nandina

Nandina shows off its berries in areas with milder winters. Tuck these plants in front of solid backdrops so the berries can shine.

Native Serviceberry

Native serviceberries also earn rave reviews for snow-covered branches. Watch for white blossoms in spring, followed by tasty berries in June. Birds love the berries, so if you want any for a pie, net trees. Fall color features shades of red and orange.

Doublefile Viburnum

Doublefile viburnum has a symmetrical, tiered branch structure that’s beautiful when covered with snow.

Red- and Yellow-Stemmed Dogwood

Red and yellow twig dogwood each inspire with their colorful winter stems, which show up best against dark evergreens or a snowy landscape.

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Witch Hazel

Witch hazel, a native shrub or small tree, opens strappy flowers in late winter to early spring. The blooms offer shades of yellow or orange and a sweet fragrance. Fall foliage is a striking gold, so this plant pulls double-duty in terms of seasonal interest.

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Star Magnolia

Star magnolia opens pale blush to white flowers with a sweet fragrance in late winter to early spring.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ben Ford

Snowdrops

Close out winter with a flourish of color, courtesy of bulbs and perennials. Snowdrops grow from bulbs and return reliably year after year. Make sure to plant the bulbs during fall to give them the chilling period they need to bloom.

Lenten Roses

Lenten roses (hellebores) offer leathery evergreen leaves accented with rose-like flowers in shades of pink, red, maroon, chartreuse and white. Plants self-sow readily, forming low-maintenance colonies.

If you want a break from lawn care chores like mowing, watering and fertilizing, don’t sow winter grass. Caring for winter grass requires a similar effort to tending your lawn. If you fertilize it properly, you can expect to mow it weekly.

Bermudagrass lawns that aren’t overseeded with winter grass are actually healthier. Many lawn care professionals practice overseeding bermudagrass every other year. Do not overseed with winter grass on a bermudagrass lawn that hasn’t been growing for at least one year.

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