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