Overseeding A Winter Lawn?

September 11, 2014

I hear the whirring of the lawn mowers and see the dust in the air. It’s overseeding season!

It’s a familiar scene in neighborhoods across the Valley every fall… the sound of a roaring lawn mower trailed by a cloud of dust. Immersed in the dusty fog is a homeowner or landscaper engaged in the seasonal ritual of scalping a bermudagrass lawn in order to prepare it for newly planted ryegrass seedlings.

While sustaining a lush, green lawn throughout the year is appealing to many home and business owners, the additional water needed for cool-season grasses is difficult to justify when water is such a precious resource!

You can save 8,000 gallons of water each season for every 1,000 sq. ft. of grass not overseeded.
You can save 8,000 gallons of water each season for every 1,000 sq. ft. of grass not overseeded.

By learning to accept a less-than-lush lawn during the winter months, property owner’s will not only realize significant water savings, they’ll also save a lot of time and money. So if you’re looking for a reason not to overseed this year, take a look at my…

… Top Ten Reason’s Not to Plant a Winter Lawn!

10. Save time: No need to scalp the lawn, prepare the seedbed, seed, water or mow.

9. Save water: Getting ryegrass seed to germinate requires watering three times a day or more. Once established, ryegrass needs water every 3-7 days. Dormant bermudagrass needs water only once every 3-4 weeks.

8. Preserve water quality: Less fertilizers and pesticides will be needed. Much of our water pollution comes from runoff of these products from landscapes.

7. Save money: The cost of seed, labor, water and gasoline for mowing. Also, sewer rates are often estimated by your winter water usage. If you use more water in the winter, your utility bill sewage rates will be higher the rest of the year.

6. Save landfill space: Scalping bermudagrass creates a great deal of waste for the landfills. Ryegrass clippings can create additional waste all winter and spring.

5. Save the air: Gasoline mowers and other lawn equipment contribute to our air pollution problems, and the scalping process releases dust and other particles into the air. Cough! Cough! Wheeze… anyone up for a little yard work?

4. Decrease noise pollution: The drone of lawn equipment has become a major source of background noise in many neighborhoods, contributing to an already noisy world.

3. Save frustration: Problems with seed germination, fertilizers, diseases and irrigation are all common when planting a winter lawn.

2. Set an example: We live in a desert and this is an opportunity to demonstrate your community leadership with a responsible outlook towards our water supply. Besides, there are no federal, state or city laws requiring winter lawns (but there are a few HOA requirements out there).

In the center of this dust cloud is a riding mower scalping the grass.
In the center of this dust cloud is a riding mower scalping the grass.

…and the number one reason not to plant a winter lawn…

1. Give your bermudagrass a break! Overseeding can be stressful for your bermudagrass. Scalping it in the fall before dormancy doesn’t allow for adequate storage of energy to the roots. In the spring, the rye competes with bermudagrass, and the common practice of withholding water to transition from winter to summer grass will also cause stress.

Okay, okay, you say you have to overseed because 1.) Your spouse will divorce you if you don’t. 2.) Your homeowner’s association (or some other power) says you have to and you need a year to get the policy changed, or… 3.) You just LOVE green grass.


Here are some tips to help you be more environmentally friendly!

Overseed selectively: Only overseed if it is extremely important for aesthetics or functional use.

Don’t seed too early: Seed mid-October to mid-November for best results. When you seed too early, it is more stressful on Bermuda grass and warm temperatures (greater than 90 degrees) cause more disease problems for the ryegrass.

Overseeding is for the birds. They LOVE ryegrass seed.
Overseeding is for the birds. They LOVE ryegrass seed.

Grass-cycle: If you mow frequently and do not over-water or over-fertilize, you shouldn’t need to bag your clippings.

Water efficiently: Check out our “Landscape Watering by the Numbers: A Guide for the Arizona Desert” and water only as much as your grass needs. Make sure your irrigation system is functioning properly.

Use a push or reel-type mower: Not only will you save on pollution, but you’ll get better exercise and it may encourage you to convert to Xeriscape. Electric mowers also save on pollution!

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension offers more details in their publication, Overseeding Winter Grasses into Bermudagrass Turf.

Donna DiFrancesco is a Conservation Specialist with the City of Mesa, AZ, one of fifteen Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water-saving advice and programs.