Plant Winter Rye Grass in the Desert

Phoenix Winter Lawns

Lawn mower and patch of grass in desert
••• RPM Pictures / Getty Images

People relocating to the Valley of the Sun often wonder about having a lawn. Yes, there are people who have lawns here in the desert. What surprises many people, though, is that we have summer lawns and winter lawns.

Why do we have winter grass and summer grass in Phoenix?

The desert climate in Phoenix means that the winter and summer are very different. In the summer, we use Bermuda grass since it tolerates our triple digit temperatures. Bermuda grass is dormant during our winter months. For this reason, if you want your lawn to be green all year, you have to plant winter rye grass.

When should I plant winter rye grass?

Winter rye grass is usually planted in October. A general rule is that when the temperatures at night are consistently around the 60°F range, you are ready to plant.

How do you plant winter rye grass?

First you must scalp and dethatch the summer grass. That means that you must cut it back and thin it to allow room for your new grass. The planting of the rye grass in the winter is called overseeding, because you are planting rye seed over the existing Bermuda.

When do you plant summer grass?

If you had already planted Bermuda grass in a previous summer, you don't have to replant it again at all. It didn't die last winter, it just became dormant waiting for warmer temperatures. Around May it will start to grow again. In late April or May it starts to get hot outside, so make sure your lawn is getting enough water to grow. Try to limit activity on the dormant grass to minimize development of bare spots.

If you are 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.

When does the winter rye grass die?

Rye grass will start to die in early May when our temperatures get to around 100°F. Stop watering the grass for a couple of weeks to let it die out, and then begin watering again to awaken your dormant Bermuda summer grass.

How come some people don't plant winter rye grass at all?

There are basically two reasons that people will have only summer grass. First, planting winter rye grass takes some effort. It isn't terribly difficult, but you do have to do it! Second, having a lawn uses quite a bit of water. Some people conserve water by not planting an additional lawn in the winter. If they don't, the lawn will look dead/yellowish until the perennial Bermuda grass returns.

Warning: if you have a homeowners' association (HOA) where you live, 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.

Tip: If you are a golfer, you now know what it means when golf courses tell you that they are overseeding. You can expect a pretty choppy golf course, where the grass is thin. Toward the end of the overseeding schedule, you may find that the grass is long and the rough is longer, because the golf courses don't want to trim the grass too early.

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