Green Grass in the Winter – Overseeding

front-yardGreen Grass in Winter

Late September to mid-October marks a major milestone for turf landscapes in the desert. At this time, those who want to maintain green parks and lawns through the winter need to overseed Bermuda grass with winter Ryegrass.

Bermuda grass, which grows well in the summer, turns brown and goes dormant with the first frost and remains that way until spring.  Ryegrass however, stays green and vibrant through the cooler months, with the exception of heavily shaded areas, and will die out with the return of triple-digit temperatures.

Steps for Overseeding Your Lawn

1. Timing is critical. The ideal time to overseed is when nighttime temperatures are regularly below 65 degrees (typically mid-October). About 2 weeks prior to overseeding, reduce the amount of irrigation water to the Bermuda by about half. This will signal the Bermuda to slow its growth and store energy for the winter.

2. In order to successfully spread the Ryegrass seed, you need to prepare the seedbed for planting. Lower the mowing height on your lawn mower in several passes, taking off about ¼ inch each mow cycle until the grass is approximately ¾ inch in height. Make sure to remove the clippings by mowing with a bag-catcher or by raking them up. The goal for this process is to make sure the Ryegrass seed comes into direct contact with the soil.

3. Now you are ready for seeding. For the best results, use perennial Ryegrass seed. Use a rotary spreader or drop spreader to evenly distribute the seed at a rate of 8 to 10 pounds per thousand square feet. To maximize germination, lightly rake and then cover the lawn with ¼ inch of mulch. Apply a starter fertilizer (6-20-20 or 6-24-24) after the seed is down. Water the area after spreading the Ryegrass seed, and set your irrigation clock to water 3 to 4 times a day at approximately 2 to 5 minute cycles. This schedule ensures the soil and mulch remain moist, and not overly wet, until germination. This step should take 7 to 10 days.

4. After the seedlings emerge, reduce watering to once daily. When the grass reaches about 2 inches in height, it is time for the first mow. Cut the grass to about 1½ inch in height and fertilize with a 21-7-14 fertilizer. Make sure to water immediately following the fertilizer application. Depending on temperatures and rainfall, you can then reduce the watering schedule to once every 2 or 3 days. To keep your lawn from turning yellow, fertilize every 3 to 6 weeks with ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) or calcium nitrate. Apply all fertilizers according to the directions on the package.

Hand Spreader

Use a rotary spreader to distribute seed.

By following these steps, you should achieve a lush, green lawn through the winter months and into spring. When triple-digit temperatures return, it will be time to transition from the Ryegrass back to the Bermuda grass.

Greener Pastures Ahead

It’s TraTurfnsition Time

As nighttime temperatures in the Southwest start to creep up into the 60s, the Bermuda grass, which has been dormant all winter, begins to wake up and grow. As daytime temperatures exceed 90 degrees, the winter Rye grass should begin to recede. It is during this transition period where both types of grass compete for space and water.
Transitioning from Ryegrass to Bermuda grass is, ideally, a gradual process that typically lasts from the beginning of April through the end of May.

What To Expect

Subtle changes occur in turf areas throughout the transition period. Irrigation Technicians monitor watering times in the common areas to encourage Bermuda grass growth. Through this process, less water is used, not more. To suppress the Ryegrass growth, we gradually lower mower heights from 2 inches down to 1-1.25 inches.
As Ryegrass dies off, turf may appear off-color or yellow and there may even be some areas that appear dry. This is a temporary condition that improves as the Bermuda grass fills in. Sometimes when the Ryegrass dies, it forms a thick mat which is easily removed with a verticutting machine. Once Bermuda grass is actively growing, ideally by early May, Ammonium Sulfate fertilizer (21-0-0) is applied to enhance color and growth and promote healthy turf.

Try It At Home

Transition will take place on a large scale in your Community over several weeks and the same process can be applied to your yard. Gradually lower the height of your lawn mower over the course of a few weeks and reduce the amount of water to approximately 6-8 minutes every 2 or 3 days. If you encounter some dead spots, use a hard rake to remove the matted Ryegrass. Apply Ammonium Sulfate fertilizer (21-0-0) at a rate of 5 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. of turf. By the 1st of June, your Bermuda grass will be ready for the summer months.

Preparing for an Arizona Winter

Frost season in Phoenix typically runs mid-November through February. The frequency and intensity of frost varies in both rural and metro areas for a number of reasons including elevation and population density. Our cooler weather provides us with the opportunity to conserve one of the desert’s most precious resources; water.

Water Savings

From roughly Thanksgiving to the end of February, most desert and desert adapted plants do not require water. You can choose to reduce your watering schedule to just a day or two a week or even turn the controller off completely! If you choose to turn your controller off completely, it’s important to continually monitor your lawn for signs of stress and provide water when necessary  Once night time temperatures return to the upper 70s, you will want to start watering again. Since most plants go dormant during this time of year and you can find the emitter a little easier than when plants are blooming, late winter/early spring is an excellent time to check your irrigation system for any faults or malfunctions. Turn your controller on one zone at a time and verify that each irrigation head is functioning properly.

Protect your Backflow

When temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit  your backflow is at risk for damage from freezing water that sits in the unit. Usually, the easiest way to protect your backflow preventer is to cover it with a towel or blanket, as pictured, on the nights that temperatures are projected to drop below freezing.  You can also choose to drain the water from your backflow if you are concerned about prolonged freezing temperatures or plan to be gone for several nights. For more information on how to winterize your home sprinkler system including your backflow, please visit the Colorado State University Extension website.

Frost Protection for your Plants

Cover plants susceptible to frost-damage with cloth towels, blankets, sheets or paper/cardboard boxes to insulate them. Plastic is not recommended for plant cover. Drape the paper or cloth all the way to the ground to help trap heat radiating from the ground under the cover. A nursery can help you identify material made specifically for covering plants. Remove the cover after sunrise each morning or when the temperature reaches 35 degrees.

Plants not native to the Southwest are most at risk for frost damage. These plants include Bougainvillea, Lantana, Winter Annuals and others. For cacti such as Mexican Fencepost, covering the tops of the posts with an old t-shirt, foam cup or wash cloth can help prevent frost damage. Watering plants the night before a frost can also help them stay warmer. Dehydrated plants are more susceptible to frost damage.

To Prune or Not to Prune?

If frost impacts your plant material, it is optimal to wait until the threat of frost has subsided to prune frost-damaged plants. Pruning away frost damage too early can result in additional damage to the plant if it is hit by frost again. New and un-established shrubs or ground cover plants are more susceptible to permanent damage and could be lost due to cold weather. Established plants with a sustainable root system can handle minimal pruning for aesthetic reasons throughout frost season.

When it comes to trees, some species like Ficus are particularly sensitive to frost damage. Many smaller trees may be lost all together and, unless particularly protected, significant portions of the larger trees may be severely damaged due to hard frosts. While it is hard to be patient, it is best to wait to see if new growth will come back. If you decide to prune the dead tissue, it will take years before it grows to its original size. If you decide to leave it, the green will eventually fill in, but you’ll be looking at brown dead tissue for several years.

No matter what steps you follow to prepare for cooler weather, it’s important to take proactive measures to prevent any loss of plant material, irrigation components and ultimately, your money, during the winter months.

For more information on desert landscape and plant care, check out Arizona Cooperative Extension. If you reside elsewhere in the southwest, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

Tree Suckers

What Are They

Tree Sucker 8Suckers, sometimes called watersprouts, are vegetation shoots that grow on a tree but are not actual structural tree branches. Often, they grow in clusters that are connected at one point, usually at the base of the trunk or underground on the tree root. Suckers multiply rapidly and compete with the tree for valuable nutrients.

How To Remove

Tree suckers are unsightly, undesirable and important to remove. If the sucker is small, you can break it off easily by hand at its base. If the growth is larger, use a pair of bypass pruners to cut off the sucker. Try to cut it off as close to the tree as possible to aid in the tree’s wound response process.

In extreme cases, growth regulators may be used to reduce and/or control sucker growth. One of the most common and readily available products is Monterey Sucker Stopper.
If the tree has already been removed and suckers are growing from remaining roots, an herbicide like a root killer can be used. However, be cautious because the root killer can harm other existing trees and shrubs in the area.

Butterfly Gardening

Suitable Conditions

ButterflyThe goal of butterfly gardening is to introduce plants and create suitable conditions that will attract and encourage more butterflies to live there. If conditions are right, butterflies will appear on flowering plants starting in late spring through the summer. With some simple planning, you can create a garden that provides for a butterfly’s entire life cycle. There are just a few basics required for a butterfly garden.

Required Basics

  1. Sunshine and Protection: Place the garden in a sunny location that is protected from the wind. Butterflies tend to be most active on sunny, calm days when temperatures range from 65 to 95 degrees. Planting trees or shrubs nearby provides the needed protection from the wind while butterflies are feeding. Butterflies also need to warm their bodies in order to fly. By placing some rocks around the garden, it provides added areas for the butterflies to heat themselves before flight.
  2. Moisture: Butterflies not only feed on nectar, but also on water provided by streams and morning dew. Create depressions in your garden where water can pool providing a water supply between irrigation cycles.
  3. Flowers: In a butterfly garden, you should provide both nectar sources and larval food plants. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of certain flowers, while caterpillars feed on specific plants. Therefore, it is important to have an adequate mix of plants that will support larvae and other plants available for adults.

Listed below are just a few common plants that will attract butterflies in your garden. Make sure to refer to the approved plant list in your community’s residential design guidelines to see what specific plants are permitted in your landscape.

Recommended Plants

Turf Aeration

Beautiful, Healthy Turf

aerated turfTurf is an integral component of common area landscape. Its aesthetic qualities and value as a recreation surface make it a desirable part of many communities. Beautiful, healthy turf is always the goal in any maintenance plan, and this goal can only be attained with an intelligent approach to horticultural practices. Turf areas that are utilized frequently often suffer from soil compaction. Prolonged physical compaction of the soil results in a hard surface that does not allow efficient water penetration, oxygen absorption by the roots and movement of nutrients from the surface into the root system, which are needed for healthy turf. The effects of compaction can be mitigated by aeration, a valuable but often overlooked, horticultural practice that is a very effective tool for maintaining healthy turf.

Aeration Methods

Aerated TurfThe aeration process is achieved by different methods; all of them involve creating holes (3 to 6 inches deep) in the turf soil.  One common method of aeration involves forcing a solid tine into the soil through the use of gravity (weight), hydraulic down-pressure or vibration.  This is a fast, clean process in that no soil cores are removed and litter the turf.  Another method of aeration involves driving a hollow core tine into the soil and removing a small cylindrical-shaped soil “plug”.  These plugs are left on the turf surface and are broken up by subsequent mowing.  Golf course greens are aerated utilizing this method several times each summer.

The best time to apply soil amendments and fertilizer is immediately after aeration while the holes are fresh.  Amendments fill the holes and are quickly absorbed and distributed to the turf’s root zone.  Through aeration, water and oxygen penetrate the soil and roots and promote healthy turf. At home, apply a turf fertilizer after aeration to achieve the same nutrient balance in your soil.

Did You Know?

Compacted soils offer an ideal environment for a fungus known as Fairy Ring.

Fairy Ring


When the winter and summer rains are done, the Sonoran Desert comes alive with bright and vibrant wildflowers. To achieve this natural looking landscape you will need to know when and how to plant your wildflower seeds.wildflowercombo


Before planting, it is best to loosen the soil in the area you want your wildflowers to bloom. This enhances soil aeration and increases water permeability.

Time To Plant

The optimum soil temperatures needed for seed germination vary depending on species. Spring-blooming annuals such as poppies, lupines and bluebells should be planted October through December. Summer-blooming annuals such as Arizona poppy and devil’s claw can be planted in late spring or early summer. Seed planting also varies for perennials. Penstemons, evening primroses and blackfoot daisy germinate more readily in the fall. Summer growers such as datura, desert senna and desert plumbago germinate in late spring to early summer.


After you have prepared your soil, level the bed with a rake to create an even surface on which to sow your seeds. Your flowers will look more natural if the seed is broadcast randomly and evenly over the prepared beds rather than planted in rows. It also helps if you mix your seeds with sand or fine dirt for ease in broadcasting them more evenly. Read package instructions as some seeds may need treatment prior to sowing.


Dsc00043Water the seeds daily with a fine mist sprayer, keeping the soil evenly moist until they emerge from the ground. Once the seedlings emerge, water every other day, keeping a careful watch on the small plants and not allowing them to dry out. Once the plants are showing four to five leaves and are well established, a deep soaking once a week or less often will suffice.

For more information on wildflowers, please go to: