Winter Turf Transition
Having year round grass in the Valley of the sun is tough! With our hot summers, and close to freezing temperatures in the winter, most turf type grasses do poorly at one point or another during the year. For example, during our summer months, Bermuda grass is the dominant turf, primarily because of its vibrant green color, its heat tolerance, and its ability to handle foot traffic. During the winter months the turf type used is typically Perennial Rye, mainly because of its tolerance to cold weather.
So, in order to achieve green grass throughout the year, landscapers will transition the Bermuda and seed the turf areas with Rye grass. Typically this will happen during the month of October, when the conditions are optimal; the rule of thumb is the daytime temperatures should be in the mid 80’s with nighttime temperatures being in the mid 50’s.
To accomplish this transition, there are a few steps that need to take place. The first being the lowering of the Bermuda height by either slowly lowering the mower heights in phases, or in large chunks. This is often the standard style of “scalping” the Bermuda for over seeding. Both methods remove a good portion of the grass each time it is mowed, leaving only a stubble look. Once the desired height is reached (approximately ¾”) the Rye seed is spread.
The second step in the process is lowering the amount of water the Bermuda is being given. This step is actually done as the mowing height is being lowered as it causes the Bermuda to store vital nutrients and energy in its roots for its return in the spring. As the amount of water is decreased, the stage is set for the turf transition to Rye grass. The week prior (in most cases) the water is turned completely off to the turf sections. This helps in drying out the Bermuda so the “scalping” process can be completed.
The final stage is planting (or sowing) the Rye seed. Typically the Rye seed is put down in two passes, perpendicular to each other. This helps provide the best coverage over the areas being over seeded. The water is then turned back on for short frequent intervals to help establish the Rye. Scalping sounds a bit barbaric, however, it’s not. It’s only the process used when the turf types are changed. The scalping process opens up the turf thereby allowing the Rye seed to adhere close to the soil to encourage its growth.
A quick note about the over seed process: The appearance of brown grass can lead some to believe that there might be a problem with the turf or the irrigation system. The shock of seeing the Bermuda cut so short and then appearing to “die out” can be concerning to some. Knowing what to expect can alleviate those concerns making the transition much more tolerable.
The Scalping Process
The Bermuda will gradually be cut shorter each week until it has been cut at almost ground level. This will take place gradually anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks before the Rye seed is planted. For a short period of time, during the transition phase, the Bermuda will appear brown and dry. By decreasing the watering times and lowering the turf heights, the Bermuda will begin to go dormant. This will also allow the Rye seed the best chance to thrive and grow.
The Rye seed must be kept moist so the irrigation schedule will be set to water for short, more frequent intervals until the seed starts to germinate. Irrigation technicians will be watching the turf closely to monitor when the times should be changed. Once the winter Rye turf is approximately 2” – 3” long the water will be reduced and the turf will be mowed. It typically takes a few weeks to get good growth in the fall, weather dependent of course.
For more information on winter grass transition contact Blue Marble Landscape at 480-895-2648.