8 Steps to a Healthy Fall, Winter Lawn


Fall, Winter Season to Set Stage for Ryegrass Growth in U.S.

A wetter and cooler summer in many parts of the country is setting the stage for what could be an opportunity for apartments to have some stunning winter landscape.

Conditions seem to be heading in the right direction to promote healthy growth for winter grasses that are typically over-seeded on southern and northern lawns. Winter ryegrass is an ideal solution to keep apartment landscapes green throughout the cooler winter season. The grass blends well with Bermuda grass and other summer grasses to make a seamless transition.

The improved outlook comes after a prolonged period when deep, thick, green fall and winter lawns have been difficult to maintain for some properties in the South and Southeast. Drought conditions have made growing conditions difficult, and even created a lack of demand for seed that forced some growers to shift production to other grass seeds. The gap in the market subsequently drove prices up.

Thus, a much improved growing season is a welcome change. Seed inventories should be healthier, which should bring prices back in line with what they were before the country dipped into a drought.

September and October will provide a great opportunity for apartments to establish healthy winter lawns that will help boost curb appeal for residents looking to move while instilling community pride for existing tenants.

Here is a step-by-step approach to preparing the landscape and application of over-seeding with winter ryegrass to establish a healthy lawn for the winter:

1. Avoid damaging irrigation heads during mowing by flagging

Flag all sprinkler heads, especially those with rotors, to avoid damage by mower blades. Rotors tend to stick up a half-inch or more, and could be in the line of fire by the mower when scalping the grounds possibly getting damaged by lawn mower blades during the scalping process.

2. Scalp the lawn by cutting summer grass low to the ground

Removing as much of the summer grass as possible enables seeds to filter to the ground and become better established. Mowing and bagging clippings twice usually is necessary: the first time cut the grass to about half the height of the lawn; the second time cut as close to the dirt as possible.

3. Use a lawn spreader to generously distribute ryegrass seeds

A rotary spreader, the same kind used to apply fertilizer and bug control granules, is your best bet to envelope the lawn with ryegrass seed. Spread seed using the highest setting for full coverage. A good rule of thumb is that 50 pounds of seed will cover 5,000 square feet.

4. Frequently water the seeded lawn to help germinate seeds

Turn on the water once the seeds have been applied. Usually, seeds need to be kept moist for 14 days. City water restrictions may make it difficult, but try to water three times per day – early morning, late afternoon and middle of the night. If restrictions won’t permit frequent watering, plan your seed planting by looking at the long-time weather forecast and identifying periods of predicted rain. Two good rain storms are equivalent to two weeks of watering from city supplies. Also, be careful not to overwater. Standing puddles can drown the grass seed.

5. Apply fertilizer to stimulate root growth

Apply a starter fertilizer to stimulate root growth after the seeds germinate and grass becomes visible. A fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorus works best. Fertilizers with high doses of nitrogen won’t be as effective while a lawn is starting out. In fact, if hot weather persists, a new lawn could be severely burned by high amounts of nitrogen.

6. Mow the lawn as ryegrass starts to take hold and emerge

After about 10 days, it’s time to mow. The lawn should be showing signs of significant growth and blend in with the summer grass. Mowing before the lawn starts to get dense could be counterproductive, however. Mowing too soon could actually pull the grass and its roots out of the ground.

7. Address spots that didn’t fill in by reseeding

It may be necessary to reseed spots where the initial seeding didn’t take hold. Apply more seed by hand to affected areas. Make sure the seeds come into contact with the soil; it is not necessary that seeds be covered.

8. Regularly fertilize during winter season to promote a healthy, green lawn

Even though it may be cold and blustery, the lawn will need two or three shots of stimulation during the winter to keep it growing strong and achieve a deep, green look. Using a fertilizer with a greater amount of nitrogen than the starter fertilizer will help top growth and keep the lawn looking green throughout the winter, even as summer grass goes dormant.

The opportunity to have a great winter landscape at your apartment community starts soon.

(Image source: Shutterstock)


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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