Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Overseeding my backyard with winter rye seed

Everyone knows I work at a landscaping company, so every October I get the question… “What’s the best way to overseed my lawn”?

At ProQual Landscaping, we manage over 500 acres of common area landscaping, at 105 Homeowner Associations and Commercial properties throughout the Phoenix Valley. Commercially overseeding 200 acres of grass is much different than overseeding a residential yard, so I thought I’d blog about the process I use to overseed the 1,000 square feet of grass in my backyard.

What is overseeding, and why?
There are several regions throughout the United States that experience an extreme difference in temperatures, where the same type of grass doesn’t survive year-round. With extreme highs of 110+ in the summer, and lows below freezing in the winter, Phoenix is located in one of those regions. Parks and lawns in Phoenix are planted with a very durable/heat tolerant Bermuda grass base. This type of grass survives our hot Arizona summer months, but once the nighttime temperatures get into the low 70’s, Bermuda grass begins to go dormant. With that being the case… we must “overseed” this Bermuda grass base with a grass seed that will thrive during our cooler winter months. We do this with a Perennial rye seed. See the “How To” below to learn more about this process.

How To Overseed my backyard Bermuda lawn with rye seed

In a commercial environment we use large tractor riding style lawn mowers that can mow 7 acres per hour, large spreaders that can handle 100+lbs of seed at one time and commercial grade irrigation systems that have capabilities far more than any residential system. For my backyard project, I will be using a standard gas powered push mower, a line trimmer and a handheld spreader. 
My visit to Home Depot
When to Overseed
Just when your Bermuda grass is looking its best… it’s time to start the overseeding process! Yes, it is difficult to say goodbye to your summer grass, but if you don’t say goodbye to it, it will eventually say goodbye to you.
Typically the best time to do this is during the month of October, or when the nighttime temperatures drop into the low 70’s.
Bermuda lawn before overseeding process
Preparing to Overseed
Preparation is the key to success. During this step you will prepare the area to be seeded, using a multi step process.
1.       2-3 weeks prior to overseeding. Turn your irrigation down to once a week and start to lower the mow height of your Bermuda grass.
2.       The week before overseeding. Turn your water completely off.
3.       The week of overseeding. Final mow and “scalp”. During this process, you want to lower your lawnmower height, taking the Bermuda grass down as low as possible. Remove as much of the debris and grass clippings as you can.

Apply seed
Now that you have a nice prepared surface to work with, it is time to apply a perennial rye seed. This can be found in bags at your local Home Depot, Lowes or Ace and should be applied 10-15 lbs per 1,000 square feet. My yard is right about 1,000 square feet, so I will be applying 15lbs with a handheld spreader.
Note: if you have any corners or hard to reach places, hand application might be the best for these areas. 
 Fertilizer and Top Dressing
Applying a starter fertilizer and top dressing to your seed is not necessary, but I consider it to be my “safety blanket”. I am used to having Account Managers, Foreman, Landscape Crews and Irrigation Technicians looking over our customers 24/7 to ensure the best possible results. Unfortunately I don’t have that same luxury in my backyard, so I use a starter fertilizer and top dressing. The top dressing really helps to provide the best growing environment, in case my scalp wasn’t perfect, and helps my newly planted seed retain the moisture it needs to germinate.

For my 1,000 square foot area, I used 4 bags of Top Dressing and 5lbs of Starter Fertilizer. I applied this with a wheel barrow, shovel and handheld spreader. I then raked it out nice and even.


Adjusting Irrigation Controllers
During the seed germination process, it is imperative that the seed stays moist. This requires you to program your irrigation controller differently than you would normally, with 4-6 start times, and shorter run times. For instance, I set my timer to run 6 times each day, starting at 8am and ending at 6pm. Note: Some residential controllers don’t allow you to set 6 start times on the same program. Get creative and set up 2 programs, with 3 start times each.
Here is a good programming guide:
Start times: 6
Spray heads: 3-5 minutes per cycle
Rotor heads: 10-12 minutes per cycle
Now what?
Now it is time to sit back and watch the grass grow… literally. For the next 2-4 weeks, your grass will be germinating, to create a beautiful overseeded winter lawn.


  • Keep an eye on your moisture control. If your ground appears too dry, turn the water up a few minutes. If your ground appears too wet, turn the water down a few minutes. 
  • If you see a spot where seed doesn’t appear to be coming in, spot seed that area. You can do this by hand applying some seed, and covering it with a light amount of top dressing.

**10/10/2012 - Update**
So now after 10 days, my rye seed has germinated and is now ready to be mowed. I will be turning back the watering slightly, by removing a few start times, and having the water completely off on my mowing day.


Stay tuned for updates on the progress of my seeding, along with watering and fertilization tips for maintaining your winter lawn.


  1. Excellent article on seeding your lawn. I am about to try my hand at this again this year and was wondering if you have an opinion on aerating? I seeded last year, and covered with some topper, but not as much as you suggested. My yard was overwhelmed with birds? Is that a sign I am doing something wrong, or just a part of the process?


  2. I have been looking for this post for a long time

    Do you mind posting more about overmowing

    Hope to see more posts related to Phoenix Landscaping Contractor