To Winter Rye or Not to Winter Rye? That is the question. My answer is usually a big fat NO! However, the older I get or the mellower I get, my answer is not as adamant as it once was. In general, I still think it's a bad idea, and I will explain those reasons in just a moment, but I do understand that some communities/home owner's associations are mandating its use. Plus, I also think it's a good idea for erosion control or covering up a cosmetic problem in the yard. But before we get to that, I want to make sure you don't forget to pick up your free products from Randy's "Flower Planting Technique" at Buds and Blossoms Nursery this Saturday. See last week's email tip for the technique, and print off last week's tip sheet in order to claim the prizes. There's also a sale going on for internet orders of Randy's book, so see the link below.
O-kay, back to business...
Why do I not like Winter Rye, as means to keep my yard green during the winter months? I think the answer is simple - I'm Lazy!!! Realistically, I don't see the need to water, fertilize and mow in the winter months. I also think it's an affront to Mother Nature. Mother Nature is showing you it's time to give the lawn a rest, so why shouldn't we take that rest period too? If you apply Winter Rye, it takes nutrients away from the root system of the existing St. Augustine, Bermuda or Zoysia grasses. Think about it… If the Rye needs fertilizer and water to look green, and you're not adding extra fertilizer and water, the Rye is taking away nutrients that the existing grass uses to its advantage to keep a healthy root system during the winter. Don't you see the irony in all that? Again, when you apply Winter Rye, in order for it to look good, it will need fertilizer and water. That means the fertilizer is working to green up the other grasses, when again it should be resting. That also means the nutrients that should be there for the "winterization" treatment which allow the turf to bounce back stronger in the spring, are being used up by the winter rye. Hence, a weaker base turf in the spring.
The last reason you should avoid it, or at least "do it right," is in the improper germination rate. For those Winter Rye lawns that aren't/weren't done right, it's the equivalent to a balding man's "COMB-OVER." Everyone else that sees it knows something is not quite right, but the guy with the comb-over thinks it looks good, eh! So, if you don't do it right, everyone's sort of snickering while pointing.
So, where's this mellowing I alluded to earlier? Well, there are a few situations I'm cool with the application of Winter Rye. In fact, in a couple of the cases it's almost essential.
The first case that gives you permission to put down such winter grasses is for erosion control. A great example of this would be someone with a brand new home that is hesitant or can't afford to put down new sod just yet. So, in this instance, the winter rye will give you some kind of grass through to next spring and help keep the soil in place of a new-builder back yard.
The second case would have to do with "events" at the house. A great example of this would be if you're planning a wedding or wedding reception, or having wedding pictures shot in your yard any time over the next four to five months. This is simply an aesthetic choice for a particular purpose.
Then, there's the "Cover Up" need. Winter Rye can often be a great disguiser of other problems. Brownpatch would be a great example. If Brownpatch was bad enough, and you know that the Brownpatch damage won't green up until next Spring, then by all means give Winter Rye a try, as a means to cover up the damage.
Finally, there's the mandated use, which I simply can't get around. I just wish these home owner's associations would have called for an expert opinion before making such a mandate. For those that live in communities that mandate such use, I hope they realize that by having green grass in the winter, they are all but insuring that they don't have the greenest, healthiest grass in early spring and summer.
So, having said that, if you have to do it for any of the approved reasons above, then let's do it right. You can over-seed a couple of times, to get the coverage you desire. One of the biggest mistakes most people make is to apply one time and get a "hit-and-miss" look to the germination. By applying more than once, you get better coverage, plain and simple, and won't fall victim to the "Comb Over" effect.
Also, I used to be a big proponent of Annual versus Perennial seed, because Perennial seed comes back year after year without re-seeding. But in our heat and humidity and thanks to technological advancements Perennial seed doesn't have that problem as much and might as well be considered an Annual.
For the rest of the holiday season, my book is on sale on-line. This is the lowest cost for on-line purchases there has ever been for this book, $15.95, so take advantage of it for the holiday season. If you however need multiple copies and/or signed copies for your gift giving this year, please link to www.randylemmon.com and read the instructions for the multiple copies discount and/or for signed copies.
Until our next issue, here's to great gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively weekend mornings 8 a.m.-noon on TALKRADIO 950 KPRC.
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