To Winter Rye Or Not?
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 below, but I do understand that some communities and homeowner's associations are mandating its use. Recently, I heard that a couple forward-thinking landscapers convinced a rather upscale community to stop mandating its use, and that made me happy. But there's still the need/option out there to use winter rye as erosion control or for covering up a cosmetic problem in the yard. It's also a good temporary solution for those who have a new house, are "cash poor" and really can't afford solid sod for the back yard just yet.
Why do I not like Winter Rye to keep my yard green during the winter months? 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, who is showing you it's time to give the lawn a rest. So why shouldn't we take a rest, too?
If you apply winter rye, it takes nutrients away from the root system of the existing St. Augustine, Bermuda or Zoysia grass. 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 the existing grass uses to keep a healthy root system during the winter. It also means nutrients that should be there for the "winterization" treatment, which allows the turf to bounce back stronger in the spring, are being used up by the rye. Hence, you end up with 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. Rye lawns that aren't done right are the equivalent to a balding man's "comb-over." Everyone who sees it knows something isn't quite right, but the guy with the comb-over thinks it looks good! So, if you don't do it right, everyone's sort of snickering and pointing.
So, where's this mellowing I alluded to? 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 is for erosion control. For someone with a brand-new home who can't afford new backyard sod just yet, the winter rye will provide grass through to spring and help keep the soil in place.
A second case might simply be for aesthetics ... maybe for a wedding or reception at the house during the next four to five months.
Then, there's the "cover-up" need. Winter rye can often disguise other problems — like brown patch damage that won't green up until next spring.
Finally, there's the use mandated by community regulation. I just wish homeowner's associations would consider expert opinion before setting those requirements. I you live in a community that mandates winter rye use, just realize they are all but insuring that you won't have the greenest, healthiest grass in early spring and summer.
So, if you have to do it, let's do it right. You can over-seed a couple times to get the coverage you desire. One of the biggest mistakes most people make is applying just one time and getting a hit-and-miss look with the germination. By applying more than once, you get better coverage and won't be a victim of the "comb-over" effect.
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 might as well be considered an annual.
For the rest of the holiday season, my book is on sale on-line for $17.95, so take advantage of the special price now. If, you need multiple and/or signed copies for gift-giving, please see www.randylemmon.com and scroll to the bottom of the page to send me an e-mail with the words "book order" in the subject line. We can always work something out.
Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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