Well it looks like the winter rye questions are coming in, as noticed this past weekend during my radio program. Despite some communities mandating the use of rye grass, I still think it is a bad idea.
For most of you long-time listeners to GardenLine, you probably already know the basic answer to the question in the headline - which is a big NO!
Then, I was reading a new book Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac, in which he dedicated an entire chapter to how we abuse water – especially in your lawns. One of my favorite excerpts from that book started with Lawns Don’t Waste Water; People Do! Doug writes: Throughout the past decade, zealous water utilities have launched campaigns to regulate the use of lawns in landscapes by restricting the lawn size or eliminating certain turfgrass varieties… Since lawns are the highest user of irrigation water in the landscape, focus on the lawns is warranted. The disconnect arises when regulations targets an object lacking intelligence, a lawn. The actions of the people are the problem in this situation. Lawns don’t waste water, people do! Major universities have spent decades breeding trufgrasses for lawn use. Not a single one has bred a turfgrass that can reach up and turn on the water faucet.
And so, I couldn’t stop thinking that if people would just stop putting out winter rye, not only will you have healthier lawns in the earlier parts of spring, but you’ll cut way back on your water bills in the months of December through March. And for those hoity-toity subdivisions that mandate its use – SHAME ON YOU! You’re needlessly driving up people’s water bills during the 3-4 stretch, when it should be at it’s lowest level and allowing for more sincere water conservation to take place.
Outside of the “mandated” example, the people I’m really trying to get this message to are the ones who apply Winter Rye just to do Winter Rye, so that you have a GREEN LAWN in the winter. And besides those, yes, there actually are a couple of cases in which it's almost essential to put down winter rye at this time of the year.
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 where the homeowner 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.
Now, back to some text book reasons why you shouldn't put out winter rye on established lawns ... First, an existing St. Augustine or Zoysia lawn needs to "rest", if you will. I say you need to let your existing grass rest during the winter, so that the nutrients aren’t being wasted, much less the irrigation. That also means you get to rest. I think some people still don’t grasp the notion that winter rye will still need to be watered and fertilized and mowed and edged etc. Still, I think the most important thing you should consider is that the winter rye is taking away the nutrients that are supposed to be there for your existing turf needs in the "winterization mode."
Another reason you shouldn’t apply Winter Rye, especially if you have a St. Augustine lawn, is that the normal Rotary Lawn Mower butchers this kind of grass. If you must do Winter Rye, you absolutely need a Reel Lawn Mower, that is designed for such grasses as Bermuda, Zoysia, Fescue and Rye. Reel mowers cut in and “over-the-top” method as opposed to a Rotary one, which cuts in a “helicopter blade” motion. So, add to the cost of watering, fertilizing and watering – you also must invest in a second lawn mower.
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 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 laughing at your lawn.
So, having said that, if you have to do it for any of the approved reasons above, then let's do it right. And let’s use trusted names in the grass seed business like Pennington, which has a perennial rye that is perfectly suited for this are.
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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