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Overseeding Your Lawn

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Overseeding lawns for the winter is a common practice for many people who live in the Southeast and want their lawn to look green year round. As we know from the section on "Getting to Know Your Lawn", warm-season grasses tend to go dormant during the cool winter months.
Winter Frost
Since most of these areas receive little or no snowfall, many people are stuck with a brown and sometimes weedy lawn and until spring. To avoid this, many people during the winter months will overseed their dormant warm-season grasses with an annual cool-season ryegrass that will grow and stay green when their existing grass goes dormant. Annual ryegrasses are preferred for overseeding due to their ability to thrive during the cool winter months and their ability to die and give way to the existing warm-season grasses come springtime. Fine fescues and bluegrasses are also used to overseed.
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The following steps are commonly used when overseeding a lawn:
  1. Do not overseed until your existing grass has gone dormant. Most warm-season grasses will start to go dormant when daytime temperatures drop into the low 70's.
  2. Cut your lawn short to the ground and remove any debris. By cutting your lawn short and removing any excess thatch and debris with a rake, you will allow the new seeds to fall to the soil and begin to germinate. If excess amounts of thatch exist or the soil is heavily compacted, you may need to aerate and/or dethatch your lawn before planting. This will help insure better seed penetration and growth.
  3. Spread the cool-season grass seeds over your lawn. Your new seeds should be spread in the same manner described in the section on planting by seed. When using annual ryegrass, try to apply a little more seed than normal. Most seed bags will have instructions on how many pounds to apply per 1,000 square feet.
  4. Use a broom and/or rake to help the seeds settle. Any seeds suspended above the soil surface will fail to germinate.
  5. Apply a thin layer of Humus (organic fertilizer) over the lawn. To insure better growth, you may want to apply a thin (usually 1/8-1/4 inch) organic fertilizer such as peat moss over the lawn after seeding to add nutrients and help protect the seeds.
  6. Water and fertilize on a regular basis. Most people will begin to water and fertilize their newly overseeded lawn the same way they do when planting a new lawn. This will typically require daily watering until establishment and monthly fertilizing. Mowing can be done once the grass grows in excess of 1/3 higher then its recommended mowing height.
  7. Help the transition back in the spring. When the weather begins to warm-up and the warm-season grasses begin to grow-back, try to help in the transition. You can do this by cutting-back on your spring fertilizing and mowing your grass short again to help the warm-season grass seeds to better germinate.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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