The Q&A Archives: Reviving Bermuda Lawn

Question: My husband and I are moving this weekend into a house. We have an 18 month old and our back yard is dead. Dead grass, gravel and some thorny shrubs. We're going to try and water the lawn to see if the Bermuda Grass will grow but what else can I do that is cheap, easy to take care of and won't cause any harm to my son. Cacti and rose bushes are out of the question.

Answer: There are 2 growing seasons in the low desert, with 2 different types of grass thriving in each. In summer, warm-season Bermuda is the primary grass. It goes brown and dormant as temperatures cool in late fall. At that point, some people choose to overseed it with ryegrass, which is a cool-season variety. Rye dies off as temperatures heat up. Some people don't overseed, just letting the Bermuda go dormant. Bermuda should be coming back by now, but since we've had almost no rain, and if it wasn't watered it could look dead. Bermuda is incredibly tenacious (which is why it can also be a tiresome weed). Assuming there is an automatic sprinkler system, I suggest watering to see what happens.

Water should penetrate 8-10 inches deep for Bermuda. When temperatures are 90 degrees F and above, water every 2 or 3 days; if temperatures are below 90, but still wawrm, water every 3 to 5 days. If you let your Bermuda go dormant again in winter, it isn't necessary to water any more than once per month. (In winter, water needs to penetrate only 4-6 inches because rye has a more shallow root system.)

As for easy-to-care-for plants, first, contact the Chandler City Water Conservation Department for a free copy of Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert. It is a color guide listing more than 200 low-water-use plants, along with growing info, mature size, sun exposure, and special characteristics, such as whether they have thorns, attract hummingbirds, etc.

As well as providing an attractive outdoor living space with shade and color, a well-planned landscape design greatly increases the value of one's home. So, it?s worth taking some time to figure out your best options rather than hurry to just stick something in. A complete landscape design is beyond the scope of this Q&A, but I?ll give you some ideas to consider. The most important things when choosing plants are determining what sun exposure (full, partial, shady) they will thrive in and how much space they need to grow to maturity (both vertically and horizontally), and then comparing that with what your landscape offers. In other words, you wouldn't want to put a huge sun lover in a tiny, shady location. This seems obvious, but many people forget it when they go to the nursery and are confronted by all sorts of beautiful plants. Analyze your site and think about what you want from plants (color, shade, cut flowers, bird attraction etc.) then choose plants from the above guide that fit that situation.

Since you are seeking low-maintenance, I strongly urge you to stick with native and desert-adapted choices. They are adapted to our heat, alkaline soil, aridity, sunshine and have few, if any, pest problems. Not all desert plants are thorny! You will see some wonderful choices in the plant guide. Good luck!

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