Desert Lawn Renewal - Knowledgebase Question

Columbus, OH (Zone 5B)
Avatar for dac121979
Question by dac121979
July 4, 2006
I live in the Phoenix area and I just moved into a new house, coming from the midwest I miss my thick soft grass. A few months ago I started turning on the sprinklers and threw some seed down. It's not working to well, there is about 4 different types of grass growing in it. The ground is not even, my plan is to till the entire back yard and replant. Can you advise if I need to kill all the current grass before tilling with round up or something similar. What type of fertilizer should I use before doing this, and what is a good mix that will stay soft and green throughout the summer and winter months.

Answer from NGA
July 4, 2006
It helps to understand that it's not possible to grow the same type of lawn in Phoenix as grows in the midwest. Attractive lawns are possible, but they aren't particularly thick and soft! To have a lawn year around, it is necessary to plant two different grasses.

There are two main types of grass grown here in the low desert: a warm-season grass, which is Bermuda. St. Augustine, Zoysia and Buffalograss are other warm season choices, but they are not commonly planted here. If you want a winter lawn, Bermuda is overseeded for the cool-season with ryegrass. There is no grass species that can survive both temperature extremes here. Nor is there one that will thrive in shade. If you have shady areas, realize that grass will never look good there and it's better to plant something else, such as a groundcover. Also, many people install the Bermuda grass for the warm months and then let it go dormant in the winter. It's usually brown from about Thanksgiving until temps. warm up in the spring. Ryegrass does not get seeded by itself; in other words, you overseed Bermuda with rye, but rye can't be the only grass.

Bermuda can be installed from seed from May through August and sod from April through October. Overseeding takes place in October by Nov. 15 but is best not done unless the Bermuda has had at least 3 months, preferably a year, to establish a strong root system.

It's essential to prepare the soil properly before planting to have a healthy lawn for many years. If your current lawn isn't very vigorous, it might be sufficient to till and remove as much of the roots and stolons as you can without spraying. The following steps for soil preparation are taken from the chapter Growing a Healthy Lawn in the book Desert Landscaping for Beginners by Arizona Master Gardener Press, 0-9651987-3-1. It is the most complete and detailed information on the topic, also describing the different grass choices, how to install them and how to water, fertilize, mow, dethatch and aerify. The book is available at the Phoenix libraries, bookstores or through the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. There is also a turf demonstration area with plots of different grass chocies.

Soil Prep:

Remove all debris, large rocks, old turf and weeds.

Establish rough grade one inche below sprinkler heads.

Wet the soil to a depth of 6 to 9 inches. Let it dry for two days.

Add soil amendments. At least two inches of nitrified wood mulch or other organic matter. 100 pounds of gypsum per 1000 square feet of lawn. Ammonium phosphate (16-20-0) according to package instructions. Till in amendments to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, preferably 6 to 8.

Install sprinklers or check that existing sprinklers provide full coverage.

Water to settle everything in and build water reserves. Allow the soil to dry for one or two days so that it is workable. It should crumble easily.

Rake and level. Foll the area with a lawn roller half filled with water.

Plant seed or sod.

In the midst of summer, you'll need to monitor watering carefully because the grass will quickly die if it dries out because its root system hasn't established yet. You'll probably have to water at least 4 times daily, for 5 to 10 minutes each, for the first two weeks, gradually reducing the number of times, but adding to the duration.

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