Overseeding Florida Lawns for Winter Color
Lawns go dormant during late fall and early winter in many parts of Florida, resulting in brown lawns throughout the cold months. Homeowners may prefer green lawns, but there is nothing wrong with brown grass in the winter—it is a natural process. However, those wanting green lawns in the winter can use a practice known as overseeding.
Overseeding involves seeding a temporary cool-season grass over the permanent warm-season lawn. The warm-season grasses come out of dormancy the following spring, and the cool-season grass dies out.
The popular and reasonably priced ryegrass is the best choice for overseeding home lawns. Ryegrasses can be annual, intermediate,or improved/perennial and die out as temperatures rise in the spring. These grasses also grow fast, are adaptable and can tolerate close, frequent mowing.
North Florida lawns should be overseeded from October to November, and central Florida lawns should be overseeded from October to early December. Overseeding for winter color is typically for lawns in frost-free areas of south Florida. Homeowners who choose to overseed should wait until daytime temperatures are consistently in the low to mid 70°F range.
How to Overseed
The two most important things to remember while overseeding lawns are proper seedbed preparation and proper watering. Seedbed preparation involves thoroughly raking the grass to remove all debris. Next, homeowners should mow the lawn at a lower height than usual, but don’t mow St. Augustinegrass lower than three inches. The clippings should be caught or raked after mowing. This is followed by a final raking to remove additional material and loosen the soil so that overseed grass seed can come in contact with it.
Lawns with heavy thatch should be dethatched in spring or early summer for fall overseeding. For more information on thatch, visit UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.
Use a broadcast spreader for the best coverage during seeding. Walk in one direction to sow half the seed, and then walk in a right angle to the first direction to sow the other half. Ensure the seed reaches the grass and contacts the soil by raking the ground with a stiff broom after sowing.
Watering is the last step to establishing a winter lawn, and it is the most important because the seeds won’t germinate without moisture. Lightly apply water for 10 to 20 minutes to the overseeded lawn once or twice a day until the seeds have germinated—this usually takes about 7 to 10 days. Continue to water daily for two to three weeks (about ¼ inch of water each time) until seedlings are established. But don’t overwater; overwatering could wash seeds away and encourage disease development. Water as needed once the plants are well established.
Established winter lawns require the same maintenance as permanent lawns, so remember to mow, water, fertilize, and control pests. Start mowing overseeded grass once it’s well rooted and tall enough. Allow the winter grass to die out in late spring—water infrequently and don’t fertilize after February in South Florida or after March in North Florida.
Excerpted and adapted from:
L. E. Trenholm and J. B. Unruh, “Overseeding Florida Lawns for Winter Color” (ENH14), UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture Department (rev. 12/2010).
Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS