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ground level shot of overseeding perennial ryegrass in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—What’s mean, green and can withstand four quarters with no break? Athletic turf, of course! However, as the fall season stretches on, football and other athletic fields need a little help keeping their signature green color. This is when perennial ryegrass takes the field.

In the fall, Alabama golf courses, athletic fields and even lawns are overseeded with perennial ryegrass as Bermudagrass turf begins going dormant.

David Lawrence, a commercial horticulture regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said turf begins going dormant after exposure to cool temperatures accompanied by frost.

“The turf will remain dormant until warm temperatures return in mid-Spring,” Lawrence said. “High-traffic turf is also susceptible to damage because of prolonged periods of excess soil moisture that is common during Alabama winters.”

Overseeding for Aesthetics, Recruiting Purposes

Alabama Extension Turfgrass Specialist David Han works closely with the team of field specialists who maintain Auburn University’s Pat Dye Field in Jordan-Hare Stadium, including field manager Eric Kleypas. Han said overseeding is done for two main reasons: aesthetics and protection of bermudagrass.

“In the late fall, bermudagrass fields go dormant and start to turn brown,” Han said. “On football fields, you can overseed to protect the dormant bermudagrass, but it also provides pleasant color year round.”

Han said recruiting is one of the most important parts of the athletic calendar year. For this reason, the teams at Auburn University put special effort into keeping the field looking pristine throughout the year.

“It hasn’t always been this way,” Han said. “As recruiting battles heat up, field conditions become a something that matters for Auburn recruiting.”

Kleypas said when temperatures cool and day lengths shorten, it is time to overseed Pat Dye Field with perennial ryegrass.

“The cool-season grass has a nice dark color and is pretty on television and for the fans, but most importantly it gives us stable, consistent athletic fields for our student athletes,” Kleypas said.

The five-game home stretch was a challenge, but Kleypas said the team is using the away games to give the field a little bit of “TLC.”

Kleypas works closely with Han throughout the year, but especially during the season. He said the relationship with Extension is critical for effective field management.

“We work with the Extension System, not only for overseeding practices, but to get a feel for what is happening throughout the state,” Kleypas said. “We can forecast through Dr. Han what kinds of pest and disease pressures we can expect.”

Overseeding in Alabama

Han said one of the best things about overseeding in Alabama is that there is a long period of great growing weather for ryegrass in the fall.

“We can usually get ryegrass to germinate in Auburn through at least the first couple of weeks in December,” Han said. “We actually have growth blankets to cover the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium. These blankets keep the soil temperature up to aid in germination.”

This year, Auburn’s five-home-game stretch was stressful for the bermudagrass, but Han said the stretch of away games in October will be a welcome relief to get the field back in tip top shape.

Lawrence said perennial ryegrass is superior to annual ryegrass because of its fine texture, dark green color and disease tolerance.

“Perennial ryegrass can tolerate mowing heights less than ½-inch and creates attractive stripes when maintained with a reel mower or rotary mower with rollers,” Lawrence said.

Establishing Perennial Ryegrass on Athletic Fields

Typical perennial ryegrass overseeding should be broadcast with a rotary spreader or drop spreader at 8 to 12 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Timing varies widely according to turf activity, but perennial ryegrass seed is typically spread in September and October.

Lawrence said it is important to give the seed time to germinate and establish before putting an excessive amount of foot traffic or equipment on the turf.

“It’s important to maintain adequate soil moisture during the first few weeks after seeding to ensure good seed germination and prevent seedling desiccation,” Lawrence said. “Areas with a dense bermudagrass canopy may benefit from vertical mowing prior to overseeding.”

Additional overseeding may be necessary on fields with high traffic areas and short playing seasons, like football fields.

Overseeding at Home

Most homeowners don’t tend to overseed on a routine basis. Han said overseeding at home is strictly visual.

“I generally try to dissuade homeowners from overseeding if I get a phone call because it is strictly a vanity project—just to look good,” he said. “You can do it, but you’re still watering, fertilizing, mowing and maintaining. If a homeowner is willing to take that on, then they may still overseed. However, many people aren’t willing to take on that winter upkeep.”

However, there are those whose hobby is to care for their lawn. In that case, the biggest factor to consider aside from maintenance, is whether to plant annual ryegrass or perennial ryegrass. While perennial is longer-lasting, finer and a darker green than annual ryegrass, it is also more expensive. Homeowners should weigh the cost before making the decision to plant one or the other.

More Information

See the Alabama Extension piece “Overseeding Dormant Bermudagrass” to learn more about overseeding with ryegrass.

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