Excerpt from Valley 101: The Great Big Book of Life, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published October 10, 1999.)
Q: I just survived my first Arizona summer, and the worst part was mowing my lawn in the triple-digit heat. Now, my neighbor asked me if I am going to put in a winter lawn. Am I?
A: First of all, congratulations on your getting through your first summer. You are now officially qualified to lord it over other newcomers and to say of future summers, “Of course, this is nothing like the
summer of ’99.”
School One: It looks good, it’s worth the effort and if all your neighbors put in a winter lawn and you don’t, it will look bad and the whole neighborhood will slide into decay, and by spring it will just be a row of crack houses and sharecroppers’ hovels.
School Two: Bag that. You spent the past seven or eight months risking heatstroke to mow the lawn, and now the damn thing is dying off for the winter like it’s supposed to. Good riddance. Grass isn’t supposed to grow in the desert, anyway.
School One: “Slob.”
School Two: “Neat freak.”
School One: “And if I catch your bratty kids picking my grapefruit and throwing them at the mailbox again, I’m calling the cops.”
School Two: “Oh yeah. Well, if I catch your mangy dog in my flower bed again, I’ll take him to the pound.”
So, as we can see, winter lawns, like religion and certain sexual practices, are a deeply personal decision best left to the individual conscience.
If you do decide to put in a winter lawn — and we’re not saying you should or shouldn’t — here are a few tips.
Tips for Growing a Winter Lawn:
- First of all, don’t jump the gun. If you start your winter lawn when it’s still too hot — nighttime temperatures should be in the mid-60s — you’ll end up having to do it twice.
- Buy the best seed you can afford. Annual ryegrass is popular because it’s cheap. Perennial rye seed costs a little more, but most people agree it looks better.
- Scatter the seed. This will make you very popular with all the birds in the neighborhood.
- Then cover it lightly with forest mulch or steer or horse manure.
- Manure will of course stink up the whole neighborhood for a while, but it is very effective and is in plentiful supply, even when the Legislature is not in session.
- Watering is very important. Water gently to avoid scattering the seeds, and water frequently. For the first 10 days or so, you should sprinkle the new seeds at least three times a day, tapering off as the new lawn establishes itself.
- When your winter lawn is ready for the first mowing, feed it with a nitrogen-based fertilizer.
- Then drive around the neighborhood looking at other people’s lawns and comparing them with your own. A colleague of ours described this as “an alpha-male thing.” On the other hand, you can park yourself in a comfy chair, tune the radio to the game, crack a cold one and watch your neighbor do all the work while your lawn dies a quiet and well-deserved death. Take your pick.