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How to Grow Grass in the Desert

grass,lawn image by Greg Pickens from

In desert regions, Bermuda grass is popular because it can withstand the intense heat of summer. When the cool winter temperatures arrive, Bermuda grass turns brown and many homeowners choose to overseed the Bermuda with rye grass. Overseeding takes place at the end of summer and through mid-October. The Bermuda takes over from the rye grass in late April or early May, when daytime temperatures can exceed 90 degrees. By using both of these varieties of grass, you can have a beautiful green lawn year-round.

Turn the soil. Whether growing grass from seed of laying sod, you must make sure the soil is prepared so the grass can develop a healthy root system. Desert soils tend to be rocky, lacking in nutrients and heavily compacted. Dig down to a depth of 6 inches with a shovel and turn the soil several times. Extremely hard soil may require use of a rototiller.

Reduce soil compaction. Break up hard clumps of soil with a garden fork. This allows air to reach the plants’ roots.

Add nutrients. Desert soil is often alkaline. Add gypsum to the newly turned soil and mix it in well. Add organic matter such as compost. Apply 2 inches of compost and mix it in well with your shovel. Apply fertilizer with phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium--all of which are required for healthy turf.

Remove soil layer before putting down sod. Take out 1 inch of soil, so the lawn is even with sidewalks or other lawn borders after planting.

Smooth the planting surface. Rake the surface until it is level. Pull the rake across one direction, and then go across the rows you have raked, in a crisscross manner. If the area is not level, pools of water can wash seeds away resulting in a patchy lawn. Sod planted on uneven surfaces will sink down and form depressions.

Plant seeds or lay sod. Use a push spreader rather than trying to measure out the seeds by hand. Cover the seeds with a fine layer of compost to help retain moisture. Don’t put more than ¼ inch over them or they will struggle to germinate.

Water frequently at first. Water seeds or sod for short intervals, seven to 10 minutes, three to four times per day for the first three weeks. Make sure the seeds do not dry out in the desert heat. Water more frequently if conditions are hotter and drier than normal. Sod also requires moisture in order to take root.


Birds can’t resist newly planted grass seed. Put down 10 percent more than the package directions suggest to take into account some will be consumed.

Keep all the family members--even the four legged ones--off the sprouted grass seeds until the lawn is strong enough to mow, over 2 inches in height.


Sod dries out quickly in the desert climate. If you have to wait several days after delivery before laying the sod, keep it under a tarp, or in a shaded part of the yard. Sprinkle the edges of the sod rolls to prevent them from drying out.

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