OVERSEEDING BERMUDAGRASS FAIRWAYS: POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES
Dr. Leon Lucas, Agronomist
Many golfers ask about overseeding bermudagrass fairways in central North Carolina and South Carolina with ryegrass. The green color from the ryegrass looks good during the fall, winter and spring. However, the overseeded ryegrass adds additional maintenance costs and competes with the bermudagrass in the spring and summer. Overseeding is needed on resort courses to attract golfers in the winter and spring, but I think it is best not to overseed fairways on private courses for the reasons listed below. A good thick stand of dormant bermudagrass (brown from cold weather) provides good playing conditions throughout most of the winter and spring if golf cart traffic is managed properly. Tees and greens (bermudagrass) need to be overseeded to have better quality turf on these high traffic areas. Some other types of grasses that are less competitive in early summer are now being used to overseed bermudagrass greens.
Positives for overseeding fairways:
1. Green color during the winter looks good.
2. Ryegrass usually grows enough during the winter to increase wear tolerance
from traffic and may help to improve ball lies late in the winter when the
dormant bermudagrass becomes thin.
3. Ryegrass may help to dry the soil and prevent muddy conditions from traffic in
Negatives for overseeding fairways:
1. Overseeding with ryegrass adds additional maintenance costs for seeds, fertilizer, mowing and labor. Estimates for additional costs are $700 to $900 per acre for overseeding.
2. The new perennial ryegrass varieties are very competitive to the bermudagrass for light, water and nutrients in the spring. Also, ryegrasses produce toxic
substances in the roots that can slow the growth of bermudagrass in early summer. If the ryegrass is not removed with chemicals in the spring, the quality of bermudagrass on fairways may be lower in mid-summer.
3. Extra cost can occur for chemicals to remove the ryegrass in the spring to help
the bermudagrass grow. Fungicides may be needed in some years to help
control diseases on the ryegrass.
4. The superintendent has fewer, or more expensive, options to control winter
weeds. Annual bluegrass (Poa annua) usually becomes more of a problem on
the golf course because chemicals are not available to effectively control the annual bluegrass on ryegrass fairways yet. The annual bluegrass provides a source of seeds that usually cause more problems with this weed on greens.
5. Courses without fairway irrigation may obtain poor stands of ryegrass if the
weather is dry in the early fall when overseeding should be done.
Alternatives to consider about overseeding your course:
1. It is best not to overseed bermudagrass fairways because of more competition
to the bermudagrass and weed control problems.
Overseeding limited areas such as landing areas and areas around greens could be considered.
3. You can overseed and use herbicides to the kill the ryegrass in the spring.
4. You can keep golf carts off the fairways during wet weather and off wet areas
at all times. Damage from cart traffic becomes apparent in early summer when
the bermudagrass begins growing.
5. The height of cut on the fairways should be raised in late summer to improve
wear tolerance and winter survival of the bermudagrass.
6. A less competitive type of ryegrass such as intermediate types can be used, but
these types may not be readily available in some places. Common or annual
ryegrass is less competitive but usually does not have high quality and may be
killed in some cold winters.
7. Courses with common bermudagrass should consider converting to an
improved hybrid bermudagrass which will provide a better surface throughout
the summer and winter.
Courses with poor irrigation systems should consider placing a high priority on improving the irrigation system to help improve turf quality from bermudagrass and overseeded grasses, if overseeding is done.
Some positives, negatives and alternatives have been mentioned for overseeding bermudagrass fairways. The golfers must determine how much play there will be on the course during the winter and decide if the extra cost from overseeding and possible damage to the bermudagrass from the ryegrass is economical. The green color should not be the primary reason to overseed fairways on private courses.