Image by Harry Rose
By Bonnie L. Grant
Annual ryegrass is also called Italian ryegrass and is a valuable cover crop. Planting annual ryegrass as a cover crop allows the dense roots to catch excess nitrogen and help break up hard soils. Ryegrass cover crops are fast growing in cool seasons. Know when to plant annual ryegrass to prevent unwanted seeding and volunteers, which can compete with primary crops.
What Should Annual Ryegrass Be Used For?
The question, what should annual ryegrass be used for, goes beyond soil improvement. The plant is also useful to reduce splashing on young plants and minimize disease in tightly planted spaces. Over seeding the grass into commercial crops will prevent competitive weeds and increase fertility when hoed into the earth.
This versatile plant is easy to grow and promotes healthy soil and plants.
When to Plant Annual Ryegrass
You can plant annual ryegrass in fall or spring. The plant will set seed more quickly if sown in fall, so care must be taken to mow before the plant blooms. To use the plant as a winter annual, seed during fall in zone 6 or warmer; and in zone 5 or colder, seed in midsummer to early fall.
If the ryegrass is used as amendment for fall crops, then seed in early spring. For a nursery crop, sow several weeks before seeding the main crop.
Ryegrass cover crops sown in fall are tilled in early in spring to enrich the soil.
Tips for Planting Annual Ryegrass
Ryegrass germinates in warm or cool soils. You should till the soil and rake it free of debris and rocks. Make sure there are no clods and the soil is well drained.
Broadcast the seeds at a rate of 20 pounds per acre. You can also mix ryegrass seeds with legumes. Water the area if sown prior to spring rains; otherwise, the first few good showers will ensure germination.
There is no need for annual ryegrass care in winter. The grass is not actively growing, and in most zones a covering of snow will cocoon and protect the plant. When temperatures warm up, the grass will begin to grow anew.
Annual Ryegrass Care in Spring
In spring, mow the grass for best appearance. The plant is unharmed by consistent mowing as long as stubble is left 3 to 4 inches long. The plant will re-seed itself in zones above five.
It has few disease issues, but rust may become a problem. There are rust resistant varieties that will reduce the chance of the fungus appearing in your crop.
For heavily grazed areas, broadcast successive sowings spaced two weeks apart. If you accidentally let ryegrass cover crops go to seed, use a recommended specific herbicide. Your county extension can refer you to the appropriate formulation and method of application.