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Annual Ryegrass, Fria
Annual ryegrass is a quick-growing, non-spreading bunch grass and versatile performer almost anywhere, assuming adequate moisture and fertility. It does a fine job of holding soil, taking up excess N and outcompeting weeds while providing supplemental grazing. Annual ryegrass has a biennial growth tendency in cool regions. If it overwinters, it will regrow quickly and produce seed in late spring. Although few plants survive more than a year, this reseeding characteristic can create a weed problem in some areas, such as the mid-Atlantic or other areas with mild winters.
Ryegrass is an excellent choice for building soil structure in orchards, vineyards and other cropland to enhance water infiltration, water-holding capacity or irrigation efficiency. It can reduce soil splash on solanaceous crops and small fruit crops, decreasing disease and increasing forage quality. You also can overseed ryegrass readily into corn, soybeans and many high-value crops. In a mix, plant ryegrass at 30% to 50% of full seeding rate when planting with a legume or small grain, either in fall or early in spring. Unless planting at a lower rate, ryegrass can dominate the mix. The legume will compete better in low-N conditions. Seed the legume at about two-thirds its normal rate. Adequate P and K levels are important when growing annual ryegrass with a legume.
Ryegrass has an extensive, soil-holding root system. The cover crop establishes quickly even in poor, rocky or wet soils and tolerates some flooding once established. It's well-suited for field strips, grass waterways or exposed areas. The root system also improves water infiltration and enhances soil tilth. Rapid aboveground growth helps supply organic matter. Expect about 4,000 to 8,000 lb. dry matter/A on average with a multicut regimen.
Mixed with legumes or grasses, annual ryegrass usually establishes first and improves early-season weed control. With adequate moisture, it serves well in Hardiness Zone 6 and warmer as a living mulch in high-value systems where you can mow it regularly. It may winterkill elsewhere, especially without protective snow cover during prolonged cold snaps. Even so, its quick establishment in fall still would provide an excellent, winterkilled mulch for early-spring weed suppression.
Ryegrass provides a good grazing option that can extend the grazing season for almost any kind of livestock. Although very small-seeded, ryegrass does not tiller heavily, so seed at high rates if you expect a rye grass cover crop also to serve as a pasture. Avoid overgrazing or mowing ryegrass closer than 3 to 4 inches. A stand can persist many years in orchards, vineyards, and other areas if allowed to reseed naturally and not subject to prolonged heat, cold or drought. Some varieties tolerate heat fairly well and can persist for several years under sound grazing practices that allow the grass to reseed. As a hay option, annual ryegrass can provide 2,000 to 6,000 pounds of dry forage per acre, depending on moisture and fertility levels. For highest quality hay, cut no later than the early bloom stage and consider growing it with a legume. When using ryegrass for grass waterways and conservation strips on highly erodible slopes, applying 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of straw per acre after seeding at medium to high rates can help keep soil and seed in place until the stand establishes.