What Is Rye Grass?

Overview

Ryegrass is a grass type of plant common in cooler climates. It originates in Europe, temperate parts of Asia and North Africa. It is used in North and South America and in Australia. Because of its easily digestible nature, it is commonly used for dairy and sheep herds. It is a dark green, bunch-type plant that reaches 2 to 5 feet depending upon variety and growing conditions.

Types of Ryegrass

There are two basic types of ryegrass. Both are cool climate grasses. Perennial ryegrass is a bunch-type grass. It lasts through several growing seasons and typically produces flowers and new seed heads in spring. Italian ryegrass, also known as annual ryegrass, is more susceptible to cold and generally survives for only one growing season.

Establishing Ryegrass

Because ryegrass is a cool-climate grass, it can be planted earlier in spring than many other grasses. This allows it to get established earlier and develop a good root system quickly. It can be planted as early as April for spring seeding or by mid-August for late-summer plantings. It also does well when seeded where other grasses already exist.

Heartiness of Ryegrass

Ryegrass is used both as lawn material and as grazing material for livestock. It is a persistent grower and stands up well to grazing and to repeated mowing. For example, for grazing purposes, ryegrass should be allowed to rest for as little as two weeks before returning livestock to pasture as it generally reaches a height of nearly 10 inches in that amount of time. Ryegrass tolerates a wide range of pH in soil, from 5.1 to 8.4. In southern states, it is used as winter forage for grazing animals.

Concerns

Because it is a cool-climate grass, it does not tolerate heat or drought well. It tolerates partial shade but prefers full sun and will not do well in full shade. Crown rust and gray leaf spot are common diseases but can be avoided by using resistant varieties when planting. Mole crickets and fall armyworms are the major pests.

Uses

Ryegrass can be used a lawn grass in cooler climates. It requires frequent mowing in spring and fall because of its rapid growth, though it becomes dormant in the heat of summer. As forage for livestock, its fast-growing nature makes it desirable. It has a high nutritive content and can be used to make silage or hay. It is often grown and blended with other forage crops such as alfalfa when making hay is the desired goal.

Keywords: ryegrass, forage, lawn

About this Author

Theresa Leschmann has been writing since 2005. Her work has appeared in the "Southern Illinois Plus" and on numerous websites. She is a property manager who writes about gardening, home repair, business management, travel and arts and entertainment topics. She is pursuing an associate's degree in English from Oakton Community College.