Native to Europe, annual rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) is also known as Italian rye grass. It is a cool-season grass growing to a height of 3 to 4 feet. Forming a dense, extensive root system in even the poorest soils, annual rye grass is also effective in preventing soil erosion. A true multi-purpose crop, annual rye grass can also be used as animal fodder when planted along with a legume.
Creates a Living Mulch
Planted between rows of a cash crop, annual rye grass functions as a living mulch, or “living sod,” which suppresses the growth of weeds. It also reduces splashing of soil onto cash fruit and vegetable crops, reducing the incidence of outbreaks of disease, as well as improving the quality of the cash crop. It also provides a habitat for beneficial insects, which reduces damage to the cash crop from pests and diseases.
Increases Organic Matter
Higher in carbon than legume cover crops, annual rye grass breaks down more slowly than legumes and consequently lasts longer in the soil. Rye grass planted as a cover crop and then plowed into the soil increases the organic matter of the soil, which in turn increases the soil's ability to store and release plant nutrients.
Reduces Levels of Insect Pests and Weed Growth
Because it attracts few pests, annual rye grass can help reduce the levels of insect pests in both cover crops of legumes and vegetable crops such as brassicas. Such organic matter supports a microbial “food web” in the soil that may suppress pests and diseases, according to the University of Hawaii Extension. Its rapid rate of establishment, the vigor of its seedlings and its strong competitive ability against weeds make annual rye grass an excellent choice for most any soil management application.