Italian ryegrass, with its bright green leaves and appealing taste to cattle, is grown worldwide in mild climates. Used for lawn cover and as a companion crop with alfalfa for cattle forage, this fast-growing, versatile grass requires maintenance and careful harvesting. Successful growth, however, is hampered by extreme hot and dry or cold environments. Although the grass is classified as an annual, Italian ryegrass may have perennial growth patterns in milder climates.
Italian ryegrass is a native of southern Europe but is grown worldwide. Italian ryegrass does best in sunny locations with dark, rich soils in mild climates and with adequate surface drainage. Areas with severe heat or cold are unsuitable for Italian ryegrass growth, as the temperature extremes will inhibit germination and/or destroy maturing or matured plants.
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Italian ryegrass reaches a height of approximately 2.5 feet upon maturation. An erect grass, these plants have a bunchy form with shiny, bright-green leaves. Stems present either as single stems or in bunches. Unlike perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass leaves are rolled in the bud. Leaf width is typically 1/10 to 2/5 of an inch. Flower heads are 3 to 12 inches in length. The seeds are coated with fine bristles.
Active growth period for Italian ryegrass is in the spring, fall and winter. Therefore, seeding should occur during early spring and summer. Fall overseeding can also result in healthy lawn growth. Italian ryegrass will grow well during the winter. If the grass is not mowed, flowers will appear from spring until early fall or late summer. Milder climates might see Italian ryegrass grow as a perennial.
Italian ryegrass makes a lovely lawn in sunny locations with moderate temperatures. As a cool-season grass, Italian ryegrass can be overseeded on warm-season turf grasses to provide bright color. This grass can also be used as a cover crop. As a companion crop to alfalfa, Italian ryegrass has a high potential for forage. Dairy producers make use of a mixture of Italian ryegrass and alfalfa, as Italian ryegrass is highly palatable to cattle.
Italian ryegrass requires moderate to high maintenance to keep a lawn healthy and hearty. With a low tolerance for heat or periods of drought, Italian ryegrass must be well watered. Shade should also be avoided. Known to be moderately wear resistant, Italian ryegrass is best suited for decorative landscaping, rather than for use as athletic field or recreational area turf grass.