Rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) is a fast-growing grass that was imported from Europe. It's important because it grows in cooler weather and shady locations where most grasses cannot grow. It grows as high as 3 feet, but is not tolerant of heat or heavy traffic. However, its fast growth and bright green color make it an attractive landscape choice in the right conditions. Over the years, different strains of rye grass have been produced that are suitable for a variety of purposes, including livestock forage.
Bare Soil Cover
If a new lawn needs quick cover, rye grass seed can be broadcast over the bare soil. The fast germination rate allows the rye grass to quickly cover the lawn. This is important in the fall or early spring when it is too cold to plant warm season grasses. If the lawn is sodded and is dormant for the winter, rye grass can be seeded; however, it must be kept short enough so the new grass receives sunlight and can get a good start when it breaks dormancy in the spring.
Rye grass can be used as a forage for livestock only if varieties are planted that do not produce toxins called endophytes. (An endophyte is a fungus that lives in some varieties of rye grass and is desirable because it prevents insect damage and encourages drought tolerance; however, it can be toxic to livestock.) Varieties of rye grass to use in pastures for livestock are Passeral Plus and Gulf Annual.
Rye grass sprouts very quickly on damp bare soil in the cooler weather of fall and early spring. The root systems become thick enough in only a few weeks to hold soil in places subject to erosion. Rye grass dies in high summer heat, so another type of warm season grass--such as Bermuda grass or St. Augustine--can be planted in its place.
Cover Crop for Agriculture
Between crops it is important that the top layer of soil does not remain bare where it can dry out and blow away. Planting rye grass is a good way to get quick cover over a field. A few weeks before the field is to be planted, rye grass can be plowed under to provide organic matter for the soil.