Rye grass is a fast-growing, cool weather grass used as a lawn grass, winter livestock forage, to over seed lawns in winter or for erosion control. All types of rye grass are suitable for growing in cool and damp climates because they do not grow well in hot or dry sites. Each type of rye grass has its own unique characteristics and advantages.
Wild rye grasses, such as Virginia wild rye, are a valuable wildlife food source and are host for the skipper butterfly and the satyr butterfly larva. Other varieties of wild rye are Russian wild-rye and giant wild-rye. Wild rye grasses are perennial and spread by rhizomes. They grow rapidly in cool spring weather before forming their conspicuous seed heads in summer.
Cereal rye is an annual grain that grows taller than most other rye grasses (3 to 5 feet) and has an extensive root system that helps it survive cold temperatures. It is used as a cover crop to cover bare soil during the winter and for livestock forage. It germinates at temperatures as low as 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Cereal rye is also drought tolerant and survives in sandy soils where most rye grasses have problems growing.
Annual ryegrass, also known as Italian ryegrass, is used as a grass for lawns throughout the southern half of the U.S. that are not covered with snow all winter. Annual ryegrass is a bright green and shiny and germinates within a few days of planting, if given supplemental moisture. Also, it can be broadcast over the surface of the soil rather than covered with soil, making it easy to plant. Annual ryegrass can be used to cover bare soil quickly and prevent erosion. There are several varieties of annual ryegrass available on the market; however, only certain varieties are appropriate for livestock or wildlife forage.
Perennial ryegrass is used as a tough turf grass grown in the northern half of the United States. It is often mixed with other grass seed, such as fescue, to provide faster coverage. If it is not mowed, however, it can crowd out other grasses. Like annual ryegrass, it grows in a variety of soils but is not drought tolerant. Perennial ryegrass has a bunching habit and is resistant to traffic more than any other variety of ryegrass.