There is more than one type of ryegrass; In fact, three different types of grass contain “rye” in their names. It’s easy to be fooled, so it’s best to differentiate between the three types as they have different uses.
Understand the differences between the three types of rye
If there is confusion about using common names, it is helpful to approximate the scientific names of the plants for clarity. Here are the botanical names for the three grasses in question (along with their most commonly used common names):
- Lolium multiflorum (annual ryegrass)
- Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass)
- Rye grain (Winter rye)
However, when speaking informally, all three are sometimes referred to as “winter rye”. All the more reason to insist on using the botanical name when positive identification is required.
In addition to Lolium multiflorum, is also in the annual camp Rye grain. So that’s an important difference between the three: two have an annual life cycle, while one is perennial.
Another notable difference is that winter rye (Rye grain), unlike the other two, is a grain. Hence another common name for it: “Grain rye”. So think of this as you would think of wheat or a similar grain, not a lawn grass. Another difference is that winter rye is a more robust plant than annual ryegrass or perennial ryegrass.
Despite these differences, they all have one thing in common (except that they have similar names): They are cool season grasses.
Use for annual ryegrass
The most well-known use for annual ryegrass is overseeding lawns, especially overseeding lawns, which in the south consist of warm season grasses. If the grass of the warm season rests on these lawns in the months with cooler temperatures, reseeding with a counterpart for the cold season (annual ryegrass) offers an opportunity to enjoy a green area for a longer period of time. When this annual grass dies, the weather will again be suitable to take over the warm season grass.
Annual ryegrass is also used in emergencies to temporarily cover bare ground until the landscaper has a chance to grow a perennial grass. “Nurse Crop” is the name for this role.An example would be fighting erosion if necessary. The seeds are cheap, so sometimes people turn to this weed when they can’t afford a better option; Annual ryegrass also germinates quickly and is therefore ideal for such emergency solutions.
A simple experiment can prove its rapid germination. For example, sow creeping red fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and annual ryegrass seeds in small containers on August 21st. The annual ryegrass will have sprouted on August 25th. The next one (the fescue) will not germinate until August 28; the Kentucky bluegrass will germinate shortly thereafter. Even after germination, the three spots differ significantly, with the annual ryegrass being by far the thickest and tallest of the three.
That power is a double-edged sword. Its tolerance to a variety of conditions and its ability to re-seed quickly mean that annual ryegrass is potentially an invasive plant. If you decide to use it as a nurse culture and don’t want it to spread, try to prevent it from turning into seeds by faithfully mowing it until it goes through its natural life cycle and dies.
Use for perennial ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass is widely used in lawns. It is often found as part of a grass seed mix.Such mixtures are put together according to the principle that a weak point of one type of grass (e.g. lack of shade tolerance) in the mixture can be compensated for by a strength of another. The strength of ryegrass is that it is easy to walk on.
Like annual ryegrass, another strength of perennial ryegrass is that its seeds germinate quickly, which makes it a good nurse plant. It’s often made part of grass seed mixes because it is so effective in providing shade to a grass-like Kentucky bluegrass until the latter can establish itself. One weak point, however, is its lumpy growth, which some people don’t like because it makes the lawn look blotchy. German ryegrass differs in this respect from many lawn grasses, which have the ability to spread through runners or rhizomes and thus fill themselves out better.
Use for winter rye
Winter rye is the best known of these three grasses to the general public. Because it is not only enjoyed by farm animals, but also by humans as something edible. His grain is used for the flour that rye bread provides us. Others will be more familiar with the use of the grain in making whiskey. Here we are concerned with the use of winter rye as a “catch crop”, in which it offers several advantages.
One of these benefits is weed control, which distinguishes winter rye for its super horticultural power known as “allelopathy” (the ability to inhibit the germination of the seeds of competing plants). The potential downside, as noted by the University of Vermont Extension, is that “allelopathic compounds can also suppress germination of small-seeded vegetables when planted shortly after cereal rye residue has been incorporated.”
Nonetheless, winter rye is very effective as a catch crop when properly managed, is characterized by good cold hardness, a deep root system (to prevent erosion and loosening of the soil) and, compared to other cereals, good drought tolerance.
Many farms sow winter rye in autumn. The exact time to sow depends on your region (check with your local representative), but the idea is to establish your cover crop before winter sets in. After that, all you have to do is wait a while for winter to end and the catch crops will do their job of “covering for you” until spring returns.
In the spring you mow the winter rye and then turn it over with a garden tiller. Some gardeners, instead of rotating every last bit of this biomass underground, save some to use as mulch on the ground. In this case, you are essentially growing your own mulch.
Either way, the real question arises as to when winter rye should be mowed. If you don’t want your catch crop to be welcomed any longer, the timing of mowing is crucial as you face the challenge of what is known as “growth”.
Its annual life cycle does not exclude the possibility of winter rye sometimes growing back. A hardy annual like winter rye will grow until it reaches its goal in life, which is to carry flowers so it can produce seeds.So if you mow too early, it may make a comeback and put in more growth to bloom again (which you don’t want). On the other hand, if you wait too long to mow, the plants will indeed become seeds and live on in a second generation. You don’t want that either.
What is needed is a Goldilocks solution (don’t mow too early, don’t mow too late). While you can often get away with mowing 12 to 18 inches in height (recommended by the University of Vermont) without experiencing regrowth, it is safer to look for the bloom and mow it at this time.