Ryegrass development has come a long way over the years. It has gained a well-deserved reputation as being a beautiful turf grass and extremely wear resistant. New varieties make a beautiful, thick turf.
It is used on golf courses to home lawns. One of the things that people first notice about perennial ryegrass is its shine. The surface of the grass reflects light better than most other grasses. Even when growing with other grasses, you can still easily spot it. It gets its name for its reddish color seedheads.
Currently, about 98% of all the seed sold today was grown and harvested in the state of Oregon. Oregon is home of some of the highest quality seeds for certain species.
In the photo, you can spot the grass that is shining within the other green lawn grasses. The lawn is common bermudagrass that was overseeded with a perennial variety.
Ryegrass is a close relative of tall fescue, and like fescue, was originally used as a forage grass. It has come a long way since the early days with many new turf varieties on the market.
There are both perennial and annual types. Both types are cool season grasses, but the perennial turf types are best suited for the cooler sections of the country when grown as a stand alone grass.
In the south, but annual ryegrass and perennial ryegrass is used as a winter grass. It is overseeded on bermudagrass lawns to give it some green in the winter months.
It is used throughout the year in the transition zone.
This is important: Annual varieties can't be used as a permanent grass and is generally used only for overseeding dormant, warm season lawns. Its one year life cycle makes its uses very limited.
On southern bermudagrass greens, perennial ryegrass is overseeded and can be mowed at 1/2". In the spring just before the greens come out of dormancy the green is mowed at 1/4" to weaken the ryegrass and allow the bermudagrass to become dominant.
It is probably best known for its quick germination and has been known to germinate in as little as 3 days after planting. Fast germination provides quick growth for ground cover and for soil stabilization.
If it is one part of a seed mixture, you will still need to keep the soil moist until the other seeds have germinated. In comparison, it could take much longer. Fescue, for example, could take 15 to 21 days.
Many homeowners will have a greater feeling of success when they see new grass sprouting so soon after planting. Seed companies know this, so some seed distributors will include fairly large amounts of this seed in their seed blends.
While some ryegrass may be fine, you may find bags that contain as much as 50%. If the bag contains an annual variety, it will die back as temperatures rise in late spring. Buyers need to be aware of this.
Unless the bag contains what you are looking for, it might be better to purchase bags that contain the type of seed you actually want. Make sure you check the cultivar to insure that it is a favorable variety.
The Pro Side of Perennial Ryegrass
On the "pro" side, perennial ryegrass has a very high wear tolerance. It is used on athletic fields, along with bluegrass, to provide a more durable playing surface. This provides the field with good wear resistance while the bluegrass will spread to quickly heal any damaged areas. Having a good sustainable turf is necessary on high traffic areas.
Perennial ryegrass can tolerate low mowing and can be overseeded in dormant bermudagrass lawns. As bermudagrass loses its color in the fall, overseeding will provide green color throughout winter.
Ryegrass is an "allelopathic" grass. Allelopathic by definition means the grass inhibits other plants by the release of chemicals into the soil. This is a good thing at times.
For example, ryegrass will suppress the germination of crabgrass seeds by about 30% or greater. It is a natural pre-emergent, though it shouldn't be relied upon as a cure for crabgrass.
For more information on the bad effects of allelopathy, see the "Ryegrass Cons" below.
Some of the newer varieties can make a beautiful, high density turf. You can click on the link to see some of the latest Cool Season Grass Cultivars.
The "Con" Side
At the original writing, most varieties do not make a dense turf and only a few can produce a high quality lawn. More are being developed to make a better lawn. Most varieties have a somewhat narrow range to temperatures it thrives best in.
It has a poor cold tolerance and can suffer damage in the hard winters of the northern states. Nor can it take the heat of the south. Its preferred areas of adaptation are where the winters and summers are not overly extreme.
Another disadvantage is the high maintenance requirement needed to keep it looking its best.
Note: Research has shown that ryegrass is an "allelopathic" grass. This means it inhibits other grasses around it through the release of chemicals through the roots or in other ways. Many trees and grasses (especially weedy grasses) fit this category. Black walnut trees are another example.
In research, Ryegrass that is overseeded into bermudagrass found the bermudagrass started to decline over time. This is especially noticeable in the spring before the bermudagrass resumes growth. It becomes more weedy and takes longer to thicken up.
Annual Ryegrass Pros and Cons
Also known as “Italian Ryegrass” and has a one year life cycle. It is best known for its use in overseeding warm season grasses in the fall. It is also used in roadside mixtures as a nurse grass until the other grasses can be established.
The one year life cycle is usually a hindrance to establishing a quality turf, but it does have an occasional benefit.
For example, if you are wanting to plant a warm season grass, but it is too late in the summer, try planting annual ryegrass instead. It will provide soil stability over the winter and die back in spring when it's time to plant your preferred grass.
It works because all the annual varieties will die as the temperatures rise in late spring. No amount of fertilizer or water will alter its genetic make-up.
Just a word of caution, if it is not mowed regularly and allowed to go to seed, it can become a weed later that year as the temperatures cool and the seeds germinate.
Overall, except in the transition zone, as a stand alone grass it doesn't have much of a market in the professional turf industry. The turf quality of some varieties may not be what turf managers are looking for in a sustainable turf.
Sadly, these annual grasses are sometimes marketed as a turfgrass to unsuspecting homeowners. It is not uncommon to find a very large percentage of bagged seed to be either perennial or annual varieties and often of the type that doesn’t make a good turf grass.
Why do some companies do this? Ryegrass can produce almost 1500 lbs of seed per acre. It is fairly inexpensive, so some suppliers put a lot in. The best thing a person can do is to gain a little knowledge on the various grass types. That way, we are able to make better informed decisions and maybe avoid the cost of replanting later.
In the cooler times of the year, ryegrass can be mowed as low as 1.5 inches. In the heat of summer, the height should to raised to at least 3 inches. It is almost always better to mow at higher heights throughout the year. There is a link between higher mowing heights and deeper root growth.
Lawns that are consistently mowed at lower heights will have shallower roots and will be the first to be affected by drought or high heat. As more grass blade is made available, the plant benefits from better photosynthesis and energy production. Longer grass blade lengths enable grass to better fight disease problems and recover faster from drought.
Ryegrass cannot tolerate drought conditions as well as other turfgrasses. It needs to be watered more frequently to ensure its survival during hot, dry periods. It will be one of the first grasses to show signs of drought stress.
Ryegrass requires more maintenance than any other cool or warm season grass. It look great on lawns it needs .5 lbs Nitrogen each month from early spring to May. On golf greens, it is double the nitrogen.
In the turf and fertilizer industry, the amount of fertilizer to apply is measured in lbs of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per year. The nitrogen fertilizer requirement is approximately 5 lbs/1000 per year on high maintenance turf.
See the fertilizer section for easy to understand information for determining the right fertilizer to apply and at the right amount. This will even help you determine the right amount regardless of the percent of nitrogen in the bag.
If your plan is to overseed bermudagrass, the timing will be important. If you overseed to early while bermudagrass is still actively growing, the ryegrass will be smothered. If you wait too late in the year, the first frost may injure the young blades. If you overseed approximately 45 to 60 days before the first frost is expected, then it should do well.
Seed application should be made at 5 to 7 lbs per 1000 sq. ft. and as much as 12 lbs per 1000 for golf greens. For best results, mow the bermudagrass down to about 1 inch or less and remove the clippings before seeding.
Core aeration can be done before seeding to relieve soil compaction and provide more oxygen and water to the root zone. Apply a good starter fertilizer after seeding and keep the soil moist until the seed has germinated.
Sod web worms, cutworms and grub worms can be particularly harmful to ryegrass. If grub worms are a problem in your lawn, they will continue to be unless it is treated.
A grub worm is the larvae of the June Beetle and will lay eggs in soil that has the characteristics they are looking for. They become a pest during the late larvae stage.
There are many insecticides on the market that will stop these pests. Products containing the active ingredient carbaryl (Sevin) or trichlorfon (also called Dylox) are curative compounds and can begin killing the moment it is watered in and has a very short residual.
Products containing the active ingredient imidacloprid or halofenozide are preventive products. They must be applied well in advance of any problems or it will have no effect. Some companies claim that their product will work all season long, but I wouldn't trust that. If applied too early, it will degrade before it has time to be effective against grubs and some other insects. See the Pesticide section for more advice.
Proper management practices help grass resist disease problems. A few grass diseases have been known to infect ryegrass. Pythium blight, Fusarium blight, rhizoctonia are problems in the fall. Pythium blight is also called “damping off” and is a problem with young plants in wet soil. Buy seed that has been pretreated seed to resist pythium blight help solve this problem.
Leaf spot and dollar spot can be problems in the spring. Leaf spot is primarily a problem in damp, humid, spring weather. The disease will usually go away as soon as the weather dries out and is less humid. Fungicides are available for this disease, if needed.
Dollar spot starts as circular, tan spots from 1 to 3 inches in diameter. It is generally a sign of insufficient nitrogen. Proper fertilizing can usually control this disease. See the Disease section for more information.
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