Rye grass, one of the most popular types of grasses sold for lawns and pastures, is grown as both an annual, which dies after one year and a perennial.
As a cool season plant that does well in northern climates, this bunch-type grass was imported to the United States from Europe where it has been grown for centuries. Rye grasses are planted as pure strain or used in mixtures depending on the specific lawn, pasture, or turf application used.
Fertile, well-drained soils are best for ryegrasses. They also require vast amounts of water, making their growth less than optimal in times of drought or during extended periods of low or high temperatures.
Because of its quick germination and fast growth rate, annual ryegrass, which is also called Italian ryegrass, is one of the most popular grasses used for seeding and in seeding blends. Germination is between 5 and 14 days with proper water and temperature. Its uses include temporary pastures, green manure, erosion control, parks, new lawns, and along highway shoulders. In addition to being mixed with other grasses, it is also mixed with legumes, clovers, and small grains.
Italian ryegrass lacks rhizomes and instead sports a bunch-like growth of blades, and flowers throughout the summer when days have more than 11 hours of sunlight.
This type is also ecologically friendly as it may be planted in areas infested with nematodes to control the insect instead of using chemicals which may be harmful to the environment.
Its advantages are that annual ryegrass is drought and insect resistant, grows on a wide range of soils, tolerates full sun or light shade, is vigorous enough to withstand moderate foot traffic, and holds its color well. Annual ryegrass is often used in northern areas with hot summers to provide a quick, green carpet in the spring months. It also adds nutrients to the soil when it begins to die out and make way for more heat-tolerant grasses.
Perennial rye grass is often considered one of the best low maintenance cool season grasses because of its tough turf cover. It produces a dense sod that is insect and disease resistant and is one of the leading choices for turf and athletic field coverings in North America. This variety features bunch-type blades and requires a dormant period before flowering can be induced. Seeds are produced only once per year in late spring.
Many perennial varieties have been developed as companion grasses in mixes of fescue, clover, Timothy, orchard grass, and other pasture crops. In lawn mixtures it is the first to germinate and is most often mixed with Kentucky bluegrass, providing cover while the other grasses are emerging. They are also used for overseeing quality Bermuda lawns, golf areas and sports fields for winter coverage.
They are also popular with Turf Agronomists for overseeding of quality Bermuda lawns, golf areas and sports fields in more Southern state locations. Most golf course greens today are overseeded with Perennial for primary winter cover.
These are different than ryegrasses for lawns and turf areas as they are produced to contain highly digestible nutrients for farm animals. Lawn ryegrasses often contain endophyte toxins which can harm animals. Pasture varieties, such as Passerel or Gulf Annual, are forage-type grasses that require minimal tillage. Used as a winter and spring forage crop, this variety provides erosion for pastures with heavy traffic, as well as weed control in the spring as a result of its compact growing habit. It also helps keep livestock out of mud during inclement weather.
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