Cover Crops: Ryegrass

Table of Contents

  1. Description: Family
  2. Growth Habits
  3. Control Options
  4. Sensitivity to Herbicides: Weed Control
  5. Benefits and Concerns
  6. Getting Started
  7. Related Links



  • Grass
  • Perennial, annual or Italian ryegrass

Figure 1. Thick growth of ryegrass

Figure 1. Thick growth of ryegrass

Growth Habits


  • Annual ryegrass is prone to reseeding
  • Perennial ryegrass is slow to establish with lower seedling vigour than annual ryegrass

Top Growth

  • Shade tolerant, often used in orchards and vineyards for ground cover
  • Annual ryegrass grows 60 to 120 cm.;
  • Perennial ryegrass will grow 30 to 90 cm annually for 3-4 years and is competitive and aggressive when established;
  • Generally performs poorly in warm temperatures, dry soils and poor fertility

Root System

  • Dense, fibrous root system that roots deeply

Site suitability

  • Annual ryegrass tolerates more standing water than perennial ryegrass
  • Grows best on medium to heavy soils
  • High requirements for moisture and nutrients

Control Options

  • Tillage and herbicide burndown

Sensitivity to Herbicides: Weed Control

  • There are no herbicides registered for weed control in ryegrass. Use good agronomic practices to establish a vigorous crop canopy as quickly as possible.

Benefits and Concerns

Nutrient Management

  • Heavy nitrogen feeder when established
  • Wide C:N ratio of residue means N will not be released quickly

Pest Management

  • Rapid and aggressive growth will suppress weeds

Organic Matter

  • Forms a dense sod and lumpy seedbed – can cause some problems with establishment of subsequent crop

Erosion Control

  • Used for permaculture areas as erosion control and weed control measure

Soil Moisture

  • Tolerant of high soil moisture conditions

Getting Started


  • Fine firm seedbed needed

Cost & Availability

  • Seed readily available
  • Perennial more expensive than annual ryegrass
  • Cost can be variety dependent; low growing turf hybrids are more expensive

Related Links

For more information:
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