How to Grow Ryegrass | Guide to Growing Ryegrass

How to Grow Ryegrass | Guide to Growing Ryegrass  



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Ryegrass is perhaps the most popular feed grass grown today. It is commonly grown as a cool-season grass, and is suitable for a wide range of ruminants, including cattle, goats, sheep and others. Though it requires more water than most other grasses, and soil of above average fertility, it is widely considered a safe and highly nutritious choice. As always, consult an animal feed expert, veterinarian, or other qualified professional before initiating any feeding regime.



5-14 days

4 years

Fertile, moist soil

Full sun

For hay, thin to 12-18" or less

Cattle, sheep, others


Growing Guide
Ryegrass is ideally sown in late summer or spring. However, do not delay too long in your planting, as sowing in mid to late August or later may not give young starts enough time go become stable for the oncoming winter.


Due to its susceptibility to drought, ryegrass is more popular in northern climates that do not see proloungued periods of heat and dryness. To ensure that growing starts have enough time to become stable before winter cold sets in, sow seeds six weeks or more prior to the first average frost of the fall. Prepare the bed for sowing a few weeks before sowing by amending soil with needed, and consistently adding moisture.


A well-prepared seedbed will help to promote higher quality ryegrass. This should be done 6 months or more prior to the expected planting date to ensure that added amendments have significant time to react with soil. The first step will be to test the pH of the soil with a tester, available at a farm or home & garden store. Ideally, the soil should have a pH between 6.0 to 7.0. Soil can be amended with lime (limestone) if needed to raise pH. Do not sow if pH is not 6.2 or higher. Amendment with organic fertilizers rich in nitrogen is recommended.


For grazing, ryegrass is best sown with legumes such as clover or alfalfa to provide a more balanced nutritional profile and to assist with nitrogen fixation.


Seeds should be sown approximately ¼-1/2" deep. Seeds sown deeper may not be able to break through the surface of the soil. Gently pack soil to ensure good seed to soil contact. Like most seeds, they require warmth and plenty of water to germinate. Do not start in arid or excessively dry locations or conditions. If sowing in fall, do not sow later than one month prior to the first average frost of the fall.


Ryegrass is sensitive to excessive heat and drought. Locations susceptible to these conditions will not support timothy and should be avoided. Timothy has shallow root structures and must receive consistent watering to flourish.

Check pH periodically, amending with lime as needed to maintain pH 6.0-7.0. Ryegrass is more tolerant of low pH levels than most other grasses, and can grow with pH as low as 5.0.


Ryegrass need plenty of water throughout the growing season. Additionally, it will produce better results with soil of medium fertility or better. If grown in the presence of a legume, it does not require fertilization with nitrogen. Otherwise, periodic fertilizing with nitrogen is recommended. This is most helpful when sowing, during the spring to promote growth, and right after harvests.


Care should be taken when grazing ryegrass. For newly established paddocks, grass should be allowed to reach heights of 10-12 inches before grazing. Waiting too long before grazing may compromise the taste and nutritional content. Like most other grasses, ryegrass is best-suited as part of a rotation of grazing, and typically requires around three weeks or more of growth between grazings. Subsequent grazings can be started once ryegrass is reaches heights of 2-3 inches. Ryegrass below 1.5 inches tall is not suitable for grazing, and should be avoided.


Harvesting Guide
Ryegrass requires at least 50 days or so of growth before it can be harvested as hay. It can be especially sensitive to over-harvesting and over grazing, so care should be taken when assessing for hay collection.


Ryegrass is sometimes grown for hay, though its high water needs result in high water content and a relatively low proportion of dry matter for hay.


The best time to collect ryegrassis just prior to bloom, during bloom, or prior to the formation of seedheads at the very latest. The general recommendation is to harvest hay before more than half of the flowers have opened up to bloom. Early harvests will result in small yields of greater quality, while delayed harvests may be larger but will be of lower quality.


Expect 50-60 days or more for spring planting when growing for hay. Subsequent collections can be made at approximately 30-40 day intervals.

Grasses form their flowers in spikes called inflorescences. Seed collection is easy. Do not remove the flowering spikes, seeds will develop in the inflorescences. After a period of time you can notice a changing of color in the seed spike, usually it will lighten in color. Mature seeds can be brown to light tan depending on species.


It is important to note for collection that seeds will not come readily off the spike if they are immature. For collection grasp your hand around the base of the mature inflorescence and in a clasping motion pull upwards and strip the seeds from the spike. Ripe seeds come off very easily.


Allow the seeds to dry in a large open bowl for several days, small seeds will need a few days to dry, larger seeds may require more time, especially in damp weather. It is important to assure that the seeds are thoroughly dry before storing them.


Their will be a good amount of chaff with the seeds, it is not always easy to remove. Some seeds, such as pennisetum, have narrow catching/hooking spear-like protrusions attached. Their purpose is part of the dispersal means of the plant. As an animal passes close by and brushes against the inflorescence the seeds are snagged onto the coat and can stay attached for some distance, the seed eventually breaks from its hooks and falls to the ground where it might germinate. Seeds are usually traded with the chaff, for sowing rub both seeds and chaff into the surface of moist soil and press in well.


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