Ryegrass is a popular cool season grass known for its quick germination and ability to provide green color and stability to lawns and fields. Determining the optimal time to plant ryegrass is key to getting a thick, healthy stand of grass. In this article, we’ll cover when you should plant ryegrass depending on your location and goals.
For many locations, spring is the best time to plant ryegrass. The reasons are:
Warmer Soil Temperatures
Ryegrass seeds need soil temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. In most regions, soils reach these temperatures in spring as the weather warms. Planting too early when soils are still cold will result in poor germination.
Spring brings increasing rainfall in many areas after the dry winter months. Ryegrass requires consistent moisture to establish and thrive. The rainy spring season provides the water ryegrass needs to germinate and grow lush.
Full Growing Season
When planted in spring, ryegrass has the full spring, summer, and fall growing seasons to mature into a thick turf or grazing pasture. Spring planting takes full advantage of the favorable cool season growing conditions.
The fast spring growth of ryegrass helps it outcompete weed seeds also trying to establish. Planting in spring gives the ryegrass an advantage over weeds.
For these reasons, planting ryegrass in the spring when soil temperatures reach 50-55F allows the seeds to germinate quickly and produce the most growth through the year.
Planting ryegrass in the fall can also be an effective planting time in some regions. Reasons to consider fall planting include:
Ryegrass prefers cooler temperatures below 75F. Temperatures quickly become too hot in summer in many areas. Planting in fall allows establishment under the cooler temperatures of the decreasing daylengths of autumn.
Weed pressure is lower in fall than spring in some areas. The established summer vegetation starts to die back as temperatures cool down. Planting into this decreasing competition lets the ryegrass seeds establish with less pressure from other plants.
The quick greenup of ryegrass is useful on athletic fields and lawns when overseeded in fall. The ryegrass provides green color throughout the winter when the warm season grass goes dormant.
When planted in fall, ryegrass can provide nutritious forage for livestock grazing through the winter or early spring hay harvests. The quick establishment lets it produce good yields.
Fall planting works well in regions with mild falls and winters. The growing ryegrass may experience winterkill in extremely cold areas however.
Grass Type Matters
When choosing the best planting time, consider which type of ryegrass you are planting:
Annual ryegrass establishes quickly and can be planted in both spring and fall. It can withstand cold winters but is not heat tolerant. Annual ryegrass is best seeded in the south.
Perennial ryegrass prefer cooler temperatures and is slower to establish. It is best planted in fall in warmer regions or spring in cooler areas. Perennial ryegrass will likely die out after one year in warm winter climates.
Italian ryegrass establishes fast and tolerates heat and humidity. It can be successfully seeded from spring through early fall based on location. Italian ryegrass acts as a biennial or short-lived perennial depending on winter temperatures.
So the ideal planting time depends on which type of ryegrass you are growing and your local conditions.
Spring Planting Timeframe
If you decide spring planting is best for your location and goals, here are some guidelines on when to plant:
- Northern areas: Early spring as soon as soil can be worked
- Transition Zone: March to early April
- Southern Areas: February to March
Planting too early risks seeds rotting in cold, wet soils. Planting too late risks heat damage and drought stress. Pay attention to soil temperatures and long range weather forecasts when deciding on an exact spring planting timeframe.
Fall Planting Timeframe
For fall planting:
- Northern Areas: August to September
- Transition Zone: September to October
- Southern Areas: October to November
Seeding too early in fall increases the risk of heat and drought damage. Too late and the plants will not establish before winter dormancy. Monitor weather and adjust fall planting dates accordingly.
Tips for Planting Success
Follow these tips to ensure your ryegrass planting in spring or fall is successful:
- Test soils and amend pH and nutrients if needed
- Prepare a good seedbed by tilling or dethatching if needed
- Use recommended seeding rates for your ryegrass variety
- Plant shallow, 1⁄4” deep or less
- Ensure consistent moisture through germination period
- Control disease and pests, which can spread rapidly with thick grass stands
- Avoid heavy traffic on newly planted areas until well established
Proper seeding dates, seedbed preparation, and care after planting are key to getting great results from ryegrass. Pay close attention to suggested planting times for your climate and adjust as needed based on weather patterns in a given year. With the right planting timing and care, you can grow an excellent stand of thick, green ryegrass.