When to Plant Winter Rye – Planting Guide 2024

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If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a better way to garden than to leave dirt bare in the winter, the answer is yes. Winter Ryegrass is a unique way to care for your garden in the winter.

When to plant Ryegrass: Ryegrass is easy to grow and works wonders in the winter. You should plant the seed in early fall, once the nights are cooler but before the first frost. It will take a week or two to germinate and then will grow and cover your bare soil. This is a great solution if you want to prevent soil erosion in the winter or create an easy source of fertilizer in the spring. Let the ryegrass grow naturally over winter. Then, in the spring when it starts to flower, you can cut it back. As an annual, it won’t grow again and you can use the grass as fertilizer before you plant new crops.

Planting Rye Grass in Different Climates

Tropical Climate

Ryegrass won’t grow in a tropical climate. It is a cool-weather crop and needs cold temperatures in the winter.

Dry Climate

While a dry climate may be cool enough for ryegrass, this crop needs plenty of water.

Temperate Climate

A temperate climate is ideal for ryegrass. The wet winters will naturally water the crop and it is cool enough to survive.

Continental Climate

Ryegrass should do well in a continental climate. However, if your winters are especially cold, then you will want to plant it in early fall so it has a chance to establish itself.

Polar Climate

Ryegrass is a winter crop and grows well in cool temperatures. You might be able to try it in a polar climate in the summer, instead of the typical winter growth period.  

Reasons to Plant Rye Grass

You may be interested in planting Winter rye for a particular reason but this is a versatile seed so there are many uses to it. Before planting, it’s best to understand all the benefits of ryegrass.

Protection for winter

While there are some crops that you can plant through winter, many gardeners leave their vegetable patches empty during winter. However, with winter comes rain, wind, and snow and the result can be a real mess for your garden.

Planting an annual crop, such as ryegrass can prevent soil erosion. Ryegrass is often seen as an alternative to bark mulch.

Protection against weeds

As most gardeners know, a bare patch of garden is an instant magnet for weeds. And, pulling weeds is a tiresome, unpleasant job.

Any time you have a bare patch of garden, you should think about seeding with ryegrass as it will prevent weeds from growing and thus will make your life a bit easier.

Added fertilization

One of the major benefits of ryegrass is that it is annual. Thus, after it stops growing, it will die and not come back.

This dead organic matter can then be tilled under the soil. What you have is a form of green manure that will release its nutrients back into the soil.

Choosing Winter Rye Grass Seeds

There are three types of ryegrass seeds, and they can be somewhat confusing. Below are the types but for the purpose of this article, we’ll be focusing on the first one.

Winter ryegrass

The focus of our article, winter ryegrass, sometimes spelled as ryegrass, is used to cover bare patches of land in the winter. It is also planted on its own as an agricultural crop and is harvested for use in whiskey and rye flour.

Annual ryegrass

With its scientific name of Lolium multiflorum, this is annual ryegrass. However, instead of being used as a ground cover for an empty piece of land, it is actually used to over-seed a home’s lawn.

Perennial ryegrass

This variety has the scientific name Lolium perenne. As a perennial, it will keep growing each year and is actually used as regular grass seed, or as a mix with other types of regular grass seed.

How to Plant Winter Rye Grass Seeds


Planting ryegrass starts with timing. There is a sweet spot involved in planting this seed and if you can get it right, you will have the best results.

The good news is that rye is cool-season grass. This means that it likes colder temperatures and you can plant it so it will grow in the winter.

The best time to plant ryegrass is in the fall. Wait until summer is over and the night temperatures start to drop.

You also don’t want to plant too late into fall as the seed will need a few weeks to grow and take hold. The more time there is before winter, the more abundant the grass will be.

Hand broadcast

The term for spreading seed is broadcasting and with ryegrass, you don’t need any fancy equipment. Unlike other seed crops where you have to meticulously plan out your seed distribution, you can simply spread Winter ryegrass seed out by hand.

Try to budget about two pounds of seed for every 1,000 square feet. If you aren’t sure about the amount, it’s better to add more so you have denser coverage.

Remember that if there are bare patches of land, weeds are more likely to pop up.

Cover with soil

Unlike other types of grass seed, ryegrass needs to be covered. After you broadcast the seeds, you then want to cover them with one inch of soil.

Again, you can simply spread the soil out with your hands if you don’t have any special equipment. It’s ok to step on the seed as your weight won’t damage it.


Once your ryegrass seed is down and you have a layer of soil over the top of it, you then need to water. Be sure to give the whole area plenty of water so that the seeds can settle into the soil.

How to Water Winter Rye Grass

After you plant your Winter rye, you will need to water it. If there is no rainfall in the forecast, water it every two days until it starts to germinate.

However, after it starts to sprout, it will be hardy enough and you won’t need to add any extra water. The only exception is if you have a very dry fall and there is no rainfall.

How to Grow WINTER Rye Grass

Let it be

There are many reasons why you would want to plant ryegrass and the beauty is that after planting it, there isn’t much you need to do.

Ryegrass grows in the winter and whether you want it to prevent soil erosion or to suppress weeds, by simply letting it grow, you are getting the job done. So, even if you are tempted to do something with the area, the best advice is to just let it be.

Termination Period

Ryegrass is meant to be a temporary ground cover. When it has fulfilled its purposes, it is then time to terminate it.

Getting rid of your ryegrass will happen in early spring but there is another sweet spot that you need to wait for. Cutting it back too early or too late can have negative effects.

Ryegrass will naturally die out. However, if you cut it back too early, it might not be ready to die out and thus it will continue to grow. This can leave you with more work than anticipated.

Likewise, if you leave the ryegrass too long, it can turn to seed. Then, this seed will drop and start the whole process over again.

Obviously, if you only want ground cover for the winter, having a second crop of it in the summer is not ideal. Summer growing time is meant for other, better vegetables.

The best time to cut your ryegrass is when it starts to sprout flowers. This means it is nearing its lifespan but the flowers haven’t turned to seed yet.


When you cut back your ryegrass, it will churn up with the soil. The result is a type of green manure that is very beneficial to your garden.

You can start by mowing the ryegrass, as you would regular grass. Then, you can use a garden tiller to mix the grass blades and roots up so that they mix in with the soil.

How long does Winter ryegrass take to grow?

Ryegrass should be planted in the fall. It takes one to two weeks to germinate. After that, it will quickly grow and be ground cover in the winter.

Then, in the spring, the ryegrass will naturally die off.


Ryegrass is an easy solution to a lot of problems when keeping your garden bare over winter. Plant ryegrass in the fall so that you have a ground cover that keeps weeds at bay, prevents soil erosion, and then acts as fertilizer in the spring.

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