Will Winter Ryegrass Grow in Your Area?
Despite its name, winter ryegrass—also called rye grass—doesn't thrive all winter long in areas with very harsh winter temperatures. But it can remain dormant, even under snow cover, when planted in fall in zones 9, 11 and 12 and provide a cheerful early spring lawn as it grows again.
Winter ryegrass doesn't grow well in zone 10, which includes the lower part of Florida, as it requires cooler temperatures to thrive.
If there's a return of unseasonably warm weather in late fall, it may cause your newly seeded lawn to turn brown or even die off, causing you to have to repeat the process of seeding once again.
Where Winter Ryegrass Grows Best
Winter ryegrass can grow all year long in zones 1, 4, 6, 7 and the upper parts of zones 3 and 5, as visible in the ryegrass planting zone map below, which was produced by Pennington, one of the largest distributors of seed.
This map is helpful in determining whether planting and maintaining a ryegrass lawn is worth the expense and effort in your area.
Is Winter Ryegrass Right for Your Lawn?
There are pros and cons of planting winter ryegrass, so let's take a look at them and see if over-seeding your lawn with it is a good idea or not.
Pros of Planting Winter Ryegrass
- Ryegrass is inexpensive and widely available.
- It grows quickly.
- Over-seeding with ryegrass creates a turf-like green lawn.
- Seeding with it makes your lawn more usable year round.
- Ryegrass will quickly die off in spring with warmer weather, allowing your existing turf to grow back normally.
Cons of Planting Winter Ryegrass
- It may compete for nutrients that your existing turf needs in early spring.
- If you fertilize ryegrass, it could harm the health of your existing lawn as it tries to go dormant for the winter.
- You may end up with a lawn composed of different shades of green if the ryegrass survives until late into the spring because of mild weather.
- You won't get a break from mowing your lawn.
- It may attract deer and other herbivores.
For us, having a green, usable lawn year round is worth the handful of downsides to planting ryegrass. A thick green lawn cuts down on the dirt that pets and kids track into the home and is pleasing to look at.
If you're still interested in planting winter ryegrass, the following steps are how it's planted.
Steps for Planting and Maintaining a Ryegrass Lawn
Planting ryegrass seed is a very easy process that takes only a few minutes. One 25 lb bag of seed should cover approximately 5,000 square feet of lawn.
Here's how to get started.
Seeding the Lawn
- Start with a lawn that's been freshly mowed. In the case of bare ground, rake away any leaves or other debris.
- Water your lawn just before spreading the seed. This will help dry seed stick to bare ground—if you have any—and will prevent it from blowing away.
- Using a handheld spreader, such as the one in the photo above, fill it to the brim with ryegrass seed and set the volume switch on the spreader to medium. You can adjust the spreader's volume control if too much seed is coming out when you crank the handle.
- Starting at the edge of your lawn, walk in a straight line across your yard, cranking the handle of the spreader to disperse an even volume of seed across your path.
- Repeat this process for the entire lawn, making sure that you've covered every square foot with seed.
- Gently water your lawn again, using a sprinkler or watering wand until all the seed is wetted down.
Watering the New Ryegrass
- Water your lawn each day in the morning and afternoon until the grass sprouts.
- Once ryegrass has sprouted, which is usually in about 3–5 days, water your lawn once a day.
Maintaining a Ryegrass Lawn
- Mow your new ryegrass lawn once the grass is high enough for your mower to cut. Mowing early will allow all the grass to reach the same height.
- Fertilizer is seldom necessary for winter ryegrass, but if you must, use a lawn starter fertilizer, such as Scotts Turf Starter for best results.
- Mow your ryegrass lawn regularly and don't allow it to bend over or start to go to seed. This will ensure that you have a "turf-like" lawn for longer.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Nolen Hart