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Ohio State University Extension


Annual Ryegrass as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use annual ryegrass as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at:
Overhead view of broad-bladed, grass-like plants.


  • Glossy leaves, unlike cereal rye
  • Clasping, claw-like auricles
  • Red-tinged leaf sheaths

Cultural Traits

  • Winter annual
  • Minimum germination temperature: 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): March 29April 28; July 25Sept. 28
  • Upright growth habit: 1224 inches
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.07.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop annual ryegrass.
Shade tolerance Very good
Flood tolerance Very good

Winter survival

  • Winter hardiness varies between varieties.
  • Snow cover may enhance survival.


  • Drilled at ¼½ inch
    • 1220 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 1422 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  •  Broadcast without incorporation
    • 1824 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 190,300 seeds per lb.
  • If manure is applied, tend toward lower end of the seeding rate.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.

Disclaimer: Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio's Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 1,0004,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.
    • Planting after wheat often provides relatively low biomass.

Additional performance information:

  • Potential for herbicide resistance
  • Rapid establishment
  • Heavy nitrogen and water use in spring
  • Early planting results in heading (emergence of seed heads)
  • Excellent deep, fibrous rooting plant
  • Can accumulate nitrates under certain conditions
  • Difficult to dry for hay
  • May be less effective at reducing marestail than barley or cereal rye
  • Does not host root knot nematode, soybean cyst nematode, and sugar beet cyst nematode
  • Reported to reduce clubroot in cabbage
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop annual ryegrass.
Nitrogen scavenger Excellent
Soil builder Excellent
Erosion fighter Excellent
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Excellent
Lasting residue Good
Mechanical forage harvest Very good
Cash crop interseed Very good


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Chemical
    • Two or more applications may be required to chemically terminate.

Additional termination information:

  • Annual ryegrass is difficult to terminate and is generally not recommended except for specific uses and by highly experienced producers.
  • Terminate when it reaches 68 inches in height.
  • To ensure complete termination, follow best spray practices, and do not plant a mix of varieties.
  • Mowing after heading may result in termination.
  • Annual ryegrass has the potential to develop herbicide resistance.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop annual ryegrass.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Excellent
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Very good
Compaction fighter Excellent
Disease Good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Good
Chokes weeds Excellent
Short windows Excellent

Bears traffic

  • Rapid establishment

Potential Disadvantages

Delayed emergence: could be a moderate problem

Increased weed potential: could be a major problem

  • Must be killed before it joints or after heading
  • More difficult to kill after jointing and when temperatures are cool
  • Possible weed potential in some varieties
  • May be hard to kill with glyphosate

Increased insects/nematodes: occasionally a minor problem

  • Could increase the risk of spring cutworm and potato stem borer
  • Host for penetrans root lesion nematode

Increased crop diseases: occasionally a minor problem

Hinders crops: could be a minor problem

  • Not advised for use in rotations with wheat
  • May limit nitrogen (N) availability to subsequent crops that are heavy N users

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a moderate problem


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by the McKnight Foundation.

Square red logo with white letters spelling McKnight Foundation.


Originally posted Mar 28, 2023.