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Ohio State University Extension


Cereal Rye 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 cereal rye 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:


  • Blue-green leavesMedium close up of green blades of grass-like plants.
  • Hairs on leaf sheath, unlike wheat
  • Small- to medium-sized auricles without hairs
  • Usually taller than wheat plants

Cultural Traits

  • Cool-season annual
    • Cereal rye requires vernalization to produce seed.
  • Minimum germination temperature: 34 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window: July 2–Nov. 1
  • Upright growth habit: 3–6 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 5.0–7.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop cereal rye.
Drought tolerance Very good
Shade tolerance Very good
Flood tolerance Good
Low fertility tolerance Excellent
Winter survival Expected


  • Drilled at ¾–1½ inches
    • 40–90 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 45–90 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation
    • 56–112 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 18,200 seeds per lb.
  • If grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.
  • Use a low seeding rate for areas with sandy soil or that are prone to dry periods in early spring.

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 = 2,500–6,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.

Additional performance information:

  • Cool-season cereals are some of the best weed-suppression cover crops.
  • Allelopathic ability (production of biochemicals that inhibit weeds) may be variety dependent.
  • Cereal rye rates good for early interseeding.
  • Cereal rye does not host root knot nematode, soybean cyst nematode, and sugar beet cyst nematode.
  • Fall-established cereal rye has great spring production.
  • Plant growth may dry out wet soils but may also over-dry soils in the spring if not terminated in a timely manner.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop cereal rye.
Nitrogen scavenger Excellent
Soil builder Excellent
Erosion fighter Excellent
Weed fighter Excellent
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Excellent
Lasting residue Excellent
Mechanical forage harvest Very good
Grain seed harvest Very good
Cash crop interseed Excellent


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Roller crimper
    • Roller crimping is the most difficult/variable termination method.
    • Crimp during the reproductive stage (full bloom).
  • Mowing
    • Mow during milk or dough stages.
  • Chemical

Additional termination information:

  • Terminate at least two weeks before planting corn.
  • Use a nitrogen (N) starter fertilizer when planting corn to reduce negative rotation effects.
  • Plant green only if experienced.
  • Adjust termination dates based on soil moisture.
  • Cereal rye can become a weed if not completely terminated.
  • It is best to terminate when plants are small except when rolling/crimping.
  • Mowing after heading may result in termination.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop cereal rye.
Soil Impacts
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Good
Compaction fighter Excellent
Nematodes Excellent
Disease Good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Excellent
Chokes weeds Excellent
Bears traffic Very good when drilled
Short windows Excellent

Potential Disadvantages

Increased weed potential: could be a minor problem

  • Can become a weed if not completely terminated.

Increased insects/nematodes: could be a moderate problem

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

Increased crop diseases: occasionally a minor problem

Hinders crops: could be a moderate problem

  • Planting is not recommended before cornplant before soybeans.

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a major 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.
Red square with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.

Originally posted Mar 30, 2023.