How to Grow Winter Rye Grass


Winter rye grass can improve your winter landscape not only by being attractive but also by improving your garden soil. Winter rye is a cool-season grass that can germinate in low temperatures; in some climates it can stay green all winter long. In the Southern United States, landscapers often over-seed warm-season grasses such as bermuda grass so that, when one goes dormant, the other will thrive. The home gardener can use winter rye grass as a cover crop. It can keep soil from washing away during winter storms and suppress any weeds that may emerge in early spring.

Things You'll Need

  • Winter rye seeds
  • Seed broadcaster
  • Fertilizer
  • Decide when to plant winter rye grass. For winter use, plant it any time in the early fall, such as September or early October.

  • Stop watering the plot if preparing to over-seed a warm-season grass. Stop watering about two weeks before over-seeding. The intent is to suppress the warm-season grass so it is easier for the winter rye to take hold.

  • Purchase the winter rye seeds. Expect to use about 20 pounds of rye grass seed per acre. This seed is often available from garden catalogs or online retailers.

  • Prepare the area where the winter rye grass will be planted. Clear away any dead or leftover plants if it is in a garden plot. If over-seeding warm-season grass, cut the existing grass as short as possible.

  • Use a broadcaster to spread seeds over the lawn. Walk the broadcaster back and forth across the lawn, then do it again, perpendicular to the way you did it first. For a small patch you can spread the winter rye grass seeds by hand.

  • Water the lawn daily until the winter rye grass emerges.

  • Mow the winter rye grass once a week after it grows more than a few inches high. Set the mower at the 3-inch setting for a lush look.

  • Fertilize the grass if using it in a lawn. After it is established give it a16-4-8 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) fertilizer.

Tips & Warnings

  • To use winter rye grass as a cover crop, mow it down in early spring, then turn it under. Let the garden bed settle for two weeks before planting.
  • Winter rye grass is rich in nitrogen, so add any cuttings to the compost pile.
  • If over-seeding warm-season grass with winter rye, be aware that it will have to be removed in the spring so the warm-season grass can flourish.

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  • Photo Credit grass,lawn image by Greg Pickens from
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