Ryegrass Ain't Ryegrass
Interest in ryegrass has increased in our area in recent years. But there is much confusion because there are many different types of ryegrass, so let's see if I can help reduce this confusion.
Let's begin with perennial ryegrass. This may be the highest quality perennial grass in the world and is used widely in many mild climates. Perennial ryegrass does not like hot, dry summers or dry winters so it does not survive well in our climate. I suggest using it only in mixtures for short-term use with animals that respond greatly to high quality, like dairy cows or stockers. Most of the confusion comes from annual ryegrass because there are two types. The more traditional annual ryegrass is the Westerwold type. Westerwold annual ryegrass grows very rapidly after spring planting but goes to seed in early summer. If grazed or clipped it usually regrows, although slowly, and forms seed heads again. It will not survive winter. As a result, Westerwold is used best as an emergency forage.
The other type is called Italian ryegrass. The best ones act like biennials – they don't form seed during the year of planting. Instead, they go to seed the next spring and often die. After planting, they start growing fast in about June and continue to grow rapidly up until frost. And all the growth is high quality leaves. Winter survival is not very dependable and varies from year-to-year and by variety. Extra confusion occurs because botanically, Westerwold also can be called Italian ryegrass. So be very specific when buying these ryegrasses. If you want one that acts like a biennial, be sure to ask for it that way. With the right type, ryegrass can provide outstanding feed.
[February 16th, 2009]
Dr. Bruce Anderson, Professor of Agronomy
Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE