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How To Plant Annual Rye, The Best No-Till Fall Garden Cover Crop Of All!

When it comes to planting a fall cover crop in your garden, it’s hard to beat the incredible benefits of annual rye.

Cover crops are the single best method for recharging your garden’s soil each fall. Not only do they provide valuable nutrients back to the soil, they also protect a garden from erosion and weeds.

And although there are a lot of great choices when it comes to selecting a fall cover crop, for us, there is one that stands far above the rest. And that, of course, is annual rye!

Not only is annual rye extremely effective in providing nutrients back to the soil, it’s also easy to plant and maintain. Even better, it also allows us to never have to till our soil.

And as you will see in the article and video below – that single fact makes gardening easier than ever. Especially when you consider using annual rye now nearly eliminates next year’s weeds!

Here is a look at how annual rye works, how to plant it this fall – and how it can turn your growing space into a low-maintenance, high-producing no-till garden!

The Power of Planting Annual Rye

Annual rye is simply an incredible workhorse in the garden.

For starters, it has an ultra-thick root system that grows deep into the soil below. Even into clay and heavily compacted soils. And as the roots grow, they break up that hard soil with ease.

But those roots do so much more than simply loosen tough soil. The root ends also contain tiny nodules that help to “fix” nitrogen levels in the soil. And when it comes to growing vegetables, nitrogen is a major player!

But the benefits don’t even stop there. As the cover crop dies back in the spring, all of the clippings, roots and stems break down into the soil. What is left behind are tiny channels in the soil now overflowing with rich humus.

And these channels are vital in allowing air, water and nutrients to find their way to your vegetable plants. All of which of course leads to healthier, stronger crops, year after year.

Getting Rid Of Weeds For Good – Planting Annual Rye

As if the above-mentioned benefits weren’t enough, annual rye is also a major player in reducing your garden’s weeds. And when we say major, we mean MAJOR!

Annual rye creates a thick barrier of living vegetation as it grows. One that snuffs out existing weeds, and keeps new weeds seeds from ever finding a home in bare soil.

And since you don’t need to till it under, those weeds never ever find a home to sprout next year. It is one of the major reasons we spend little time ever weeding our garden – and one we are quite thankful for! See : How To Create A No-Till Raised Row Garden

Here is a look at how and when we plant our annual rye cover crop in our garden:

The Never-Till Method Of Cover Cropping With Annual Rye

In mid to late fall, as our vegetable plants begin to fade, we clear our growing rows to plant our annual rye cover crop. All you will need is a simple tine rake, and of course, annual rye seed.

To begin, we rake each row to slightly scratch the soil surface. Next we spread seeds on the row as if we were planting grass seed. We then gently rake the soil to help set the seed a bit.

There is no need at this point to full cover the seed, just light rake over. Finally, we finish by covering with a light 1/2 covering of straw to keep the birds away – and our work is done!

Within 7 days, the rye starts to poke its bright green blades through the surface. Within a few weeks, the raised growing rows are completely covered in a thick mass of bright green turf.

Winter Dormancy

As the cold sets in, the rye goes into a dormancy stage. Then, when spring returns, the rye does as well. As it grows in early March, we begin to mow it off every week or two.

The clippings are either mulched into the beds to add organic matter, or we bag them to put in our compost bin. After a few mowings, the rye begins to die off.

The garden in late spring with straw mulch on top of the annual rye that has been mowed off.

We then plant right through the surface. No tilling. No weeds to remove or worry about. And most important of all, the ground has been re-energized by the winter rye. It truly is the easiest gardening cycle you could ever ask for!

Making Sure You Are Planting The “Right” Annual Rye

Annual rye can go by many names, including winter rye and cereal rye. But it’s important to make sure you are buying the right seed when using as a no-till cover crop.

Annual rye is a cereal grain, not a grass. It is not to be confused with perennial or annual rye grass. The seed of annual rye is much larger than that of rye grass. You can usually find it at most feed or grain stores, on line, or at many local gardening centers. Product Link : Winter (Cereal) Rye

Here is to planting annual rye in your garden this year, and to a more productive garden next year! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.

How to Plant Annual Winter Rye Grass

Many southern landscapes utilize annual rye grass to fill in bare spots in their lawns during the winter. The grass is hardy in USDA planting zones 3 through 9 and considered low maintenance and disease resistant. Annual winter rye grass germinates quickly, making for a speedy lawn green up. It is also less aggressive than some grasses, as it spreads by clumps instead of underground rhizomes. Once warm weather returns, the annual rye grass will die, but using it during the winter assists in having a green lawn year-round.

Seeding an Existing Lawn

Rake the existing lawn’s bare spots free of any dead grasses and remove any weeds. Annual rye grass seeds require contact with the soil for germination. Cleaning the planting site assures this.

  • Many southern landscapes utilize annual rye grass to fill in bare spots in their lawns during the winter.
  • Once warm weather returns, the annual rye grass will die, but using it during the winter assists in having a green lawn year-round.

Water the existing lawn and bare spots before applying the seed. Rye grass seeds will adhere better to a moist surface.

Sprinkle the rye grass seeds over the bare areas in your lawn. If the areas are not too large, you can place the grass seed in a plastic bucket and sow by sprinkling it around with your hands. If the area is large, use a spreader for easy application.

Cover the rye grass seed with a light dusting of compost or top soil to assure soil contact. Cover the seeds with approximately one-quarter inch of soil, as covering the seed with too much soil can halt germination.

  • Water the existing lawn and bare spots before applying the seed.
  • Cover the rye grass seed with a light dusting of compost or top soil to assure soil contact.

Water the rye grass seed thoroughly with a sprinkler after sowing. Hand watering with a hose has a tendency to move the grass seed from its location. Continue watering one to two times each day until germination in five to 10 days. Cut back the watering to two to three times per week, depending on local weather conditions.

Mow the lawn approximately two to three weeks after the grass has established itself into the existing lawn. Set the mower on its highest setting.

Sowing a New Lawn

Rake the planting site free of rocks, weeds, sticks or other unwanted vegetation before planting the rye grass seeds.

  • Water the rye grass seed thoroughly with a sprinkler after sowing.
  • Cut back the watering to two to three times per week, depending on local weather conditions.

Add a 2-inch layer of compost or top soil to the existing soil, raking it evenly over the planting site. Water the planting site thoroughly for one to two days before sowing the rye grass seed. Water the area right before sowing the seed.

Spread one-third of the rye grass seed over the planting site. Repeat this step two more times being sure to walk in different directions, evenly dispersing the seed. Use 8 to 10 lbs. of annual rye seed for every 1,000 square feet of area to be covered.

  • Add a 2-inch layer of compost or top soil to the existing soil, raking it evenly over the planting site.
  • Water the planting site thoroughly for one to two days before sowing the rye grass seed.

Cover the rye seed with one-quarter inch of compost or top soil, so the seed makes full soil contact.

Water the area thoroughly with a sprinkler after seed application. Continue to water the area each day until the rye seed germinates in five to 10 days. Taper off the watering to two to three times per week, depending on your local weather conditions. Mow the rye grass in approximately four to six weeks. This gives enough time for the grass to establish itself. Set the mower on the highest setting.