Question: Why is my annual ryegrass not coming up in my lawn?
Answer: There are two general reasons for sowing a ryegrass lawn in the fall. First, you have a potential erosion problem and your warm season grass is obviously going dormant. In this case, ryegrass will prevent soil erosion during the winter. It is a temporary fix. Next spring a more permanent solution will have to be addressed.
There are several reasons why rye might be slow to germinate (come up). The number one reason is lack of water. Seeds need water in order to swell and push out a root. If it is not raining, then daily irrigation is recommended. Add just enough water to keep the top of the ground (½ inch) moist. Quick germination repels seed eating pests like birds, ants and other bugs.
Since the air is drier this time of year, add mulch to help maintain soil moisture. Wheat straw or hay can be spread over the seeds. One to two bales per 1,000 square feet will do the trick. Mulch also makes it harder for a flock of birds to swoop in and clean you out.
After the seedlings emerge, reduce irrigation frequency and increase intensity. In other words, water a couple times per week, but put more water on the ground per time.
Adding fertilizer at time of planting does not make the seeds germinate. Grass can’t take in fertilizer until it develops a root. When seeding rye over a warm season grass like centipede, be sure and wait until the warm season grass has gone fully dormant before adding any fertilizer containing nitrogen. The rye will be fine in the meantime.
Other factors that affect germination are seeds not making contact with the soil, herbicide residue (preemergent herbicides) and bad seeds. Rake the ground to insure good seed-to-soil contact. Let seeds germinate before you apply preemergent herbicides for winter annuals. Use new seed. Old seeds may not germinate at all.
For more info visit, http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/lawns/seeding_newlawn.html or http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/lawns/hgic1206.html If you have any questions or can’t access the internet, call the Extension Office at 893-7530 or email me at email@example.com
The second reason for sowing ryegrass is called “overseeding.” This is an amazing phenomenon which can be traced to Yankee immigration. When Northerners move to the South, they often see the ground for the first time during the winter. The sight of dormant brown grass is repugnant to them. Immediately they want to make it white. Since snow is not an option, they settle for green. Ryegrass is the best solution to this problem. Since there is no snow to shovel during the winter, they happily settle for mowing grass.
It’s a tough sell, but I think Southerners would be a little more accepting of a green winter lawn if they realized ryegrass actually retards the growth of warm season grasses in the spring. Ryegrass produces chemicals that keep other grasses from growing. Rye can also slow the emergence of warm season grasses by hogging the sunlight, moisture and nutrients.
Gary L. Pierce
Horticulture Extension Agent