Establishment of Cool Season Annual Grasses

Establish winter annuals on well-drained, fertile soils when possible. If the sites are somewhat poorly-drained, ryegrass will be a better choice than the small grains. Treat small grain seed with an approved fungicide prior to planting. Seedling diseases such as PhytophthoraRhizoctoniaPythium, and others reduce stands when planted in the warmer months of September and October, especially in south Georgia.

These crops can be seeded between late August and early October in the Limestone Valley/Mountains region, early September and mid- to late October in the Piedmont region, and late September to late October in the Coastal Plain region. If late fall and early winter grazing is desired (lower Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions only), plant at the earlier dates of these ranges and into a prepared seedbed. Do not overgraze these pastures during the late fall or early winter. For best results, maintain at least 2 ½ in. of stubble height.

If planting into a prepared seedbed, prepare the seedbed two to three weeks before planting, if practical. This will allow the soil to settle and firm, thus improving seed germination and seedling development. Although deep soil preparation is not necessary for the grazing crop, deep tillage may benefit row crops planted in the spring.

Seed can be placed more precisely with a drill or cultipacker seeder than by broadcasting and disking. When seed are broadcast, increase the seeding rate by 25 – 30% to allow for variable seed placement. Plant small grain seed 1 – 1 ½ in. deep in moist soil. Do not plant ryegrass seed deeper than ½ in. When planting mixtures of ryegrass and small grains, it may be easier to control the seeding depth of these species by broadcasting ryegrass seed and then drilling the small grain seed into the seedbed. Seeding rates for winter annual crops are shown in Table 1.

Apply 40 – 50 lbs of N per acre at planting or soon after the plants emerge to increase growth, tillering (thickening of the stand), and provide earlier grazing. A second application of 40 – 50 lbs of N per acre should be applied in mid-winter to increase winter and spring forage production. Because ryegrass is longer-lived, a third application of 40 – 50 lbs of N per acre may be needed in early spring when ryegrass is used for late spring grazing, hay, or silage crop. Rates of N in excess of these amounts may result in substantial N losses to leaching and excessive growth during the winter. Fresh, tender growth that occurs when nitrogen is in excess could be damaged by extremely cold weather.

Table 1. Seeding rates for annual cool season grass species.

  Seeding Rate* Seeding Rate*
Species Grown Alone Mixture
Ryegrass 20-30 15-25
Rye 90-120 60-90
Wheat 90-120 60-90
Oats 90-120 60-90
Triticale 90-120 60-90

* lbs/acre

Dr. Dennis Hancock
Forage Extension Specialist
Crop & Soil Sciences Dept.