The Grass Guide: Perennial Ryegrass

This cool-season grass has a high nutritive value and works well in rotational grazing.
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The Grass Guide: Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass leaves vary from narrow and fine like Kentucky bluegrass to broad and coarse like tall fescue. | Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture

Life cycle: Cool-season perennial

Native to: Southern Europe and North Africa

Uses: Pasture and hay

Identification: Smooth, silky leaves with a crease mark down the middle, an almost rounded leaf toward the top, and seeds placed opposite one another in one row in the seedhead.

perennial ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass is similar to annual ryegrass in that spikelets (containing seed) are alternating on the stem. However perennial ryegrass does not usually have awns (fine hairs extending from the ends of each seed).

Perennial ryegrass is a cool-season grass with a high nutritive value that works well in rotational grazing. It grows in bunches and is not very tolerant of drought or high summer temperatures.

Perennial ryegrass is less persistent than most cool-season grasses, but due to its extensive root system, it recycles nutrients well and improves soil health. Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly and, therefore, is useful in providing quick cover around high-traffic areas such as gates and water and feed areas. However, pasture survival is usually two years in the southern zone of adaptation and three to four years in the northern zone. It can be infected with an endophytic fungus similar to tall fescue; therefor,e farms are encouraged to plant endophyte-free or novel endophyte varieties.

Krista Lea, MS, coordinator of UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program within the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist within UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, provided this information.

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