Planting Winter Rye Guide What You Need To Know

Why Is Winter Rye A Good Green Manure

winter Rye.

You can use winter rye as a cover crop and grow it for use as green manure to add some nitrogen into the soil and prevent weeds from moving in.

Because it's so simple to grow and requires minimal tending, it has gained popularity with many gardeners.

The best pH is 5.0 ­ 7.0, but pH in the range of 4.5 ­ 8.0 gets tolerated really well by this plant.

Since it is a deep-rooted plant, it can also help break up clay soil and improve the aeration of the ground. It will pull nutrients deep in the soil and move them into the leaf blades.

Cutting down and mixing the rye into your soil will help shallow-rooted plants use the nutrients in the next growing season.

Winter Rye Germination Time

On average, it will take 7 to 10 days for winter rye to germinate, but it can take up to 2 weeks.

It does not matter what tillage system you want to plant the rye seeds between 1 and 1.5 inches deep. Having good seed-to-soil contact is going to help the rye to germinate quickly.[3]

The rye needs a minimum temperature of 33.8 to 41℉ (or 1 to 5℃) to sprout.

Winter Rye Fertilizer Requirments

You are not going to need to add any fertilizer when you are growing winter rye. It will uptake the nitrogen in residual soil.

If you want to add fertilizer to maximize its growth, focus on a slow-release nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

You can turn your winter rye into a green manure source for your garden providing nutrients and natural fertilizer to the soil for your next planting.

Winter Rye Growth Stages

  • 1) Germination
  • 2) Seedling Growth
  • 3) Tillering
  • 4) Stem Extension
fish meal fertilizer
Development of winter rye

How Tall Does Winter Rye Grow

This is going to depend on how long you allow it to grow. I like to cut it down on my plot when it reaches around 2 feet.

But if you just leave it and the time and weather permitting, you can see it reach close to six feet from what I have seen.

What to do With Winter Rye in the Spring

Allow the rye to sprout in the summer and let its vegetative growth continue until it reaches about one foot (12 inches or 30 cm) and till it into the soil.

After tilling it into the soil, you must wait for 2 to 4 weeks before planting your next crop.

It is important to remember that the allelopathic compounds released by the roots of rye may suppress the germination of small-seeded vegetable crops. So if that's what you will be growing, do not plant them too soon after tilling.

Tilling Winter Rye

We do not need to till our soil to plant and grow our winter rye.

When the winter rye has reached the height I want, I will trim it down with a weed wacker and leave it on my garden plot. I usually will not till it into the soil until the following season.

It is okay if you live in a warmer climate and want to till it immediately after cutting.

Where I live, the cold comes quickly, and I want rooted plants helping to prevent soil erosion. So I let it grow a little during the next season for a couple weeks and then till it into my garden.

Remember, when winter comes, the rye will go dormant until spring arrives. When the rye growth resumes, you can wait until it hits that 1-foot mark and till it into your garden plot.

Tilling your winter rye crop into the soil is a great way to help improve the ground's tilth, fertility, and aeration.

The nutrients in your cover grow will also slowly get released, acting as a natural fertilizer.

Green manure is one of my favorite ways to quickly provide additional nutrients for my future plants.

Is Winter Rye a Good Cover Crop

Winter rye works very well as a cover crop. Its fast germination and growth rates quickly help to prevent weeds from moving in.

It can work well in polyculture with legumes as well.

Suppose you are using a cover crop to help with weed management. In that case, the chemicals released from the roots make winter rye an excellent choice.

How Late Can You Plant Winter Rye

Depending on where you live will determine how late, but generally mid-fall, you want to have winter rye planted.

Where I live, it gets really cold fast, so I don't want to have it in after mid-September. But in Wisconsin, they have until mid-October.

Killing Winter Rye Cover Crop

The two most common methods to kill rye are mowing or using a burn-down herbicide for no-till plantings.

No-till rye is an effective method to prevent erosion and weeds from moving in.

For killing winter rye with mowing, you want to wait until flowering. Moving it before this stage will just result in the rye growing again.

The flowering process happens when the anthers are extended, and pollen falls from the seed heads when shaken.

Rolling is currently being considered an alternative method of killing the winter rye.

Winter Rye Cover Crop Benefits

  • 1) Protection for your garden soil in winter
  • 2) Tilling it into your soil as green manure helps improve your soil's fertility.
  • 3) Withstand drought better than other cereal grains
  • 4) Rye can grow in low-fertility soils where other cereal grains may fail.
  • 5) Good ability to scavenge residual soil Nitrogen
  • 6) Releases root exudates which inhibit germination and growth of weed seeds.
  • 7) Works for dual cropping with a second plant like corn, soybeans, or alfalfa in many climates.
  • 8) Creates the most dry matter compared to other cereal grains.
  • 9) Like other cover crops, it mixes well with other plants.
  • 10) Grows well in most soil types.
  • 11) A deep root system allows for more organic matter in clay soils, improving the soil's tilth.


Winter rye is easy to grow, and it grows relatively quickly. You can use it as a cover crop or grow it at the end of the season and till it into your soil, providing green manure into our soils for the next season.

Adding green manure to the soil is a perfect way to keep your soil healthy and reduce your need for synthetic fertilizers later in the growing season.

It also works well at breaking up clay soil because of its deep roots and prevents soil erosion.

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