Both annual and perennial ryegrass seed are used around the world for overseeding on professional golf courses and sports fields in the southern United States as well as in home lawns around the globe. As a cool season grass, both perennial and annual seed can be used as a permanent turfgrass in home lawns located up the northern areas of the United States as well as the transition zone. They can also be used in the southern two-thirds of the United States to overseed warm season lawns during winter dormancy like bermuda grass and zoysia grass.
In a brief synopsis, annual seed is planted for temporary reasons such as a one-time color enhancer during warm season winter dormancy, weed suppression or short-term erosion control as its life span lasts for a single season. Perennial seed is more permanent as it lasts for several seasons, provides long-term erosion control and serves as a great food source for pasture-grazing animals. Read more about their generic differences below.
What is Annual Ryegrass?
Annual and perennial ryegrass are similar in a lot of ways, however, they’re both different sub-species of ryegrass. Both types are fairly bright in color, giving off a vibrant, light green shade to home lawns. Annual ryegrass is usually slightly lighter in color than perennial. It also has a more coarse texture, will reach about six inches in height and grows in a bunch-like pattern. The graphic above describes annual ryegrass as having a rolled vernation. This means that within the bud of the grass blade, more grass expands through rolled shoots as seen in the NC State Extension photo below. In general, annual ryegrass grows in US Department of Agriculture growing zones 4–9 and should be kept at a mowed height of 1.5–2 inches.
Photo credit: North Carolina State University Extension.
The Benefits of Annual Ryegrass
There are several reasons why homeowners prefer annual ryegrass over perennial during the selection process. Both types of ryegrass provide the immediate satisfaction of green color with seed that germinates between 5–7 days. Both types can be used to decrease weed pressure by competing for soil space, shade protection for other vulnerable grasses and erosion control by delivering a grassy surface that will hold soil in place during wet conditions.
Annual ryegrass seed is usually less expensive than perennial. This is in part due to the fact that annual ryegrass only lives for a single season. However, generally speaking, annual ryegrasses are known to have a great cold tolerance, wear tolerance and shade tolerance compared to perennial ryegrass. Some varieties of perennial ryegrass have been bred to outperform annual ryegrass with these characteristics, but generally speaking, annual ryegrass is a little more cold tolerant.
The Disadvantages of Annual Ryegrass
Annual ryegrass also comes with a few disadvantages compared to perennial ryegrass. Annual ryegrass, as its name suggests, lives a single, annual lifecycle. This means that if you purchase annual ryegrass, you can expect for it to last for only a year before having to make another purchase and install it again. Over time, this can become a costly endeavor—especially if your lawn has a lot of square feet.
Annual ryegrass has a very low heat tolerance. Generally speaking, it will go dormant when daytime temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The same can be said about perennial ryegrass, however. Both annual and perennial ryegrass once germinated, have a very low drought tolerance as well. They are water guzzlers and don’t perform well in times of drought.
Although annual ryegrass has the ability to tolerate soils that are occasionally wet, it’s more susceptible to disease than perennial ryegrass. Longer grass blades enable the grass to fight off disease better. Another trick to help with disease tolerance is to mix the annual seed with another blend of grass like bluegrass, fescue or perennial ryegrass seed.
The Best Annual Ryegrass Seed
If you’ve made the decision to install annual seed, there are a couple of options you can pull from. But first, think about how much seed you’ll need based on the square footage of the area you want to cover. Then try to find the amount of seed you need for a decent price. SOS 211 Ryegrass Seed comes in a 50 pound bag of 50 percent perennial and 50 percent annual seed. This is beneficial if disease tolerance may be an issue for you.
SOS 211 provides quick establishment, improved turf quality and stronger spring persistence. This is a great overseeding variety and will germinate with soil temperatures in the mid-40s, which allows for successful overseeding results late in the season. This is great for homeowners looking to maintain a green lawn in the winter. For overseeding, apply 10–15 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. A single 50 pound bag will cover 5,000 sq. ft.
If you’re looking for 100 percent annual seed, we’ve listed a few top-rated items found on Amazon for you.
Upon application, you will need to use a broadcast or drop spreader and apply at the rate the annual seed displays on its product label. Be sure to follow our Grass Seed Planting Guide and Establishment Guide.
What is Perennial Ryegrass?
As previously mentioned, annual and perennial ryegrass are fairly similar because they are both ryegrass species. However, there are some key differences between the two as well. Perennial ryegrass is usually slightly darker than annual ryegrass, however, it still maintains its bright green reputation. Perennial ryegrass has a very fine texture in comparison to annual ryegrass’s coarse feel.
It will grow to about one foot in height without mowing and grows in bunch-like patterns. Compared to annual ryegrass’s rolled vernation, perennial ryegrass has a “folded” vernation, meaning that the bud of the grass blades expand through folded shoots. You can get a visual representation of the differences in the NC State University Extension photo below. In general, perennial ryegrass grows in US Department of Agriculture growing zones 5–7 and should be kept at a mowing height of 1.5–2.5 inches, which is slightly higher than that of annual ryegrass.
Photo Credit: North Carolina State University Extension.
The Benefits of Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass, although usually more expensive, is worth the price. It’s the same as annual ryegrass in the sense that it provides immediate green color within 5–7 days of planting, provides a reduction in weed pressure as the grass competes with weeds for space in the soil, protects vulnerable grass with more shade coverage and assists in erosion control. They key difference is that perennial ryegrass provides these features for a long-term duration. Annual ryegrass is more temporary as its life span lasts for a year. Perennial ryegrass is also slightly more disease resistant that annual ryegrass.
The biggest advantage that comes with perennial ryegrass is that you only have to purchase and plant it once. Annual ryegrass, in comparison, must be purchased and planted every year. This becomes expensive over time.
The Disadvantages of Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass has a few disadvantages compared to annual ryegrass. As previously mentioned, you will be spending more money purchasing perennial than you would with annual ryegrass. Generally speaking, it is less cold tolerant and less shade tolerant than annual ryegrass. However, when compared to one another, annual and perennial ryegrass have about the same wear tolerance.
The Best Perennial Ryegrass Seed
If you’ve made the decision to install perennial seed, there are a couple of options you can pull from. Be sure to think about how much seed you’ll need based on the square footage of the area you want to cover. Next, try to find the amount of seed you need for a decent price.
One popular homeowner choice is Barenbrug’s Turf Star Ryegrass Seed. Turf Star Ryegrass Seed is a superior quality perennial ryegrass blend ideal for home applications in cool to temperate climates. Turf Star Ryegrass features a dark green color with strong genetics and mechanical purity. This is a variety that is fast to germinate and has strong traffic tolerance.
Turf Star Ryegrass Seed – 50 lbs$249.95
Upon application, you will need to use a broadcast or drop spreader and apply at the rate the annual seed displayed on its product label. Be sure to follow our Grass Seed Planting Guide and Establishment Guide.
When to Use Annual vs. Perennial Ryegrass
In certain situations, homeowners may be confused about when it is actually beneficial to use annual seed over perennial, or vice versa. A lot of times, it mainly depends on the climate and growing zone you’re located in. They both germinate in 5–7 days and have a similar bright green color, although perennial ryegrass is usually somewhat darker.
Your decision between the two may also depend on your lawn’s conditions. For example, if you have a lot of shade in your yard, annual ryegrass may be a slightly better option. Lastly, if you don’t mind spending a little extra money, perennial ryegrass is a great option because once it’s purchased and installed, you will only need to take care of it and make sure it doesn’t die. Annual seed needs to be purchased and planted every year.
Tools for Annual and Perennial Ryegrass Seed
Lastly, Sod University has a couple of helpful tools to recommend that may help you with your installation process. Be sure to apply with a broadcast or drop spreader and fertilize the new grass seed appropriately with the suggested fertilizers below. If you really just want a green lawn during your grass’s dormancy period and don’t want to bother with seed installation, another option for you is to use turf colorant like the Endurant Perennial Rye product listed below. Learn more about this practice in Turf Colorant: A Great Option for Maintaining Winter Color in Warm Season Lawns.