by Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever considered growing your own grain? Winter rye is one of the easiest grains to grow, and it offers many benefits. There are many reasons for growing grains. One of the main reasons gardeners grow them is as a cover crop.
If you’re unfamiliar with cover crops, they’re frequently used as a natural source of nutrients for your garden.
These crops are also great for aerating harsh soils and ridding your garden of weeds. If your garden could use a boost over the winter months, consider growing winter rye. Here’s everything you must know to get started raising this crop as a protective layer for your garden.
Growing Conditions for Winter Rye
Winter rye isn’t particular when it comes to where it grows. This is a cereal grain which thrives during winter.
Before we dive into the growing conditions for this crop, let’s clarify a few things. Some beginners might assume that winter rye is the same as rye grass. It isn’t the same plant.
Rye grass is used in pastures and cut as hay for livestock. Winter rye is used as a cover crop, to make flour, and is frequently used in alcohol such as beer and vodka.
This crop is a close relative to wheat. Now that we have this game-changing specific under our belts, let’s discuss what winter rye needs to grow properly.
It can remain alive in temperatures which dip as low as negative 30-degrees Fahrenheit. The seed can even germinate in temperatures as low as 33-degrees Fahrenheit.
You don’t need to worry about the soil, either. It can grow in poor quality soil that’s also sandy. However, if you live where your soil is mainly clay, winter rye can grow there, too.
The main thing is the soil needs to drain. You don’t want winter rye growing in consistently soggy conditions as this can cause issues for the plant.
When growing winter rye, try to plant it where the crop will receive full sun. This is something that it needs to thrive.
However, it can tolerate partial sunlight as well. Winter rye is a crop that’s extremely easy to get along with.
Ensure the crop has the right amount of sunlight and is planted in soil that drains adequately. This should be all you need to start winter rye on the right foot.
How to Plant Winter Rye
Now that you understand what type of conditions winter rye must be planted in, it’s time to learn how to plant this crop.
Winter rye is typically planted in the fall. It doesn’t do well under extremely hot conditions. Therefore, it isn’t a good match for summer climates.
Start by checking the frost dates for your planting zone. You should plant winter rye around the date of the first light frost.
Till the soil in your garden plot. Once tilled, it’s time to plant the seed. Ensure you sow it heavily in the designated growing location.
You can sow seed by simply casting it over the freshly tilled soil. You should plant approximately two pounds of seed in a 1,000 square foot area.
This will ensure that you have ample coverage for your growing space. If you leave bare spots, your soil won’t receive the same benefits as if it were blanketed in winter rye.
After the seeds are scattered, it’s time to lightly cover them with soil. You don’t want your seeds planted any deeper than two inches in the soil.
If you plant them any deeper, they may rot before germination can occur. Follow these steps to plant your winter rye and, hopefully, you will have a brilliant crop with a high germination rate.
Caring for Winter Rye
Winter rye is a self-sufficient crop. It doesn’t need much from you once it’s established. However, you do need to care for the crop adequately to help it reach this point.
The first thing you must do, to help your winter rye become established, is water it. You should water the crop lightly when the seeds are first planted.
It’s vital that the soil remain consistently moist, but not overly soggy, during the period of germination. Winter rye should take approximately one week to germinate.
Once the plant is up and thriving, you should water it deeply a couple times per week to ensure it receives approximately two inches of water.
It’s important to note that, due to its deep roots, winter rye is drought tolerant. However, you don’t want it to live under these conditions unless absolutely necessary.
When deep watering, you’ll water the crop fewer days of the week but for longer periods of time. This allows water to reach the plant’s roots during the initial watering session. It also saturates water around the plant.
By doing this, it allows the crop to dig deeper between watering sessions. The plants do this to reach more water, but they also form stronger root systems. In turn, this creates healthier plants.
When caring for winter rye, you shouldn’t need to fertilize it. This crop is low-maintenance and thrives best when left alone aside from the occasional watering session.
Our final item to discuss, when caring for winter rye, is terminating the plant. If using it as a cover crop, you must know how and when to end its growth.
You shouldn’t allow winter rye to reach the point of flowering, when using it as a cover crop. The reason being is it’s hard for the plant to decompose once it reaches this stage.
If you allow it to flower, then cut it, this could take a long time to receive the benefits this plant offers as a cover crop.
Instead, wait until winter rye reaches a height of approximately one foot. Once this occurs, use a mower or tiller to knock the crop down, and till it into your soil.
Be sure to do this at least a month prior to planting anything else in the garden. This should give the plant enough time to break down before the garden space is being used again.
Take all of this into consideration when creating a timeline for your winter rye crop in your garden space. These tips could make all the difference in what type of growing experience you have with this plant.
Pests and Diseases Which Could Impact Winter Rye
Most plants face a few different threats when growing in any growing space. Winter rye is no exception to this rule.
This plant is susceptible to fungal diseases. The most common fungal diseases, which impact this crop, are rust and powdery mildew.
You can avoid these by ensuring the plants have adequate airflow, are planted in well-draining soil, and any fungal issues are treated with a fungicide.
The most common pests to impact winter rye are thrips and aphids. Both pests will feed on the sap in your plants.
You should treat your plants with an insecticide at the first signs of any issues. By staying on top of the threats in your growing area, you should be able to help your winter rye overcome whatever it may face.
Benefits of Growing Winter Rye as a Cover Crop
The last thing to discuss about growing winter rye are the benefits it offers as a cover crop. Winter rye has a deep root system.
Aside from helping the plant thrive during drought, it also breaks up and aerates soil. By growing this crop in your garden, over the winter, it eliminates space for weeds to grow. This could also eliminate pests which might overwinter in the weeds.
Using winter rye as a cover crop can also help protect the nutrients in your soil. If your soil isn’t blanketed, during the colder portions of the year, the nutrients tend to fade.
Winter rye is also great for digging deep into the soil to absorb nutrients. As it does this, it brings those nutrients closer to the surface. The nutrients can then be used by the plants grown in the space after the winter rye.
This cover crop can also be used as a green manure and mulch for the garden planted after it. There’s an abundance of benefits which winter rye can provide. Plant this crop to see what you think of utilizing cover crops in your garden.
This concludes our discussion of cover crops and winter rye. Though cover crops are one more thing to take care of, they can help your garden by protecting and providing nutrients for your soil.
Winter rye is low-maintenance and could help with many issues your garden currently faces. Use the information presented here to try your hand at raising winter rye as a cover crop.