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Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)

“I don’t want any of that ryegrass in my lawn. That’s what you feed sheep with!” – This used to be a common comment from you would hear when perennial ryegrass was mentioned, but things have changed now!

Perennial ryegrass is the most widely used grass species in the world – and yes, it is used to feed sheep and cattle! Perennial ryegrass is hugely versatile, it is used in grass seed mixtures for farms, all the way through to the tennis courts at Wimbledon. Most grass seed mixtures contain perennial ryegrass because of its fast germination time and because it is the hardest wearing grass you can buy.

Key Characteristics

  • Exceptionally hard wearing                               
  • Fast germination
  • Germinates at low temperatures
  • Will grow in many different soil types
  • Tolerant of drought and heat
  • The main grass used in football pitches

Sowing times

Requires constant soil temperatures of 7 degrees Celsius for optimum germination. In the UK this would typically be between March and early November. Perennial ryegrass seed can germinate almost year-round, particularly in the south of England.

Germination time

Perennial ryegrass seed will normally germinate in 7-14 days, subject to conditions. In perfect conditions, perennial ryegrass seed can be seen germinating in as little as 3 days!

What is perennial ryegrass used for?

Football and Rugby Pitches: No matter what team you support, one of the things they all have in common is that they play on pitches that are sown with 100% perennial ryegrass grass seed. Grass seed for football and rugby pitches needs to be seriously hard wearing, therefore perennial ryegrass is the species of choice. The ability of perennial ryegrass to germinate fast, withstand wear and recover from wear makes it the first-choice grass seed for sports pitches.

Professional rugby and football get completely stripped back to the soil and sown again with grass seed at the end of every season - this is referred to as ‘pitch renovation’. Because perennial ryegrass seed germinates so fast, it is possible to have a new football pitch ready to play on in as little as six weeks.

Cricket and Tennis: Grass seed for tennis courts and cricket squares is now 100% ryegrass. As with football and rugby pitches it is the high wear tolerance of perennial ryegrass that makes it the preferred choice. Back in the 1980s, mixtures of bent and fescue grass seed would have been used- this is because ryegrasses of the time were not fine and dense enough and they also were not able to tolerate mowing down to low heights of cut. Modern perennial ryegrasses have come a long way in the last thirty years thanks to plant breeding, which means they are now very fine and dense and have made bent and fescue obsolete in cricket and tennis

Golf Fairways: Perennial ryegrass is an important grass seed species for use in golf course fairways. For golf courses that are very busy, or ones that are on heavier clay soils. Where there is a lot of traffic on a golf course, the more traditional bent and fescue species can begin to struggle because they are not tolerant of high levels of wear. In this situation adding some perennial ryegrass to the mixture will boost the wear tolerance. When perennial ryegrass is blended with bent and fescue it helps to ‘shelter’ the other less wear tolerant species.

Bowling Greens: Bowling greens are more and more turning to perennial ryegrass when they begin to struggle, particularly around the perimeter of the green where there are high levels of foot traffic and grass cover can begin to get thin.

General lawn and landscaping: Grass seed mixtures containing perennial ryegrass are the mainstay of lawn and general-purpose landscaping mixtures. The combination of excellent visuals, wear tolerance and fast germination make it the perfect choice. Quite often back lawns turn into ‘mini Wembleys’ if there are children in the household – if this is the case you need to go for a back lawn grass seed mixture that contains perennial ryegrass!

Animal Grazing: It is true that sheep and cattle are both grazed on perennial ryegrass. But this is nothing like the perennial ryegrass that we use in our mixtures! Although they are the same species, perennial ryegrasses for lawns and sport are bred completely differently to those that are used in agriculture. But beware, if you see a lawn seed mixture that looks too cheap to be true, it may contain agricultural ryegrass!!