Rye is a cold-tolerant grain that geminates in cool soil (34-40° F), making it a major fall-planted cover crop in the Northeast for winter erosion control. The crop prefers well-drained soils but will tolerate heavy clays and acid soils. Rye has a well-developed fibrous root system that reduces leaching of soil nitrates. The top growth provides soil cover and suppresses weed; however, it can be difficult to control in the spring and is known to suppress some crops.
Prepare a seed bed free of clods and of weeds. If tillage is impossible, rye can be broadcast on moist, untilled ground. Additional fertilizer is usually not needed, especially when following vegetables.
Drill 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. After broadcasting, cover 1 inch deep.
Rye is often mixed with legumes as a nurse crop. In fall, use 70 lb/ac rye with 20-25 lb/ac hairy vetch. In the spring, use 60 lb/ac rye with 15 lb/ac medium red clover.
September 15 – October 10 for winter cover. Early plantings recover more nutrients and build soil better. See separate article about rye before spring-seeded vegetables.
By October 15 for spring cover, but no value as winter cover.
April 15 as a nurse crop for clover.
Local seed dealers, Seedway, AgriCulver, local farmers (if the seed is weed-free).
Control early. Crop suppression is least if rye is killed with herbicide (e.g. 1 lb/ac glyphosate)4 when it is about 6 inches tall,5 and allowed to decompose for 3-4 weeks. Without herbicide, plow down at 4 to 8 inches tall. Wet, warm spring weather can cause quick growth and make incorporation difficult. For later control mow, or roll and crimp, during the brief period after all the tillers are past the boot stage but before the plants have headed out. This last method has high risk of crop suppression.
Some crops are suppressed following the incorporation of rye, either from allelopathy or nutrient tie-up. Wait at least two weeks after incorporation before replanting vegetables. Wheat may be preferred as a cover crop to reduce this risk.