Rye as the Cover Crop

Cereal Rye for Nematode Control by Aggie Horticulture

If nematodes are found in your garden soil, plant cereal rye (Elbon) in the fall to lessen nematode damage to your spring garden. After several years of testing, cereal rye has proven to be the fastest growing, most cold-tolerant annual grass available to home gardeners in Texas. Plant cereal rye in the fall for a thick mat of grass 10 to 15 inches high by late winter.

This grass should be shredded with a lawn mower or flexible string trimmer and tilled into the soil so that decomposition can occur before you plant in the spring. Usually, shredding and tilling one month before planting will allow for adequate decomposition.

If these benefits were not enough, the roots of cereal rye serve as a trap crop for nematodes. Once nematodes enter the cereal rye roots, they cannot escape and are doomed. When cereal rye decomposes, it releases organic acids and stimulates soil microorganisms which further reduce the nematode population.

Be careful to purchase cereal rye (Elbon) rather than annual rye. Annual rye is used to overseed lawns and should not be used in your vegetable garden. Cereal rye can be planted by merely seeding directly on top of the garden soil and raking in. Apply seed at the rate of 3/4 to 1 pound per hundred square feet of garden area to ensure good coverage and adequate growth. Be sure to water the rye regularly and lightly fertilize every three weeks to encourage maximum growth.

Remember that the majority of the organic material produced is in the root system rather than the top foliage. This is a case of “what you don’t see is what you actually get!” Always mow or shred the cereal rye before it forms seed heads since sprouting rye seed in early spring may become a nuisance. There is no danger of cereal rye seeded in the fall becoming a weed problem during the spring since the plants cannot withstand the hot Texas temperatures. Shred the plants and till the soil one month before planting your spring garden so the massive root system will have adequate time to decompose.¶

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Winter Cover Crops by IFAS here

Winter cover crops such as rye (Secale cereale) (Figure 12), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) (Figure 13), wheat (Triticum aestivum) (Figure 14), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) (Figure 15), and lupine (Lupinus angustifolius) (Figure 16) are used where summer is the main cropping season (Wang et al. 2004).

Rye is a commonly used winter cover crop in the southeastern United States and a poor host of Meloidogyne spp. (McSorley and Dickson, 1989). Population densities of M. incognita remained low throughout the winter cover-cropping season on several crops (wheat, rye, oat, lupine, hairy vetch, and crimson clover). However, their numbers increased after a susceptible corn crop was planted in the spring (Table 2), especially following hairy vetch, crimson clover, and lupine (Wang et. al. 2004).

Leguminous cover crops are important for providing nitrogen, but most winter legumes can increase population levels of root-knot nematodes, and hairy vetch and crimson clover are particularly troublesome.

Some cultivars of winter legumes show promise in nematode management. ‘Cahaba’ White vetch (Vicia sativa) was reported effective in managing M. incognita race 3 in a greenhouse experiment conducted in Georgia (Timper et al. 2006). ‘Cherokee’ red clover (Trifolium pratense) had reduced root galling and nematode reproduction compared to other germplasm of red clover in response to M. arenariaM. haplaM. incognita, and M. javanica (Quesenberry et al. 1989).

Rye and oat were most effective in keeping nematode numbers low, and in general, cereal cover crops are better than leguminous crops for nematode suppression (Wang et al. 2004) (Table 2).


Notes below about Elbon Rye Cover Crop from here

  • The biggest challenge with rye is attributed to the residue produced but this can be reduced with an early termination of the cover when it reaches a height of 6-8?. First, the residue excretes allellopathic chemicals during decomposition which maybe effect your next crop if not managed correctly. These chemicals can be excreted in the soil for up to a month after termination and are more effective at suppressing the germination of small seeded and grass species.
  • When planting corn into a terminated rye cover, it is encouraged to delay planting 10-14 days after termination. Second, the more rye growth in the spring equates to higher soil water usage. In humid regions, spring water usage is justified because the extra residue helps retain moisture and reduce soil temperature during a hot, dry summer. If moisture conditions are forecasted to be dry then earlier termination is highly recommended.
  • This species remarkable spring growth, has the potential to produce a lot of residue or forage. The residue is a great harbor for beneficial insects, most notably lady bugs.
  • Also, the residue gives off allelopathic chemicals up to a month after termination, which aids in preventing small seeded weeds and grasses from germinating.


The following is from here https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/1120-annual-ryegrass-cereal-rye-have-important-differences

  • “You can plant it later than many other cover crops and don’t have to worry about winter kill,”
  • Cereal rye will survive all right in low rainfall, but it doesn’t do well in excessive moisture.
  • More biomass is a plus for cereal rye during the fall, winter and early spring because it provides good weed control.
  • Cereal rye can dry out topsoil during a dry spring if it is not killed with a timely application of herbicide. On the other hand, cereal rye can get away from growers in a wet spring and can grow more than 6 feet high. That mat of residue can keep soils from drying out and warming up in a timely fashion.
  • While annual ryegrass and cereal rye both sequester nitrogen, cereal rye has more vegetation above ground in the spring, especially if it’s allowed to grow. That growth can tie up nitrogen, so it’s best to eliminate cereal rye while it’s less than 16 inches tall.
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