Italian ryegrass is a winter annual plant that requires vernalization (a period of cold and reduced day length) to initiate heading. When sown in spring, very few seedheads will be observed throughout the seeding year. If fall sown, the plants will head profusely the following spring. Italian ryegrass is extremely high yielding and is typically the highest quality grass we know of. It's lower cost and ease of seeding make Italian ryegrass an excellent choice as a nurse crop for other species or a great short term forage.
If you have lots of nutrients on the farm, Italian ryegrass can be a good choice to utilize and recycle those nutrients. It can be easily used to extend thinning alfalfa or mixed stands for one more year. This will result in high yields of excellent quality forage without the hassle of a total stand renovation. With its upright growth habit, Italian ryegrass is better suited to mechanical harvest than grazing, but we have many folks who successfully graze it. Like perennial ryegrass, the waxy coating on Italian ryegrass retards drydown so it isn't a good choice for dry hay.
Italian ryegrass can be sown by itself or sown in mixtures, serving as a nurse crop for slower establishing species. Planting depth should be 0.25 to 0.50 inches. Broadcast sowing into thin stands can be successful, but no-till drilling is the recommended method to thicken existing stands. Depending on the time of planting and conditions, the first harvest can come as early as 45 days after planting.