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Friday - July 29, 2011

From: Bristol, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Planting, Problem Plants, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Need something to compete with Virginia wild rye in Bristol, TN.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


I have been working for 4 years to convert a large area of sunny lawn (150' x 40') to a native woodland planting, using native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. Although I used seeds of a variety of native grasses, my primary grass was Elymus virginicus (Virginia wild rye) which was a BIG mistake because, at least in Tennessee,it is top-heavy, very subject to windfall and turns crispy brown beginning in mid-summer. Now I have LOTS of it and am trying to correct the problem. I cut off and dispose of most of the seed heads each year before they ripen,and I am trying hard to greatly increase the area's plant diversity by planting plugs. I thought this was a short-lived grass whose dominance would gradually diminish but so far not true. What else can I do? Is there a native grass species that I could use to heavily over-seed the area that would be able to come up and compete with the Virginia wild rye?


Mr. Smarty Plants is going to start by directing you to a previously answered question about native grasses in East Texas. Though East Texas is removed from Tennessee by some distance, the answer has some good information about grasses, and addresses some of the same questions that you have. 

The first bit of information is that there are cool season grasses and warm season grasses.  Warm season grasses germinate in the spring and, since they are heat and drought tolerant, are generally green throughout the spring and summer.  They  begin turning brown in the fall and remain so throughout the winter.  Cool season grasses germinate in the fall and are green and growing throughout the winter and spring, but die back in the heat of summer.  What category do you think Elymus virginicus is in? (read the answer).

Your strategy of removing the seed heads  can help eliminate the rye grass, but you must be persistent and thorough. Since the plant is a perennial, the established  stalks will not be affected by the removal, but you are eliminating a seed source for new plants. Some mechanical removal will probably also be necessary. I'm unsure of what kind of plugs you are planting.

Sowing warm season grasses to compete with the rye grass is a possible solution, and there is a list of warm season grasses in the previous answer. Clicking on the scientific name of each grass will bring up its NPIN page which contains a description of the plant, its growth characteristics and growth requirements, as well as images. On each page, scroll down to the Additional Resources box and click on the name beside USDA. The page that comes up will have a USDA Distribution Map that indicates whether or not the plant occurs naturally in Eastern Tennessee. This should help you choose a grass or two to try out. You can consult our National Suppliers Directory to find seed sources. Be aware that you can’t plant the warm season grasses until Spring.

Here are two possibilities that I like and think they are much more attractive than Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye).

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)  sunny areas

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)  suited for shady areas

Another source of help is the Sullivan County Offices of UT Extension.


From the Image Gallery

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

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