With rye cover crops, those who hesitate are lost!
Early spring is the best time to control cereal rye that was planted last fall as a cover crop.
I’m always telling my kids, “You snooze, you lose” when they do not take advantage of opportunities or they are not timely on an event. Farmers who planted cereal rye (Secale cereal) as a cover crop last fall need to be ready now to control their rye! Rye is one of the most common cover crops planted in Michigan and the Upper Midwest. Early spring (now) is the best time to control with either herbicides or through tillage. We recommend controlling rye between 9” to 12” in height. Research has shown that if rye is allowed to grow larger than 16”, it can tie up soil nitrogen. Do not forget that rye grows very fast in the spring, so do not hesitate or snooze.
Obviously, there are field conditions that can delay your control of rye, such as a wet spring. Rye can serve as a drying tool for soils that are wet. Just remember that taller rye will tie up soil nitrogen and you may need to compensate by applying some nitrogen at planting.
If you are having a dry spring, it is very important to remove rye early so the soils do not dry out.
Lastly, if you are using rye as a mulch weed control and rolling and crimping the rye, you should do this when the rye is at the soft dough stage. Most farmers using this method are planting and drilling soybeans in the rye so nitrogen tie up is not a concern.