How to Grow Canada Wild Rye

Fast-growing, Drought-Tolerant and Interesting Ornamental Grass

Canada wild rye ornamental grass with tan-green leaves on curving stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) is a perennial, clump-forming, fast-growing grass. Although typically used as livestock forage, it's also widely used ornamentally in garden landscapes.

The blueish-green leaves and the graceful, curving flowering stems add interest through much of the year. Even just watching them swaying in a breeze is relaxing and this trait is where they get their alternative name of nodding wild rye. For bird enthusiasts, the seeds that form are also an excellent source of feed for them.

The green-colored flowers that appear in the summer look similar to traditional wheat or rye, and, along with the foliage, they turn light shades of sandy-yellow in the fall. The stalks, which can grow up to five feet tall, are often cut for use in dry floral arrangements too.

Although it isn't a particularly long-lived ornamental grass, it's low-maintenance, easy to grow, interesting, and drought-tolerant. Canada wild rye is also known to be virtually disease-free and isn't troubled by pests. If you need to plant something that is going to establish across a large space quickly, it's a good choice.

The self-sowing properties and ease of growth of this grass make it popular if you have a wild meadow or prairie garden, but it isn't always such a popular choice for small spaces. It can also be beneficial for the management of slope erosion.

Being a cool-season grass species, Canada wild rye actively grows in the spring and fall, and the stalks are still attractive right into the winter.

It's worth being aware that this grass isn't all that tolerant of competition. After a few growing seasons, it can be overtaken by other species in a meadow setting.

Botanical Name Elymus canadensis
Common Name Canada wild rye, Canadian wildrye, prairie wildrye, nodding wild rye
Plant Type Perennial bunchgrass
Mature Size Up to 5 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, clay, well-drained
Soil pH Acid, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Summer, early fall
Flower Color Blue-green
Hardiness Zones 3 - 8, USDA
Native Area North America

Plant Care

Low-maintenance, versatile, and fast-growing Canada wild rye is drought-tolerant, cold hardy and self-seeds readily. This grass prefers to be positioned where it can benefit from full sun and well-drained soil.

Canada wild rye ornamental grass with braided stalks extending blueish-green leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Canada wil rye ornamental with clump-forming grass on thin stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Canada wild rye with thin stems and sandy-yellow stalks on ends

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


Although Canada wild rye will still grow in partial shade where it only receives around half a day of sun, it performs best when it can take advantage of a full sun position.


It's handy that this species isn't particular when it comes to soil types. It's known for being adaptable and will grow in sandy, gravelly, loamy, clay, and limestone varieties.

The one thing it does need is good drainage. It doesn't appreciate waterlogged conditions. Although it prefers moist soils, dry conditions don't present a problem for Canada wild rye.


Ensuring the soil experiences consistent and average amounts of moisture will promote the most vigorous growth when it comes to Canada wild rye.

It's still tolerant, however, of dry sites, and its drought-tolerant qualities make it a good choice for warm and wide-spreading prairie meadows where regular watering isn't always easy.

Temperature and Humidity

A cool-season and hardy grass, Canada wild rye goes into dormancy in the cold winter months and also even during the heat of the summer. It can cope with a relatively wide range of seasonal temperatures, but it appreciates dry, temperate conditions. Too much humidity isn't good for this grass.

Propagating Canada Wild Rye

This grass species is incredibly easy to propagate. It can be done by root division or seeds. Division is best done in the fall, and because Canada wild rye is a clump-forming grass, it makes the job nice and easy.


If required, hard pruning of Canada wild rye isn't a problem. It can be cut right down to the ground at the start of spring. It's important to do it before the new growth begins. Because of its vigorous growth habit, healthy Canada wild rye should grow back up quickly again that year.

How to Grow Canada Wild Rye From Seed

Canada wild rye seeds germinate very easily. The seeds will benefit from a cold and moist stratification process for around a fortnight before sowing.

Make sure they're sown close to the surface of the soil as they appreciate light to germinate successfully.