Submitted to: Forage Focus
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: January 28, 2010
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
Citation: Mitchell, R.B., Vogel, K.P. Practices for Reliably Establishing Warm-season Grasses. Forage Focus, March Issue pages 7 and 10. Midwest Forage Association, St. Paul, MN. 2010 (Popular article) Interpretive Summary: Warm-season grasses like big bluestem, indiangrass, and switchgrass have a reputation for being difficult to establish and taking several years before the grass stand can be used. This may have been the norm 25 years ago, but it is not true today. New herbicides and cultivars have made it possible to seed native warm-season grasses in the spring, harvest for hay after a killing frost, and begin grazing near full production the next spring. Warm-season grasses are readily established when quality seed of adapted cultivars are used in conjunction with the proper planting date, seeding rate, seeding method, and herbicides for weed control. Following these basic guidelines will improve the reliability of warm-season grass establishment.
Technical Abstract: Native warm-season grasses like big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) are reported to be difficult to establish and will require 3-years to get a usable stand. This may have been the norm 25 years ago, but it is not true today. New technology and management practices have made it possible to seed native warm-season grasses in the spring, harvest for hay after a killing frost, and begin grazing near full production the next spring. We have grazed indiangrass and switchgrass pastures 12-months after seeding by following these basic guidelines. The keys to reliably establishing warm-season grasses are: 1) plant high quality certified seed of adapted cultivars - cheap seed is not a bargain, 2) develop a firm seedbed, 3) use a well-calibrated grassland drill, 4) seed 2 to 3 weeks before or after the recommended corn planting date, 5) control weeds early with herbicides, and 6) monitor weather conditions and try to plant before a predicted rainy period. Following these basic guidelines will improve the reliability of warm-season grass establishment.