Warm season grasses offer year-around benefits
After lush growth in the spring and early summer, cool season grasses are ready for a summer vacation. Their production drops off through the summer months, and then picks up again as fall approaches. But long, sunny days don't slow down the growth of warm season grasses like switchgrass, Indiangrass and bluestem. In fact, these warm season perennial grasses are most productive from mid-June to mid-August.
By growing warm season grasses in addition to the more familiar cool season grasses, producers can maintain forage production spring through fall, and even stockpile forage for extended-season grazing. For instance, a producer with a rotational grazing system might start grazing livestock on cool season grasses in the spring then move the livestock to the warm season grasses for the summer. Meanwhile, the cool season grasses would re-grow so they could be grazed again in the fall.
Besides helping provide more uniform forage production through the growing season, warm season grasses can help landowners provide wildlife habitat in unharvested areas such as sod waterways and filter strips. For example, switchgrass provides good nesting cover because it stands well through the winter.
Like most crops, warm season grasses grow best on fertile soil that is well drained, yet has good water holding capacity. However, compared to cool season grasses, warm season grasses are generally more tolerant of low pH and low fertility. Certain warm season grass species also are more tolerant of poorly drained soils or soils with poor water holding capacity.
On the other hand, warm season grasses don't work well as quick cover for erosion control.
Establishing a stand of warm season grass takes at least two years and often longer, especially if weeds aren't well managed. Warm season grasses also require different harvest management than cool season grasses. Even so, warm season grasses could fill a need for many Ohio producers.
For more information, refer to Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 472, Fact Sheet AGF-022-95, and Fact Sheet AEX 467-94, all available through local OSU Extension offices or www.ohioline.osu.edu.