Forage and Native Grasses

There is a trend to increase use of native grasses for perennial seedings. The right mixture of adapted native grasses will restore natural stands of these species as they were before domestic livestock grazed the land. Good management is a must, but these grasses can serve many special uses such as warm season pasture, high yielding hay crops and erosion control. The Natural Resource.

Big Bluestem

A warm season, perennial bunch grass that grows to a height of 3 to 8 feet. It has roots that permeate the top two feet of soil. Big Bluestem is adapted to moist, deep, well-drained soils. It is very palatable and nutritious. Big Bluestem, if continuously grazed closer than 6 to 8 inches, will be replaced by less desirable grasses. It also works well in pure stands or mixed with other grasses. Used extensively for nesting habitat, and reclamation projects.

Little Bluestem

A warm season, leafy perennial grass that grows to a height of 1 to 4 feet. It can be grazed and has good forage value when the leaves are tender. It does not cure well and has moderate palatability for fall or winter grazing. Recommended in a mixture of warm season grasses for erosion control or summer pasture.

Sand Bluestem

Sand Bluestem is a warm season, tall, 3–6 foot, perennial, sod-forming grass found in sandy areas, similar to Big Bluestem in appearance. Primary use is on deep sand range sites and revegetation of blowout areas.

Sideoats Grama

Side Oats Grama is a warm season, erect native perennial grass that grows in tufts and open bunches to a height of 1 to 2 feet tall. It is more tolerant to drought than Indiangrass or Big Bluestem. It grows fast in late spring and early summer and stays green late into the summer. Side Oats Grama has good forage value and is grazed mostly in late summer and fall. It is found primarily on poorly developed shallow soiled, steep slopes, and ridgetops. Primary use is in grass mixtures for rangeland seedings. Its excellent seeding vigor allows rapid establishment.

Blue Grama

A warm season short tufted perennial of the mixed grass prairie that is widely distributed on medium to heavy soils throughout the Dakotas and Minnesota. It has high drought tolerance on all soil types. Primarily used in rangeland seed mixes, low maintenance turf areas and roadsides.

Indiangrass

A warm season grass that spreads by seed and short rhizomes. It grows to a height of 3 to 6 feet and will grow on sandy soil, it is better adapted to moist well-drained bottomlands. Indiangrass exhibits moderate salt tolerance and will withstand occasional flooding. It makes good quality hay, and is found primarily in the tall grass prairie, and mixed-grass prairie. Primary use is in wildlife habitat and native range and pasture mixtures.

Green Needlegrass

A cool season, perennial bunch type grass that grows from 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall. It is a native grass that grows on medium to fine textured soils. Green Needlegrass starts growth early in the spring, and is nutritious, palatable, and remains green throughout the year. Stand establishment may be slow because of high dormant seed percentage.

Switchgrass

A warm season, perennial grass often found growing in large clumps to a height of 2 to 5 feet. It is found primarily in the tall-grass prairie on good moisture sites, and can stand flooding for short periods. Primary use is in wildlife habitat plantings, and in waterways. It has potential for summer pasture on good moisture sites, exhibits rapid growth in late spring and early summer and is readily grazed by livestock. It is high yielding and produces best if cut early.

Buffalograss

Buffalograss is a warm season, short, stoloniferous, dense, sod-forming grass. Buffalograss is palatable and nutritious as forage. It recovers rapidly after a drought and can withstand heavy grazing. It is primarily used as a low maintenance turf grass for lawns, airstrips and road shoulders.

Prairie Sandreed

Prairie Sandreed is a drought-tolerant, strong rhizomatous, sod-forming grass. Early growth is nutritious, but forage value is only fair due to high fiber and lignin content . The leaves are light green with a leathery texture; stems are coarse. Its primary use is in rangeland seed mixtures on sandy soils where it is well adapted. Prairie Sandreed is is excellent for stabilization of sandy soils. Seed supplies are usually quite scarce.

Creeping Foxtail

Creeping Foxtail is a cool season, very early maturing, high palatable, perennial, and sod-forming grass that grows best on wet or imperfectly drained soils. It tolerates long periods of flooding in early spring and a uniformly moist soil, exceeding 50 percent of field capacity, is beneficial during seedling emergence for successful establishment. The light fluffy seed tends to clog grain drills. Primary use is for hay, pasture and conservation plantings on wet or imperfectly drained soils. Seed is very light and easily transported to other wet sites.

Sand Dropseed

Sand Dropseed is a warm season, perennial bunch grass that grows to a height of 1 to 2 1/2 feet. Growth starts in mid-spring and plants are mature by mid summer. It is a prolific seed producer and has high drought tolerance, allowing it to take over thin stands of alfalfa or other less greedy grasses.

Indian Ricegrass

Indian Ricegrass is a cool season, perennial, bunch type grass. It grows from 1 to 2 1/2 feet tall. It produces the most forage in spring and early summer and also provides excellent winter grazing as it cures well and the lower stems remain green throughout the winter. It is very drought resistant and tolerates some alkali and low fertility soils.

Smooth Bromegrass

A cool season, long lived perennial, sod-forming grass that grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Smooth Bromegrass spreads by creeping rhizomes and is one of the most productive nutritious and palatable forage grasses in the north central states. It withstands hot, dry weather and has a long growing season.

Meadow Bromegrass

A cool season, long lived perennial, sod-former with short rhizomes. Adapted to most sites, but performs best on moderately deep, well-drained moist soils. Provides excellent forage and is often used in blends with legumes and other grasses because of its ability to survive but not compete with them.

Wheatgrass

The Wheatgrasses are one of the most important groups of grasses we have for forages and erosion control. Some are native species that have been placed in cultivation. Some are selections and others have been introduced from foreign countries. As a group, wheatgrasses have large seeds and stands are easy to establish. These grasses produce early spring growth of high quality at a season of the year when it is most needed by over-wintering livestock. Wheatgrasses are hardy and highly nutritious. They are especially valuable for pasture, hay and erosion control. Spring planting is most common.

Intermediate Wheatgrass

A cool season, tall, perennial, sod-forming grass with a vigorous root system similar to that of bromegrass. It is easy to establish. Growth starts in early spring. Though usually dormant during the dry hot summer months, it resumes growth in fall. A high yielding grass generally adapted to the northern Great Plains.

Pubescent Wheatgrass

Pubescent Wheatgrass is a sod-forming grass very similar to Intermediate Wheatgrass in growth habit and period of growth. Certain strains appear to be more drought tolerant and better adapted to low fertility soils than Intermediate.

Crested Wheatgrass

Crested Wheatgrass is an extremely hardy, drought tolerant, long-lived, perennial bunch grass. It makes excellent early pasture and is dormant during hot summer months, greens up with fall moisture.

  • Nordan Crested Wheatgrass - Excellent seeding vigor. Rapid first year growths, leafy, uniform. Seed is plump and heavy for easier seeding.
  • Fairway Crested Wheatgrass - Fine stemmed and leafy. Tillers more than standard crested. Also shorter, more uniform than Nordan. Adapted for turf use in drier areas.

Slender Wheatgrass

A short-lived, cool-season, perennial bunchgrass. It is primarily used in seed mixtures of introduced and native grasses due to its excellent seed vigor, ease of establishment and fast growth. Plants lose vigor, and decline in abundance within three to four years. Presence in mixtures improves stand productivity, especially during the first production year, until other grasses become better established. It possesses a high tolerance to saline-alkali soils.

Tall Wheatgrass

Tall Wheatgrass is a hardy, drought tolerant perennial bunch type grass with coarse foliage. It is quite alkali tolerant and best adapted to low marshy and high water table areas. Tall wheatgrass is used widely in nesting mixtures and to a lessor degree in reclamation work.

Western Wheatgrass

Western Wheatgrass is a native, cool season, perennial, sod forming grass, which reproduces from underground rhizomes and seeds. Western Wheatgrass spreads rapidly and forms a dense sod, making it valuable for erosion control. It produces an abundance of forage early in the season that is nutritious and readily eaten by livestock until late summer when it becomes harsh and fibrous. It makes a good quality hay if cut during the late bloom, and can stand close grazing. Western Wheatgrass will do well on a wide range of soils, from sands to clays. It is very tolerant to alkali. It can be seeded in pure stands but is usually used in mixtures because it provides ground cover quite slowly.

Thickspike Wheatgrass

Thickspike Wheatgrass is a strong rhizomatous, perennial, sod-forming grass found on rough, broken buttes and to a limited extent on sagebrush flats with native grasses on adapted sites. Also used for revegetation of disturbed areas, roadsides and other critical areas that receive little or no maintenance.

Streamback Wheatgrass

Streamback Wheatgrass is a drought-tolerant perennial sod-forming grass with good seeding vigor and a high tolerance to saline-alkali soils. Adapted primarily for soil erosion control and general-purpose ground cover on roadsides, airports and disturbed areas. Stem and leaf rusting may be a problem on some sites.

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch Wheatgrass is a long-lived drought tolerant, highly palatable and nutritious bunchgrass. Sensitive to overgrazing, it is best adapted to light, droughty soils.

AC Saltlander Wheatgrass

A long-lived perennial grass with a moderate amount of vegetative spread developed as hybrid between quackgrass and bluebunch wheatgrass. It has demonstrated excellent salinity tolerance. Saltlander is superior in salt tolerance to Crested or Intermediate Wheatgrass, and similar to Tall Wheatgrass.

Timothy

Timothy is valuable in pasture mixtures but is not suited for permanent pasture except in combination with grasses and legumes. It is an ideal grass to plant with alsike clover. Timothy is adapted to a considerable range of soil reactions but is adversely affected by high acid to about the same degree as corn. As compared to clover or alfalfa hay, timothy is relatively low in protein and also in minerals, especially calcium or lime. Timothy is a cool season short-lived perennial bunch grass, is tall and late maturing.

Orchardgrass

A cool season, tall, perennial bunchgrass. For best results it should be mixed with other grasses and legumes. It is sometimes used for hay purposes, but is preferred for pastures when seeded in a mixture because of its early and late growth in the season. It seems to adapt itself to most types of soil, but does better in heavy rich soil. Although not as winter hardy as bromegrass it will stand more heat, drought and low fertility, and will make more summer growth.

Wildrye Grasses

Wildrye Grasses have rather coarse, rough and stemmy foliage. They are hardy, easily established and make early spring growth. They give quick ground cover, so their main use is in revegetation and soil holding. They are rather tolerant to alkali and grow well on many kinds of soil.

Russian Wildrye

Russsian Wildrye is an early, long-lived, cool-season, drought tolerant, perennial bunchgrass with fine basal leaves. It is a special purpose grass used primarily to extend the grazing season into late fall. Protein content of the forage remains at relatively high levels when saved for fall grazing. It possesses a moderately high tolerance to saline-alkali soils. Highly competitive with other forage species, Russian Wildrye is recommended for fall grazing in separate pastures as a single species.

Altai Wildrye

Altai Wildrye is and early, long-lived, cool-season, drought tolerant, winter hardy, perennial bunchgrass with coarse, erect leaves. It is a special purpose grass used to extend the grazing season into late fall and winter. Upright and erect stature and leaf retention after snowfall permits late fall/early winter grazing. It is especially adapted to loam and clay soils. The root system is extensive and penetrates to depths of 10 feet. It possesses a high tolerance to saline-alkali soils, but less than tall wheatgrass. Forage nutritional value is limited to its low seed yield. Recommended as a single species stand for grazing.

Canada Wildrye

Canada Wildrye is a tall growing, coarse perennial bunchgrass. It is winter hardy. Grows well on many kinds of soil but is especially well adapted to sandy soil. Produces early spring grazing. Seedlings are vigorous. Its best use is in mixtures with other grasses.

Mammoth Wildrye

Mammoth Wildrye is a tall coarse, perennial, cool-season grass with stout rhizomes. It has poor forage quality, but provides excellent erosion control on sandy soil, including inland sand dunes and blowout areas.

Duharian Wildrye

Dahurian Wildrye is a short-lived perennial bunchgrass that is easy to establish with excellent seedling vigor, good forage production, and a quick recovery after hay.

Great Basin Wildrye

Great Basin Wildrye is a perennial bunchgrass native to much of the western United States. Great Basin wildrye is a tall grass that provides excellent grazing for livestock, and nesting and escape for wildlife. It can also be used as a grass windbreak for wind erosion protection or to control blowing snow. Great Basin Wildrye is adapted to a broad range of soil textures, but does not do well on coarse or shallow soils and is susceptible to leaf and stem rusts.

Meadow Fescue

Meadow Fescue is a hardy, fairly tall, short-lived perennial bunchgrass. It is slow in starting but yields well after the first year. Meadow Fescue is especially adapted to heavy wet soils and is generally used as a pasture crop, either alone or in mixtures with legumes. It makes good pasture because it is early, stays green late into the fall, and also makes good quality hay, especially when mixed with Ladino or Alsike Clover.

Tall Fescue

A cool season, productive, soil conserving, perennial bunchgrass that tolerates wet poorly drained soils. Good palatability for both pasture and hay, it is important to use endophyte-free strains when used for forage.

Hard Fescue

Hard Fescue is a densely tufted, cool season, long-lived perennial bunchgrass with a massive, fibrous, shallow root system. Adapted to a wide range of soil conditions except for standing water or strongly alkaline sites. Establishment is slow, but persistent with mature stands being very competitive. Good palatablility to livestock and excellent for wildlife. Also used for controlling erosion and as a turf grass.

Reed Canarygrass

Reed Canarygrass is a tall, coarse, bigious, long-lived perennial bunchgrass that grows to a height of 2 to 8 feet. It spreads by short scaly underground rhizomes that form a heavy sod in well-managed solid seedings. It is adapted for permanent pastures on poorly drained, wet areas. Reed Canarygrass is very tolerant to flooding, even for several weeks' duration. It can be used for pasture, hay or silage. Hay quality may be improved by early spring pasturing to delay maturity, thus reducing the coarseness of the growth. Although this grass grows best on moist, cool sites, it makes excellent growth on upland soils. One of the earliest grasses to begin growth in the spring, it produces large yields of nutritious forage. Reed Canarygrass is an excellent waterway grass because of its tolerance to water logged situations and should be considered a first choice under these conditions.

June Grass

June grass is usually found as single plants in mixed communities. Stem density and bunchiness change with growth conditions, making identification difficult. Although its increased abundance is generally associated with overgrazing, June grass is regarded as palatable forage, particularly in the spring.

Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata)

This dramatic native grass has a graceful, weeping form that takes on rich golden tints in autumn. Prairie cordgrass is also called ripgut, marshgrass, and sloughgrass, it is found in moist low areas, ditches, and marshy areas. Prefers deep, heavy, wet lowland soils. Can occur in both fresh and salt water. It reproduces from seeds and rhizomes. Often forms dense stands. The leaf blades are very coarse, with pointed teeth along the margins. When rubbed, it can cut the skin, which is what the common name “ripgut” refers to. It is fast growing and can be used to prevent soil erosion. It grows throughout much of the U.S. Prairie cordgrass is of poor forage value when mature, but can be eaten by livestock during its early growth stage. It will produce moderate quality hay when harvested before the stems develop. It also provides good cover for wildlife. It often remains erect through the winter. Red-winged blackbirds will nest in it.