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Topics : Species and Forage Variety Trials : Species Fact Sheets : Warm-Season Grasses

Species: Warm-Season Grasses

Additional warm-season grasses information via the Forage Information System (FIS)

Characteristics & Adaptation of Big Bluegrass & Switchgrass

Native, perennial warm-season grasses such as switchgrass (Panicium virgatum L.) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi Vitman) grow primarily during the warm part of the summer. They produce well compared to cool-season grasses during the hot and dry weather of July and August, and on soils with low moisture holding capacity, pH, and phosphorus.

Although recognized as a summer component of a pasture system, warm-season grasses can be harvested and stored as hay. Primary growth (65-75%) of the warm-season grasses is in mid-summer and can be used to complement a cool-season grass forage program by providing additional forage during the summer. Their establishment and management requirements are quite different from cool-season grasses and first time users must pay special attention to the details of managing these grasses. When managed properly, warm-season grass hay can provide good quality forage, especially for beef cattle. In digestibility trials conducted at Penn State over a three-year period, warm-season grasses were 65 percent digestibile and orchardgrass was 68 percent digestible. Two warm-season grasses that are adapted to Pennsylvania are switchgrass and big bluestem.

Adapted Big Bluestem & Switchgrass Varieties

Switchgrass is a tall growing, bunch grass which tolerates poorly drained soils, flooding, and perched water tables better than other warm- season grasses. With proper management, stands in Pennsylvania have remained productive for 20 years. Varieties of switchgrass used in Pennsylvania are Blackwell, Cave-In-Rock, and Trailblazer. Blackwell and Cave-In-Rock are highly productive varieties that head in early and mid summer, respectively. Trailblazer is a variety that was selected for increased digestibility and palatability.

Big bluestem is a tall growing, bunch grass that is more drought tolerant than other warm- season grasses and thus is better adapted to excessively drained soils with low water-holding capacity. Niagara is a variety especially adapted to Northeast conditions. Forage quality of Niagara is good and it is tolerant to leaf spot. Niagara matures early in the summer.