Grass Identification

A3637
©1996 by the Board of Regents of the University
of Wisconsin System doing business as the division
of Cooperative Extension of the University of
Wisconsin-Extension. Send inquiries about
copyright permission to: Director, Cooperative
Extension Publications, 201 Hiram Smith Hall,
1545 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.
Authors: Dan Undersander and Michael Casler
are professors of agronomy, College of Agricultural
and Life Sciences, University of WisconsinMadison. Dennis Cosgrove is associate professor of
agronomy, University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Dan Undersander and Dennis Cosgrove also hold
appointments with University of WisconsinExtension, Cooperative Extension.
Credits: Produced by Cooperative Extension
Publications, University of Wisconsin-Extension.
Editor, Linda Deith; designer, Susan Anderson;
photographer, B. Wolfgang Hoffmann; illustrator,
Jody Myer-Lynch.
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A3637 Identifying Pasture Grasses
I-08-96-4M-??0
Identifying
pasture grasses
Dan Undersander
Michael Casler
Dennis Cosgrove
FC
Contents
Using this guide
. . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Parts of a grass plant
. . . . . . . . . . 4
How a grass plant grows
Is it a grass?
. . . . . . . . 6
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Seed and seedling indentification
Large seeds (3⁄8 inch or larger)
. . 9
. . . . . 10
Smooth bromegrass . . . . . . . . . 10
Medium seeds (1⁄4 inch) .
. . . . . . . . 11
Quackgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Perennial ryegrass . . . . . . . . . . 12
Annual (Italian) ryegrass . . . . . . 13
Orchardgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Tall fescue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Small seeds (smaller than 1⁄4 inch)
. . . 16
Kentucky bluegrass . . . . . . . . . 16
Reed canarygrass. . . . . . . . . . . 17
Timothy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Creeping foxtail . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Barnyardgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Yellow foxtail . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Green foxtail . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Giant foxtail . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Vegetative grass and
seed head identification .
. . . . . . 25
Sod—wide leaf blade (1⁄2 inch)
. . . . . 26
Smooth bromegrass . . . . . . . . . 26
Reed canarygrass. . . . . . . . . . . 28
Sod—medium leaf blade (1⁄4 inch)
. . . 30
Quackgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Creeping foxtail . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Sod—narrow leaf blade (less
than 1⁄8 inch).
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Kentucky bluegrass . . . . . . . . . 34
Bunch—rolled leaf blade
. . . . . . . . 36
Annual (Italian) ryegrass . . . . . . . 36
Tall fescue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Timothy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Bunch—folded leaf blade .
. . . . . . . 40
Perennial ryegrass . . . . . . . . . . 40
Orchardgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Grass management and
descriptions . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . 43
Kentucky bluegrass . . . . . . . . . 44
Orchardgrass . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Reed canarygrass. . . . . . . . . . . 48
Ryegrass, annual (Italian)
and perennial . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Identifying
pasture
grasses
Dan Undersander, Michael Casler, and
Dennis Cosgrove
G
rasses are the base of Midwestern
pastures. They can supply good yields of
quality feed. This booklet identifies the
15 most common annual and perennial
grasses in Midwestern pastures: the
predominant seeded midwestern grasses, the
most common native pasture grasses
(quackgrass and Kentucky bluegrass), and a
few annual weedy grasses. While many other
grasses grow in the Midwest, they do not
contribute significantly to the stand or yield.
This guide will help you identify grasses
the first year, when you need to know
whether a seeding was successful. It will also
help you identify grasses in established
pastures so you can make informed decisions
about pasture management, fencing, and
renovation.
This booklet is organized in three parts:
■
seed and seedling identification for new
plantings,
■
vegetative identification (with seed
heads) for established plants, and
■
information about growth habit and
management for each of the seeded
grasses.
Smooth bromegrass . . . . . . . . . 52
Tall fescue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Timothy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Species information .
. . . . . . . . . . 58
1
Using this guide
At the 2- to 3-leaf stage, use the “pull
test” to determine whether the grass seedling
is a perennial or an annual. An annual grass
will pull easily and will have many short
roots. A perennial grass will be harder to pull
and will have at least one long root that may
break off when you pull the seedling.
We’ve organized the grasses in the seed
and seedling section by seed size. When you
pull the seedling, look for the seed, which will
often still be attached. Measure the longest
dimension of the seed to determine which
category (large, medium, or small) it fits in.
Then page through the appropriate category
to match the seed and seedling to the
photographs and descriptions. The seeds are
enlarged to show detail; for actual size, refer
to the description at the top of each page.
Before you plant
Before purchasing grass seeds, you may
want to consult the grass management and
descriptions section of this book. It describes
the ideal uses for each species and outlines the
best techniques for successful establishment,
management, and harvest. The species
information chart on page 58 summarizes
seeding rates and relative tolerance for
drought, traffic, and weed suppression.
Identifying seeds and seedlings
The best time to identify seedlings is
when plants are at the 2- to 3-leaf stage.
Grasses usually reach this stage 1 to 4 weeks
after germination, depending on the species.
Germination time (shown below) can
sometimes help determine grass type.
Identifying vegetative grasses and
seed heads
Germination time
Ryegrass
Orchardgrass
Tall fescue
Timothy
Kentucky bluegrass
Quackgrass
Smooth bromegrass
Creeping foxtail
Reed canarygrass
0
7
14
21
28
To identify grasses in established
pastures, first check to see whether the grass is
sod forming (spreading) or bunching (forms
clumps). If you’re examining a sod-forming
grass, the next step is to look at the width of
the leaf blades (1⁄2-inch wide, 1⁄4-inch wide, or
less than 1⁄8-inch wide). If you’re looking at a
bunch-type grass, check to see whether the
unemerged leaf blade is rolled or folded.
Once you’ve keyed these two items, turn to
the appropriate category to identify the grass.
Days to germination
2
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
3
Parts of a grass plant
Glossary
A short extension of the leaf blade
that wraps partway around the stem.
Awn A stiff, hair-like extension on some
glumes.
Collar A light-colored band of tissue opposite
the ligule, on the outer side of the grass
leaf.
Culm The jointed stem of grasses.
Glume A tiny leaf-like structure enveloping
the seed.
Internode The area of the stem between the
nodes.
Leaf blade The flat, expanded portion of the
grass leaf.
Ligule A membrane or series of hairs on the
inner side of the grass leaf where the
blade joins the sheath.
Node The place on the stem where a leaf
attaches.
Rachilla The point of attachment of a seed to
the seed head or to another seed.
Sheath The part of the leaf that wraps
around the main stem.
Auricle
culm
node
internode
leaf blade
ligule
collar
auricle
awn
sheath
node
seed
glume
rachilla
Cross-section of a shoot
(showing unemerged leaves)
folded
Overlapping (left) and fused
(right) sheaths.
4
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
rolled
5
How a grass plant grows
P
lants get energy from the sun. Through
photosynthesis, plants convert this energy
to carbohydrates which can either be used
for growth or stored for future use.
Forage growth is slow when plants are
small (early spring growth or after grazing).
When plants have few green leaves, they must
rely heavily on stored carbohydrates for their
energy, illustrated below. As leaves get bigger,
photosynthesis increases dramatically,
allowing for rapid growth. Before flowering,
most pasture plants are growing as fast as
possible if other factors are not limiting. Once
the plant begins to flower, growth slows since
most energy is diverted to flower and seed
production when forage heads out.
Forage quality decreases as plants age.
This occurs because, as plants get larger and
more stemmy, a greater percentage of
nutrients and dry matter is tied up in nondigestible forms (such as lignin).
Good managers balance pasture quality
against yield. The best time to graze is
immediately following the most rapid growth
but before flowering and seeding. A good rule
of thumb is to wait until grasses are 10 inches
tall before grazing. At this stage, sufficient
carbohydrate reserves have been built up to
allow for rapid regrowth; in addition, both
yield and quality are high (see figure below).
If grazing occurs before the forage has had
time to rebuild its carbohydrate reserves, yield
will be low, the next regrowth may be slow
and reduced, and winter survival may be
decreased. One of the cornerstones of a
successful grazing system is having rest
periods long enough to allow for rapid forage
regrowth.
quality
carbohydrate
reserves
best time to graze
6
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
seed
forming
early
heading
stem
elongation
internode
elongation
vegetative
growth
seed
forming
early
heading
stem
elongation
internode
elongation
vegetative
growth
yield
7
Grasses can sometimes be confused with
sedges and rushes. To distinguish them, look
for the following characteristics:
■ Sedges have triangular stems that are
filled with pith. The nodes are
inconspicuous and leaves grow from
the stem in three directions when
viewed from top.
■ Rushes have round or flat stems. Stems
are commonly leafy only at the base.
Leaves grow from two directions when
viewed from the top.
■ Grasses have round or flat stems.
Stems are leafy along the entire length.
Leaves grow from two directions when
viewed from the top.
grass/rush
8
sedge
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
SEED & SEEDLING IDENTIFICATION
Is it a grass?
LARGE SEEDS
3/8 inch or larger
10
Smooth bromegrass
Quackgrass
Species description, p. 52;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 26.
Vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 30.
Seedling characteristics
3⁄8
inch long
Seedling characteristics
seed
about 3⁄8 inch long
seed
about
shoot
frequently reddish at base
shoot
tall, slender; frequently two
leaves from same base
leaf blade
leaf blade
medium green; 1⁄8–1⁄4 inch wide
dark green, robust; lower
surface smooth
sheath
sides overlap at top; short hairs
sheath
sides fused at top; rarely
ligule
short, membranous
auricles
narrow, pointed, and
clasping around the stem
with short hairs
ligule
not prominent; ragged edge
auricles
none, or very short
other
slow emergence
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
11
MEDIUM SEEDS
1/4 inch
12
Perennial ryegrass
Annual (Italian) ryegrass
Species description, p. 50;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 40.
Species description, p. 50;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 36.
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
seed
about 1⁄4 inch long; rachilla
attached
seed
about 1⁄4 inch long; rachilla
attached; usually has short awns
shoot
leaves slightly folded in shoot
shoot
multiple leaves early
leaf blade
narrow; underside glossy
leaf blade
glossy underside
sheath
sides overlap at top; smooth
sheath
sides overlap at top; no hairs
ligule
membranous
ligule
membranous; medium length
auricles
long
auricles
present
other
rapid emergence
other
rapid emergence
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
13
MEDIUM SEEDS
1/4 inch
Orchardgrass
Tall fescue
Species description, p. 46;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 41.
Species description, p. 54;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 37.
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
seed
1⁄4
inch long; glumes attached;
seed often curved to side when
viewed with rachilla on top
seed
shoot
rolled in whorl
shoot
leaves folded in whorl,
making a flattened stem
leaf blade
base moves rapidly above
ground; dark green
leaf blade
broad; v-shaped; bluish-green
sheath
sheath
flattened; sides overlap at top
leaves rolled in sheath; sides
overlap at top
ligule
prominent; cuts or splits on
whitish margin
ligule
short
auricles
blunt with few hairs
auricles
14
1⁄4
inch long; club-shaped
rachilla
absent
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
15
smaller than 1/4 inch SMALL SEEDS
16
Kentucky bluegrass
Reed canarygrass
Species description, p. 44;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 34.
Species description, p. 48;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 28.
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
seed
1⁄8
inch long; somewhat oval
with widest point near middle
seed
1⁄8
shoot
rolled but slightly flattened
shoot
rounded; robust
leaf blade
narrow with boat-shaped tip
leaf blade
sheath
slightly compressed; sides
overlap about half the length
medium green; broad; flat with
rough edges
sheath
sides overlap near top
ligule
membranous; smooth margin
ligule
prominent
auricles
absent
auricles
none
other
slow emergence
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
inch long; may have some
hairs; back side glossy
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
17
smaller than 1/4 inch SMALL SEEDS
18
Timothy
Creeping foxtail
Species description, p. 56;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 38.
Vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 32.
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
1⁄16
seed
inch long; hairy, fluffy,
seed
small, less than
shoot
rounded
shoot
robust
leaf blade
bluish-green; largest leaf
‘twisted’ if viewed from
above
leaf blade
rolled in whorl; flat
sheath
prominent nodes on stem;
smooth; sides overlap at top
ligule
1⁄10
auricles
absent
other
seedlings rapidly form sheath so
that leaf base is above ground
sheath
1⁄10
inch; oval
1⁄10
ligule
white; about
inch long
auricles
absent, occasionally present
but small
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
shiny
sides fused at top
inch long; greenish
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
19
smaller than 1/4 inch SMALL SEEDS
20
Barnyardgrass
Yellow foxtail
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
seed
1⁄10
seed
1⁄8
shoot
robust
shoot
yellow
leaf blade
broad
leaf blade
sheath
smooth; sides overlap near top
flat; smooth to slightly rough;
usually with long hairs at base
ligule
absent
sheath
flattened; sides overlap near top
auricles
absent
ligule
dense fringe of hairs
auricles
none
inch long; oval
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
inch long; oval
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
21
smaller than 1/4 inch SMALL SEEDS
22
Green foxtail
Giant foxtail
Seedling characteristics
Seedling characteristics
seed
1⁄10
seed
1⁄8
shoot
robust
shoot
robust
leaf blade
flat
leaf blade
flat with short hairs
sheath
rolled; hairs on margin; sides
overlap near top
sheath
hairs on margin; sides overlap
near top
ligule
fringe of small hairs
ligule
fringe of small hairs
auricles
absent, but small hairs present
auricles
absent
inch long; oval
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
inch long; oval
S E E D & S E E D L I N G I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
23
24
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
VEGETATIVE GRASS & SEED HEAD IDENTIFICATION
SOD—WIDE LEAF BLADE
1/2 inch
26
Smooth bromegrass
Species description, p. 52; seeds/seedlings, p. 10.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
sod forming; shallow roots;
rhizomes numerous but slender
leaf blade
‘M’ constriction midway
between base and tip;
about 1⁄2 inch wide
sheath
rolled in sheath; sides fused at
top; rarely with short hairs
ligule
not prominent; ragged hairs
auricles
absent or very short
height
3–4 feet
seed head
seeds on long side branches;
entire head frequently leans to
one side
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
27
SOD—WIDE LEAF BLADE
1/2 inch
28
Reed canarygrass
Species description, p. 48; seeds/seedlings, p. 17.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
sod forming; large diameter
rhizomes
leaf blade
rolled in whorl; flat, wide
(1⁄2 inch) with rough margins;
constriction more than 2 inches
from tip or collar
sheath
sides overlap near top
ligule
prominent
auricles
absent
height
usually 4–6 feet
seed head
slightly green or purple early
then turning tan; seeds on short
branches, spreading slightly as
head matures
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
29
1/4 inch SOD—MEDIUM LEAF BLADE
30
Quackgrass
Seeds/seedlings, p. 11.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
sod forming; rhizomes long,
slender, and white
leaf blade
flat; about 1⁄4 inch wide; lower
surface smooth; constriction
1–2 inches from leaf tip
sheath
sides overlap at top; short hairs
ligule
membranous; short
auricles
narrow and clasping
height
about 3 feet
seed head
no branches; seeds in cluster of
4 to 6; awns less than 1⁄16 inch
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
31
1/4 inch SOD—MEDIUM LEAF BLADE
32
Creeping foxtail
Seeds/seedlings, p. 19.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
sod forming; rhizomes white
and medium length
leaf blade
rolled in whorl; flat
sheath
prominent nodes on stem
ligule
1⁄10
auricles
absent
height
2–21⁄2 feet tall
seed head
inch long; greenish
dense like timothy but shorter
and shiny
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
33
less than 1/8 inch SOD—NARROW LEAF BLADE
34
Kentucky bluegrass
Species description, p. 44; seeds/seedlings, p. 16.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
dense sod; slender rhizomes
leaf blade
narrow with boat-shaped tip
sheath
oval; sides overlap about half
length
ligule
membranous; smooth margin
auricles
absent
height
12–18 inches
seed head
seeds on medium length
branches; longer at base of
seed head
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
35
BUNCH—ROLLEED LEAF BLADE
36
Annual (Italian) ryegrass
Tall fescue
Species description, p. 50; seeds/seedlings, p. 13.
Species description, p. 54; seeds/seedlings, p. 15.
Vegetative characteristics
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
bunch type
growth
habit
bunch type
leaf blade
rolled in shoot; underside of
leaves glossy; leaves flat with
edges frequently rolled in
leaf blade
sheath
sides overlap; no hairs on
sheath
dark green; prominent veins;
sharp edges; dull upper
surface with shiny lower
surface; coarse texture
sheath
leaves rolled in sheath; sides
overlap at top
ligule
membranous
auricles
present
ligule
short
height
up to 3 feet
auricles
blunt with few hairs
seed head
seeds in clusters with flat side
to stem; at least upper seeds
have awns
height
21⁄2–3 feet
seed head
seeds on short branches
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
37
BUNCH—ROLLEED LEAF BLADE
38
Timothy
Species description, p. 56; seeds/seedlings, p. 18.
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
bunch type; plants have
corms (enlarged base of stem)
leaf blade
flat; rolled within whorl
sheath
smooth; sides overlap near top
ligule
white; about 1⁄10 inch tall
auricles
absent, occasionally present but
small
height
2–21⁄2 feet
seed head
heads dense cylinder,
2–3 inches long; produces
heads on late-season growth
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
39
BUNCH—FOLDED LEAF BLADE
40
Perennial ryegrass
Orchardgrass
Species description, p. 50; seeds/seedlings, p. 12.
Species description, p. 46; seeds/seedlings, p. 14.
Vegetative characteristics
Vegetative characteristics
growth
habit
bunch type
growth
habit
bunch type
leaf blade
leaves folded in shoot; glossy
leaf blade
v-shaped; bluish-green
sheath
smooth; sides overlap at top
sheath
flattened; sides overlap at top;
ligule
membranous
auricles
long
stem
prominently flattened
height
about 15–24 inches tall
ligule
seed head
seeds in clusters with flat side
of cluster against the stem
prominent with cuts or splits
on whitish margin
auricles
absent
height
2–21⁄2 feet
seed head
seeds on short side branches
rough
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
V E G E TA T I V E & S E E D H E A D I D E N T I F I C AT I O N
41
42
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
GRASS MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
Kentucky bluegrass
Seeds/seedlings, p. 16;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 34.
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) is a
sod-forming grass. It is widely grown as a
pasture grass throughout the United States
and is the most common species in
unimproved pastures in Wisconsin. Kentucky
bluegrass is well adapted to less-managed
pastures with low animal stocking rates.
Growth habit
New shoots of Kentucky bluegrass
develop from rhizomes or from axillary buds
in old shoots. Most of these shoots develop
during short days in early spring or autumn.
Rhizomes develop from buds on aboveground
shoots. Carbohydrate storage is in roots in
early spring and in roots and rhizomes later in
the year. Bluegrass is winterhardy and
persistent but has only fair drought and heat
tolerance.
Management
Kentucky bluegrass is the lowest yielding
of the cool-season grasses commonly used for
pasture. Productivity is greatest during spring
and fall. Plants become dormant during the
hot, dry months of summer. Kentucky
bluegrass may be grazed to 1 to 2 inches. It
requires relatively long rest periods to
replenish carbohydrate reserves. Overgrazing
will reduce forage yield. Grazing may be
extended somewhat by including a legume.
White clover is a good choice as both species
are tolerant of close grazing. Nonetheless, a
shortage of pasture will result if Kentucky
bluegrass is the only forage source.
Harvesting for hay
Kentucky bluegrass is seldom grown for
hay because of its short stature and low yield
per cutting.
Varieties
Common seed as well as numerous
varieties are available.
Establishment
Kentucky bluegrass is slower to establish
than orchardgrass, ryegrass, tall fescue, and
timothy. Seed using conventional or no-till
into a killed sod. It is not a good candidate
for frost seeding or interseeding.
44
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
45
Orchardgrass
Seeds/seedlings, p. 14;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 41.
Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) is a
bunch-type grass which produces an open
sod. Orchardgrass is best adapted to a wide
range of soils with good moisture where
management is intense and grazing/haying
will be frequent.
Growth habit
Orchardgrass does not produce rhizomes.
Instead, it forms bunches by profuse tiller
formation at the base of the plant.
Carbohydrate storage for regrowth is mainly
in the stem bases. Orchardgrass has only fair
drought and heat tolerance, winterhardiness,
and persistence. Stands tend to thin, leaving
large clumps of orchardgrass plants scattered
throughout the paddock.
Establishment
Orchardgrass is easier to establish than
most of the other cool-season grasses. It is a
good choice for interseeding into existing
pasture with a no-till drill or by frostseeding,
as well as for seeding into a killed sod or a
conventionally tilled seedbed.
Harvesting for hay
Orchardgrass matures rapidly and
consequently has a narrow harvest window.
Late-maturing varieties, such as Orion, will
better match the maturity of alfalfa or red
clover if cutting for hay. Growing more than
one variety, with differing maturities may make
harvesting quality forage more manageable.
Varieties
Management
Orchardgrass is one of the earliest maturing
grasses. Unlike smooth bromegrass and timothy,
the main stem has less influence on tillering in
orchardgrass. Tiller formation begins early and
continues throughout the season. Regrowth
following grazing comes from the production
and elongation of new leaves and the elongation
46
of cut leaves on the stubble. As tiller formation
and regrowth is rapid, orchardgrass should be
grazed frequently to maintain adequate quality.
Grazing timing is important as orchardgrass
matures more rapidly than other species and
forage quality drops quickly. Following seedhead
development or removal, the subsequent forage
is nearly all leaves.
Orchardgrass is a very aggressive species,
and is not compatible with low-growing
legumes. Frequent grazing will help avoid loss
of other desirable species. Even though
orchardgrass has rapid regrowth following
grazing, it is still important to allow a rest
period to reestablish carbohydrate levels. For
high yields and good quality, allow orchardgrass
to regrow to 10 inches before grazing. Despite
its vigor, orchardgrass is susceptible to close
grazing; leave a stubble height of 3 to 4 inches.
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
Plant high-yielding varieties for grazing.
See Extension publication Perennial Forage
Variety Update for Wisconsin (A1525) for
variety performance data. For mixtures with
legumes harvested for hay, plant latematuring varieties (preferred) such as Orion
or medium-maturing varieties such as Dawn,
Rancho, or Summer Green.
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
47
Reed canarygrass
Seeds/seedlings, p. 17;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 28.
Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea L.)
is a sod-forming grass. It is the highest
yielding cool-season grass when fertilized and
an excellent choice in wet areas where it is
difficult to grow other species. Reed
canarygrass can be used to provide grazing
during the “summer slump” of some other
forage grasses.
Growth habit
Reed canarygrass reproduces from short,
thick rhizomes. Aboveground shoots develop
in early spring and late fall. Shoots which
develop in spring only live for that year while
those that develop in fall overwinter and
survive through the following year.
Carbohydrate storage occurs in rhizomes. The
seed head develops in spring and matures in
July. New rhizomes form from buds on old
rhizomes during the summer. Reed canarygrass
has excellent winterhardiness and persistence.
It is tolerant of wet soils but also does well on
droughty soils due to a deep root system.
Establishment
Reed canarygrass is more difficult to
establish than other cool-season grasses,
particularly by interseeding or frost seeding.
Seed using conventional tillage or no-till into
a killed sod. Seeding in late summer when
there is reduced weed competition is often
more successful than spring seedings.
48
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
Management
Once established, reed canarygrass is a
very aggressive species. Like orchardgrass, it
forms tillers throughout the growing season.
Reed canarygrass must be well managed to
avoid overgrowth and subsequent low quality.
An early grazing, before tillers form, will not
harm plants. Following this period, wait until
plants are 14 to 16 inches tall before grazing
again. Unlike other grasses, canarygrass will
provide good quality forage up to 24 inches
in height. Leave 40 to 60% of the dry matter
each grazing.
Reed canarygrass may be established with
a legume. However, the legume may
disappear from the stand as the reed
canarygrass develops a thick sod.
Harvesting for hay
Reed canarygrass should be cut at least
three times per year, the first time as soon as
possible after heads appear, to maximize the
production of high quality forage.
Varieties
Reed canarygrass use has been limited by
low palatability due to the presence of
alkaloids. Recent releases of low alkaloid
varieties may increase the use of this species.
Three of these varieties are Palaton, Rival, and
Venture.
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
49
Ryegrass, annual
(Italian) and perennial
Annual ryegrass: seeds/seedlings, p. 13;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 36.
Perennial ryegrass: seeds/seedlings, p. 12;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 40.
Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum L.)
and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) are
bunch-type grasses. They establish rapidly
and have high forage quality. However, poor
winterhardiness prevent their use for longterm forage production. Ryegrass is an
excellent cover crop or emergency crop. In
northern Wisconsin perennial ryegrass is also
an excellent choice for short-term hay or pasture production when mixed with red clover.
Growth habit
Ryegrass produces tillers from crown
buds at the base of the plant. Carbohydrate
storage is in stem bases. It establishes rapidly
and yields well under cool, wet conditions.
Ryegrass has low drought and heat tolerance.
Perennial ryegrass grows less over summer
than annual ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass has
low winterhardiness, surviving 3 to 4 years in
northern Wisconsin with good snow cover
but less in the rest of the state.
Establishment
Ryegrass establishes rapidly, providing
quick ground cover and a ready supply of
forage. Establish by sod seeding, conventional
tillage, interseeding, or frost seeding.
50
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
Management
Ryegrass may be grazed closely early in
the season. A rest period should follow this
first grazing to allow tiller development and
carbohydrate production. Graze again when
plants are 8 inches tall. Leave a stubble height
of 3 to 4 inches.
Ryegrass produces high-quality forage in
cool, wet weather. Annual and perennial
ryegrasses have relatively shallow root systems,
so hot, dry weather will reduce yields.
Perennial ryegrass should be included in
most pasture seeding mixtures at a low seeding
rate (2 lb/a). Do not rely on this short-lived
species as the only grass in a pasture mix.
Varieties
Crown rust can severely defoliate plants,
reducing forage yield, quality, and persistence.
Plant resistant varieties when possible.
Also be sure to obtain seed that is
certified to be endophyte-free. This will
eliminate animal health problems associated
with toxins produced by a fungus that often
lives in association with ryegrass plants.
Annual (Italian) ryegrass and perennial
ryegrass are available in two forms: diploid
and tetraploid. Diploid varieties are more
densely tillering. Tetraploid varieties have
greater resistance to crown rust, giving them
greater summer productivity and quality.
When purchasing annual ryegrass, select
late-maturing varieties to reduce head
formation and maintain high quality.
For perennial ryegrass, use forage type
varieties rather than turf varieties which are
extremely low growing and low yielding.
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
51
Smooth bromegrass
Seeds/seedlings, p. 10;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 26.
Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis
Leyss.) is a high-yielding grass but requires
longer recovery periods than other grasses. It
is best adapted to well-drained soils and is an
excellent choice for drought-prone areas.
Growth habit
Smooth bromegrass spreads by short
rhizomes to form a dense sod. The plant
stores most of the food needed for regrowth
and overwintering in the rhizomes. Smooth
bromegrass is winterhardy, drought and heat
tolerant, and is quite persistent.
Establishment
Bromegrass has low seedling vigor and is
more difficult to introduce into pastures by
frost seeding or interseeding than
orchardgrass, timothy, or ryegrass. Successful
stands may be established by no-till seeding
into killed sods or through conventional
tillage methods.
Management
Smooth bromegrass may be grazed before
stems elongate, when plants are less than 6 to
8 inches tall. It is more sensitive than most
other species to grazing while stems are
elongating. For long-lasting stands and highquality forage, wait until plants are at least
10 inches tall or until new basal tillers are
visible before grazing. Graze no closer than
52
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
4 inches to avoid removing new shoots from
the base of the plant. Smooth bromegrass
requires long recovery periods, especially
during the summer slump.
Smooth bromegrass is most productive
in spring. Subsequent production may be low,
especially if nitrogen is limiting. Smooth
bromegrass is very responsive to nitrogen;
consequently, mid- and/or late summer
applications will increase productivity. It can
become sodbound in pure stands if not well
fertilized.
Harvesting for hay
Harvest legume/bromegrass mixtures
before bromegrass stems elongate or after new
basal tillers are evident. This may mean
harvesting the legume later than normal.
Smooth bromegrass is not competitive and
has only moderate compatibility with
legumes in mixtures.
Varieties
Alpha and Badger have improved
resistance to root rot for better establishment
and have higher forage quality than other
varieties. Alpha and Rebound have improved
compatibility with legumes.
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
53
Tall fescue
Management
Seeds/seedlings, p. 15;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 37.
Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.)
is a bunch-type grass which spreads from
short rhizomes. Tall fescue has poor
palatability and should not be mixed with
other pasture species in the Midwest. It is a
good choice in areas where animal traffic is
high. Tall fescue is also widely used for ditch
embankments and grass waterways.
Tall fescue can be grazed early in the
spring but avoid grazing once stem elongation
begins. Plants may be grazed or cut for hay
after growth is 10 inches tall and plant
carbohydrate reserves have been replenished.
Leave at least 4 inches of stubble to protect
stem bases where carbohydrates are stored.
Tall fescue will continue to grow more
through the summer than most cool-season
grasses.
Growth habit
Harvesting for hay
Food storage in tall fescue takes place in
stem bases and short rhizomes. Tall fescue is
very tolerant of drought and flooding, but
somewhat lacking in winterhardiness for
Wisconsin. It is also tolerant of low fertility
conditions, although it responds well to
optimum soil fertility levels. Tall fescue is
more shade tolerant than other cool-season
grasses.
Establishment
Tall fescue is as easily established as
orchardgrass, timothy, and perennial ryegrass.
It may be interseeded, established by
conventional methods, or no-till seeded in a
killed sod.
Tall fescue can provide 2 to 3 hay
cuttings per year.
Stockpiling
Poor overwintering and low palatability
has precluded widespread use in Wisconsin.
However, tall fescue remains erect and
maintains quality when stockpiled for use
throughout the winter. It can be used to
lengthen the grazing season for heifers and
dry cows and as a forage source for beef cattle
and horses. To maximize stockpiled forage,
apply 30 to 50 lb/a of nitrogen on August 1
and defer grazing the rest of the fall.
Varieties
Tall fescue contains internal fungi that
produce alkaloids. The alkaloids appear to
increase persistence but reduce the average
daily gains in grazing beef cattle, sheep, and
horses. When planting for grazing, select
endophyte-free, low-alkaloid varieties; in
ungrazed areas, plant fungus-infected varieties
for improved stand life.
54
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
55
Timothy
Seeds/seedlings, p. 18;
vegetative grasses/seed heads, p. 38.
Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) is a bunchtype grass which produces an open sod. It is
best adapted to cool, moist soils.
Growth habit
In the seeding year, timothy forms a shoot
which may or may not produce tillers depending on environmental conditions. In spring of
the second year, internodes elongate and the
seedhead forms. During this time, lower nodes
form an enlarged food storage organ called a
corm. Corms supply energy for subsequent
tiller formation. As secondary shoots develop,
the corms on the primary shoot deteriorate
and a secondary corm is formed. Very few
corms overwinter, and new spring growth
develops from buds at the base of the plant.
Unlike other cool-season grasses, timothy
produces flowers and seedheads throughout
the summer. Timothy has excellent
winterhardiness but poor drought and heat
tolerance and is not persistent under grazing.
Establishment
Timothy seedlings are more vigorous
than smooth bromegrass seedlings but less
vigorous than most forage grasses. Timothy
can be interseeded, sod seeded, or seeded
using conventional methods.
Management
Do not graze timothy during stem
elongation. Grazing during this period, when
food reserves are low, will slow regrowth and
56
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
accelerate stand loss. It is more sensitive than
most other species to grazing while stems are
elongating. Wait until plants are 10 inches tall
or until new basal tillers are visible before
grazing. Leave at least 4 inches of stubble to
keep from removing young tillers and
developing corms. Timothy pastures can be
stemmy due to constant seedhead production.
This reduces palatability to animals, so graze
routinely to maintain quality.
Timothy grows best under cool wet
conditions. Stand production and persistence
will decline severely under heat or drought
stress. It is shallow rooted and not a good
choice for sandy soils. Timothy responds to
nitrogen fertilization, but performs better than
most cool-season grasses with low nitrogen.
Harvesting for hay
Timothy is often grown with red clover
for harvested forage. Timothy matures
relatively late, making red clover, which
flowers later than alfalfa, a good match. Latermaturing timothy varieties can be grown in
mixture. If planting with alfalfa, select an
early-maturing variety. Timothy is not
competitive against other grasses, but has
good compatibility with legumes in mixtures.
Varieties
Select medium-maturing varieties tested
for grazing; select early-maturing varieties to
mix with alfalfa for hay. For performance
information, see Extension publication
Perennial Forage Variety Update for Wisconsin
(A1525).
MANAGEMENT & DESCRIPTIONS
57
58
PA S T U R E G R A S S E S
P
G
G
VG
VG
VG
G
G
G
P
Weed
suppression
P
VG
VG
P
P
VG
VG
F
F
P
Drought
Abbreviations: VG = very good, G = good, F = fair, P = poor.
bunch
Timothy
bunch
Ryegrass, annual
bunch
sod
Reed canarygrass
sod
sod
Quackgrass
Tall fescue
bunch
Orchardgrass
Smooth bromegrass
sod
Kentucky bluegrass
bunch
bunch
Creeping foxtail
Ryegrass, perennial
Growth
habit
Grass species
Species information
F
VG
G
G
G
G
G
G
VG
G
Traffic
8
10
16
20–25
20–25
6
—
10
15
10
Seed alone
(lb/a)
2–4
4
3–6
2
2
5
—
2–4
4
5
Seed mixture
(lb/a)
A3637
©1996 by the Board of Regents of the University
of Wisconsin System doing business as the division
of Cooperative Extension of the University of
Wisconsin-Extension. Send inquiries about
copyright permission to: Director, Cooperative
Extension Publications, 201 Hiram Smith Hall,
1545 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.
Authors: Dan Undersander and Michael Casler
are professors of agronomy, College of Agricultural
and Life Sciences, University of WisconsinMadison. Dennis Cosgrove is associate professor of
agronomy, University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Dan Undersander and Dennis Cosgrove also hold
appointments with University of WisconsinExtension, Cooperative Extension.
Credits: Produced by Cooperative Extension
Publications, University of Wisconsin-Extension.
Editor, Linda Deith; designer, Susan Anderson;
photographer, B. Wolfgang Hoffmann; illustrator,
Jody Myer-Lynch.
University of Wisconsin-Extension,
Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wisconsin
counties, publishes this information to further the
purpose of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of
Congress; and provides equal opportunities and
affirmative action in employment and
programming. If you need this material in an
alternative format, contact the Officer of Equal
Opportunity and Diversity Programs or call
Cooperative Extension Publications at
608-262-2655.
This publication is available from your
Wisconsin county Extension office or from
Cooperative Extension Publications, 630 W.
Mifflin St., Rm. 170, Madison, Wisconsin 53703.
Phone 608-262-3346. Before publicizing, please
call for publication availability.
A3637 Identifying Pasture Grasses
I-08-96-4M-??0
Identifying
pasture grasses
Dan Undersander
Michael Casler
Dennis Cosgrove
FC