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Grazing Factsheets - Species - Warm-Season Grasses

Grazing Factsheets

Species
Warm-Season Grass

Big Bluestem
Bermuda Grass
Caucasian Bluestem
Eastern Gamagrass
Indian Grass
Little Bluestem
Side-Oats Gama
Switch Grass

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Big Bluestem

Illinois

General Use

Big Bluestem is one of the native, warm-season bunchgrasses noted for rapid growth during mid-to-late summer when high temperatures slow the growth of cool-season grasses. The primary use of big bluestem is as a livestock forage seeded in pure stands or in mixtures. Big Bluestem produces excellent hay and cover for soil erosion control and is not rated as highly as switch grass or Indian grass for wildlife cover. Snow on mature Big Bluestem can cause severe lodging and loss of winter protective cover.  

Characteristics

Big Bluestem produces a deep, extensive, fibrous root system and short rhizomes, and begins growth somewhat later than switch grass, usually in late April or early May. Big Bluestem’s growth increases rapidly with higher temperatures, and produces about 70 percent of its annual growth after June 15. The average date of seed maturity is September 9. If undisturbed, Big Bluestem attains a height of four to six feet, and establishes a very deep root system. Big Bluestem plants can be distinguished from other warm-season grasses, even when plants are young, by the long white hairs on the stem and upper leaf near the base of the leaf. The stem is round and the base has a reddish tint. The seed head normally has three, fingerlike branches shaped like a turkey’s foot.

Adaptability 

Big Bluestem is winter hardy, will grow in all areas of Illinois, and is suited to all soils, except those saturated for an extended period. Deep, well-drained soils are preferred. One variety of Big Bluestem recommended for use in Illinois is “Rountree,” released for public use by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Elsberry (Mo.) Plant Materials Center. 

Establishment

Spring seedings - during April and May - of big bluestem are preferred, and should be seeded into firm seedbeds free of competition. Seedbeds should be finished with a roller prior to drilling or broadcasting seed. If the seed is planted using the broadcast method, roll afterward to ensure good seed soil contact. Seed that is drilled should be planted one-fourth inch deep. Check with Natural Resources Conservation Service or University Extension for current seeding recommendations.

No-till seedings in closely grazed sod have also been successful where control of sod is accomplished with proper herbicides. In addition, early spring plantings (March and April) and fall dormant plantings (November and December) have been successful, and can provide weed and soil erosion control.

Special rangeland drills capable of seeding light, fluffy seed must be used to plant unprocessed big bluestem seed. Seed processed by removing the appendages with a “debearder” may be planted with a wide variety of commonly used grass seeding equipment.

Controlling weeds at seeding time is important because grass establishment and survival can be suppressed by weed competition for moisture and sunlight.

Fertilizer applied during the seeding year usually does not increase stand density, but will increase plant vigor. To limit weed growth, nitrogen should not be applied until mid-July, and then only on stands with limited seed competition. Not more than 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied.

Stand densities of 1.5 to 2 established plants per square foot in the spring of the second year is adequate for hay yields or pasture. 

Management

Annual fertilizer application of 60 pounds nitrogen and 30 pounds each of phosphorus and potassium per acre usually is adequate for maximum yields. Rates should be adjusted in accordance with soil tests.

Weeds in established stands of Big Bluestem can be minimized by maintaining plant vigor relative to an overgrazed stand. Burning plant residues at initiation of spring growth decreases competition and stimulates Big Bluestem growth.

Big Bluestem may be grazed when it reaches a height of 14 to 16 inches and can be grazed continuously as long as a minimum height of eight to 12 inches is maintained. In management intensive systems, grazing in the first paddock can begin when plants reach 10” in height, to prevent over maturity of the last paddocks grazed. A minimum of 6” of residual should remain at the end of the grazing period. The subsequent rest period should be long enough to allow for the accumulation of 14-16” of regrowth before being grazed again.

Of the three most common warm-season grasses, Big Bluestem matures later than Switch grass and earlier than Indian grass, and is an excellent forage from mid to late summer. A fall height of 12 inches should be attained before frost. Big Bluestem may be grazed to a height of six to eight inches after frost. The winter stubble is necessary to provide insulation.

To obtain maximum hay quality and quantity, hay cuttings should be made when big bluestem is at boot stage, in mid-to-late July. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with Grass Species
Warm-Season Grass

Bermuda Grass

Illinois

General Information

Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass widely grown in the South and has not been grown extensively in Illinois except in some of the state’s southernmost counties.

Bermuda grass has been controversial because of the persistence and possible intrusion into row crop fields.

Bermuda grass’ quality drops considerably from summer to fall, and there seems to be little difference in quality between Bermuda grass and tall fescue during late summer. Animals requiring high quality forage during late summer probably should graze some other species.

Three varieties of Bermuda grass - Midland, Hardie and Greenfield - are suggested most often for Illinois. Greenfield is less winter hardy than Midland, and in Oklahoma tests, yield was lower. Some wild strains are also present. One observation that often leads to confusion is that wild Bermuda grass grows as far north as the Illinois River. These common strains of Bermuda grass are comparatively low yielding and unpalatable to livestock. Hardie has shown the best winter hardiness and has out produced other varieties in trials in South Illinois. Guymon is a strain of improved common Bermuda grass that shows good winter survival. Guymon is generally less productive than the hybrid varieties.  

Adaptability

Bermuda grass will grow in south Illinois, although the exact line where winter hardiness becomes a problem is not well defined. The line probably is somewhere between Springfield and Clinton.

Even within the apparent area of adaptation, there is much variation in winter survival from year to year. Some fields have survived farther north in Illinois, but the performance has been erratic. The grass seems to do well for five or six years, and then seems to produce below normal for several years. Fertility may be to blame.

Bermuda grass is best adapted to deep, sandy loam and medium-textured soils, and can be grown on shallow soils, but management and fertilization become more critical. Bermuda grass, like most grasses, does best at a pH of 5.5 or above. Bermuda grass requires considerably more moisture than native warm-season grasses.

Bermuda grass is more drought resistant than Dallis grass, carpet grass or Bahia grass, but will not grow very well in arid conditions. Bermuda grows well on well-drained soils, but not on waterlogged or tight soils. In extreme south Illinois, there is a strong possibility that Bermuda grass will respond to irrigation more than any other grass species. 

Establishment

Guymon Bermuda grass is the only selection that can be seeded in Illinois. All other varieties should be sprigged between March 1 and June 1. Early plantings on a clean, firm seedbed usually will have adequate moisture for starting early growth in the spring.

Sprig Bermuda grass in 20 to 40-inch rows. Roots should be placed in firm, moist soil and covered no more than one to two inches. To have one end of the sprigs slightly exposed is desirable.

Mechanical sprigging machines area usually used, except for small areas. Close rows and high sprigging rates are important for getting quick cover, especially on pond embankments, waterways, gully slopes and other highly-erodible areas.

New plantings should be top dressed with 30 to 50 pounds-of actual nitrogen when Bermuda grass has grown six to ten inch runners.

Herbicides probably should be used in the year of establishment to control germinating grass and broadleaved weeds. Contact your local NRCS or University Extension office for specific seeding, sprigging and weed control recommendations. 

Management

New Bermuda grass plantings should not be grazed until runners have lapped between sprigged rows. When good ground cover is established, the grass may be grazed to a three to four inch stubble. Grazing can begin on well-established Bermuda grass when the grass is four to six inches tall.

Best results have been noted when pastures have been rotated, with usually no more than 14 days on any one pasture. As with all grasses, cattle tend to spot graze. Pastures may be cut to ensure uniform quality and palatability. Bermuda grass quality declines after about 30 days growth. Accumulated Bermuda grass can be grazed during the fall and winter, but low in protein.

Bermuda grass may be used for hay, but the quality depends on its stage of growth at harvest time. Initial cut should be when plants are 14 to 18 inches and every 29 to 32 days. Cuttings should be made 20 to 30 days after nitrogen is applied. Bermuda grass needs 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre for each ton of hay production expected.

Phosphorus and potash may be applied in one application in the spring, but nitrogen should be applied in increments of 50 to 60 pounds per acre about every 30 days. Fertilizer should not be applied before May 15. Earlier applications stimulate cool-season plant growth, which competes with Bermuda grass.

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Caucasian Bluestem

Illinois

General Use

Caucasian Bluestem is a warm-season, perennial bunchgrass, part of the group known as Old World Bluestems, and is not related to native bluestems.

Caucasian Bluestem is ideally suited for marginal cropland areas where farming of annual crops is unprofitable and causes excessive wind and water erosion. The grass also has been used successfully to reclaim disturbed lands. Caucasian Bluestem generally is less desirable for wildlife than most native warm-season grasses.  

Characteristics

Caucasian Bluestem is an erect, fine-stemmed, leafy grass. Forage yields usually exceed other adapted Old World Bluestems. In southern Illinois, yields of Caucasian Bluestem equal or surpass most native warm-season grasses.

In general, Caucasian Bluestem exhibits good establishment characteristics, seed spreading, forage yield, forage quality and stand persistence if adapted to the site and managed properly. Caucasian Bluestem starts spring growth a few days later than switch grass, but earlier than big Bluestem and Indian grass. The ability of Caucasian Bluestem to produce considerable forage in the summer, and has contributed to its popularity in southern Illinois. Caucasian Bluestem may be superior to native warm-season grasses in producing regrowth in August and September, with adequate rain. No serious disease problems have been reported with Caucasian Bluestem. 

Adaptability

Caucasian Bluestem will produce on a wide range of soils, and prefers the finer texture soils, such as loams, clay, and silt loams, but will grow acceptably well on good, sandy-loam soils.

Caucasian Bluestem is not well adapted to extremely sandy soils (sugar sand and blow sand) that do not have a close, finer subsoil. Failure or poor production can be expected on soils that are extremely sandy, on wetland soils with long-term supersaturation, on soils classified as having perched water tables, on saline soils, and on soils inclined to produce severe iron chlorosis.

Caucasian Bluestem is best adapted to southern Illinois, and compares less favorably to native warm-season grasses when grown in northern Illinois, where stands have died because they lacked winter hardiness. 

Establishment

Spring seedings (April and May) of Caucasian Bluestem are preferred. Seedings made later may be successful if moisture is available. Seed into a clean, firm, weed-free seedbed.

Seedbeds should be firmed with a roller prior to drilling or broadcasting seed. If the seed is planted using the broadcast method, it also should be rolled afterward to ensure good seed to soil contact. Seed should be covered with about one-fourth inch of soil. Contact your local NRCS or University Extension office for specific seeding recommendations. Some success has been obtained with no-till seedings in closely-grazed or herbicide-treated sod, reducing weeds and soil erosion.

Controlling weeds at seeding time is important because grass establishment and survival can be suppressed by weed competition for moisture and sunlight. Weed control must be provided by tillage during seedbed preparation, and later by mowing and proper utilization.

Although Caucasian Bluestem has shown tolerance to residual herbidices, none have been cleared for weed control. 

Management

The best time to graze Caucasian Bluestem is June through September. Caucasian Bluestem should not be grazed closer than (three to four inches) to keep the vegetative stage. Thus, maintaining forage quality and palatability in first year stands. Accumulations of large amounts of forage can hinder sand development and production. If excess forage is present, haying may be necessary.

The best use of Caucasian Bluestem is in a grazing system that includes cool-season grasses, mixtures of cool-season grasses and legumes, and one or more species of native warm-season grasses.

An annual fertilizer application of 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen is, usually adequate for optimum yields. Phosphorus and Potassium should be applied according to soil test results.

Weeds in established stands of Caucasian Bluestem can be minimized by maintaining plant vigor and density. Occasional use of approved herbicides will reduce competition, and help restore plant vigor to an overgrazed stand. Prescribed burning of plant residues at initiation of spring growth helps control insects, decreases competition, and stimulates growth.

A fall height of six to eight inches should be attained 30 days before frost, allowing for replenishment of root reserves, and provides additional insulation through winter months. Caucasian Bluestem may be grazed again after frost. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Eastern Gamagrass

Illinois

Introduction

The interest in Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) increased significantly during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Interest increased because of the native grass’s ability to produce large quantities of quality forage during the summer months.

With the formal release of selections such as ‘Pete’ (Manhattan, KS, Plant Materials Center, 1988) and common selections, commercial seed sources are available.

Eastern Gamagrass has a long history. Early settlers coming to the tall grass prairie regions described “seas of grass so tall that you could lose cattle in it.” Some of that grass was Eastern Gamagrass.  

General Information

Eastern Gamagrass is a native, perennial, tall, warm-season bunch grass, and has short, thick, rhizomes. Known as an “ice cream” grass because of the high nutrition and palatability. Eastern Gamagrass is readily eaten by all livestock, especially cattle.

Eastern Gamagrass produces seed from June through September. The seed heads are six to ten inches long, consisting of one to several spikes. Similar to corn, the female part is below the male part. When mature, the seed-bearing parts break at the joints so that each part contains one seed. 

Adaptability

The grass is native to the eastern half of the United States. Eastern Gamagrass has “cousins” (Tripsacum spp.) in the southwestern U.S., Mexico and Florida. Eastern Gamagrass has been planted in the far southwest and in Iowa. The range of adaptation still is being explored.

Soil adaptability is another area where additional information is needed. It grows on a variety of soils, but prefers a loamy soil with moisture conditions favorable to good plant growth. Several selections available on the commercial market come from plants grown on uplands under dry conditions. Eastern Gamagrass is not necessarily a bottomland grass, but production on such a site would be expected to do better. 

Establishment

Eastern Gamagrass can be planted using dormant seedings or stratified “treated” seed seedings.

To plant dormant seedings, use a firm seedbed prepared in the fall, or no-till the plant into clean crop residue or killed sod. Plant between December 1 and March 1, and use a corn planter or grain drill to plant the seeds one-half inch to one-inch deep, and 10 to 36 inch rows. Maintain good soil contact.

Rows of Eastern Gamagrass should be planted no farther than 40 inches apart. Row width should be decreased - as slope increases - to a minimum of 10 inches. Obtain a soil test, and amend the soil fertility in accordance with the recommendations for native, warm-season grass.

An alternative method of establishing Eastern Gamagrass that provides erosion control, weed control and provides income during the establishment year is to seed Eastern Gamagrass directly into a reduced seeding of corn, grain sorghum, or sorghum/sudan grass hybrid. The Eastern Gamagrass can be seeded in alternate rows with the nurse crop, in the middles or in a separate planting operation at a 25o-45o angle to the nursecrop. The nurse crop should be planted at the rate of 50%-75% normal rates. During the establishment year, fertilize, control weeds and manage based on the management recommendations of the nurse crop. The nurse crop can be harvested for hay, grain or silage. Do not cut below six inches. During the second growing season, follow standard Eastern Gamagrass management recommendations.

Use only approved chemicals at recommended rates to control weeds. Do not use surfactant for first year plantings. Eastern Gamagrass should not be clipped lower than four inches. When grazing use enough livestock to remove weedy vegetation in three days. Grazing should be when weeds are succulent and the field is not wet.

To establish Eastern Gamagrass using stratified seed, place the seed in a poly or burlap sack, and soak it in a 1 percent solution of fungicide (Captan or equivalent) and water. Use 2.5 pounds of fungicide to 35 gallons of water. Soak the seeds for eight to ten hours, then drain, seal, and keep the seed in cold storage for six to eight weeks. Check the seed for heating, and stir if necessary.

The seeds should be drilled within 24 hours of their removal from cold storage. Seeding should be between May 1 and June 15, when the soil temperature is at least 65 degrees F.

As with the dormant seeding method, plant one-half inch to one inch deep, and space rows 10 to 40 inches apart. Fertilizer and weed control also is the same as with dormant seedings.

Several commercial seed producers can provide treated seed. For specific seeding rates and management contact your local NRCS office. 

Management

Eastern Gamagrass starts its spring growth earlier than most common, native, warm-season grasses. That, and the high palatability, makes gamagrass hard to manage in mixtures, and is best managed as a pure stand under a planned grazing system.

Grazing should begin before the new spring growth reaches 16 inches. Leave a minimum of six inches of leaf area to maintain plant health. Soils should be tested and amended to meet the demand of planned production. In single applications, up to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre produces the most grass.

Eastern Gamagrass has excellent potential for hay production. Hay can be harvested more than once during the growing season at about six-week intervals, depending on weather conditions and fertility levels.

The best quality hay is cut in the boot stage. Crude protein of up to 17 percent has been found. Waiting until flowering (May 15 to June 1) can reduce crude protein to less than 10 percent. Do not cut hay shorter than six to eight inches. Row spacing during initial establishment of a hay meadow may need to be wider. “Crowns” of this grass can make a field rough.

Seed production remains one of the areas that need additional research. Fertility levels must be maintained according to soil test recommendations. Fertilizing with more than 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen will increase leaf production, cause possible lodging problems and lower seed yields. Seed harvest usually is between June 15 and July 15. Row spacing of 30-40 inches have worked well for seed-producing fields.

Burning helps remove excess residue in the spring, stimulates growth and improves forage quality. Fields may be burned when new spring growth has reached about one inch. Opening the canopy cover can cause erosion on steeper slopes and release a flush of weeds.

Before burning obtain a prescribed burn plan that follows all local and state requirements.

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Indian Grass

Illinois

General Use

Indian grass is a perennial, warm-season bunchgrass noted for rapid growth during mid to late summer when high temperatures slow the growth of cool-season grasses. Indian grass is used mainly for livestock forage in rangeland and pastures, and as a hay crop. Wildlife biologists rate Indian grass as excellent for nesting and rearing areas. Undisturbed nesting and hatching are possible because grazing and haying operations are done after the prime nesting season for most wildlife species. 

Characteristics

Indian grass produces a deep, extensive root system and short rhizomes. Indian grass can be distinguished from other native grasses, even when plants are young, by a fuzzy stem and a claw-like extension of the sheath. When mature, Indian grass has a single, narrow, plume-like, golden seed head. Growth begins in late April or early May, increasing gradually with higher temperatures. A production of about 70 percent annual growth after July 1st can be expected. If undisturbed, a height of five to eight feet can be attained with good stem strength. Mature, unharvested stems will remain standing well into winter for increased protective cover for wildlife. 

Adaptability

Indian grass has been shown to be adaptable throughout Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and the western halves of Kentucky and Ohio, and native to states east of the Rocky Mountains. Indian grass is suited to all soils, except those saturated for an extended period. Deep, well-drained soils are preferred. One variety of Indian grass recommended for use in Illinois is “Rumsey.” Rumsey was released for public use by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Elsberry (Mo.) Plant Materials Center. 

Establishment

Spring seedings of Indian grass - in April and May - are recommended into fine, firm seedbeds free of competition. Seedbeds should be firmed with a roller prior to drilling or broadcasting seed. If the seed is planted with the broadcast method, it also should be rolled afterward ensure good seed to soil contact. Seed that is drilled should be planted one-fourth inch deep. Check with Natural Resources Conservation Service or University Extension for current recommended seeding rates.

No-till seedings in closely-grazed sod also have been successful where control of sod is accomplished with proper herbicides. In addition, early spring plantings (March and April) and fall dormant seedings (November and December) have been successful. They also provide weed and soil erosion control.

Special rangeland drills capable of seeding light, fluffy seed must be used to plant unprocessed Indian grass seed. Seed processed by removing the appendages with a debearder may be planted with a wide variety of commonly-used, grass-seeding equipment.

Controlling weeds at seeding time is important because grass establishment and survival can be suppressed by weed competition for moisture and sunlight. Weed control must by provided by tillage during seedbed preparation and by mowing.

Fertilizer applied during the seeding year usually does not increase stand density, but will increase plant vigor. To limit weed growth, nitrogen should not be applied until mid-July, and then only on stands with limited weed competition. Not more than 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied.

Stand densities of 1.5 to 2 established plants per square foot in the spring of the second year is adequate for hay yields or pasture. 

Management

Annual fertilizer applications of 60 pounds nitrogen and 30 pounds each of phosphorus and potassium per acre usually are adequate for maximum yields. Rates should be adjusted in accordance with soil tests.

Weeds on established stands of Indian grass can be minimized by maintaining the Indian grass stand’s vigor and density. Occasional use of approved herbicides will reduce competition and help restore plant vigor to an overgrazed stand. Burning plant residues at initiation of spring growth decreases competition and stimulates growth. Fields should be burned every three to five years. Indian grass used for wildlife cover should be burned once every three or four years to reduce excessive mulch accumulations that restrict movement of new hatchlings and attract nest predators.

Indian grass may be grazed when a height of 14 to 16 inches is reached, and can be grazed continuously as long as a minimum height of eight to twelve inches is maintained. In management intensive systems, grazing in the first paddock can begin when plants reach a height of 10 inches, preventing them from becoming over mature before the rotation reaches the last paddock. A minimum of six inches of residue should remain at the end of each grazing period. The following rest period should be long enough to allow an accumulation of 14-16 inches of growth before being regrazed. Indian grass is the latest maturing of the three most common warm-season grasses (switch grass and big bluestem are the others)and provides excellent late-season forage. A height of 12 inches should be attained before frost, and may be grazed to a height of six to eight inches after frost. The winter stubble is necessary to provide insulation.

For optimum hay quality and quantity, Indian grass should be cut when it is at boot stage, usually in early August. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Little Bluestem

Illinois

General Information

Little Bluestem is an important native forage grass, and was a major component of the tall-grass prairies and savannahs of Illinois.

Principal use is for hay and grazing, and is rarely planted as a monoculture unless the intended use is seed production, which is generally about 200 pounds per acre.

Little Bluestem is a popular species to include when reseeding cropland to a native mixture, providing nesting cover for many species of ground-nesting birds, and is also valuable for watershed protection.  

Characteristics

Little Bluestem is a moderately tall, upright, perennial, warm-season bunchgrass that reaches a height of 24 to 48 inches at maturity.

The slender leaves are bluish green or green, and turn reddish brown at maturity. The sheaths are flattened, and the tillers are almost spoon shaped at the bases.

The sheaths are hairy, but that varies. Some sheaths are almost without hair. Growth starts in spring, and matures in late summer. Seeds ripen in early fall.

Little Bluestem reproduces from tillers, short rhizomes and seed production. The root system is dense, and commonly extends to about five and a half feet. 

Adaptability

Little Bluestem will thrive over a wide range of soils in all parts of the state, and does not seem to be well adapted to wet soils. 

Establishment

Little Bluestem can be planted any time between December and June, when moisture and growing conditions are favorable. Seed into a well prepared, firm seedbed that is free of competition. In areas where wind erosion is a concern, seed into a dead litter cover.

Check with the Natural Resources Conservation Service or University Extension for proper seeding rates.

New plantings should be rested until well established, usually one to two years. Weeds need to be controlled if there are three weeds per square foot, or they form a 50 percent canopy. 

Management

To maintain plant health and vigor, no more than half of the green growth of Little Bluestem should be removed during the growing season.

Little Bluestem can be grazed closer during the plant’s dormant season, but plants should not be grazed closer than three inches.

For optimum hay quality and production, cut at the time of initial seed set.

Without proper grazing or prescribed burning, Little Bluestem bunches can form dead centers.

Without a planned grazing system, the grass should be rested during the grazing season for about 90 days every two or three years.

Prescribed burning in late winter or spring will increase seed production and improve forage quality. However, if Little Bluestem is burned during very dry conditions, the crown of the plants can suffer severe damage.

The crude protein of Little Bluestem will peak in mid spring at about 11 percent.

Quality declines with growth stage, dropping rapidly as the plant matures and sets seed.

Dormant season crude protein will be about 2 to 3 percent, depending upon weathering.

Total digestible nutrients will peak at about 58 percent, and will drop to a low of 36 percent during mid winter. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

Download This Factsheet  PDF

 

 
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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Side-Oats Gama

Illinois

General Information

Side-Oats Grama is an important component of the mid-grass prairie, and grows on shallow soils in the tall-grass prairies.

The primary use is as a component mixture for reseeding cropland or native grazing lands.

Side-Oats Grama is used for grazing by all classes of livestock, as nesting cover for wildlife and for seed harvest. The seeds are known to be eaten by wild turkeys, and maybe eaten by other wildlife species as well. There are no known forage quality problems with Side-Oats Grama. 

Characteristics

Side-Oats Grama is a perennial, warm-season, weakly rhizomanous grass that grows 12 to 24 inches tall.

The leaf blades are flat with hairs along the outer margins. There are 30 to 50 spikelets that hang off one side of a slender, zigzag rachis much like the feathers hanging off an Indian war lance - thus earning the name side-oats.

Growth begins early in the spring with seeds forming in mid-summer. Rhizomes can be as long as four inches, and the plant has an extensive root system. Rooting depth can be as much as six feet in deep soil. 

Adaptation

Side-Oats Grama grows naturally from south Texas to Canada, throughout the Great Plains and as far east as Virginia.

Side-Oats Grama grows on all but wet, very sandy or saline soils, but grows best on calcareous soils, and is less productive as soil pH decreases. 

Establishment

Side-Oats Grama can be planted any time between December and June with a very high success rate.

Seeds should be planted into a well-prepared, firm seedbed that is free of competition. In areas where wind erosion is a concern, seeding into a dead litter cover is needed.

Check with the Natural Resources Conservation Service or University Extension for proper seeding rates.

The stand should not be used until well established, usually after one or two years. To enhance stand establishment, weeds must be controlled if there are three or more per square foot, or when there is a 50 percent weed canopy. 

Management

Side-Oats Grama is a grass that is palatable both green and while dormant.

For optimum production, grazing should be managed to harvest no more than half the growing leaf material.

Since plant reproduction can occur from rhizomes, maintaining a healthy root system is important.

Healthy Side-Oats Grama plants will make rhizomes in the winter and early spring if managed properly during the prior year. Side-Oats Grama responds well to planned grazing system management.

Crude protein will peak at about 10 percent in mid spring just before seed production. Quality is dependent on growth stage, decreasing as the plant goes into seed ripening. Dormant season crude protein will be around 4 percent, depending upon weathering. Total digestible nutrients will peak at about 60 percent, decreasing to about 30 percent in mid-winter.

Prescribed burning does not alter production, but can stimulate seed production.

Generally, when Side-Oats Grama is planted as a component of a mixture, fertilizer is not recommended.

As a monoculture, about 35 pounds of forage is produced for each pound of nitrogen applied.

Seed production has been reported in the range of 150 to 400 pounds per acre, depending on moisture conditions. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

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Outline of State of Illinois with GrassSpecies
Warm-Season Grass

Switch Grass

Illinois

General Use

Like other warm-season grasses, Switch grass is noted for heavy growth during late Spring and early Summer, making excellent pasture, and can be baled for hay. The stiff-stemmed, upright growth is rated excellent for wildlife nesting, brood rearing, and winter cover. The extensive root systems provide excellent stabilizing cover for soil erosion control. The stiff straw makes Switch grass valuable for field borders and wind barriers.  

Characteristics

Switch grass is a perennial bunchgrass that grows three to five feet tall, and can be distinguished from other warm-season grasses, even when plants are young, by the white patch of hair at the point where the leaf attaches to the stem. The stem is round and usually has a reddish tint. The seed head is spreading and open. 

Establishment

Switch grass should be seeded in a pure stand when used for pasture or hay due to manageability is better alone than in a mixture. The shiny, slick, clean, free-flowing seed can be planted with a drill or with a broadcast spreader.

Seedings should be made in fine, firm seedbads free of competition. Seedbeds should be firmed with a roller prior to the drilling or broadcasting of seed. If the seed is planted using the broadcast method, roll afterward to ensure good seed to soil contact. When drilled, seeds should be planted one-fourth inch deep. No-tillage seedings in closely-grazed or burned sod have been successful where control of sod is accomplished with clipping, grazing or proper herbicides. Another option is to seed Switch grass into a low population corn crop. Allow the Switch grass to become established while the corn is growing. Then after corn harvest, manage the Switch grass for pasture the next year. The preferred method is to use a drill to plant the Switch grass, and follow with a no-till planting of corn. Atrazine may be used for weed control in the corncrop. Late spring or early summer plantings of Switch grass should not be made with a companion crop because of potential moisture stress.

See your local NRCS or Extension office for proper seeding rates and dates. Weed control with all plantings of Switch grass is important the first year. Switch grass is atrazine resistant, and when planted with corn, can be used to help control weeds.

Phosphorus and potassium should be applied according to soil tests before or at seeding. Nitrogen, however, should not be used at seeding time due to stimulating weed growth. Fertilizer applied during the seeding year usually does not increase stand density, but will increase plant vigor. If nitrogen is to be used the first year, do not apply until mid-July, and then only on stands with limited weed competition. No more that 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied at that time and adjusted to meet soil analysis.

Stand densities of 1.5 to 2 established plants per square foot in the spring of the second year is adequate for hay fields or pasture. 

Management

If weeds are a problem during the seeding year, Switch grass may be mowed at a four-inch height in May or a six-inch height in June or July. Grazing is generally not recommended the first year, but a vigorous stand can be grazed late in the year if grazing periods are short with at least 30 days of rest provided between grazings. Switch grass begins growing late in the spring, making about 70 percent production after June 1. Switch grass is the earliest maturing of the common native warm-season grasses and ready to graze in early summer.

Established stands of Switch grass may be fertilized in accordance with soil tests. Generally, 60 pounds of nitrogen and 30 pounds each of phosphorus and potassium per acre are adequate for maximum yields. Phosphorus and Potassium will not be needed if the field is grazed since these elements will be recycled back to the soil by the grazing animal. Apply the nitrogen after the Switch grass has begun to produce using a single application in mid-to-late May or a split application in both May and early July. Avoid high rates of nitrogen because carry-over could spur cool-season grass growth or weed growth and harm young plants the following spring.

Switch grass may benefit from burning of plant residues at the initiation of spring growth. Burning fields once every three to five years decreases other plant competition, eliminates excessive residue and stimulates Switch grass growth. Switch grass used for wildlife food and cover should be burned once every three to four years to reduce mulch accumulations that inhibit movement of hatchlings and attract nest predators.

Under continuous grazing management, begin grazing Switch grass after reaching a height of 14 to 16 inches, usually in late May Grazing should be stopped when plants are grazed to within four inches of the ground in May, eight inches in June, and 12 inches in late August. A rest before frost is needed to allow for carbohydrate storage in the stem, bases, and crown, to help produce vigorous plant growth the next year. Switch grass may be grazed to a height of six to eight inches after frost. The winter stubble is needed to provide insulation.

With management intensive systems, grazing can begin in the first paddocks when plants reach a 10 inch height and should not be grazed below a stubble height of 6 inches. Grazed paddocks need to be rested 30-60 days before being regrazed again, depending on regrowth. 

Where to Get Help

For more information about big bluestem, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government,” or the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.”

Download This Factsheet  PDF