Plant 10 - 20 Lbs per Acre.
Orchardgrass is a bunch-type, tall-growing, cool-season perennial grass. It is one of the most productive cool-season grasses, tolerant to shade, fairly drought resistant with moderate winter hardiness. Orchardgrass does not exhibit as much tolerance to drought or winter hardiness as tall fescue and bromegrass. It has been reported growing in the United States since before 1760.
Orchardgrass is well adapted throughout the cool season, but its persistence may be a problem on south slopes in the droughty shallow soils of the Ozark Mountains. However, new disease-resistant varieties and good management techniques should help maintain high-producing stands for several years, even in the more shallow soils in south Missouri.
Orchardgrass is well adapted to grow with legumes such as alfalfa, red clover, lespedeza and white clover. It establishes more easily than bromegrass or timothy when seeded with other species. Stands will be more productive and last longer than bromegrass or timothy when grown with alfalfa that is cut frequently and heavily fertilized.
Orchardgrass will persist and make reasonable yields on soils that have moderately poor drainage. However, it will not tolerate wet areas as well as reed canarygrass or tall fescue.
Orchardgrass is fast-growing and matures very early in the spring. There are some varietal variations but, in general, orchardgrass matures about one week earlier than tall fescue and about two weeks before smooth bromegrass. It also regrows quickly after harvest, making it well suited for seeding with frequently harvested alfalfa. It produces less fall growth than tall fescue under similar growing conditions. The bunch-type growth characteristic and shade tolerance combine to make orchardgrass well adapted to grow with competitive tall growing legumes such as alfalfa and red clover. In a three-year shade tolerance study, yield and stand were not affected by reducing light by 33 percent.
Orchardgrass is easy to establish and has a more dense root system than smooth bromegrass, timothy or bluegrass. It grows on a wide range of soil types, doing well in low-fertility soils, but also responding well to high-fertility soils. One undesirable trait is that forage quality of spring growth declines rapidly as maturity increases. However, orchardgrass re-growth, which is mostly leaves, is very high in quality. Temperatures above 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit will greatly reduce the growth and tillering of orchardgrass. That means that summer productivity is less than in spring and fall.
Establishing a stand
Freezing temperatures may damage orchardgrass in the young seedling stage. Thus, fall seedings should be made about 45 days before the first killing frost (usually about 27 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit) so seedlings can develop well enough to survive the winter. For this reason, fall seedings are not recommended in the northern one-third of the state. Late August to early September are considered best fall seeding dates in most of the state, with mid-September seedings satisfactory in the extreme southern areas. Spring seedings should be successful if made in late March to early April in the southern part of the state, and most of April is considered satisfactory in north Missouri.
A clean, firm seedbed is important to help plants make a more vigorous early growth and resist winter heaving. Orchardgrass may be seeded with fly-resistant wheat in south Missouri, seeded with spring oats in north Missouri or interseeded with winter wheat in early spring. Competition from small grains should be reduced by using them for pasture, hay or haylage.
Buying a certified variety gives the best assurance of obtaining quality seed. The minimum specifications for certified orchardgrass seed are 85 percent purity and 80 percent germination. Eight pounds of clean, high germination seed is usually adequate to obtain good stands of orchardgrass. A pound of orchardgrass seed will contain about 645,000 seeds, roughly 2-1/2 times the number of seeds in one pound of tall fescue.
Most orchardgrass is seeded with a companion legume.
Drilling orchardgrass and the companion legume seed is preferred. The use of drills, such as the Brillion type or grain drills, will usually result in better stands at the same seeding rate, more controlled seeding depth and better seed distribution than broadcasting. Good results are obtained with grain drills when orchardgrass is put through the grain box and the companion legume is seeded from the small legume box. The legume seed should be allowed to drop straight to the ground to prevent covering too deep. Drag chains on the drill will cover the seed adequately. Pull a cultipacker or light roller over the field to give good seed-to-soil contact and promote more vigorous seedling growth.
Orchardgrass should be planted at a rate of 10 - 20 lbs per acre.
Seedings of orchardgrass can also be made with broadcast equipment such as fertilizer trucks, buggies or tractor-mounted distribution. Broadcast equipment will not throw orchardgrass seed as far as it will throw fertilizer or heavier seeds such as fescue. To help avoid uneven stands, drive the equipment close enough to overlap the previous spread pattern to ensure even seed distribution. Orchardgrass seed should be covered with about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Spike tooth harrows or "brush type" drags make good tools for covering broadcast seed. The use of a cultipacker or lightweight roller is very important for the same reasons cited above.
When managed properly, orchardgrass will produce excellent results in pasture programs for dairy and beef. Properly managed orchardgrass plants will have a higher leaf-to-stem ratio than tall fescue. Several research studies have demonstrated higher animal intake and better animal performance from orchardgrass pasture as compared with tall fescue pasture, especially during spring and early summer. During a three-year study in Missouri, yearling steers gained 1.75 pounds per day on orchardgrass pasture, 1.16 pounds on tall fescue and 1.84 pounds on bromegrass. In the study, the carrying capacity of orchardgrass was well above bromegrass and slightly less than fescue. In a similar study involving cow/calf pairs, calves gained 1.80 pounds per day on orchardgrass and 1.51 pounds per day on fescue.
Mixtures of orchardgrass and clover (red or ladino) are very popular for pasture in Missouri. Rotational grazing with heavy stocking rates of cattle will give better animal performance and reduce spot grazing. If plants are continually grazed short, they will be weakened and stands may be depleted. Close grazing can be especially detrimental during hot weather. Heavy grazing of orchardgrass during October can decrease carbohydrate storage and lead to some winter kill of plants. Stands of orchardgrass will often be more persistent when grown with a companion legume.
Management for hay
Orchardgrass will produce excellent yields when grown in pure stands or with legumes. When using pure stands for hay, it is imperative that nitrogen be applied in combination with adequate phosphorous and potassium.
Harvesting the spring growth of orchardgrass at late-boot to early-head stage will produce higher quality forage than allowing the plant to mature further. This early harvest will also help increase yield of high quality re-growth. Forage researchers and several Missouri farmers have observed less damage to plants from summer heat and drought when the first harvest is made early and plants have time to re-grow before the stress. Some south Missouri farmers have reported almost 100 percent loss of stands when harvest was delayed to the late bloom stage. This can be more of a concern when late harvest is followed by high temperatures and low moisture supply.
As with close grazing, close cutting can lead to stand reduction. Harvesting at a height of four inches will help maintain strong root reserves, leading to fast recovery of re-growth and better stand persistence. Mixtures of orchardgrass with alfalfa or red clover should be managed to favor the legume. This is especially true with reference to fertilizer application and stage of maturity to harvest. Alfalfa orchardgrass mixtures should normally be harvested when alfalfa is at early bloom to one tenth bloom. This harvest state will produce good dry-matter yields, quality forage and favor stand persistence of the alfalfa.