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Orchardgrass For Pasture & Hay

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Dactylis glomerata
Orchard Grass PastureOrchardgrass seed produces an excellent pasture grass, especially for horses and cattle, and can be used in wildlife food plots for deer, turkey and quail.
Orchard grass also makes an excellent hay production crop and is complimented when planted with legumes such as Ladino (white) clover (Patriot or Durana) or red clovers.

Orchardgrass can withstand trampling and heavy grazing, has a high nutrient content, is a great green manure crop and is used a green chop (fed directly to livestock wet). When properly maintained and established, planted with clovers or alfalfa, Orchard grass will survive as a pasture grass for several years.

Orchard grass 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. Although newer varieties are showing more winter hardiness. Often considered a "native" USA grass, orchard grass's origins are traced back to Europe. It has been reported growing in the United States since before 1760.

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Orchard Grass Quick Facts

Orchardgrass is a long lived, cool-season perennial bunchgrass that grows from 2-4 feet tall. It reproduces from seed and forms tufted shoots held together by short rhizomes. This grass has a panicle-type seed head that is 4-10 inches long and cannot be mistaken for other grasses. Its shape seed head shape has caused it to be named "Cocksfoot" (Also its name in Europe).

Origin: Europe
Description: Perennial
Primary Adaption: Orchard is less tolerant of drought and poor drainage than tall fescue. Often found mixed with Tall Fescue fields. In the lower South, stands do not generally persist more than two-four years. - Short life perennial in the deep south.
Uses: Pasture and hay. Forage quality is pretty high under good management.
Planting Rate: Seed should be planted 15-20 lbs an acre August-September.
Fertilization: Requires higher fertility than tall fescue. Responds well to Nitrogen. Obtain soil test for fertilization program.
Seasonal Production: March-July. Production during September-November is usually much less tall fescue production.
Management: Moderate stocking programs are best. The first hay harvest of the season should be in the boot to early bloom stage.
Pests: Armyworms, rust and leafspot diseases. Nematodes are very serious problem when grown in sandy soils.

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Orchardgrass is a native of Europe and Eurasia and has been cultivated in North America since 1760. It widely distributed across the United States.  It can be found growing in abundance in the Pacific North-West and in an area from the Dakotas to South Kentucky & Tennessee.  Orchardgrass grows best on rich soils, on poor soils and even performs well in shady areas.  Fertilization is essential for high forage production.   It is often grown in combination with Fescue, Lespedeza, clovers.  Orchardgrass is used for pasture, hay and silage and produces an abundance of quality forage.  It starts early growth in the spring after being grazed or mowed, making it good grass for summer pasturage. Seedland sells certified Orchard Grass Forage Varieties: Potomac and Persist.


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Planting Orchardgrass For Pasture & Hay Production

Orchardgrass seed should be planted at least 60 days before the first killing frost in the fall to protect young seedlings. Early spring plantings are harder to establish.

Seeding Rate: 18 to 20 lbs per acre into a clean seedbed. Reduce this rate to 8 to 10 lbs per acre if planting with other grasses or clovers.

Seeding Dates: Spring Or Fall
Fall: At least 60 days before the 1st frost in the fall when soil temperatures are 75° and falling.
Spring: After the last killing frost when soil temperatures are 65° and rising.
Soil: Soil should have a pH of 6.5
Depth: 1/2"

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FAQ - Orchard Grass Pastures

I am in need of information on when to harvest orchard grass to achieve the maximum protein content. I understand that just prior to the boot stage is the best time to cut.

What does the orchard grass look like at the boot stage so I know when to cut?

Orchard Grass In Boot StageThe boot stage is defined as the time when the seed head is enclosed within the sheath of the flag leaf. Mid to Late spring you’ll notice the stems of the plant beginning to elongate and the “flag leaf” can be seen. This leaf is shorter than other leaf blades and is generally rising higher out of the crown than other leaves, follow this blade down to its stem and split the stem open and you will find an immature seed head inside. Until this seed head emerges the plant is in the boot stage. As the seed head starts to emerge this is “early boot”.




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