Extension/Research Information

2002 Ohio Forage Performance Trials

Ohio State University Extension
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center
The Ohio State University

Horticulture and Crop Science
Series 195
November 2002

Perennial Grasses

    Perennial grasses, such as bromegrass, orchardgrass, timothy, tall fescue and reed canarygrass will provide early and late season grazing as well as hay. Grass species and varieties within species vary in several important characteristics that influence their suitability to a particular situation. The most important characteristics are maturity (how quickly the grass produces heads in the spring), winterhardiness, stand survival, disease resistance, heat and drought tolerance, grazing and traffic tolerance. For example, tall fescue is well suited for high traffic lots while timothy will not survive because its crowns are sensitive to hoof damage. Orchardgrass would be a poor choice for drainage ditches and waterways because it is a bunch-type grass forming clumps that are interspersed with bare soil or weeds. Below are described the key characteristics of several important grass species grown in Ohio. The Ohio Agronomy Guide, 13 edition (available in county extension offices or on the web at http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu/b472/index.html) provides more information on characteristics and management of these forage grasses.


Orchardgrass: A versatile perennial bunch-type grass (no rhizomes) that establishes rapidly and is suitable for hay, silage, or pasture. Orchardgrass is probably the most productive cool-season grass grown in Ohio, especially under good fertility management. It has rapid regrowth, produces well under intensive cutting or grazing, and obtains more summer growth than most of the other cool-season grasses. Orchardgrass tolerates drought better than several other grasses. Orchardgrass is especially well suited for mixtures with tall legumes such as alfalfa and red clover; however, very early maturing varieties of orchardgrass are not well-suited for mixtures with these legumes. The rapid decline in palatability and quality with maturity is a limitation of this species.

Tall Fescue: Commonly considered a versatile and persistent perennial forage. In addition, fescue is used for erosion control, reclamation, and for turf. Tall fescue can tolerate somewhat poorly drained soils and low pH. It can grow and establish on medium fertility soils and is somewhat resistant to drought. Tall fescue is the most desirable grass to stockpile for late autumn and winter grazing. During the winter, higher yields of stockpiled fescue are obtained when compared with other species of cool season grasses. New varieties of endophyte free tall fescue have potential to increase animal performance during the summer grazing season as well as provide adequate forage quality for beef cattle and sheep during the autumn and early winter. Tall fescue is also tolerant of heavy traffic.

Timothy: A hardy perennial bunch grass that grows best in cool and moist climates. It generally grows better in northern than in southern Ohio. It produces most of its annual yield in the first cutting. Summer regrowth is often limited because of intolerance to hot and dry conditions. Timothy is primarily used as hay and is especially popular for horses. Timothy is less competitive with legumes than most other cool season grasses and is adversely affected by frequent cutting, and by harvesting or grazing in the jointing stage (stem elongation phase).

Reed Canarygrass: A high-yielding perennial grass that is tolerant of a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. It can be used for hay, silage and pasture but has a reputation of poor palatability and low quality. This was because older varieties contained high levels of alkoloids, chemical compounds which reduced palatability. New varieties are available which have improved quality and palatability, and these can even be used for lactating dairy cows. Only these newer low-alkaloid varieties (eg. Palaton, Venture, Rival) are recommended if the crop is to be used for animal feed. Reed canarygrass is winter hardy, drought tolerant and resistant to leaf diseases. It is persistent, responds well to high fertility and tolerates spring flooding, low pH, and frequent cutting or grazing. It also forms a dense sod. Limitations of this grass include slow establishment and forage quality and palatability decline rapidly after heading.

Ryegrass: Ryegrass is a bunch grass that produces excellent quality forage and is suitable for hay, silage, or pasture. It is best adapted to northeast Ohio. Persistence has not been the best in southern Ohio because of its lack of tolerance to heat and drought stress. However, improved varieties may have better persistence under these conditions than earlier ryegrass varieties. Under good moisture conditions, ryegrass can produce high yields, as demonstrated at Wooster in 2000. Ryegrass is less winter hardy than other grasses common to Ohio, and therefore it should be seeded in mixtures with other grasses or legumes. When moisture is adequate, ryegrass is a vigorous establisher, and can reduce establishment of slower establishing companion grasses and legumes. Once established, it tends to be less competitive with legumes than orchardgrass. Like orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass can withstand frequent cutting or grazing. It is very difficult to cut with a sickle bar mower (especially the spring growth) and is slower to dry than other grasses.



    Perennial ryegrasses (diploid and tetraploid) are the most winter hardy of the ryegrass types. It requires a dormancy period of cold temperatures to flower, and therefore, normally produces seedheads only once per year, in the spring. However, seedhead production can occur during the summer months on some varieties. Tetraploid varieties usually have larger leaves, fewer but larger tillers, produce a more open growth (less ground cover), and tend to have higher digestibility than diploid varieties. Diploids tend to have finer leaves and produce more tillers.

    Italian ryegrasses (frequently called annual ryegrass) are not true annuals, but may survive one or more years depending on weather conditions. But in general, they are much less persistent than perennial types. Italian ryegrasses generally have a more open and upright growth habit than perennial ryegrass, and thus are more suited to mechanical harvest systems or grazing with long rotations. They have excellent seedling vigor and are very productive under good moisture conditions. Late maturing types have better yield distribution throughout the season. Italian ryegrass flowers in day lengths greater than 11 hours, and there is no cold weather dormancy requirement for them to flower.

    Hybrid (intermediate) ryegrasses are the result of crosses between perennial and Italian types. They generally have characteristics intermediate between perennial and Italian types. Italian and intermediate ryegrasses generally have more aggressive growth than perennial ryegrass, but lack the persistence of perennial ryegrass. Intermediate ryegrasses have the flowering characteristics of Italian ryegrass. Bison is an older intermediate-type ryegrass that has been grown in Ohio in the past.

    Festuloliums are derived from crosses between Italian ryegrass with meadow fescue (or in a few cases with tall fescue). They combine the disease resistance and winter hardiness of meadow fescue with the high nutritive value and good season-long productivity of Italian ryegrass. Winter hardiness of some festulolium varieties may approach that of perennial ryegrass.


Summary of 2002 Grass Crop Performance

Tall Fescue: The tall fescue trial of endophyte-free varieties established at S. Charleston in April 2001 yielded good data this year. Good yield measurements were taken this year except for the third harvest due to reduced rainfall and above average temperatures. Results from that trial are in table

Variety Marketer
Jesup Max Q Pennington Seed
Jesup EF Pennington seed
Stag Central farm Supply
Barcarella Barenburg (Fowler Seed)
Atlas Central farm Supply
Maximize Turf Seed Co.
Stampede (orchardgrass) CountyMark
Festival Pick Seed (Seeds Ohio)
Hoedown DLF-Jenks
Kentucky 31 Seeds Ohio
Martin 2 Cebeco/International (Cisco Seeds)


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