January 31, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Warm season grasses can offer farmers a complement to cool season grasses for forage programs in Kentucky.

Warm season grasses produce most of their growth from May to September in Kentucky. Cool season grasses, on the other hand, have their main growth spurts in the spring and fall. Growing a combination of the grasses can improve the seasonal distribution of forages, said Monroe Rasnake, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture extension agronomist.

For the past 20 years, Rasnake has been researching warm season grasses and which types work best in the state. These grasses should be used to supplement cool season grasses and are not meant as a replacement, he noted.

Warm season grasses are divided into annuals and perennials. Sudangrass is an example of an annual that has been used in Kentucky for many years to provide grazing. Perennials have not been used extensively in Kentucky but interest in them has increased in recent years, he said.

The advantages of annuals are that you can get quick production with good quality. The disadvantage is they have to be reestablished every year, which makes them difficult to be economical. They are best for emergencies and supplemental feeds, Rasnake.

Perennials such as switchgrass provide good yields, and stands can be maintained indefinitely. But they can lose quality quickly if too ripe.

They are more difficult to establish, taking about a year to do so, he said. Some perennials take two to three years to get into full production. The perennials require good management and are more difficult to manage than traditional cool season forages such as fescue and alfalfa.

Some of the warm season grasses are popular with wildlife managers. The grasses, some of which are native to Kentucky, provide good wildlife habitats.

Bermudagrass, a non-native species, may fit well on many farms especially those in western and southern Kentucky, Rasnake said. It provides high yields, has a long stand life and is good for pasture and hay. But it requires special planting equipment and lots of fertilizer.

Producers interested in trying warm season grasses need to select species and varieties that fit their soil type and management, and provide the desired product whether that be forage yield and quality, soil protection or wildlife habitat.

Producers should become familiar with what is necessary to establish and maintain a stand. Most of these are very different from cool season grass needs, Rasnake said. Perennials should only be established in areas where a producer expects to have them for a long period of time. And producers need to be prepared to provide the management needed to have a desirable production level and a long stand life, he said.

For more information on warm season grasses contact your county office of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.


Monroe Rasnake, (270) 365-7541