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Types of Lespedeza as Forage Crops in MS

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February 21, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about types of lespedeza used as forage crops in Mississippi. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Rocky Lemus, Mississippi State University Extension Forage Specialist.

Dr. Lemus, producers are always looking for a summer legume that can complement their summer grasses. What is lespedeza?

Rocky Lemus: Lespedeza is a deep-rooted legume that can be established successfully in cultivated areas as well as in marginal lands or soils. They are tolerant to drought, low pH, they are non-bloating, and have lower yield potential than other forage legumes. However, lespedeza does respond well to both lime and fertilizer, especially potassium and phosphorus. Lespedeza can be used as a forage crop for grazing, hay, or soil stabilization such as erosion control and land reclamation.

Amy Myers: And how can lespedeza be established?

Rocky Lemus: Lespedeza is usually established as a pure stand or as a companion legume with cool and warm season grasses, perennial grasses especially. The seeding rate varies with the type of lespedeza being used. When seeding to warm season perennial pastures, you need to broadcast or drill the seed in late summer or early spring, and you need to adjust seeding rates according to germination. If germination's less than 85%, then you need to increase the seeding rate.

If the seed is not pre-inoculated, it's necessary to inoculate the seed with the recommended Rhizobium strain of inoculant. The seed can be broadcast into Bermuda grass or by hay grass pasture in late fall or early mid-April to mid-May. Usually disturbing the existing soil with light disking prior to broadcasting can increase seed-soil contact and improve stand establishment. It has been recommended to use a no-till drill in this case.

Amy Myers: And how many types of lespedeza can be used in Mississippi?

Rocky Lemus: There are three species of lespedeza that are grouped in two different groups. Annual lespedeza, which is include two species, which has striate and Korean lespedeza, and a perennial lespedeza known as sericea lespedeza.

Amy Myers: So what are some of the characteristics of annual lespedeza?

Rocky Lemus: Annual lespedezas are fine-stem, leafy legumes with a shallow taproot. Both types can grown in a pH range from 4.5 to 7. They are short-day legumes. The legume flowers in late August and sets seed in mid-September and mid-October. When managed properly, annual lespedeza can re-seed themselves. Annual lespedeza is more productive in late summer, usually July to mid-October and can complement perennial warm-season grasses to improve yield and forage quality.

For example, a striate lespedeza has a prostate growth, which makes it better suited for grazing than hay production. But on the other hand, Korean lespedeza tend to have a more upright growth and have a late seed production cycle.

Amy Myers: So what about sericea lespedeza and its utilization?

Rocky Lemus: Sericea lespedeza is the perennial species used for forage production. It is drought resistant, can tolerate shade, and it's not well-adapted to poor-drained soils. Sericea lespedeza, it's a shrubby plant that is about 2 to 5 feet tall. It flowers from mid-July to early October. Sericea lespedeza is slow to establish, with rather a weak seedling stage, but it can grow from May to September. Usually, germination and ceiling growth are regulated by day length and temperature. Growing increases as day length exceeds 11 hours and with maximum growth with 13 to 15 hours of daylight.

The optimum temperature for germination ranges from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It tolerates shade better than annual species. Sericea lespedeza is recognized for high levels of crude protein, but quality is usually offset by high concentration of tannins that bind with proteins, leaving them unavailable for digestion.

Amy Myers: Okay, Rocky. So the forage newsletter is online in case any folks want to learn more. How can we locate that?

Rocky Lemus: You go to the Mississippi State University Extension Service website at, and you click on forage newsletters at the top, and then click on forage news to get to all the newsletters that we have archived in there.

Amy Myers: So Right?

Rocky Lemus: That is correct.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Rocky Lemus, Mississippi State University Extension forage specialist. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm & Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Plant and Soil Sciences

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