Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)
Plant Characteristics: Orchardgrass is a perennial bunchgrass is characterized by its flattened leaf sheath, tall membranous ligule, no aurice is present, and blue-green blades with a V-shape. Seed head is an open panicle. Orchardgrass produces an extensive fibrous root system. It has no stolons and only rarely has short rhizomes.
Establishment: Orchardgarss is recommended for the northern part of the state. Orchardgrass is very palatable when young, but like all grasses, it tends to become coarse and less palatable if allowed to over-mature. It is a shade tolerant species. Not recommended in combination with tall fescue, unless rotational grazing with high stocking rates can be practiced. Selective grazing of mixed stands may result in poor use of the fescue and overgrazing of the orchardgrass if heavy stocking rates aren't maintained. Orchardgrass should be planted between August 15 and September 30 at a rate of 15 to 20 lb/ac in a prepared bed. When seed is broadcast, increase seeding rates by 50% or more, depending on seedbed condition. Plant seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Usually a good mixture for legumes due to less competition. Orchardgrass is well adapted to grow with legumes such as alfalfa, red clover, lespedeza and white clover. If a legume is mixed with orchardgrass use a 1/4-inch planting depth. Several pests can be a problem including armyworms, rust and leafpsot,and nematodes (sandy soils).
Fertilization: Orchardgrass tolerates pH ranging from 4.7 to 8.2 and it will tolerate low to medium salinity levels. Soil test recommendations for establishment of orchardgrass or orchardgrass-legume mixtures will normally require 20 to 30 lb N/ac, 50 to 120 lb P2O5/ac, and 40 to 60 lb K2O/ac. Split applications of N fertilizer give a better distribution of growth throughout the year than a single application. If N fertilizer need is indicated by a soil test, apply 50 to 75 lb N/ac in early spring and after and 50 lb N/ac after each cutting thereafter. In grazing pastures where livestock manure is well distributed, manure will supply about half of the needed nutrients. In these conditions, three applications of 30 to 40 lb N/ac have worked well. For pastures associated with chicken litter applications, reduce the fertilizer applications by 40 to 50%. Adequate levels of phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur without N favor legumes in a grass-legume mixture .No nitrogen fertilizer should be applied when the stand contains 30% or more of alfalfa, red clover or ladino clover. Mixtures of orchardgrass alfalfa will remove about 10 to 12 lb P2O5/ac and 35 to 45 K2O/ac per ton of forage. Potassium fertility is especially important when orchardgrass is grown with alfalfa and should not be allowed to become limiting. Orchardgrass competes vigorously with alfalfa for potassium, potentially reducing the yield and persistence of alfalfa.
Grazing/Hay Management: Orchardgrass can be used as pasture or hay. Orchardgrass productivity occurs from March to June and September to November. Rotational grazing with moderate stocking rates is recommended. Hay production should start at the boot stage. Annual yields could range from 2 to 3 tons/ac. Yields of orchardgrass can be seriously reduced by high temperatures, low moisture supplies and the presence of plant diseases. Make sure new stands are well established and approximately 10 to 12 inches tall before grazing or harvesting. Plants are established when they have three or four leaves and are not easily pulled out of the ground. Test by pulling on newly established plants. If they resist your pulling, livestock won't be able to remove plants by grazing. Provide a rest period of 25 to 30 days for regrowth and apply nitrogen at a rate of 50 lb/ac.
Forage Quality: Usually has a good quality. Orchardgrass is very palatable when young, but like all grasses, it tends to become coarse and less palatable if allowed to be over-mature. In a pure stand crude protein ranges from 11to 13% in a NDF around 63%, and TND around 57%. and 15 to 18% in a grass/legume mixture. Also, crude protein can range from 23% at early vegetative stage to 6% at the seed head stage.
Varieties/Cultivars: Old varieties: Hallmark, Sterling, Abel, and Napier, Potomoc, Benchmark, Pennlate, Haymate. New varieties: Icon, Harvestar, Megabite, Athes, Shiloh, Mammoth and Tekapo (grazing tolerant).