Cool-season Grasses

cool season grassCool-season grasses are generally categorized as grasses that thrive in cooler climates or during cooler seasons. The category of cool-season grasses most often includes the perennial grasses of the northern half of the U.S. and the winter annual grasses of the southern U.S.

Cool-season grasses green up and/or germinate under cooler soil and air temperatures and can usually remain actively growing through the occasional freezing temperatures fall and spring. In their adaptation zones, these species hit peak forage productivity in the spring and fall. Heat and drought in the summer can cause growth to slow or result in dormancy.

Each cool-season forage species excels or varies in different situations – cold, heat, drought, disease pressure, persistence, forage quality, grazing pressure, maturity time, etc. Therefore, if a hayfield or pasture is not intensively managed, a forage species mix can often outperform a pure stand of one species in terms of forage yield or the number of productive weeks during the year.

Brome, Smooth

Smooth Brome differs from meadow brome in many ways. It is a high-quality forage grass that is very popular in the northern Plains because of its persistence in that cold, blustery climate. But without high levels of nitrogen, it is often not as productive as meadow brome, orchardgrass, tall fescue and other grasses, and therefore, is often best used in a mix. It is sod-forming.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 15-20 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Medium
  • Longevity: Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium
  • Heat Tolerance: Medium

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is a popular forage for horses in the Midwest and Northeast. It is high-quality but a low yielder. As a sod-forming, low-growing grass, it can take heavy grazing and continue to persist, which is beneficial in heavily grazed horse pastures. However, because of its low yields and poor tolerance of heat and drought, mixing in orchardgrass and other species is almost always more productive.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 10-15 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Poor
  • Longevity: Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Poor
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor

 Improved Kentucky Bluegrass variety offered by Heritage Seed: Ginger

Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass is one of the highest-quality cool-season grasses and, as popular as it is, should be utilized throughout the central and northern tier of the country more than it is. It is fairly persistent and can be grown as far south as Tennessee in the Southeast and Kansas in the Plains. Orchardgrass is a high-yielding grass and can be used in pure stands, grass mixes, mixed alfalfa stands, or mixes with red or white clover. It is a bunch-grass.  

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 15-20 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Excellent
  • Longevity: Medium-Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Medium-Excellent

Improved orchardgrass products offered by Heritage Seed:

Delay Orchardgras – medium-late maturity (tech sheet)

Reed Canarygrass

Reed canarygrass is a very interesting species. It is very cold tolerant and a high-yielding species. Furthermore, it is very nutritious, more so than bromes, orchardgrass and timothy. However, it is best suited for soils too wet to grow orchardgrass, tall fescue and other popular forage grasses. Reed canarygrass, after established, can actually tolerate flooding for two months. It is sod-forming.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 10-15 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ to ½ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Excellent
  • Longevity: Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Varies
  • Heat Tolerance: Medium

Ryegrass, Annual

Annual ryegrass is an excellent choice for winter pastures/hayfields, a cover crop, or temporary pasture fixes in the Southern Plains, Southeast and lower Midwest. It germinates and grows quickly. Ryegrass, both annual and perennial, has an extremely high sugar content, which results in excellent annual performance. A common use for annual ryegrass in the southern half of the country is to plant in early fall and either use for winter grazing or harvesting and wrapping as baleage/haylage in the spring for super high-quality feed that can be stored outside a barn (it’s airtight and water tight). Improved annual ryegrass varieties can out-yield forage harvest of winter wheat, winter rye and winter oats, and annual ryegrass has a higher forage quality than the cereal grains. It is a bunch-grass. 

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 25-35 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼-1/2 inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Medium-Excellent
  • Longevity: Annual
  • Winter Hardiness: Medium
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor

Ryegrass, Perennial (and Festulolium)

Perennial Ryegrass has most of the great benefits of annual ryegrass, except it’s a perennial and it can survive winters farther north into the upper Midwest, Northern Plains, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest. It is however, a short-lived perennial, rarely surviving for more than two or three years and is best used as a mix with orchardgrass, tall fescue or other longer-lived perennials. It is a bunch-grass. Festulolium is a cross between meadow fescue and perennial ryegrass. It has the same basic appearance and agronomic characteristics as perennial ryegrass.  

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 25-35 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Medium
  • Longevity: Poor
  • Winter Hardiness: Medium
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor

Spring Green Festulolium

Tall Fescue, Endophyte Free

Tall fescue is one of the most widely planted cool-season grasses in the country. Some tall fescue varieties (such as Kentucky 31) contain a naturally occurring fungus called endophyte. It is very toxic to cattle and horses. Plant breeders were able to develop endophyte-free varieties. The resulting type of tall fescue is not toxic to animals, has a very good forage quality, and is almost as heat and drought tolerance as endophyte-infected varieties. Endophyte-free tall fescue is excellent choice for producers throughout the northern half of the U.S., with better persistence than perennial ryegrass and timothy. It is a bunch-grass that can produce good yields. 

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 25-35 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Excellent
  • Longevity: Medium-Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Excellent

Improved endophyte-free tall fescue product offered by Heritage Seed:

NutriFescue Tall Fescue (tech sheet)

Timothy

Timothy is popular grass because it has a relatively low establishment cost, and it has good forage quality. However, it is also a very short-lived perennial and requires frequent re-seeding. And due to its lack of tolerance to heat and drought, it often has a short production window. It is a bunch-grass. Nevertheless, it has a strong following in the horse market, and timothy does has value 

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 10-15 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Medium-Excellent
  • Yield Potential: Medium-Excellent
  • Longevity: Poor
  • Winter Hardiness: Medium-Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor-Medium

Improved timothy variety offered by Heritage Seed: Richmond