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Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) is a cool season introduced perennial bunchgrass. Plants are 20-48 inches. It is one of the earliest grasses to initiate growth in the spring and makes tremendous growth during cool conditions. It produces an extensive root system with rooting depths to 2 feet. Primarily for pasture and hay forage production because it is highly palatable. The top forage grass for the Northern states under intensive rotational grazing systems. Compatible with many legumes.
Because of its dense network of non-rhizomatous roots, Orchardgrass provides good erosion control on sites where it is adapted. Additionally Orchardgrass is sometimes used in grass-legume mixes for upland wildlife forage and cover in the winter months.
- Orchardgrass persists and grows well on soils that have moderately poor drainage; it however, will not tolerate flooding or wet soils for extended periods.
- It is used for pasture, hay and silage, and when planted in combination with legumes (alfalfa, etc.) it produces quality forage.
- Orchardgrass is adapted to shady areas or areas of reduced light.
- Growth begins early in the spring and regrowth will occur even after heavy grazing or mowing.
- It is winter hardy but is highly dependent on moisture for a sustained yield.
- Orchardgrass flourishes on rich soils but also grows well on poor soils.
Orchardgrass grows best in a firm, moist seed bed that is somewhat loose on the surface. As with all grasses, good seed to soil contact is essential. Depending on geographic location, Orchardgrass may be planted in fall or spring (fall plantings for the more southerly or lower elevation sites). Recommended seeding rate is 8 to 10 pounds of PLS/s ft. seeding with legumes, decrease rate by one half. The seed depth is 1/4 to 1/2 inch with a caltipacker often used after planting. Some more northern locations plant at 3/4" deep.
Growth characteristics make Orchardgrass well suited to early spring pastures. The pasture should then be used on a rotational basis, as animals tend to graze the plants too close, resulting in weakening or destruction of the stand. Close cutting at ground level will produce similar results. Orchardgrass should not be grazed until it is eight inches tall and then no closer than 3 inches, to avoid winterkill.
Legumes planted with Orchardgrass do well. The legumes supply additional nitrogen for the Orchardgrass and when managed properly, both species remain productive for many years. It growing Orchardgrass in pure stands, additional nitrogen is essential. If growing Orchardgrass for seed, remove the stubble after harvest to insure a good seed crop the following season.