Native Warm Season Grasses

Native Warm Season Grasses (NWSG) provide excellent nesting and escape cover for small game and songbirds. NWSG are tall growing clump grasses that are open at ground level, allowing birds to move freely. Livestock producers have found substantial increase in weight gain among livestock that have fed on a rotation of NWSG and Cool Season Grasses (CSG) over animals fed only CSG. About 25% of your pasture or hayland should be placed in NWSG. The main advantage of forage production is that as CSG (ex. fescue) go into dormancy during the summer months, NWSG are producing forage that carries you through the dry part of the year. NWSG are drought resistant and can act as a safety valve during drought years by providing forage.

Native warm season grasses can be planted with a cyclone spreader, conventional drill, or specialized no-till warm season grass drill, depending on the desired grass species. The warm season grass drill is needed for grasses that have fluffy seed such as big bluestem, indiangrass, and little bluestem. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has a NWSG planter available to landowners. Other NWSG include switchgrass, eastern gamagrass and Atlantic costal panicgrass. Planting a mixed stand of grasses creates diversity that will attract a greater variety of wildlife than a monoculture. Seed should be planted by either drilling 1/4 inch into a firm seedbed that has been cultipacked or by broadcasting seed and dragging to lightly cover the seed. NWSG are planted from May 1 to June 30.

You must have patience when establishing NWSG. They usually require two growing seasons to become fully established.

Weed control is very important when establishing NWSG. Use of herbicides before planting may be necessary for areas extremely infested with fescue and/or weeds or you can release plantings through repeated mowings. Mowing should occur in May, June and July. Your goal is to keep weeds at the same level as the planting so grasses are not shaded out. Weeds should be cut just above the top of NWSG.

DO NOT CUT THE GRASSES DURING WEED CONTROL.

Once established, maintenance will be required to maintain optimal wildlife values. Your main objective is to reduce accumulated litter through haying, grazing, or controlled burning. If allowed to grow unmanaged, grasses will become matted inhibiting free movement of wildlife at ground level. When haying or grazing leave a 10-inch stubble height in order to maintain a vigorous stand.

Native warm season grass plantings should be established in blocks or linear strips no less than 50 feet in width. Narrow strips can be predator traps for nesting birds because they are easier for predators to search. Plantings should be a minimum of an acre in size. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists will be glad to assist you with design plans, planting recommendations, and maintenance schedules.