The Smithsonian Conservation Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia recently held a workshop on native warm season grasses for forage and livestock, led by Dr. Ben Tracy from Virginia Tech. About 40 people attended including landowners, farmers, biologists from environmental research centers, and representatives from the Dept. of Conservation & Recreation, Shenandoah River State Park, Soil & Water Conservation Districts and others interested in transitioning to or managing native grasslands.
The reasons to plant native warm season grasses (NWSG) are many:
- They thrive in the heat of summer when other forage crops have declined
- They are native, perennial and long lasting
- They are adapted to many growing conditions
- They have good drought tolerance (switchgrass roots can reach down 6-8 feet!)
- They do not require high fertility & typically do not need additional fertilizer to thrive
- They are highly productive
- They provide good forage quality & wildlife habitat (particularly for ground nesting birds such as quail)
- They are noninvasive and have few pest problems
- They have biofuel potential
So what are native warm season grasses? They include switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, indian grass, eastern gamagrass and broomsedge. These are distinguished from the cool season grasses such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, bluegrass, timothy perennial ryegrass and smooth bromegrass.
For more information on native warm season grasses check out the Virginia Working Landscapes webpage.