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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Successful establishment and management of switchgrass
Year: 2000
Author(s): Parrish, D. J., Wolf, D. D., Peterson, P. R., Daniels, W. L.
Source Title: Proceedings of the 2nd Eastern Native Grass Symposium
Source Type: Proceedings
pages: 237-2434
Original Publication:  
Abstract: Switchgrass, a native perennial, has a reputation for being difficult to establish. Using no-till planting methods, we have found that we can get excellent stands and significant biomass production from switchgrass even in the establishment year. The keys to success include the interconnected factors of overcoming seed dormancy, optimizing planting date, and providing pest control. Seeds of switchgrass are highly dormant when first harvested; as few as 5% of the seeds in commercially obtained seedlots may be germinable, even though their seed tag can show 90% + "pure live seed". This dormancy can be largely overcome by stratification--exposing wet seeds to 5 to 10 degrees C for 2 to 4 weeks. While it works quite well for breaking the dormancy, there are issues with scaling up stratification for large quantities of seeds and with a tendency for stratified seeds to regain dormancy when they are dried. Other dormancy-breaking techniques may be more commercially useful. Weeds can also be a serious threat to plantings. Good pre-planting weed control and planting (using non-dormant seeds!) after the soil is fully warmed (mid- to late-June in our area) are essential for success with no-till plantings. The late planting date allows the switchgrass seedlings to make such rapid growth that competition from most co-emerging weeds in minimal. We frequently find that insect control is crucial in the vigor of first-year growth. Although no products are currently labeled for this use, our experimental results suggest that including an insecticide to control flea beetle can have a dramatic effect on biomass production during the establishment year. There may be less difference between insecticide-treated and non-treated plots in years after planting, as long as other stress factors (such as germinable seed, drought, and weed pressure) are not experienced.
Publisher: Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service, Beltsville, MD
Editor(s): J. R. Ritchie