Introduced Grasses

As a group, the introduced grasses are some of the most important forage and turf grasses in Kansas. These grasses introduced from around the world, through passage of time and breeding efforts, have become naturalized to those sections of the country to which they are adapted. Kansas, due to its geography, is often referred to as a transition state. Many grasses have a limited adaptation to Kansas. However, relatively few perform well over a wide area of the state. The introduced grasses include both warm and cool-season grasses. One of the most important differences between warm and cool-season grasses is the way in which they conduct photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. This process can be credited for all life on earth. The atmosphere contains very little carbon dioxide (0.03%), the success of a plant is dependent upon its ability to collect and use carbon dioxide. The warm-season grasses have what is referred to as a C4 photosynthetic process, while the cool-season grasses adapted to Kansas use a C3 photosynthesis system. 

C4 (warm-season) plants are more efficient in gathering carbon dioxide than are the C3 (cool-season) plants when both are growing at optimum temperature. The optimum temperature for growth of cool-season grasses is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit while it is 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for warm-season grasses. Warm-season grasses are also more efficient in water use than the cool-season grasses. These differences explain why warm-season grasses are more productive in the hot/dry summer months while cool-season grasses are most productive during the cool and moist, spring and fall months. 

In Kansas, the cool-season introduced grasses are utilized to a much greater extent than are the warm-season. Perhaps the best suited of the cool-season grasses are smooth bromegrass and tall fescue. Other cool-season grasses with more limited adaptation include; orchardgrass, reed canarygrass, timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, and the ryegrasses. 

As a group these cool-season introduced grasses are highly responsive to fertilization and proper management. It is important to understand the growth and quality characteristics of these grasses in order to design the proper forage program for a particular ranch operation. For example, if fall pasture is needed or if forage needs to be stockpiled for winter pastures, tall fescue is a better selection than either smooth bromegrass or orchardgrass. On-the-other-hand, if spring pasture or quality hay production is the producer's goal, both smooth bromegrass and orchardgrass are superior to tall fescue. 

Seeding legumes in combination with the cool-season grasses is an excellent management practice. Legumes can increase carrying capacity, improve quality and digestability as well as lower fertilizer costs. However, if the two species are to coexist, the grass/legume mixture must be managed properly. Proper management would include; liming to near neutral pH, annual application of potassium and phosphate fertilizer, heavy grazing pressure or clipping of grass in early spring to allow the legume the luxury of less competition and either rotational intensive grazing or periods of grazing deferment when necessary. 

Examples of warm-season introduced grasses planted in Kansas include the old world bluestems, weeping lovegrass, and bermuda grass. None of these grasses are utilized to a great extent at present, however as bermudagrass cultivars with improved winter hardiness become available, this species could become a valuable forage in eastern Kansas and under irrigation in more western sections of the state.

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a cool-season perennial grass introduced from Europe. Generally, tall fescue is well adapted to the humid temperate areas of the United States and the world. While tall fescue grows and performs best on good, moist soils that are heavy to medium in texture, it exists and performs relatively well on soils that vary from strongly acidic (pH 4.7) to alkaline (pH 9.5). It thrives and conserves soils on thin, droughty slopes, and forms dense sods on poorly drained soils where few other cool-season grasses survive. The massive root structure of tall fescue is generally credited for its adaptation to many varied soil types. The roots of tall fescue decrease soil density, improve soil structure, and firmly hold the soil reducing erosion. 

Cattle grazing tall fescue occasionally will exhibit physiological disorders, i.e. fescue toxicity or "fescue foot", poor animal performance or "summer syndrome", and fat necrosis. Extreme symptoms of fescue foot and fat necrosis are easily distinguished, but it is not known if they are different responses caused by the same agent(s), or an extension of the less acute response of summer syndrome. 

Summer syndrome is associated with the symptoms of rough hair growth, reduced rate of gain and/or milk production, rapid breathing, increased body temperature, and a general unthrifty condition during the warmest grazing season, (July and August). Summer syndrome is very seldom fatal; however, due to the large number of cattle grazing tall fescue, summer syndrome has a much greater economic impact than fescue foot or fat necrosis.

Use and Management: 

Tall fescue is widely used for pasture, hay, turf, and conservation purposes. Tall fescue occupies an estimated 30 to 35 million acres in pure and mixed stands within the United States making it the predominant cool-season grass species. 

Factors that govern the quality of tall fescue forage include the age of the leaves, fertility of the soil, and the season of the year. Quality is improved if the plants are kept grazed closely, clipped to prevent accumulation of old leaves, and properly fertilized or grown in association with a legume. Quality is lowest during summer, intermediate in spring and highest during the fall season. 

Tall fescue is grazing tolerant and best animal performance is achieved if grazing pressure is sufficiently heavy enough to prevent the accumulation of older leaves. If cut for hay, best quality is achieved before seed heads emerge.

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is a cool-season perennial grass that is native to Europe, temperate Asia, and North Africa. It has been widely distributed to other parts of the world, including North and South America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. Both perennial and annual ryegrass are important grasses in forage-livestock systems. Mixtures of the two species sometimes are used to increase first season forage yields while establishing a perennial grass stand. 

Perennial ryegrass is valued for high yield potential, fast establishment, reduced tillage renovation applications, and use on heavy and waterlogged soils. Because of its high quality, the primary use of perennial forage-type ryegrass in the U.S. is for lactating dairy cows on pasture.

Use and Management: 

Perennial ryegrass may be harvested for silage. For the highest quality and yield of perennial ryegrass silage, it should be cut in the early boot stage. 

Perennial ryegrass, like other grasses, is well suited to many different soil conservation practices. Its extensive, shallow, fibrous root system makes it an effective species for reducing surface soil erosion. Perennial ryegrass is recommended as a fast starting component in mixtures, providing rapid cover and then allowing longer-lived or more winter hardy species to become established. 

It also provides an excellent source of wildlife feed for ducks, as well as wild turkeys, rabbits, deer and elk. Quail and songbirds such as the white-crowned sparrow also use this for nesting and feed.

Annual Ryegrass

Annual Rye (L. multiflorum) grass is one of the most used seeds sold for lawn and pasture purposes and is sown all over the world for planting on it's own and in mixtures too numerous to mention. The adaptability of this cool season grass to many soils and climates coupled with fast germination and prolific growing rate make this grass an important factor in establishing thousands of lawns and pastures in all but the hottest of zones.

More information coming.

Smooth Brome

Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis), native to Europe and Asia, is adapted to most temperate climates. Deeply rooted, smooth bromegrass survives periods of drought and extremes in temperature. During dry summer periods it becomes dormant until the return of cooler temperatures and fall moisture. Best suited to deep fertile soils of well-drained silt loam, smooth bromegrass can never-the-less be utilized on a wide range of soil types. It is a leafy, medium-tall growing, sod forming perennial grass. It spreads underground by rhizomes and is readily propagated by seed. 

Forage quality of smooth bromegrass is usually superior to other cool-season grasses, i.e. tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, etc. A disadvantage of bromegrass is its slow recovery after cutting, which contributes toward slight regrowth and poor seasonal distribution of yield. Regrowth is slow because growing points are removed by cutting and consequently regrowth must come from below ground nodes. In order to keep smooth bromegrass productive year after year it must be skillfully managed, particularly in the fall of the year. Close grazing of smooth brome through the fall may result in thin, low vigor stands the following spring. Properly managed, this superior grass will remain productive for several generations of Kansas farmers. 

Use and Management: 

Smooth bromegrass is highly regarded for use as irrigated and non-irrigated pasture, quality hay production, soil conservation and critical area stabilization, and in grass-lined waterway seedings. 

New stands of smooth bromegrass should be protected from grazing until the grass is well established. Broadleaf weeds can be controlled with low rates of 2, 4-D after grass seedlings have at least five or six leaves. The annual grasses can be suppressed by mowing. Mow at a height of four to six inches and do not remove more than three inches of smooth bromegrass leaves. 

Dense stands become sod-bound in three to five years without a perennial legume in the stand or nitrogen fertilizer. Maintenance of established stands is usually dependent upon yearly application of fertilizer and adequate moisture. An annual application of 90 to 100 pounds actual nitrogen in winter with phosphate and potassium included as recommended by a soil test is sufficient for hay or seed production. 

Bromegrass is well suited to intensive grazing systems in the spring of the year. Hay meadows should not be grazed prior to cutting and only moderately in the fall. Good quality and high forage yield will be achieved when smooth bromegrass is cut in early bloom stage.


Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.), a native of Europe, has been grown in North America for over 200 years. It has spread through a large area of the United States, where it has become a very important forage species. A cool-season perennial grass, orchardgrass is utilized for hay and pasture. While orchardgrass is more tolerant to heat than timothy or Kentucky bluegrass, it is less so than tall fescue or smooth bromegrass. It is shade tolerant and routinely found growing in areas where there is reduced light, such as an orchard. 

Soil requirements of orchardgrass are less exacting than those of either timothy or smooth bromegrass. Orchardgrass will persist on shallow, rather infertile soil and be modestly productive. However, it responds well to fertilizer, especially nitrogen, and becomes very competitive when nutrients are available. At high rates of nitrogen fertilization, orchardgrass is among the most productive of the cool-season grasses. Hay yields in excess of four tons per acre can be expected when orchardgrass is properly fertilized and growing conditions are favorable. 

A high quality forage, orchardgrass, when in the vegetative growth stage, approaches the feeding value of alfalfa. At full bloom, orchardgrass possesses approximately half the nutritional value of alfalfa. 

Use and Management: 

Orchardgrass is leafy, productive, and adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions. Once established it will survive many years if properly managed. It is well suited for pasture, hay, greenchop and silage, and it can be utilized alone or in combination with legumes. 

Growth characteristics of orchardgrass make it well adapted for early spring pasture and better suited to rotational grazing rather than continuous grazing. When grazed continuously, plants become severely weakened by the frequent removal of leaf tissue. 

Ladino clover is excellent for use in combination with orchardgrass for pasture. The clover will provide nitrogen for the grass, and if properly managed both species will coexist and remain productive for a number of years.

Timothy Grass

Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) is a bunchgrass with a shallow, fibrous root system. It is best adapted to the cool and humid areas of the northeastern United States. Its usage in Kansas is limited to the eastern most portion of the state, and has steadily declined over the years to the point of only minor importance. While smooth brome, tall fescue, and orchardgrass have largely replaced timothy in Kansas, it still maintains popularity, particularly for horse hay and pasture. 

Timothy lacks the drought and heat tolerance necessary to make it a long-lived perennial in Kansas. It thrives on heavy, moisture retentive soils, however, it does not tolerate water-logged soils as well as reed canarygrass, red top, or tall fescue. Timothy is a relatively noncompetitive grass, and as such, is excellent for use in combination with legumes. It increases yield and adds ground cover to legume mixtures without depressing legume yield or persistence. 

Timothy is considered a very palatable grass, its forage quality usually ranks higher than tall fescue, reed canarygrass, or orchardgrass, and slightly lower than smooth bromegrass. In a grass/legume hay mixture, timothy's late maturity is considered an advantage as it is relatively young and tender at harvest. 

Use and Management: 

Timothy is grown primarily for hay, and is also routinely utilized in mixtures for pasture. Timothy is widely renowned for its high quality and palatability, particularly in the horse industry. Good quality and maximum forage yield is achieved if cut at or before the onset of heading. 

Timothy is a very desirable pasture species. A mixture of four pounds of timothy and one pound ladino clover is an excellent horse pasture mixture for eastern Kansas and Missouri. It is best not to seed timothy in mixture with aggressive and/or grazing tolerant grasses such as tall fescue. However, mixed stands of timothy, red top and/or orchardgrass in combination with alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil or ladino clover can persist and remain productive for a number of years.

Red Top Grass

Red Top (Agrostis alba) is an introduced cool season perennial grass found throughout Canada and the northern U.S.A. It is a sod forming, rhizomatous species of medium height. 

Red Top is a moisture loving species and requires more than 20 inches of annual precipitation. It performs best on clay or clay loam soils but will grow even on sandy sites. It has very good tolerance of acidity and will grow well on soils with pH's above 4.5. It cannot tolerate alkaline soils. Red Top also has a very good tolerance of flooding. Red Top has poor tolerance to drought and salinity. 

Use and Management: 

Red Top has good seedling vigor and will establish fairly quickly. Its best reclamation use is on wetter sites which have acidic soil conditions. 

Its strongly rhizomatous nature makes Red Top a good erosion control species. Red Top has fairly low palatability which means it can provide cover for some nesting waterfowl.

Reed's Canarygrass

Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) is a tall, wide-leafed, sod-forming, perennial cool-season grass. It spreads underground by short, scaly rhizomes and forms a dense sod in well-managed pure stands. Individual plants exhibit considerable difference in agronomic characteristics, suggesting that there is much potential for selection of improved cultivars. 

The lack of palatability or of selection by livestock when a choice is presented, is why this extraordinary grass has not become a leading forage in its area of adaptation. Reed canarygrass is one of the highest yielding perennial grasses available for grazing or haying. 

Especially well adapted to wet, marshy land; Reed canarygrass is very tolerant of flooding. It will also grow on upland soils and shows considerable resistance to drought. It produces lush growth from early spring through summer, but produces little growth in fall and winter. 

Reed canarygrass develops a sod sufficiently firm to support livestock even on wet land. Likewise, farm machinery is supported on sod in areas that would be impassable before the establishment of Reed canarygrass. 

In Kansas, Reed canarygrass is best adapted to the northern 1/3 of the state. However, it has been successfully utilized throughout the state. 

Use and Management: 

Reed canarygrass is used for pasture, hay, silage, and soil stabilization. For best quality pasture, allow Reed canarygrass to reach a height of eight inches before stocking with livestock and place heavy enough pressure on the grass to keep it shorter than 30 inches. Rotational grazing with heavy pressure for short periods, provides the best utilization of pasture. 

Best quality hay will result if the first crop is taken before heading. With adequate nitrogen and moisture three hay crops per season may be obtained. 

Reed canarygrass makes good quality and palatable silage when harvested timely. Preservation of Reed canarygrass silage is excellent, provided the crop is harvested by the early heading stage and is finely chopped.


Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) probably originated in southeast Africa. In Kansas bermudagrass has been successfully utilized in about a twenty county area of southeast and east-central Kansas. The western boundary is determined by inadequate moisture and the northern boundary by temperature and winter-hardiness. The release of the variety 'Guymon' by Oklahoma State University and the USDA ARS could greatly alter the parameters of bermudagrass production in Kansas. Guymon is winter-hardy even in the northern most counties of Kansas. With the advent of varieties such as Guymon, bermudagrass could become a major warm-season forage in eastern Kansas. 

Bermudagrass is a warm-season perennial, sod-forming grass. It excels when temperatures approach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Bermudagrass will grow on any moderately well-drained soil provided it has an adequate supply of moisture and plant nutrients. Although it tolerates flooding for long periods of time, it makes little or no growth on water-logged soils. 

Bermudagrass is as excellent quality forage if it is kept young and growing. The first cutting of hay may have a protein content as high as 19%. Fertilized bermudagrass cut every 25 to 30 days usually averages 12% crude protein.

Use and Management: 

Bermudagrass is a very desirable forage used either for haying or grazing. Utilized in pure stands or in combination with legumes, bermudagrass provides good quality forage during the warm spring and summer months. 

When managed for pasture it is important to remember that forage quality deteriorates rapidly with maturity. Continuous grazing results in spot or patchy grazing. Rotational, intensive grazing is preferable. Ideally, bermudagrass should be heavily grazed for ten days, then deferred for three weeks. If the grass gets ahead of grazing livestock, cut it for hay. Do not let bermudagrass mature. 

When managing bermudagrass for hay production the important considerations are proper fertilization and timely cutting. Permitting the grass to grow longer than six weeks between cuts lowers forage quality dramatically. Hay conditioners will hasten curing so hay can usually be baled 24 hours after each cutting. Nitrogen fertilizer (50 to 100 lbs./acre) should be applied after each cutting through August to maintain forage yield and protein content. Phosphate and potassium should be applied annually with the first application of nitrogen as recommended by a soil test.