How to Grow Orchardgrass | Guide to Growing Orchardgrass

How to Grow Orchardgrass | Guide to Growing Orchardgrass  



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Orchardgrass makes an ideal everyday forage grass for a wide variety of livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, horses and others. Easy to digest and cultivate, it makes a fine choice for hay, grazing and silage. It grows in bunches and is quick to establish itself in most locations, and is best-suited as a cool season grass. As always, consult an animal feed expert, veterinarian, or other qualified professional before initiating any feeding regime.



7-14 days

4 years

acidic, fertile, well-drained

Full sun

For hay, thin to 12-18" or less

Cattle, sheep, others


Growing Guide
Orchardgrass is ideally sown in spring, or late summer. Note that sowing in mid to late August or later may not give young starts enough time go become stable for the oncoming winter.


A well-prepared seedbed will help to promote higher quality orchardgrass. This should be done 6 months or more prior to the expected planting date to ensure that added amendments have significant time to react with soil. The first step will be to test the pH of the soil with a tester, available at a farm or home & garden store. Ideally, the soil should have a pH between 6.5 to 7.0. Soil can be amended with lime (limestone) if needed to raise pH. Do not sow if pH is not 6.2 or higher. Amendment with organic fertilizers rich in nitrogen is recommended.


For grazing, orchard grass is best sown with legumes to provide a more balance nutritional profile and to assist with nitrogen fixation. Avoid sowing with other grasses.


Seeds should be sown approximately ¼-1/2" deep. Seeds sown deeper may not be able to break through the surface of the soil. Gently pack soil to ensure good seed to soil contact. Like most seeds, they require warmth and plenty of water to germinate. Do not start in arid or excessively dry locations or conditions. If sowing in fall, do not sow later than one month prior to the first average frost of the fall.

Orchardgrass is fairly tolerant of drought, traffic and other challenging growing conditions.


Orchardgrass is often considered suitable for a wide range of livestock. As always, consult an animal feed expert, veterinarian, or other qualified professional before initiating any feeding regime.


If growing for pasture, orchardgrass pairs well with clover varieties for balanced nutrition and nitrogren fixing from the legume. This will also help to promote and ensure healthier stands. Rotating orchardgrass with other forage crops is recommended, to promote more balance nutritional intake by livestock, and to allow orchardgrass and other plants adequate time to recover from grazing.


Do not allow livestock to overgraze orchardgrass-ideal height for grazing is 6 inches or more. Grazing below 3-4 inches can cause damage to plants, retarding future growth and delaying future grazings. Additionally, grass taller than 10" or so can become unpalatable and less nutritious.


If growing orchardgrass in the absence of legumes, fertilization with nitrogen is recommended. This is not necessary if growing with legumes as they will fix nitrogen naturally in the surrounding soil. Periodic fertilizing with organic sources of phosphorus and potassium is also recommended.


It is a good idea to periodically check the pH of stands-ideally this should remain between 6.0-7.0. If pH drops, top dressing with lime can be used to correct.


Harvesting Guide
Cultivating orchard grass as hay or silage typically requires 50 days or less after germination before the first collection. When collecting, be sure not to take plants down too low. Leaving 4-5 inches above the soil is recommended. Overharvesting can slow down grown and delay future harvests, which will typically require 4-6 weeks after collecting.

Grasses form their flowers in spikes called inflorescences. Seed collection is easy. Do not remove the flowering spikes, seeds will develop in the inflorescences. After a period of time you can notice a changing of color in the seed spike, usually it will lighten in color. Mature seeds can be brown to light tan depending on species.


It is important to note for collection that seeds will not come readily off the spike if they are immature. For collection grasp your hand around the base of the mature inflorescence and in a clasping motion pull upwards and strip the seeds from the spike. Ripe seeds come off very easily.


Allow the seeds to dry in a large open bowl for several days, small seeds will need a few days to dry, larger seeds may require more time, especially in damp weather. It is important to assure that the seeds are thoroughly dry before storing them.


Their will be a good amount of chaff with the seeds, it is not always easy to remove. Some seeds, such as pennisetum, have narrow catching/hooking spear-like protrusions attached. Their purpose is part of the dispersal means of the plant. As an animal passes close by and brushes against the inflorescence the seeds are snagged onto the coat and can stay attached for some distance, the seed eventually breaks from its hooks and falls to the ground where it might germinate. Seeds are usually traded with the chaff, for sowing rub both seeds and chaff into the surface of moist soil and press in well.


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