How To Plant Switchgrass Seeds?
There are many different types of switchgrass. Some of them have very short growing season, while others grow all year round. So, it’s best to choose the type which will give you good results in your area. There are several types of switchgrass available in the market today. They include:
Cave In Rock (or “Rock”) Switch Grass
The Cave In Rock Switch Grass is one of the most popular varieties grown for its ease of cultivation. It grows well in almost any soil conditions and has been successfully cultivated for centuries throughout North America. The cave in rock variety is known to thrive under cold winters, but it does not do so well during hot summers. It prefers dry soils with little or no moisture. It is a fast growing grass, but it requires regular fertilization to maintain vigor.
If left ungrazed, it may become too tall and spread out over time causing problems for neighboring properties.
In order to maximize the yield from your crop, you must make sure that the soil temperature stays between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit during winter months and above 70 degrees Fahrenheit during summer months.
It is a short lived perennial bunchgrass that has cylindrical stems and grows between 3 to 10 feet tall. It has long leaves which are hollow inside. The leaves are often bluish green in color with hairy surface. The cave in rock variety produces several seed heads. Each head can have as much as 500,000 seeds.
The seeds are very small and difficult to handle, but they are also very easy to grow.
Silver Switch Grass
The silver switchgrass is a medium to tall growing bunch grass that grows well in wet soil. It can be found in abundance in damp meadows, stream banks, and lake shores. It is also commonly found in open woodlands of the eastern US. The silver switch grass is less tolerant to grazing than the cave in rock variety.
Several Native American tribes have been using this type of switchgrass for making baskets, mats, and other handicrafts. The long hollow stems make the weaving easier. The cylindrical stem is thin, but hardy and resistant to weather conditions. The silver grass does not tolerate overgrazing and can only sustain light browsing by animals.
It is a short lived perennial bunch grass that grows 1 to 8 feet high. It has long leaves with wispy hairs on the margins. The leaves are bright green in color and may turn yellow or brown during winter months. The seed heads are thin, wispy, and light brown in color. The seeds may stay on the stem for many months before they are released.
This type of grass is also commonly found in Eastern and Central parts of North America. It grows well in fertile and moist soil conditions. It prefers well drained sandy loam soil that is rich in organic matter. It can grow between 3 to 8 feet tall. The leaf blades are broad and thin, and they may turn brown during winter months.
The Big Bluestem is a very common type of switchgrass which can be found in many areas in the United States. It prefers moist soil conditions, but it can also tolerate dry soil. It grows 1 to 8 feet tall and has leaves which are light green in color. The seed heads generally stay on the stems for one year. The seeds are flattened and thin.
The stems are very tough, wiry, and hard to break.
The name is somewhat of a misnomer since it is in the Gramineae family which also includes corn, wheat, oats, and rice. Indeed, it is sometimes cultivated as animal fodder. It is also used for making paper, thatching roofs, and many other industrial purposes. The fiber from the stalks can be woven into cloth.
The switchgrass is one of the most adaptable grasses in North America. It can be found from as far North as Canada and as far South as Mexico. It grows well in wet marshy soil and drier soil alike. Several Native American tribes have used it for making dwellings, tools, utensils, and many other things.
Many people do not know that switchgrass is not a limited resource and it does not require much maintenance to keep it growing. Each switchgrass plant can grow more than 3 feet tall. It can also be planted in rows and keep it trimmed to keep it shorter for an easy harvest.
You can either till the soil and then plant your seeds or you can simply scatter the seeds on the ground and hope they take root. If you do the latter, make sure that the soil is soft and not hard packed. You can also sow your seeds in pots and transplant them into the ground once they are established. It is easier to till the soil, plant, and then let nature take its course.
The best time to harvest your seeds is during the fall or spring months. You can tell that the seeds are ripe when the stalks turn a reddish brown in color. Cut off the seed heads with some of the stems attached. Let them dry in a place with plenty of air flow for several days. Shake the seed heads gently every day for a week to remove any airborne seeds.
Then store the seeds in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them.
It is best to plant your switchgrass seeds in the early spring or late fall months. You can also plant them during the summer, but they may not grow as well if the weather gets too hot. You can start them in pots and put them in a spot that receives partial sun. Transplant them into the ground once they are sturdy enough to sustain themselves.
Your switchgrass plants will grow best in soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. You can add fertilizer to the ground before planting or you can wait and add it when you start to see less growth. It is better to get a soil test to make sure you are adding the right amount of fertilizer.
You should also make sure you water your plants and keep the soil moist as much as possible. It doesn’t need to be drowning in water, but don’t let it get dried out. Dry soil is bad for the roots.
If you want taller grass, you should cut it before it flowers. Once the flowers turn into seeds, that is when the plant will start to die off. Leave some of the seeds on the plant so that it can regenerate itself for the next growing season.
There should be no need to weed your switchgrass, but if the ground is particularly weedy you may need to pull them up by hand.
During the first year of harvest, you probably won’t get as many seeds because the plant will be getting its roots established. After that, you should get a good yield. You can get between 1 and 4 pounds of seeds per plant.
If you live some place with a shorter growing season, you may want to plant varieties like ‘Jubilee’ ( tolerate warmer climates and mature in 70-80 days), ‘Northwind’ (take longer to mature, about 90 days) or ‘Slender’ (tolerate colder climates and mature in 80-90 days). You can find a good selection of seeds at garden centers or online.
You can also raise switchgrass for livestock feed. Since it is higher in protein and nutrition than other grasses, it will give your animals more energy than what they would get from hay and standard pasture grasses. It can also help put weight on animals that are a little thin. Start by planting in the spring or late summer. Keep the soil well watered and add fertilizer as needed.
You may want to start with a small patch so you don’t have too much work to manage.
Harvesting and storing the seeds is really just a matter of waiting until the seeds are ripe. It can take a few months so you will want to make sure you have enough time to get the job done. As with harvesting any kind of plant, make sure to wear gloves and be careful not to damage any of the seeds so you don’t lose any when you clean and process them.
Sources & references used in this article:
Farmer willingness to grow switchgrass for energy production by K Jensen, CD Clark, P Ellis, B English, J Menard… – Biomass and …, 2007 – Elsevier
Soil carbon storage by switchgrass grown for bioenergy by MA Liebig, MR Schmer, KP Vogel, RB Mitchell – Bioenergy Research, 2008 – Springer
A review of carbon and nitrogen balances in switchgrass grown for energy by DI Bransby, SB McLaughlin, DJ Parrish – Biomass and Bioenergy, 1998 – Elsevier
Establishment stand thresholds for switchgrass grown as a bioenergy crop by MR Schmer, KP Vogel, RB Mitchell, LE Moser… – Crop …, 2006 – Wiley Online Library
Switchgrass growth and development: water, nitrogen, and plant density effects. by MA Sanderson, RL Reed – Rangeland Ecology & …, 2000 – journals.uair.arizona.edu