The Grass Guide: Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass can provide high yield and forage quality under good management.

Photo: Sebastian Bieber/Wikimedia Commons

Name: Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)
Life cycle: Cool-season perennial
Native to: Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia
Uses: Pasture and hay
Identification: Leaf blades have a distinct line down the middle, bluish-green in color, seed head appears in dense clusters, flattened appearance at the base of the tiller

Orchardgrass is a relatively shade-tolerant cool-season perennial that can provide high yield and forage quality under good management. It is well known as a desirable grass for horses, both for hay and pasture.

Orchardgrass stands can thin with harsh winters or high summer temperatures. Avoid close grazing or cutting (under 3 to 4 inches) because it can weaken the stand and reduce regrowth. In northern states, orchardgrass stands are productive for four to five years, but this typically drops to three years in the southern part of the transition zone (e.g. Tennessee).

Information provided by AnnMarie Kadnar, graduate student; Krista Lea, MS, coordinator of the University of Kentucky (UK) Horse Pasture Evaluation Program; and Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist. All three are part of UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

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