Slender wheatgrass is a tufted bunchgrass ranging in height from 2 to 2-1/2 feet. It is a relatively short-lived (3 to 4 years) cool season perennial species native to the mountain and intermountain areas of the western United States and the northern Great Plains.
Slender wheatgrass is an excellent high-elevation selection and performs well at altitude when other species fail to establish or quickly die off. It will establish at altitudes as high as 10,000′ and is distributed throughout the northeast, north, and west portions of the United States.
Slender wheatgrass is palatable and nutritious for livestock and makes good quality hay. It is among the preferred wheatgrasses for elk and bighorn sheep at higher elevations. Slender wheatgrass is recommended for inclusion in reclamation mixes because of its good seedling vigor and establishment qualities. It is also somewhat tolerant of saline soils. Slender wheatgrass seedlings are vigorous and provide good initial plant cover in seed mixtures. Plants tend to be short-lived, thus giving other plants a chance to become established.
Adaptation and Distribution
Slender wheatgrass is a widely distributed species and can be found growing at elevations from 4,500 to 12,000 feet. It prefers loams and sandy loams in areas receiving at least 14 inches of annual precipitation. Slender wheatgrass grows on moist to dry sites and has moderate to good tolerance of alkaline conditions (pH = 8.8). Salinity tolerance ranges from 1 to 16 mmhos/cm depending on environmental conditions and ecotype. It is surpassed in this trait only by tall wheatgrass. It is less drought tolerant than either crested or western wheatgrass and may succumb to drought since it sometimes matures late in the season. It does not tolerate excessive soil moisture. It is shade tolerant.
Slender Wheatgrass is quick to establish. It prefers medium textured, well drained soils. It is not aggressive. Seeding with a conventional drill is not difficult and depth should be 1/4 to 3/4 inches. The recommended drill seeding rate of 6 pounds PLS per acre will apply approximately 20 seeds per square foot. Seeding rates should be doubled for critical areas and broadcast seedings. Seedling vigor is excellent during the first year of growth. New stands increase in size by vigorous tillering. This is a fast growing grass which can establish quickly on critical sites.
Slender wheatgrass is best suited as a filler in seed mixtures containing slower establishing, longer-lived species for use on mountain and foothill sites. It is only moderately tolerant of grazing and requires good management to maintain stands. It performs best for hay and pasture when grown in combination with legumes.
Selected Materials and Cultivars:
- Pryor is a release from the Bridger, Montana Plant Materials Center and is useful for conservation and reclamation planting mixtures.
- Revenue is a 1970 release from Canada.
- San Luis slender wheatgrass has good adaptation and is long-lived at elevations of 4,500 to 12,000 feet.
Previously known scientifically as Agropyron trachycaulum.