Tall Wheatgrass

  • Excellent seedling vigor but is slow to establish
  • Provides a long grazing period
  • Late maturing
  • Produces high yields

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Tall Wheatgrass has had several name revisions and is also known scientifically as Agropyron elongatum and Elytrigia elongata). Tall wheatgrass is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass with a fibrous root system. It can grow as tall as 10 feet in the right conditions, but averages 3-4 feet. Tall wheatgrass is most frequently used for and is well adapted to saline-alkaline soils where few other species will survive. It produces high yields and is unsurpassed for those conditions, but is also coarse, late to mature and less palatable than most wheatgrass.

Tall wheatgrass is used for hay and pasture in the northern Great Plains and intermountain region. It produces high yields of good quality forage, however it is typically less palatable than other wheatgrasses. It is best suited for early season rotational grazing. It is often used for erosion control along roadsides and other critical areas. It has been recommended in the northern Great Plains for passive terrace formation. It is one of the most saline tolerant grasses commercially available. It can tolerate up to 1% soluble soil salts and persists in soils with conductivity up to electrical conductivity (EC) of 26 mmhos/cm. In the San Joaquin Valley of California, it is used to manage salinity in irrigation water recovery systems.

Tall wheatgrass is originally from Turkey, Asia Minor and Russia. It was introduced to the U.S. from Turkey in 1909 and is now found throughout all western states of the U.S. and most Canadian provinces. It is adapted to a wide range of soil types and climates but is is often recommended for 12 – 14 inch and higher precipitation zones or sites with high water tables at 4,300 to 6,000 feet elevation zones. It is well adapted to wet, alkaline soils such as greasewood and saltgrass sites where the water table is from a few inches to several feet below ground surface. It is less drought tolerant than crested wheatgrass, however it is adapted to sagebrush, mountain brush and juniper sites. The presence of Basin wildrye is a good indicator of where tall wheatgrass will be successful.

Tall wheatgrass has excellent seedling vigor but is slow to establish. To ensure plants become well established, haying and grazing should be deferred for at least two growing seasons on dryland one growing season on irrigated land. Management Tall wheatgrass responds well to irrigation and fertilization. Apply nitrogen in fall or early spring at a rate based on soil test results and fertilizer guide recommendations. To maintain stands, 6 inches of stubble should be left at the end of the growing season. Grazing the following season should be delayed until there is at least 8 inches of new growth. Tall wheatgrass is most palatable during the early spring months and should be managed during this time. If the grass is not managed, old coarse growth may inhibit grazing the following year. Tall wheatgrass must be grazed heavily to maintain plants in the vegetative state. However it does not tolerate continuous close grazing and a rest period is required between grazing events.

Tall wheatgrass is long-lived and spreads slowly. It is not considered a “weedy” or invasive species, but can spread into adjoining vegetative communities under favorable climatic and environmental conditions. Research indicates that most seedings do not spread from original plantings. It is known to coexist with native taxa. On sites where it is best adapted, it can maintain dominance and exist as monoculture. There is no documentation that it crosses with native species.

Because of its late maturing characteristic, tall wheatgrass provides a long grazing period. It has been evaluated in several western states for its potential to extend the grazing season.

Tall wheatgrass should be planted with a drill into a firm, weed-free seed bed. Recommended seeding rates are 10 pounds Pure Live Seed (PLS) per acre on non-saline soils and 15 pounds PLS per acre on saline soils. It is usually seeded in pure stands or in mixtures with grasses also having moderate palatability. Under dryland conditions, heavy to medium textured soils should be seeded in the very early spring, and medium to light textured soils should be seeded in the late fall. Irrigated land should be seeded in spring or late summer. Late summer (August – September) seedings are not recommended unless irrigation is available.


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