Planting Guide for Forage Crops in North Carolina

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Establishing a successful forage crop depends partly on weather conditions shortly before and after planting. Years of field research and experience under North Carolina’s varied growing conditions have made it possible for researchers to recommend planting dates that will most likely lead to success or minimize risk (“best dates”). Delaying planting until the last possible dates indicated may reduce the chance of a good stand by 30 to 50% (“possible dates”) (Table 1). We have also included general recommendations in Table 2 for planting some cool-season grass-legume mixtures. Nevertheless, cool-season grass-legume mixtures can also be achieved by frost-seeding clover seed by early-to-mid-February in cool-season grasses that are already established.

The timing of planting is important because the survival rate of developing seedlings is related to the period during which stress occurs from drought, freezing, or competition for light and nutrients. If no such stress occurs, or if it occurs after seedlings are well established, survival and production losses can be minimized. It is worth noting that date ranges may vary each year, especially in light of erratic and extreme weather patterns. This guide is designed to provide generalized best management practices.

Fall Plantings. In general, cool-season forages, and especially perennial forages, can be best established by planting in the fall. Seedbeds should be prepared during favorable autumn weather when weeds are not as competitive. Furthermore, seedling root systems can become well established before the arrival of hot, dry weather the following season. However, late fall plantings can result in winter injury from freezing and heaving.

Here are some points to remember about fall planting:

  • Cool-season grass seedlings are more tolerant of freezing temperatures and heaving than legumes.
  • In prepared seedbeds, alfalfa and ladino clover should have five to seven true leaves present before frequent freezing weather occurs.
  • In prepared seedbeds, grasses should have three to four leaves before freezing weather occurs.

Spring Plantings. Spring plantings carry additional risks (i.e., drought, heat, and weed encroachment) beyond fall plantings. Spring plantings in the piedmont and mountains may be justified (1) if land or sod is prepared in the fall or winter, and plantings can be made early enough (between mid-February and late-March) for the crop to become established before summer stress; and (2) if summer weeds can be controlled while the seedlings develop.

Table 1. Planting guidelines for several forage crops in North Carolina.

Crop

Type

A: annual P: perennial CS: cool-season WS: warm-season

Seeding Rate

(lb./acre; PLS: pure live seed basis)

B: broadcast D: drill (4-9” row) R: row (30+ inches)

Planting Depth (inches)

Mountains (above 2,500 ft. elevation)1 See footnote for below 2,500 ft.

Piedmont and Tidewater2

Coastal Plain2

Best Dates

Possible Dates

Best Dates

Possible Dates

Best Dates

Possible Dates

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

P, CS

B:20-25; D:15-20

¼

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 15-Oct 31

Sep 1-30

Sep 1-Oct 31

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Mar 1-Apr 7

Mar 1-Apr 15

Mar 1-31

Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)

P, WS

B:15-25; D:10-20

¼-½

Not adapted

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Feb 15-Mar 15

Mar 15-Jun 30

Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

A, CS

B:140; D:100

1-2

Aug 1-20

Aug 1-Oct 10

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)

P, WS

Sprigged types: 30-40 bushels per acre (1 bushel = 1.25 cu ft)

1-3

Not well adapted

Mar 1-31

Feb 15-Apr 15 or through July if irrigated

Mar 1-31

Feb 15-Apr 15 or through July if irrigated

Seeded types: Common: B:6-8; D:5-7 Improved: D:10-15

¼-½

Not well adapted

Apr 15-May 15

Apr 1-Jun 15

Common: Apr 1-May 15 Improved: Apr 15-June 1

Mar 15-Jun 7

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

P, WS

B:10-12; D:8-10

½-¾

May 25-Jun 15

May 1-Jun 30

May 10-Jun 1

May 1-Jun 30

Apr 20-May 15

Apr 10-Jun 30

Bluegrass, Kentucky (Poa pratensis)

P, CS

B:10-15; D:8-12

¼

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 25

Not well adapted

Not well adapted

Caucasian Bluestem (Bothriochloa caucasica)

P, WS

B:4 PLS; D:2

¼-½

May 25-Jun 15

May 7-Jun 30

May 7-20

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 15-Jun 30

Crabgrass (Digitaria ciliaris)

A, WS

B:8-10; D: 5-7

¼-½

May 15-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-31

Apr 25-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)

A, CS

B:20-25; D:15-20

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Aug 25-Sep 15

Aug 25-Oct 25

Sep 1-30

Sep 1-Oct 30

Dallisgrass (Paspallum dilatatum)

P, WS

B:20-30; D:15-20

¼-½

Not well adapted

Mar 1-31

Mar 1-Apr 15

Mar 1-30

Feb 15-Apr 15

Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)

P, WS

D:10-15

¾-1.5

May 15-Jun 15

May 1-Jun 30

May 10-Jun 1

May 1-Jun 30

Apr 20-May 15

Apr 10-Jun 30

Nov-Feb

Nov-Jan

Nov-Jan

Flaccidgrass (Pennisetun flaccidum)

P, WS

D:2-4

¼-½

Jun 1-15

May 15-Jul 1

May 15- Jul 7

Apr 15-Jul 1

May 7-Jun 1

Apr 15-Jun 15

2-3

Mar 1-Apr 7

Feb 15-Apr 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 1-Mar 30

Feb 15-Mar 15

Feb 1-Mar 30

Sprig: 3/ft in 18” rows

Tillers: 2-4/ft

Root cover

May 15-Jun 15

May 1-Jul 15

Apr 25-Jun 1

Apr 15-Jul 15

Apr 25-May 20

Apr 15-Jul 10

Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)

P, WS

B:10-12 PLS; D:8-10

½-¾

May 15-Jun 15

May 1-Jun 30

May 10-Jun 1

May 1-Jun 30

Apr 20-May 15

Apr 10-Jun 30

Lespedeza, Kobe (Kummerowia striata)

A, WS

B:30-40; D:20-25

¼-½

Mar 15-31

Mar 1-Apr 15

Feb 10-28

Feb 1-Mar 30

Feb 1-20

Feb 1-Mar 20

Lespedeza, Korean (Kummerowia stipulacea)

A, WS

B:20-30; D: 15-20

¼-½

Mar 15-31

Mar 1-Apr 15

Feb 10-28

Feb 1-Mar 30

Feb 1-20

Feb 1-Mar 20

Millets: Foxtail (Setaria italica), Japanese (Echinochloa sculenta), Browntop (Urochloa ramosa)]

A, WS

D:10-15; R:5-7

½

Mar 15-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Millet, Pearl (Pennisetum glaucum)

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A, WS

B:20-25; D:15-20; R:6-10

½

Mar 15-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-31

Apr 25-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Oats (Avena sativa)

A, CS

B:130; D:100

1-2

Aug 1-20

Aug 1-Sep 30

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)

P, CS

B:12-15; D:8-12

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Not well adapted

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Rape and Turnips (Brassica spp.)

A, CS

B: 6 to 8; D: 3-4

¼

Mar 1-Apr 30

Feb 15-May 10

Feb 15-Mar 15

Feb 1-Apr 15

Feb 15-Mar 1

Feb 1-Apr 1

Jul 15-Sep 1

Jul 1-Sep 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Aug 1-Oct 1

Sep 1-Oct 1

Aug 15-Oct 30

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

P, CS

B:10-15; D:8-10

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Sep 15-Oct 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Sep 1-30

Sep 1 -Oct 15

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Feb 15-Mar 20

Reed Canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea)

P, CS

B:5-10; D:4-8

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Aug 25-Sep 15

Aug 25-Oct 25

Not well adapted

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Mar 1-31

Rescuegrass (Bromus catharticus)

A, CS

B:20-25; D:25-30

½-¾

Aug 20-Sep 7

Aug 15-Oct 1

Sep 1-15

Aug 25-Oct 15

Sep 1-30

Aug 25-Oct 15

Mar 15-30

Mar 1-Apr 30

Mar 1-30

Feb 15-Apr 30

Rye cereal (Secale cereale)

A, CS

B:120; D:100

1-2

Aug 1-20

Aug 1-Oct 10

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)

A, CS

B:30-40; D:20-30

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 31

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sept 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Oct 31

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

Sericea Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)

P, WS

B:20-40; D:15-30

¼

Mar 15-Apr 15

Mar 1-Apr 30

Mar 1-20

Feb 15-Apr 30

Mar 1-20

Feb 15-Apr 30

Smooth Bromegrass (Bromus inermis)

P, CS

B:10-20; D:8-15

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Not well adapted

Not adapted

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)

A, WS

R:4-6

1-1½

May 15-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-31

Apr 25-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Sorghum-Sudan/sudangrass (Sorghum bicolor)

A, WS

B:35-40; D:20-30; R:15-20

½-1

May 15-31

May 1-Jun 30

May 1-31

Apr 25-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

P, WS

B:8-12 PLS; D:6-10

½-¾

May 15-Jun 15

May 1-Jun 30

May 15-Jun 15

Apr 15-June 15

Apr 15-May 15

Apr 15-Jun 15

Tall Fescue (Lolium arundinacea)

P, CS

B:15-20; D:10-15

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15 Feb 20-Mar 20

Not well adapted

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Teff (Eragrostis tef)

A, WS

B:10-12; D:8-10

1/8-¼

May 15-31

May-June 30

May 1-31

Apr 25-Jun 30

May 1-15

Apr 20-Jun 30

Timothy (Phleum pratense)

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P, CS

B:10-12; D:8-10

¼-½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 20

Not well adapted

Not adapted

Mar 20-Apr 20

Mar 1-May 15

Triticale (Triticum x Secale)

A, CS

B: 120; D: 100

1-2

Aug 1-20

Aug 1-Oct 10

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

White clover (Trifolium repens)

P, CS

B: 3-5; D: 3-5

¼-½

Sep

Aug

Sep 15-Oct 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Sep 15-Oct 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Frost-seeded

Feb 1-15

Feb 15-28

Feb 1-15

Feb 15-28

Feb 1-15

Feb 15-28

Wheat (Triticum aestivum)

A, CS

B: 120; D: 100

1-2

Aug 1-20

Aug 1-Oct 10

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Sep 15-Oct 15

Sep 1-Nov 15

Feb 20-Mar 20

Feb 20-Mar 20

Vetch, Common, Hairy (Vicia spp.)

Biennial, CS

B: 25-40; D: 20-30

½-1½

Jul 25-Aug 10

Jul 15-Aug 30

Aug 25-Sep 30

Aug 25-Oct 25

Sep 1-Sep 30

Sep 1-Oct 25

1 Fall dates may be extended by 20 days where elevation is below 2,500 feet, and seed 15 days earlier in spring. 2 For the black, heavy-textured soils in the tidewater region, use dates for the piedmont.

Table 2. Planting guidelines for grass-legume mixtures in North Carolina.

Crop

Seeding Rate (lb./acre; PLS: pure live seed basis)

B: broadcast D: drill (4-9” row) R: row (30+ inches)

Planting Depth (inches)

Mountains (above 2,500 ft. elevation)1 See footnote for below 2,500 ft.

Piedmont and Tidewater2

Coastal Plain2

Dates (refer to Table 1)

Dates (refer to Table 1)

Dates (refer to Table 1)

Crimson Clover; Mixed with Ryegrass or Small Grain

B: 20 D: 15 reduce small grain by 30%

¼-½

Same as crimson clover

Same as crimson clover

Same as crimson clover

Orchardgrass + Alfalfa

B: 5 + 20 D: 3 + 15

¼

Same as alfalfa

Same as alfalfa

Not well adapted

Orchardgrass + Ladino Clover

B: 12 + 4 D: 9 + 3

¼

Same as orchardgrass

Same as orchardgrass

Not well adapted

Orchardgrass + Red Clover

B: 12 + 4 D: 8 + 3

¼

Same as orchardgrass

Same as orchardgrass

Not well adapted

Small Grain Mixed with Annual Ryegrass

Reduce small grain by 25% and ryegrass by 50%

½-1

See dates for small grains and ryegrass

See dates for small grains and ryegrass

See dates for small grains and ryegrass

Small Grain Mix (2 grains)

Reduce each selection by 50%

½-1

See dates for small grains

See dates for small grains

See dates for small grains

Tall Fescue + White Clover

B: 10 + 4 D: 8 + 3

¼

Same as tall fescue

Same as tall fescue

Same as tall fescue

Tall Fescue + Red Clover

B: 10 + 8 D: 8 + 6

¼

Same as tall fescue

Same as tall fescue

Same as tall fescue

1 Fall dates may be extended by 20 days where elevation is below 2,500 feet, and seed 15 days earlier in spring. 2 For the black, heavy-textured soils in the tidewater region, use dates for the Piedmont.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>