Native Warm-Season Grasses

restored prairieNative warm-season grasses (nwsg) are grasses historically native to an area that grow during the warm months of the year and are dormant during autumn and winter. They differ from cool-season grasses, which make their active growth during spring and fall.

There are many warm-season grasses native to the Mid-South region; however, seven species are most commonly promoted as cover for wildlife and/or forage for livestock. These are big bluestem, little bluestem, broomsedge bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, sideoats grama and eastern gamagrass. Not all of these, however, have the same quality for wildlife habitat or livestock forage. For example, broomsedge offers excellent nesting habitat for bobwhites, but poor forage for livestock.

Native warm-season grasses provide many benefits when used and managed properly. These include wildlife habitat, agricultural forage for hay and pasture, vegetation to filter sediment and pesticides where crop fields border are adjacent to waterways, excellent soil erosion control once established, and ornamental landscaping. Denser strands of 1-3 grass species are typically used for forage, but sparser strands with wider variety of native grasses plus wildflowers and forbs provide much better wildlife habitat.

These native grasses are often directly planted, using either specific broadcast methods or by use of a specialized no-till native grass drill. However, particularly when wildlife habitat is the primary goal, native grasses and associated broadleaf plant communities can often be established simply through eliminating and/or managing the current vegetation to take advantage of the existing seed bank present in the soil.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service have personnel available to provide technical assistance for landowners wanting to establish native grasses.

If directly planting, it is important to obtain quality seed and be knowledgeable about planting rates and methods.