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Tall fescue - agronomy facts 28

Agronomy Facts 28
Tall fescue
Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) is a deep- (Table 2). In addition, compared with other cool-season rooted, long-lived, sod-forming grass that spreads by grasses, tall fescue is generally of higher quality in fall short underground stems called rhizomes. In Pennsylvania because of greater leaf retention. Thus, tall fescue can it has been used primarily for conservation purposes but is supply much of the spring, fall, and winter feed for a beef well suited as hay, silage, or pasture. It is well adapted to the soil and weather conditions of Pennsylvania (Table 1).
It is especially well adapted to acid, wet soils of shale Table 2. Yield of grasses during the summer and when origin and produces more forage than other cool-season grasses on soils with a pH of less than 5.5.
Tall fescue is drought resistant and maintains itself under rather limited fertility conditions. It is also ideal for waterways, ditch and pond banks, and farm lots and lanes.
It is the best grass for areas of heavy livestock and In the past, animals readily grazed tall fescue during April, May, and early June, and again in the fall, but they showed reluctance to graze it during July and August.
Note: All grasses received 240 lb N per acre.
Some of this reduced summer palatability, which resulted Source: Wedin et al.,10th International Grassland in poor animal performance, is associated with the presence of a fungus in the plant (endophytic). The fungusgrows between the plant cells and overwinters in the baseof the plant. The fungus produces alkaloids that are toxic ADAPTED VARIETIES
to animals. These alkaloids are thought to cause the poor Numerous varieties are adapted for use in Pennsylvania, conception rates, low birth weights, and low daily gains but the endophyte-free varieties are higher in quality than of animals grazing fungus-infected tall fescue. Endo- varieties infected with the endophyte fungus. Endophyte- phyte-free varieties are now available and are recom- infected varieties are well suited for planting on reclaimed strip mines and for other conservation uses where soil Tall fescue is the best adapted cool-season grass to conditions are unusually adverse for plant growth.
stockpile (accumulate growth) for use in fall and winter Because of differences in growth habit, palatability, and Table 1. Characteristics of perennial cool-season grasses in Pennsylvania.
Tolerance to soil limitations
Tolerance to
Droughty Wet
Persistence frequent harvest maturityc
a L = low, M = moderate, H = highb pH below 6.0 c Maturity characteristic refers to relative time of seed head appearance in the spring. This will depend not only on thespecies but also on the variety.
College of Agricultural Sciences • Cooperative Extension time of year best used, other grasses should not be included graze closer than 3 or 4 inches, and allow at least 30 days with tall fescue at seeding time. However, legumes can be included in the seeding mixture with tall fescue, although An improvement in animal performance has been the stand may eventually be used as a pure tall fescue stand reported for the new endophyte-free varieties relative to for winter stockpiling. The legumes will persist for several endophyte-infected varieties of tall fescue. Increased years, will improve forage quality, and will serve as a average daily gains of 0.5 lb per animal per day have been source of nitrogen for the tall fescue. Regardless of the reported for 7- to 12-month-old angus steers that have seeding mixture, it is recommended that endophyte-free grazed endophyte free compared to endophyte-infected tall seed be used if the tall fescue is to serve as animal feed. fescue. In a two-year study at Penn State comparingendophyte-free tall fescue varieties, animal performance ESTABLISHMENT
was similar for all varieties (Table 4).
Tall fescue and accompanying legumes can be seeded in Other tests comparing orchardgrass and endophyte-free spring or late summer. Spring seedings should be made as tall fescue for animal performance had similar results.
early as possible to avoid hot dry weather when the While orchardgrass is generally of higher quality during seedlings are small. Late-summer seedings usually have spring and summer, tall fescue quality is higher in the fall, less weed competition and more favorable moisture conditions than spring seedings. Late-summer seedings If fescue is to be used during the summer, maintain a should be made before August 15 in northern Pennsylvania legume in the stand to improve animal performance.
and September 1 in southern Pennsylvania.
Otherwise, allow the late summer growth to accumulate for For seeding tall fescue alone, 12 lb of seed per acre is use in fall or winter stockpiling. Tall fescue that is used adequate. Tall fescue in legume mixtures should be seeded exclusively for stockpiling is usually maintained in a pure For best results, band seed tall fescue 1/4 inch deep.
Press wheels used in conjunction with band seeding add Table 4. Average daily gains of ewes and lambs grazing additional stand insurance. If the seedbed is dry and not endophyte-free tall fescue varieties.
firm, cultipack before seeding to make a firm seedbed.
Tall fescue can be part of a forage program but should not lb/animal/day
be all of it. Legumes with tall fescue improve animalperformance and increase forage production during the summer. Legumes are difficult to maintain in a tall fescue sod, but certain management practices will help keep Source: L. C. Vecellio, 1992, master’s thesis, Depart- Table 3. Seeding rates for tall fescue and a single FERTILITY
Prior to seeding, determine lime and fertilizer needs by soil With any one of these legumes
test. Although tall fescue can achieve adequate yields on low-pH soils, maximum productivity is achieved when the pH is between 6.0 and 7.0. In the absence of a soil test for tall fescue seeded alone, plow down 0-45-135 lb per acre and apply 20-20-20 lb per acre at planting (banded ifpossible) when seeding without a legume. While smallamounts of nitrogen and potash are beneficial at seeding, legumes in the stand. Two such practices are maintaining too high a concentration of these elements can interfere pH above 6.0 and making annual applications of potash.
with germination. Do not apply nitrogen at seeding if tall Tall fescue grown with either red or white clover should not be allowed to smother the legume in the spring. This Under pasture conditions it is difficult to evaluate the can be avoided by grazing early and close to the soil amounts of nutrients removed by grazing animals. Grazing surface. Red clover is a short-lived perennial and must be animals trample or leave some of the total growth available managed to produce seed if red clover is desired in the to them. This is returned directly to the soil. Manure is not deposited evenly across the field; most studies show about Tall fescue withstands closer grazing and more abuse 12 to 15 percent of a pasture area is covered with manure than most cool-season grasses, but it can be overgrazed to by grazing animals each year. If an estimated 3 tons of the point that vigor as well as production is reduced. Don’t forage is produced from a pasture field, an annual applica- tion of fertilizer at 0-20-60 lb per acre should maintain annually with phosphorus and potassium. A fescue-legume mixture removes about 15 lb phosphate and 45 lb potash If pure tall fescue stands are used, high yields can be from the soil for each ton of hay produced. Phosphorus and expected if fertilizer is applied during the winter or very potassium can be applied anytime during the year with early spring. This is especially true for the nitrogen portion of the fertilizer. Tall fescue to be used for hay shouldreceive 100 to 150 lb N during the winter period. The same amount should be applied if tall fescue is to be used for Tall fescue is a deep-rooted, sod-forming grass best early grazing. If much fall pasture is desired, reapply adapted to cool-season production. It is extremely well suited for use as a stockpile forage because it retains its When legumes make up 30 percent or more of a tall quality and improves in palatability in the fall. It is well fescue or any grass stand, do not use nitrogen fertilizer.
adapted to low-pH soils like those found in strip mine When these stands are topdressed with fertilizer containing reclamation. It is more tolerant of animal and machinery nitrogen, the growth looks dark green and appears more traffic and of mismanagement than are other cool-season lush, but research shows that production is not increased. In grasses. Endophyte-free varieties improve animal accep- addition, applying nitrogen fertilizer to mixed stands will tance of and performance on tall fescue. Tall fescue can be cause the grass to dominate the mixture.
part of a forage program, but it should not be the only Tall fescue-legume mixtures should be topdressed Prepared by Marvin H. Hall, associate professor of agronomy Where trade names appear, no discrimination is intended, and no endorsement by Penn State Cooperative Extension is implied.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of Congress May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Departmentof Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Legislature. L.F. Hood, Director of Cooperative Extension, The Pennsylvania State University.
This publication is available in other media on request.
The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission, andemployment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by Universitypolicy or by state or federal authorities. The Pennsylvania State University does not discriminate against any person because of age,ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Direct all inquiriesregarding the nondiscrimination policy to the Affirmative Action Director, The Pennsylvania State University, 201 Willard Building,University Park, PA 16802-2801; tel. (814) 863-0471; TDD (814) 865-3175.
The Pennsylvania State University 1994


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