It happens every year about this time; the phones start ringing with customers wondering why the switchgrass, Bedding-in-a-Bag or now Real World Giant Miscanthus they planted has not yet sprouted. With more and more people diving into using Native Grass as bedding cover, they get worried when they do not see the same time line as traditional food plot planting. THESE WARM-SEASON GRASSES WILL TAKE MORE PATIENCE THAN ANYTHING YOU HAVE EVER PLANTED!
So just what does this mean? You are likely not going to see much if anything from your plantings of these grasses until a minimum of 45 days after soil temperatures reach 60-degrees at the 4” level. The date you planted means nothing. You could have frost seeded your switchgrass in January and you still won’t see anything out of it until soil temperature are over 60-degrees for at least 45 days. That could literally be 6 months later in some locations during some springs. The same applies to Bedding-in-a-Bag and Miscanthus.
This spring has been unusually cold and wet so soil temperatures have been slow to reach that magical 60-degree level. In fact it still is not there yet in some northern regions. Even in southern regions it is way too early to be getting concerned.
So why does it take so long for these grasses to germinate? Well actually they do germinate long before you see them break the surface but warm-season grasses put on a lot of root growth before they ever put on much top growth. By the time you see a single 1” hair-like grass stem, that plant will have at least 6-8” of root. This is just the opposite of a lot of seeds you plant which have a more equal growth of root and top.
The fact that these grasses are so slow to establish make it extremely important that you plant them on a well-prepared site and that you are diligent about weed control. The most common reasons for planting failures of these grasses are a poorly prepared planting site, weed competition and planting the seeds too deep. If you have addressed these 3 issues you are likely to have a good stand of grass but it isn’t going to happen overnight.
Another question we often get is “how much growth can I expect the first year?” There are way too many variables for anyone to answer this question. Factors like planting date, weather, soil fertility, etc etc etc all factor in. I have seen plantings that were barely knee-high the first year and I have seen first-year plantings that were pushing 7’.
Real World switchgrass, Bedding-in-a-Bag and Giant Miscanthus make for some fantastic wildlife habitat and once these grasses are established they will last for decades with proper maintenance but they require a lot of patience to establish. If you have already planted some of these grasses this spring my best advice is to forget about them until July 1st and even then you need to be observing weed competition as much as anything to determine if you need to address the weeds. Patience, Patience, Patience!!!!!