Throughout Dallas County and most of the Ozarks, the roadsides are alive in the summer with many species of grass. Among these are lots of tall dense clumps of lush green foliage. As these plants mature and seedheads emerge, they are much easier to identify. Some of the key forage species present now are eastern gamagrass, switchgrass, little bluestem, big bluestem and indiangrass. While most plants are staying green this summer due to lower temperatures and good moisture, the native warm season grasses stay green nearly every summer except extremely droughty ones. Warm season grasses are called that because their optimum growing temperature is in the 90 degree range. Cool season grasses reach optimum growth at 70 degrees. Many species of warm season grasses will produce the same annual volume of growth as cool season grasses, but do so in three summer months rather than split between six months of spring and fall growth. This rapid growth can be seen when roadsides and pastures are mowed and some clumps of grass seem to jump back overnight.
Management of these grasses would seem to be a cinch since they thrive in a carefree environment. However, when used in a production system, unlike their roadside cousins, they must be cared for properly to remain healthy, viable plants. Timing of grazing and height of grazing or haying are the two most important factors in stand maintenance. Plants grazed too often and too short, lose valuable leaf surface and become weak and unproductive. When properly cared for, warm season grasses can provide high quality forage at a time when most other forages are low in quality or quantity. For more information on warm season grasses, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Dallas County Soil and Water Conservation District which are co-located in the USDA Service Center on south highway 65 or call 417-345-2312 ext. 3.