Plants in grassland

Except in intensively managed short-term grass leys which will be two, maybe three ryegrass species, most grassland will contain a variety of grass species as well as a range of other plants. Some of these may have been sown deliberately as part of the grass management; some will be self-seeded. Some will be welcome, because they add resilience, persistency or palatability to the sward; some will be unwelcome, like thistles, docks, nettles and ragwort.

If you look at a selection of seed mixes for grassland, you will see that a range of grass species is included; in some mixes, other non-grass species are included too, such as herbs and clover. Many seed merchant now produce specific mixes for specific use e.g. for poultry, ponies or for seeding poached areas. This is very helpful but it’s also useful to have some knowledge about what’s included and why.

Assessing grasses and grassland

When assessing grasses, and other grassland species, we look at particular characteristics:

  • Persistence – how long the species will last in the sward
  • Productivity – how many tonnes of dry matter the species produces per hectare
  • Heading dates – when the grass species normally forms flower heads. This is important for conservation particularly as it determines when the grass should be cut.
  • Early or late growth – when in the season the grass grows
  • Hardiness – how well the grass tolerates low temperatures
  • Drought resistance – how well the grass tolerates drought
  • Palatability – how much does stock like eating the grass. If it’s not palatable, it’s not much use, is it?
  • Response to nitrogen
  • Ease of establishment – how easy is it to grow
  • Suitability for cutting or grazing – depending on other characteristics, some species are better or cutting than grazing and vice versa.
  • Quality – how much energy, fibre and protein does the species have and how digestible is it (D Value)
  • Disease resistance
  • Adaptability to moist conditions
Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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