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Warm Season Grasses: Why are they so good for wildlife?

Many wildlife and resource professionals are encouraging Warm Season Grasses in their wildlife management plants. This information will describe the many benefits of warm season grasses and why to include them in your plans.

What are Warm Season Grasses?

Grasses are frequently categorized into two groups-cool season and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses, such as fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and brome grass, set seed in late-spring and early summer. Warm season grasses, often, called native prairie grasses, set seed in late summer and early fall. Therefore, warm season grasses, such as big bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats grama, and switch grass, are most vigorous during the hot summer months when cool season grasses have already reached maturity.

What are the benefits of Warm Season Grasses?

Are native to Michigan

Can improve soil organic matter

Deep root systems to stabilize soil

Grow well on poor soils and do not require fertilizers

Provide high-quality wildlife habitat

Provides quality pasture forage late in the summer

Can help reduce soil erosion

Wildlife benefits of warm season grasses

Warm season grasses provide good cover for a variety of wildlife species. Most warm season grasses are bunch grasses rather than sod grasses. the clumps of grass are ideal sites for nests, the species among clumps allow small ground-dwelling wildlife to move freely yet still provide good overhead cover. Warm season grasses do not lodge (bend-over) easily. Thus, they provide ideal nesting and winter cover for many ground nesting birds such as ring-necked pheasants. While they provide excellent cover, warm season grasses provide little food for wildlife. However, adding native forbs (non-woody plants that are not grasses or sedges) will enhance the food value of any planting. Often these forbs have showy flowers that bloom throughout the spring, summer, or fall.

Establishing warm season grasses

One drawback to planting warm season grasses can be the difficulty in establishment. Warm season grasses can become established a year after planting but it can take 2 or 3 years in some cases. This can become problematic since landowners often desire immediate results and planting will look “weedy” before the warm season grasses become established. Field preparations needs to be conducted to properly control weeds, which is critical during establishment. also, most stands of warm season grasses are planted with a special no-till drill. While there are some draw backs during establishment, planting native warm season grass can provide long lasting habitat for all upland birds and deer. For additional information or assistance with establishing native grasses contact, the USDA-NRCS and Mason-Lake CD office.