If you're looking for a highly palatable and nutritious pasture forage for sandy soils, Dan Undersander recommends sideoats grama.
“I would seed it alone, where it's too dry for legumes to persist,” says Undersander, University of Wisconsin extension forage specialist.
A sod-forming, warm-season bunchgrass, sideoats grama is comparable to timothy for nutrition and has a long life span — over 20 years if it's not overgrazed. It can also be used for hay.
The grass has fairly leafy plants that can grow up to 2' tall. In late summer, it sends up delicate purple seed heads that turn a golden-rust color in early fall.
It grows naturally on Canada's Great Plains. “For that reason, it has adequate winterhardiness for all of the U.S.,” says Undersander.
“However, it works especially well on sandy soil in states from Illinois and Wisconsin and west to the Rocky Mountains.”
If there's adequate rainfall, sideoats grama can be grazed for about three months, from June through August. “Any two-week period without rain will slow the plant's growth. It will survive, but probably go dormant. If it starts raining again, it will come out of dormancy.”
The forage should be grazed to a height of about 3”. “The main consideration is length of grazing time. After it's grazed, it must have an adequate rest period or the stand will thin out.”
Seed is available through several dealers, both nationally and locally. “It's the least expensive of the range-type grasses and generally costs less than reed canarygrass,” says Undersander.
He recommends drilling the seed only ½-1" deep because emerging seedlings lack the strength to push through much overlying soil. Seeding should be done in late May at a rate of 10-12 lbs per acre.
Sideoats grama has a few disadvantages, says the specialist. “If there's heavy rainfall, it's lower yielding than many other grasses. Also, it can be edged out by quackgrass on heavy, silty soils.”