Where Has All the Lovegrass Gone?
When I came to work at the Agricultural Division in the mid-1960s, there were not many grass forages to choose from: "Midland" bermudagrass, King Ranch bluestem, caucasian bluestem, weeping lovegrass, and a few others. Now there are many more choices.
Weeping lovegrass was one of the earliest of the improved grasses, having been introduced by the SCS (NRCS) in the mid-1930s. It was a popular forage from the 1940s through the 1970s. The grass is a warm-season perennial with the longest green season of the usual summer grasses. Our cattle have grazed it as early as March. Weeping lovegrass is the most productive of all warm-season perennial upland grasses on the well-drained soils where it grows best fine sandy loam, loamy fine sand, and some deep sandtextured soils of many soil series. Yields of more than 10,000 pounds of forage per acre have been recorded on these soils. Texas Research Foundation recorded a yield of 18,000 pounds per acre in south Texas. Lovegrass's nitrogen efficiency is among the best of the perennial grasses and its stand life is very long with proper soils and use.
The grass produces well on loam and silt loam soils, but the stands tend to decline in a few seasons. Weeping lovegrass generally performs poorly on the clay loam, silty clay loam, silt, and clay soils.
Lovegrass is an erect, tight clump grass especially well suited to early-season grazing, haying, and winter-stockpile use, as well as proper full-season grazing.
There is much less weeping lovegrass now than in the past because it fell into disfavor:
- stands failed on fine-textured soils;
- it was winterkilled in the northern adaptive zones during some severe winters;
- other grass varieties became available; and
- it needs to be used in a good controlled rotational grazing (CRG) program.
Failure from not using CRG may have caused the most disenchantment with weeping lovegrass. Early-season or otherwise young, fresh regrowth is high-quality, palatable forage. However, the grass can produce incredibly fast during spring and after good rains in summer. Weeping lovegrass can grow over 2 inches per day and up to 1,000 pounds per week in a three-week recovery period. Managers who are unprepared allow the grass to become too tall, mature, and overgrown, which leads to low quality and palatability, and then the grass gets the blame. We agriculturalists have finally learned to manage CRG and weeping lovegrassmuch better.
Some CRG guidelines for weeping lovegrass are as follows:
- be sure all of the last season's production is used by initiation of spring growth;
- initiate springphase grazing when the grass is 4 to 6 inches tall and in the two- to three-leaf stage;
- graze early production to a 2- to 4-inch residue;
- allow all regrowths to reach three- to four- leaf stages and 6 to 12 inches tall;
- graze summer to early-fall (September 1) forage to a 3- to 4-inch residue;
- allow summer to fall regrowth to accumulate to the first fall freeze; and
- during winter, graze off fall stockpile to a 3- to 6-inch residue. Occasional haying, mowing, or controlled burning often helps complete weeping lovegrass use and even the residue height.
All grazing should be done with relatively high stock density. Cow unit equivalents of five to over twenty head per acre are needed and grazing periods must be shorter than one week and preferably fewer than four days. Recovery periods will be about eighteen to twenty-one days under good growing conditions and longer during hot, dry times, assuming adequate soil fertility. Rain or irrigation causes a relatively rapid increase in digestibility percentage. Graziers should take advantage of that effect and regraze or hay at that time if feasible.
Weeping lovegrass should be used in an integrated forage system. A little goes a long way. Twenty to thirty percent of a unit in weeping lovegrass is often enough to capture the green season and production benefits and is relatively easy to manage. The only recommended variety is Morpa; common is not recommended and varieties Ermelo and Renner are essentially unavailable now.
Weeping lovegrass can be overseeded with winter annual grasses and legumes and it mixes well with bermudagrass on sandy soils. We are in the final stages of writing a bulletin called Bermudagrass and Weeping Lovegrass Mixtures for Forage (NF-FO-99-14). Please contact us if you want a copy.