Reed Canary Grass is a tall-growing, perennial grass which is widely distributed across Minnesota and other northern states. Particularly well-adapted to wet soils, it is also productive on upland sites. Reed Canary Grass spreads by underground stems (rhizomes) and forms a solid sod. It can be harvested as pasture, silage, or hay, whether sown in pure stands or in mixture with legumes.
New low-alkaloid varieties of Reed Canary Grass offer potential for improved animal performance and expanded use. Reed Canary Grass is better-adapted to diverse uses and environmental conditions than most other commonly used perennial grasses.
Reed Canary Grass has unjustly gained a reputation as a low-quality forage grass. This misconception is in part due to the potentially high-alkaloid content of native ecotypes, and to the frequent practice of delayed mid-Summer harvest of very mature Reed Canary Grass from wetlands that were flooded during the Spring. But modern Reed Canary Grass forage yields and quality are equal to or greater than those of other cool-season forage Grasses when harvested at a similar stage of maturity.
Reed Canary Grass has superior persistence on poorly drained soils, yet its yield and persistence under moisture deficits is equal or superior to other commonly grown cool-season grasses. Reed Canary Grass is very winter-hardy.
Thrives under diverse cutting managements:
Of the perennial grasses adapted to Minnesota, Reed Canary Grass is among the most persistent. It maintains yield under cutting strategies designed to produce both low and high-quality forage.
While Tall Fescue and Orchardgrass do not persist under infrequent cutting and smooth Bromegrass and Timothy do not persist well under frequent cutting (initial cutting before anthesis), Reed Canary Grass persists when cut at a diversity of growth stages. It is, therefore, very adaptable to use as harvested forage or as pasture.
Suitable for legume mixtures:
Grasses are mixed with legumes to minimize bloat potential, soil erosion, legume heaving and weed invasion inherent in legume monocultures, and to increase hay-drying rates. Recommended Grass composition varies from 20% to 50%, depending on use of the forage. For animals with high-nutrient intake requirements, reduced grass composition is desired. If grass composition exceeds 50%, forage intake potential can be greatly reduced.
Because it has a sod-forming habit, Reed Canary Grass can fill in gaps in the stand, and it will never forms clumps in the field, like those found with Orchardgrass. Reed Canary Grass is adapted to mixtures with legumes such as Birdsfoot Trefoil and Alsike Clover, which also tolerate wet soils. On upland sites in southern Minnesota under cutting and grazing, it is more capable than other grasses of preventing weed invasion of mixtures with Birdsfoot Trefoil, without excessively competing with the legume.
Reed Canary Grass has a superior capacity to persist and remove nitrogen when irrigated with municipal and industrial waste effluents.
Reed Canary Grass tolerates a soil pH range of 4.9 to 8.2. Mature plants have been known to tolerate five to eight weeks of spring flooding. However, like most cool-season grasses, it has only moderate tolerance to saline soils.
Reed Canary Grass may require two weeks to germinate and emerge, and its seedlings are not highly competitive. Therefore, careful attention needs to be given to establishment practices.
Early Spring (mid-April to early June) or late Summer (mid-July to mid-August) are the best times to seed. Spring seedings provide best chances for adequate moisture for germination. Summer seedings have less weed competition, but may not be successful in areas with inadequate summer moisture.
Plant at a rate of 8 to 10 lbs. per acre.