Understanding Stratification of Switchgrass Seed


Let me start by sharing a personal story from several years ago. I was working to turn my own property into a whitetail paradise and the one thing I really needed was quality bedding cover. In my part of the world red cedar trees are a great source of cover for wildlife so I set out to get some cedars growing randomly on my farm.

One fall I decided to plant some cedar trees by seed so I grabbed a 5-gallon bucket and over the course of several days I drove around looking for cedar trees which had those small purple seeds still attached to the branches. I would then peel off those seeds into the bucket. When the bucket was about ¾ full of cedar seed I decided I had seen enough of this project and went about spreading the seed all over my farm. Three years later I still did not have a red cedar growing on my property! That project was a total failure and like much of the information I share, this one was learned the hard way.

This project took place about 25 years ago but that wasted time and labor provided a lesson that I never forgot – Some seed needs to be stratified before it will grow. My research later taught me that red cedar seed must be treated with an acid to remove a coating around the seed before it can be grown. In the wild a lot of cedar seed gets eaten by birds and later excreted. When this seed goes through the digestive system of the bird the enzymes in the bird’s digestive system removes the seed coating and it is then able to grow. Have you ever noticed the abundance of volunteer cedars growing under powerlines and fences where birds like to roost?

Some years later I started a tree nursery business and learned that a lot of different seeds will have a much higher germination rate if it is first stratified and the stratification process is different for different seed species. This brings us to the primary topic of this article – stratification of switchgrass seed.
Switchgrass seed is very small and is protected by a hard outer-shell. This shell that protects the seed can also prevent or delay its germination thus stratification of switchgrass seed can improve germination rates. The process of freezing and thawing is what can soften or crack this protective shell around switchgrass seed. This is why Real World recommends frost-seeding switchgrass into a prepared plot as early as possible in the winter. The more freezing and thawing that this seed is exposed to, the better the germination rates.

We can also stratify switchgrass seed by exposing it to freezing and thawing while still in the bag. Personally I like to stratify the switchgrass seed that I use on my own projects by putting the bag of seed into a freezer for a couple of weeks and then removing it to warmer temps for a week or so and then repeat the process three or four times. This process is simple and it does work.

This leads us to the question – Does switchgrass seed HAVE TO BE stratified? The answer is “no”, especially if the seed is planted in the fall, winter or early in the spring as natural stratification will take place. In late spring and early summer plantings there will be a certain percentage of seed that will germinate without stratification and some of the seed that does not germinate when planted can lay dormant in the soil and actually germinate the following year. Ideally, we want the highest germination possible the first season and thus the reason we sometimes stratify switchgras

So lets look at a seed analysis tag from a bag of Real World switchgrass to help you better understand stratification with switchgrass seed. For the record, any seed sold must have a current analysis tag to be legal. Real World sends their seed to an independent lab who does this testing for us and that is where we get the info that is included on the analysis tag on every bag of Real World seed. In this example the seed test showed a germination rate of 87.7% with 7% “dormant seed”. This means that in the test at the lab, 87.7% of the seed tested actually germinated while 7% was good seed but did not germinate during the test. This 7% dormant seed is seed that will benefit from stratification and then germinate which results in an actual germination rate of 94.7%.

So what does this mean to the land manager looking to grow switchgrass? To summarize, it is best to plant switchgrass seed as early as possible so that some natural stratification takes place through the freezing and thawing. If early planting is not possible, doing a stratification through freezing and thawing of the seed in a freezer will likely improve germination rates some. Even if this does not happen however, with quality seed such as that sold by Real World Wildlife Products, you should still see acceptable germination rates.

Let me close with a couple of more bits of advice when planting switchgrass. First of all, site prep is very important. The planting site should be totally free of weeds and grasses. The two biggest mistakes we see customers make with switchgrass is planting the seed too deep; 1/8” is ideal and anything more than ¼” is too deep, and not controlling weeds. Switchgrass is very slow to germinate and cannot compete with faster growing weeds which will quickly choke it out. When planting switchgrass do not expect to see anything for at least 30-45 days after the soil temps have reached 65-degrees. Growing warm-season grasses like switchgrass will require more patience than anything you have ever grown!

One final note, if your Real World switchgrass planting was a failure, the problem was most likely something besides the seed. Our seed is processed in lots of several tons at a time. If a particular lot of seed was bad we would be hearing from hundreds of customers, not just a couple. There was no way you got a bad bag of seed and everyone else did not when it all came from the same container of several tons. I don’t say this to point the finger elsewhere but to get you to review your entire planting process to find the true problem when you have an issue. Real World switchgrass makes for some of the best whitetail bedding cover that I have ever seen but getting it started requires more attention to details than many other plant species. With a little planning and extra attention your switchgrass planting can be a huge success.

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Here in out Management Corner Section is where we are going to pass along all this information we have regarding planting instructions, and storage instructions on the products we carry and plant... We will be updating this all year long in 2020 so that you have the most up to date information available.

Clover Frost-Seeding Tips

 When frost-seeding clover you basically do the same thing as when frost seeding switchgrass with one exception; the later in the winter you can frost-seed clover the better. It is still good to get some freezing temperatures on the clover seed that has been spread but ideally clover should be seeded during the last couple of weeks of freezing temperatures. Keep in mind that this is just a general rule and if Mother Nature throws you a curve, don’t worry about it, you should still get a nice stand of clover.

It should be noted that frost seeding clover seed into an existing stand of clover is a great way to spruce up a thinning stand. By frost-seeding about 5# of seed per acre every other year you can keep a clover stand going for more than 10 years.

What is the latest date I can plant Real World Gen 2 soybeans and still have them reach full maturity?
This varies by region but ideally we would like to have our soybeans planted by June 10 in most of the Midwest.

Genesis Outdoor Management

What is the ideal planting date for soybeans in the Midwest?
Soil temperature should be 60 degrees or above for soybeans. Proper planting time will change from area to area. Read the season, not the calendar!

What is the difference between Generation 2 soybeans and the Northern blend?
Both soybean blends sold by Real World should be recognized as a Generation 2 product. The Northern blend is designed for area with a shorter growing season. Both were chosen for being higher in oil and protein content as well as for yield, shatter resistant and standability. In the past you may have noticed the difference in the color/type of bag between the 2. This was an attempt to use up the original bags and separate the appearance on the shelf.

Starting in 2020 both soybean blends will be packaged in the same Generation 2 bag. The Northern blend will have a Northern sticker on the front of the bag and a Yellow tag. The original or Midwest blend will have a white tag.

PLEASE READ! We want your miscanthus planting to be successful so please follow the instructions outlined here.

Site Prep – Choose a planting site that gets full sunlight and is a good distance away from trees and other competing vegetation. Think of miscanthus as corn when selecting a planting site; a location where corn would do well is a site where miscanthus will do well. You wouldn’t plant corn in a woods or on a field edge right against a woods so don’t plant miscanthus there either. Miscanthus will also do best in soils and moisture conditions that are also good for corn. It is very important that the planting site be totally free of weeds and grasses before planting. You must use a herbicide to do this as disking, plowing or tilling will not kill the root-system of grasses and they will come back and out-compete your miscanthus. If you do not first properly prepare the planting site, all other efforts are wasted. Take the time to select a good planting site and then prepare it well ahead of planting. Keep in mind that it takes a minimum of 3 years for a new miscanthus planting to reach its full potential.

Planting –Real World Giant Miscanthus rhizomes as soon as soil conditions allow in early spring and no later than mid-June. Rhizomes should be planted 3-4” deep and 12-18” apart in rows that are spaced 18-24”. Plant at least 3 rows for good screening, 5 rows is better.

Weed control – It is very important to control competing weeds within a new miscanthus planting for at least the first 2 years. Apply a pre-emergence herbicide immediately after planting and maintain the pre-emergence herbicide barrier by making a second application 1-1.5 months after the initial application.  Harness Xtra is a pre-emergence that is labeled for giant miscanthus.

Fertilizer – do not fertilize Real World Giant Miscanthus the year it is planted. A moderate dose of nitrogen can be applied for increased growth in the spring after the first year.

Warning – Real World Giant Miscanthus is a patent-protected cultivar. Real World is licensed by the patent holder to market this specific variety of miscanthus. It is illegal to propagate Real World Giant Miscanthus and Real World Wildlife Products will work closely with the patent holder to protect their interest and investment.

Can soybeans be broadcast planted into loose soil if I don’t have a planter or drill?
Yes! A lot of food-plotters broadcast soybeans and get great stands. When broadcasting use about 65# of soybean seed per acre versus 50# when using a planter. Also, drag or cultipack the plot after broadcasting to get some soil covering the seed. If possible broadcast plant right before a rain for better germination.

 Do Real World soybeans need to be inoculated?
Typically inoculant is not needed on Real World soybeans as most soils have enough rhizobia present to make nodulation occur naturally. One exception is if you are planting soybeans into a site that had been in a long term grass stand. In this case inoculating would be a good idea for better germination rates. Real World soybeans are treated with a fungicide to protect against diseases that reduce stand counts in cold wet weather. This is why they are a pinkish-red color.

Frost Seeding Switchgrass

When frost-seeding switchgrass it is important that the area to be planted be properly prepared the fall before seeding. All vegetation growing in the area should have been killed using herbicide and then the ground worked leaving bare dirt. Frost seeding can also be done in soybean stubble. The key is that other vegetation, especially grasses, were properly killed and that the seed make contact with the soil and not become lodged in dead vegetation.
Frost-seed switchgrass seed as early as possible, well before spring. January through mid-February is the ideal time to frost-seed switchgrass. The longer the seed is exposed to the elements the better. The freezing and thawing will help achieve good seed-to-soil contact and then when the temperature is right the seed will germinate. Frost-seeding can be done when the ground is frozen and even in the snow. Frost-seeding in the snow makes it easier to see your tracks and get a more even spread of the seed.

We recommend seeding Real World switchgrass at a rate of 4# per acre and not more than 5#. Planting more seed is not better as the switchgrass will be too crowded and not get as tall. It can be difficult to get an even spread when trying to apply such a small amount of seed over an acre of ground. To help with this problem it is a good idea to mix the switchgrass seed with pelletized lime which can be bought in bags at most farm stores. Simply mix the seed and lime in a tub and then you will have more volume of material to spread.

Storage of you Miscanthus

When your bag of rhizomes arrives at your doorstep you will likely be excited to check them out! Taking care of them properly from the time your receive them until you plant them, is important for their success.

-Rhizomes need to be kept dormant until you are ready to plant them. Keep them in cold storage, between 35 and 45 degrees to maintain their dormancy.
-These rhizomes should be treated like bare-root tree seedlings, meaning they need to be kept moist, but not wet. Place your hand in the bag, if you feel some moisture, that's great. If they look dry, spray them with water. Cut the bottom of the bag to allow water to drain, you do not want them over-saturated either.
-In addition to the root hairs that help prevent the rhizomes from drying out, we have added a co-polymer gel that will help retain moisture. You may notice this substance in the bag.
-If you monitor the temperature and moisture of these rhizomes you can keep them for up to four weeks. At this point in the spring, plant them as soon as you can work the ground.


All Things Real World Soybeans

What are the pH and fertilizer recommendations for soybeans?
PH should be 6.5 to 7.0. You will have to do a soil sample to learn the correct fertilizer requirements for your plot. When sending in your soil sample tell them you intend to grow soybeans and they will give you a fertility recommendation.