Weeping Lovegrass Information | Seed World
 

Weeping Lovegrass Information

Weeping lovegrass (Eragróstis cúrvula)

Weeping lovegrass is a long-lived perennial bunchgrass adapted to summer rainfall. In critical rainfall areas occasional prolonged droughts may kill well established stands, but sufficient grazing to prevent excessive transpiration due to excess leaf buildup can lessen the danger of drought loss. Areas with less than 15 inches of annual precipitation would be hazardous for weeping lovegrass. Nevertheless, it is very tolerant of drought and responds rapidly to precipitation after a drought. The first accession of weeping lovegrass was brought to the U.S. in 1928 from a collection made in 1927 in north-central Tanganyika (Tanzania). It is indigenous to south and east Africa where it occupies the successional stage just before climax. It was widely used for erosion control in the southwest and south central U.S. from 1936 to 1945. Weeping lovegrass acreage slowly increased up to the late 1950s with rapid increases in Oklahoma and Texas in the 1960s.Weeping lovegrass grows and produces well on a wide variety of soils. It does well on clay loam soils if in high rainfall areas such as southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas. It is best adapted to sandy loam soils and does well on deep sands in semiarid west Texas. Soil pH affects weeping lovegrass relatively little  as it does well on acid soils of the southeastern U.S. and on highly basic soils. However, it is not adapted to severely alkaline soils and although it grows well on soils of pH 8, severe chlorosis usually occurs as the growing season progresses and if soils are high in sodium the plants may die. It prefers well drained soils and it cannot tolerate standing water. Ungrazed weeping lovegrass becomes decadent, very weak, and low in vigor. Despite the fact that weeping lovegrass grows well on low fertility soils, it does best on fertile soils. As  pointed out by Noble Foundation personnel, "No grass can take out soil nutrients that are not there and produce luxuriant nutritious forage. Weeping lovegrass forage is very nutritious and palatable when fertilized properly regardless of the inherent fertility of the soil." Burning just before spring green up is a first step in renovating decadent lovegrass. Geographically, weeping lovegrass is best adapted to Texas and Oklahoma in the U.S. where rainfall exceeds 15 inches annually. Although it is more winter hardy than other lovegrasses, cold temperatures limit its northern spread to about the northern boundary of Oklahoma. Winter injury is more likely with a rapid temperature drop in fall when the grass is growing and during severe cold coupled with dry soil. Fall growth initiated by rainfall, irrigation, fertilization, or grazing seems to predispose weeping lovegrass to freeze damage. Hence, fall grazing is discouraged until after full winter dormancy. Although adapted throughout the southeastern U.S., it is little used except for conservation purposes. In the arid southwest its use is restricted to irrigation, favorable local situations such as swales, and where annual rainfall exceeds about 15 inches.

Establishment

Although weeping lovegrass has good seedling vigor, germinating seeds will not normally establish in unprepared seedbeds where other vegetation is well established. Ideally, a clean, firm seedbed should be prepared as you would for alfalfa or small grains. However, in west Texas wind erosion is a problem on clean-tilled large sandy areas. Use of strip cultivation has not only reduced soil erosion but also provided good stands. In areas where sandbur infestations are severe, moldboard plowing, where possible, is more effective than disking because most of the sandbur seed is buried. Rainfall pattern is usually more important than amount for successful weeping lovegrass seedling emergence and as little as 0.2 inch of rain occurring each day on 2 consecutive days provides sufficient moisture for seedling emergence, whereas 0.6 inch in 1 day without followup rainfall within 4 or 5 days results in low germination. Thus, two rainfall events are needed to provide seedling emergence. Adequate follow up moisture within 4 to 7 days after emergence is necessary to insure seedling survival if the soil is dry. If the soil profile is wet when germinating moisture at the soil surface occurs, followup moisture is not as critical. Producers should closely monitor seedling viability once emergence occurs. If moisture stress causes stand failure it may be possible to replant that year. Renovation of Old Weeping Lovegrass Stands For good stands more than 6 or 7 years old that have been largely ungrazed during the life of the stand, renovation is probably a must for best use and productivity. Weeping lovegrass, being a bunchgrass, grows from the middle of the clump outward. If allowed to grow unused for over 10 years all clumps will have dead middles and many of them may totally die. The reason the clump dies in the center is that as each stem grows it produces tillers. Each tiller in turn produces more tillers, expanding the size of the clump as it grows. Because weeping lovegrass shoots are not everlasting, the oldest ones (in the middle of the clump) die, the consequence being that after a few years the only live shoots are in an outside ring enclosing dead shoots of previous years. The dead stems prevent new shoots from tillering to the inside as well as formation of new roots on the new tillers. The result is a decadent plant with a few weak tillers on the clump's perimeter. Renovation must remove this mass of dead material before the clump can regain vigor to produce at its maximum. The kind of renovation to use will depend on age and density of the stand. Intensive grazing, disking, chiseling, mulch treading, shredding, burning, and combinations of these have all proven effective. Ungrazed decadent lovegrass typically has dead plant centers and outside tillers are unproductive until renovated. If your stand is very old and no seed heads are produced, it may be best not to mechanically treat the areas. Rather, first burn the plants to remove most of the old material. We prefer to burn just prior to spring green-up which is about mid-March in west Texas. However, dependent on burning conditions, the burned clumps still tend to retain about 2 inches of densely packed stems above the soil surface that do not get burned out. A practice that has worked well for us is to shred the plants before burning. Shredder blades dull quickly in lovegrass and the dead plant middles tend to be jerked out of the clump by the dull shredder blades. Thus, when we burn the field the grass clumps have more open centers that allow more free tillering on the remaining live shoots and more vigorous plants result. We have also shredded without burning with good results but smothering of many plants may occur if the material is too thick. Fertilizing weeping lovegrass in 30 lbs/acre increments of nitrogen is a first step in management. Disking and mulch treading have been used successfully to dislodge dead plant middles. This also results in many new seedlings if the old plants have produced some seedheads. The soil should be moist when this is done to prevent death of disrupted plants.

Management


Typically we manage grazing livestock through continuous grazing or through some form of rotation. Weeping lovegrass can be managed either way, except that general experience has shown better livestock performance through rotation programs. Maintaining forage quality and preventing spot grazing is very
difficult under continuous grazing, particularly if animals are to remain yearlong on the lovegrass. Most ranchers attempting to do so have become  disenchanted and unhappy with the grass. It is best used in combination with other forages and/or native range or in an intensively managed rotation program as described below. Cattle gain relatively well without rotation on lovegrass during spring (April to mid-June) but do poorly the remainder of the growing season. One could graze lovegrass pastures from about 1 April to 1 July most years and then use summer and fall regrowth for winter grazing with a protein supplement. The other months of the year animals would be grazed on complementary pastures or native range. A second management step is to keep leaves of weeping lovegrass young and high in quality. Third, enough animals should be used to graze to a 4-inch stubble in 3 to 5 days. Weeping lovegrass is most efficiently used under rotation management and preferably with six to eight pastures. Based on our research during the past 6 years and using guides from earlier Oklahoma research, the following rules for rotation management on weeping lovegrass have proven extremely effective. Fourth, manage to prevent spot grazing. Haying some pastures may be required during May or June as lovegrass growth exceeds cattle's potential to graze it off with good growing conditions. Weeping lovegrass forage grown on most southwestern soils remains low in quality, even when young, unless fertilized. The first management rule is to fertilize with nitrogen in 30 lbs/acre increments. We apply 30 lbs N/acre in mid-March, early June, and if a high rainfall summer, then again in July. In most of west Texas, two applications will usually suffice. A fifth point is that native range or other kinds of pasture should be used with lovegrass. Four to 6 weeks of dry weather with intensively managed lovegrass will result in no remaining forage so animals may have to be removed. The second rule is to keep the leaves of weeping lovegrass young and high in quality. In 1982, fertilized weeping lovegrass leaves decreased in crude protein from 14.5% in mid-May to 6.7% in early June without rotation. Through rotation management, crude protein content was maintained at 10 to 11%, which provides quality high enough for good cattle gains. With good growing conditions animals can be returned to the same pasture as often as every 16 days in May with gradually more time required as the season progresses. Seldom should the rest exceed 40 days. The vegetation should be closely checked to tell when to return to a previously grazed pasture. The third management rule is to provide enough animals to graze off the high quality forage in a few days (2-5 days preferably). Forage quality drops daily so the more rapidly one can graze off the forage and move to fresh pasture the better. We put animals in one small pasture on 13 May when crude protein was 14.5% and when we removed the steers 9 days later crude protein was only  7.8%. All plants should be grazed to a 4-inch stubble before moving the cattle. Weeping lovegrass should be deferred during the fall to allow the plants to store energy for vigorous growth next spring and to reduce winter mortality. The fourth rule is to prevent spot grazing. If your animals cannot graze most of the plants to a 4-inch stubble, then the remaining ungrazed plants should be mowed so that spot grazing is not intensified the next time around. Often during May and early June, the lovegrass grows so rapidly that the existing livestock cannot keep up. In this case the animals should be rotated into the pasture in the best condition for high quality grazing. This is often not the next pasture in sequence. Pastures getting too mature can be hayed, other cattle brought in temporarily to use this forage,
other animals purchased, or as a last resort, the forage could be mowed and left on the ground. The point is, try to maintain high quality forage and prevent spot grazing. The fifth rule is to use weeping lovegrass with other kinds of pasture. Pastures managed as intensively as promoted here will --- during 4 to 6 weeks of dry weather---have little regrowth and animals may have to be moved to other forage, sold, or fed hay. Weeping lovegrass is ideally used in combination with native range. One can remove livestock from native range, using the lovegrass until the lovegrass needs resting or there is no lovegrass regrowth, then use the native range as back-up grazing. In this way the native forage gets an excellent opportunity to recuperate and the overall ranch carrying capacity is significantly increased. Dormant lovegrass makes excellent winter forage when fed with an appropriate protein supplement. If the dormant forage cannot be grazed off it should be mowed or burned off. Rule number six is to defer weeping lovegrass pastures during the fall. Fall regrowth should be left ungrazed to allow for the lovegrass to store in its stem bases and roots the energy needed for vigorous growth the following spring. Also, grazing during the fall stimulates top growth which reduces carbohydrate storage and the plants are more subject to winter killing, particularly if located
near the northern limits of adaptation. Rule number seven is that any fall regrowth should be grazed off after the plants become fully winter dormant. The dormant lovegrass leaves make excellent winter forage when fed with a protein supplement. Lovegrass is generally of better quality than dormant native range forage. If the forage cannot be grazed off it should be removed through burning or mowing to prevent spot grazing during the upcoming green-forage season. Rule number eight is that new leaves of lovegrass should be at least 6 inches long before initial spring grazing. Rule number eight is that one should not graze the lovegrass during greenup; rather allow the new leaves to get at least 6 inches long before grazing. However, if you are using six to eight pasture divisions do not delay start of grazing too long as the last pasture in rotation may get too mature before you get to it. Using these rules, it is possible to produce 300 lbs of steer gain/acre from dryland weeping lovegrass pastures.