About Oregon Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass is native to Europe but has been grown in the U.S. since the early 1800’s. The first record of orchardgrass in the U.S. was of plants growing in an orchard on the Henshaw farm in Orange County, Virginia. Seed from this orchard field was planted on a farm in Oldham County, Kentucky by Mr. Phillip Henshaw in 1830. Seed from that field was planted on other farms and Oldham County, Kentucky was a major commercial orchardgrass seed producing area for many years. Today 97 percent of the orchardgrass seed produced in the U.S. is grown in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.


Selecting the best variety or varieties for an individual farm and field is an important management decision. Varieties should be adapted to the area in which they will be planted, and should be capable of producing
acceptable forage yields over a number of years. Orchardgrass varieties can vary in maturity by two or more weeks. Consideration should be given to later maturing varieties when grown in association with alfalfa or red clover because they will be at a more optimum stage of maturity and will better match with maturity of the legume to enhance forage quality potential.

Many Universities and private companies conduct extensive variety testing. As an example, at the University of Kentucky, 48 different orchardgrass varieties have been tested at multiple locations over the past decade with yields ranging from 1 to over 6 tons per acre per year. Results from such tests are usually available on university forage websites and from the Extension Service.


Orchardgrass can be seeded in pure stands, in pasture mixes with other grasses, and with legumes. It is relatively easy to establish when seeded in an adequate seedbed at the right seeding depth, rate, and date. Orchardgrass can be seeded in late winter-early spring or late summer-autumn. Late summer seedings are usually preferred when moisture is adequate.

Seeding rate recommendations among states vary from 6 – 25 lbs per acre; however, use of 10-15 lbs/acre is common when it is seeded in pure stands. Seeding rates can be reduced to 4-8 lbs/acre when seeding with legumes such as alfalfa or red clover. Orchardgrass is a small seeded grass withapproximately 416,000 seed/lb and 14 lbs/ bu. Cultipacking after seeding will firm the soil to ensure good seed-soil contact and help to hasten seed germination and seedling emergence. Orchardgrass can be successfully seeded using no-till techniques, assuming all conditions required for conventional prepared seedbed seedings are met (i.e. soil fertility, use of high quality seed, and planting at the proper seeding depth, rate and date) and ensuring adequate control of weed competition. In some areas farmers seed a small grain companion crop with an orchardgrass-legume mixture in late summer-early fall. While this practice has generally been quite successful, careful management considerations are required to prevent the “companion crop” from becoming a “competition crop”. To reduce the likelihood of competition, the small grain seeding rate should be significantly reduced and the small grain spring growth should be removed as early as possible by grazing or by taking an early cutting of baleage or hay.