Bluegrass, orchardgrass, and fescue, the most common hay and pasture grasses in central Pennsylvania, do not grow well under the heat of mid-summer. Switchgrass does thrive under heat, but it takes some time to establish, as much as three years being necessary before a stand is thick enough to allow grazing or cutting. Franklin wanted to plant some of his land to switchgrass, but without having to forego several years’ production. His SARE project involved trying a strategy for establishing it quickly, while deriving some income from the land during the transition.
Franklin planted twelve acres of winter wheat in the fall of 1998. The following February 24 he hydroseeded switchgrass at the rate of 10 lbs/acre, into the wheat, while making a spray application of N fertilizer. Thereafter he checked periodically for germination and growth of the switchgrass. He applied a broadleaf herbicide in May, harvested the winter wheat on July 7, and made a second application of broadleaf herbicide in August. Giant foxtail, a grass, and thus not susceptible to broadleaf herbicides, proved a problem late in the season; this was mown on September 20.
By the end of October the stand of switchgrass was established only very poorly; Franklin attributes this to the severe drought that afflicted much of the northeastern U.S. that year. Ground coverage amounted to 5 or 10 percent, and the seedlings were seldom, if ever, more than 6 inches tall. The question of the viability of Franklin’s method remains unanswered, and must await a year of more substantial rainfall.