Crested Wheatgrass

Kimberley Will, BC AGRI
Scientific name: 

Agropyron cristatum sens. lat (L.) Gaertn.

Agronomic Grass
Annual precip. min (mm): 
Annual precip. max (mm): 
Seed size: 
Seeds per kg: 
PR Suitability note: 
Crested wheatgrass is winter-hardy, and may be a suitable choice on drought prone sites with southern exposure in the Peace region. Persistence in a stand is likely to be related to moisture availability. Where moisture is more available, other species may be more competitive, and crested wheatgrass may be less persistant.
Key considerations: 
Most commonly used for early spring pasture and occasionally for hay.
General Description: 

Crested wheatgrass is a hardy, perennial, agronomic bunchgrass with fibrous roots. The Agropyron species (A. cristatum, A. desertorum) occurring in British Columbia hybridize readily when growing together, forming morphologically intermediate plants. Some cultivars are also intermediate, being derived from hybrids.

Stems are erect 50 to 100 cm (20 to 39 in.) tall or more, and usually softly hairy below the spike. The leaves are green to slightly blue-green with rough margins and upper surface veining. The leaf sheaths are open, and the lower sheaths smooth to somewhat hairy and sometimes purple in colour. The blades are flat, 1.5 to 6 mm wide and softly hairy on the upper surfaces, with ear-shaped lobes at the leaf-bases that are slender, and about 1 mm long.

The flat, comb-like seed heads or spikes are very distinctive. The spikes are up to 7 cm (23/4 in.) long and 2.5 cm (1 in.) wide, with a dense, oblong, flattened shape. The spikelets are closely overlapping, less than 1 mm apart, spreading at an angle of 30 degrees or more. They are mostly 5 to 7 flowered, and cross pollinated. Diploids (A. cristatum, Fairway-Parkway types) have smaller seeds, finer leaves and stems, and are less drought tolerant than the tetraploid (A. desertorum, Nordan/Summit) type.

A widely adapted introduced species, crested wheatgrass is frequent in south-central and southeastern British Columbia.
Most often used for early spring pasture and occasionally for hay. Crested wheatgrass was used extensively in historic rehabilitation efforts on western rangelands.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Very early to early spring.
Recovery after use (rating): 
Recovery after use: 
Good forage in early spring, and has a high tolerance for close grazing but requires additional moisture and rest for regrowth.
Forage yield (rating): 
Forage yield: 
Forage yields in the dry Bunchgrass zone can range between 300 and 1,000 kg/ha. (168 and 893 lb/acre). Yields of over 3,000 kg/ha (2,679 lb/acre) are possible under better soil and moisture conditions.
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
This grass provides palatable, productive, and nutritious forage in May and June. It is most palatable to all classes of livestock in the spring. Use by wildlife can vary. Crested wheatgrass seedings are heavily used by elk and bighorn sheep, but may be less favoured by mule deer. Palatability declines rapidly as it matures.
Longevity (rating): 
Long-lived, especially in dry areas, does not persist as long in northeastern British Columbia or the central interior.
Persistence (rating): 
Crested wheatgrass can persist for longer than 30 years in dry areas where it is well adapted. It produces many more seeds than bluebunch wheatgrass and seed production decreases little in dry years.
Invasiveness (rating): 
Invasion of crested wheatgrass into native grasslands has been documented in some areas (Idaho, Oregon, and southern Alberta). Invasion into adjacent native range in southern British Columbia is less evident.
Competitiveness (rating): 
Seedlings can be vigorous but are sensitive to competition. However, crested wheatgrass can resist competition from cheatgrass better than other grasses. Once established, crested wheatgrass is very competitive.
Weed resistance (rating): 
Weed resistance: 
Once established, crested wheatgrass is very competitive with weeds where it is well adapted. Weed resistance may be lower under more moist conditions.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
Drought tolerance: 
Crested wheatgrass is very drought tolerant.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
Winter hardiness: 
One of the most cold-hardy forage grasses on the Canadian Prairies.
Soil texture preference (rating): 
Soil texture preference: 
Crested wheatgrass can grow in a wide range of soil textures from sandy to clay.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
Salinity tolerance (rating): 
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Ease of establishment (rating): 
Ease of establishment: 
Establishes quickly when conditions are suitable, and establishes satisfactorily if conditions are not ideal. In dry conditions it may take three to six years for plants to fully develop and for the stand to become free of weeds.
Application requirements: 
A seeding rate of 4 kg/ha for the diploid types and 6 kg/ha for the tetraploid types will usually produce a satisfactory stand if seedbed conditions are good.
Suggested mixtures: 
Alfalfa can be added to a mix at a rate of 1.25 to 2.5 kg/ha to improve forage quality where precipitation permits.
Management considerations: 
Stands can be heavily used without reducing the long term yield.