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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs


Other Common Names Include:

Mixed prairie grass

Latin Name: N/A

Plant Family: Tallgrass prairie consists of a highly diverse population of native warm season grasses [e.g. Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass), Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), Panicum virgatum (swithchgrass) and Spartina pectinata (prairie cord grass)] and native prairie wildflowers (forbs) [e.g. Lespedeza capitata (round headed bush clover), Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), Desmodium canadense (showy tick trefoil), Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan) and Aster laevis (smooth aster)]

Close Relatives: N/A

Uses and Markets: Industrial: (fibre, textile, biocomposites, paper, bioenergy), animal feed and bedding.  Ecological (habitat restoration)

A Truax seeder which can plant several types of grass and forb seeds simultaneously.A one year old demonstration plot of a tallgrass prairie system.  Big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, Eastern gamma grass and round-headed bush clover are present.Prairie landscape in winter at Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, Illinois, USA (photo credit: Ken Schulze, Prairie at Homestead National Monument, Beatrice, Nebraska, USA (photo credit: Cheryl A. Meyer,


Production Life Cycle in Ontario


Hardiness Zone


Special Notes

Tallgrass prairie is typically established by seeding a diverse mix of native seeds, often over the course of several years. The mix of plants should be selected to suit the planting site and natural habitat of the region.  Extensive information on establishment is available from the references listed below.

Propagation method

Typically seeds, but rare or expensive native plants may be transplanted to ensure establishment.

Greenhouse Seeding/Propagation Dates


Field Seeding Date:

Mid-spring, but fall seeding is possible.

Field Transplanting Dates

Mid to late spring

In-Row Spacing
Dependent on the site specific seed mix and seeding method.

Between row spacing

Dependent on the site specific seed mix and seeding method.

Optimal Soil temperature at planting



No current Ontario fertility recommendations exist. Research and recommendations from outside Ontario do not necessarily apply to Ontario growing conditions.  Ontario research on switchgrass indicates some yield response to nitrogen rates up to 160kg N/ha.  N fertilizer should not be applied during the seeding year as it encourages weed competition.  If deficiencies of P and K exist (less than 10 ppm or 22 kg P/ha, less than 90 ppm or 202 kg K/ha), these nutrients can be applied and cultivated into the soil before planting.  Click here for phosphorus and potassium application guidelines and for more information on specialty crop fertility.

Soil type

All soil types.

Soil pH


Special requirements for growth habit

Small seeded crops require good seed to soil contact and finely prepared seedbeds.  Soil moisture should be available for a month after sowing. 

Optimal Temperature Range

24-29 °C

Temperature sensitivity

Species dependent.

Irrigation requirements

Moisture is required during initial stand establishment.  Mature stands are drought tolerant, but produce lower yields under dry conditions.

Days to harvest

Depends on end use. Tallgrass prairie can be grazed during the growing season, cut and baled as hay in the fall, or, if used for biofuel, cut and windrowed in late fall, and harvested in the spring.  This allows nutrients to move back into the roots and leach back into the soil.  Spring harvest will result in lower yields, but the grass will be of higher quality for combustion. 

Specialized equipment

Seed is either broadcast or drilled using specialized planters for grass/forb seed mixtures.

Harvest Scheduling

Single harvest.  Two harvests possible if used as a forage crop.

Hand harvest or machine harvest

Machine harvest; Standard field-crop equipment including sickle mowers, haybines, and round balers.

Quality parameters/grades:

No established grades. Quality is determined by the market.

Additional Harvest Notes


Post harvest
Special handling/curing

Crop can be stored in Ag-bags if not baled.  May need to be ground and densified for the bioenergy market.

Storage Conditions

Relative humidity (RH): Store in a cool/dry environment.

Temperature: N/A

Air Exchange: N/A

Duration: Indefinitely

Specific pests observed on this crop in Ontario (observations based on limited experience with this crop)

Insects and Invertebrates:
N/A – see comments

Diseases: Rust (Indian grass, big blue stem, little blue stem)


Other Potential Pests: The following pests have not been observed on this crop in Ontario. However, they are either significant concerns for closely related plants in Ontario, or are reported on this crop in other production areas. This is not a comprehensive list of all potential pests. Not all of these pests will necessarily survive Ontario’s climate, but could potentially survive in a protected environment (e.g. greenhouse, storage facility).

Insects and Invertebrates: N/A – see comments

Diseases: N/A – see comments


*Indicates pests commonly mentioned as causing significant damage or economic loss to this crop in other regions.


Pests will vary depending on grass species composition. Species diversity may reduce the impact of pests.   Rust has had significant effects on some species typically included in tallgrass prairie plantings. To be used on this crop, pest control products, including herbicides, must be registered on all grass species present in the fields, limiting pest control product options for this crop.

Crops grown for biomass can tolerate higher levels of insect and disease damage than those grown for food or ornamental use. There is some concern that biomass crops can serve as a refuge for pests of neighbouring crops. Weed control will likely be necessary during the first one to two years as weeds will compete with establishing plants.  For more information, consult an OMAFRA specialist.

Additional Notes


Ontario Research Projects Used to Create This Profile

  1. Engbers, Heather Morgan.  2012.  Evaluation of Nitrogen Fertilization in C4 Grasses Grown for Bioenergy.  M.Sc. Thesis, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON. 
  2. Hilla Kludze, Bill Deen, and Animesh Dutta. 2011.  Report on Literature Review of Agronomic Practices for Energy Crop Production under Ontario Conditions.  University of Guelph. 
  1. Delaney, K., L. Rodger, P. A. Woodliffe, G. Rhynard and P. Morris.  2000. A Guide to Establishing Prairie and Meadow Communities in Southern Ontario.  Environment Canada Publication ISBN 0-662-28836-X.  Catalogue No. En21-156/1-2000E
  2. Quinlan, C.  2005.  A landowner’s guide to tallgrass prairie and savannah management in Ontario.  Tallgrass Ontario 
  3. The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook.  1997.  Packard, S. and C. Mutel (eds.).  Island Press, Washington, D.C.
  4. Ladd, D.M. 1995.  Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers: A field guide. Falcon Press Publishing Co, Inc.  Helena and Billings, Montana.