General: Western needlegrass is an erect, native, perennial grass with blue-green foliage. Densely tufted; culms 25-45 cm tall; sheath glabrous to pubescent, blade commonly narrow, 1-2 mm. wide; panicles 10-20 cm. long; glumes 10-15 mm long; lemma 6-8 mm. long, uniformly appressed-hairy; awn twice bent, densely hairy on all three segments.
Western needlegrass usually is found in the Plains, rocky hills and open woods in Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and California.
Western Needlegrass has shown a preference for loam to clay loam soils. It can persist on moderately deep road cut slopes. It is best grown for seed on well to moderately well-drained, moist, medium textured soils. It does not tolerate poor drainage or prolonged flooding.
Western Needlegrass seed germinates with autumn rains and early growth is satisfactory as long as soil moisture and temperature is suitable. Minimum rainfall requirements vary from 10-12 inches depending on soil type, elevation and aspect.
Needlegrasses should be grazed only moderately until the flowers begin to head and should then be protected from grazing until their main growing season has ended. If thus managed, under normal weather conditions and in the absence of fire, they develop enough seed to regain their old-time abundance. Such management also enables the needlegrasses to store enough plant food in their crowns and roots for vigorous early growth the next fall.
Needlegrasses should always be regulated enough to leave a stubble averaging at least four inches in height. This allows the plants to continue to make healthy root and top growth during the current growing season, and to produce new foliage early in the next growing season.
Pests and Potential Problems
Needlegrass populations have been known to be damaged by rodents, but less so than most other perennial species.
Seeds and Plant Production
Flowering occurs in the late spring typically April to May. Adequate moisture will promote good seed set, but even under adverse conditions of low moisture, seed will be produced in most years. Seed is ripe 6 to 9 weeks after flowering. There are 311,000 seeds per pound. The planting rate for most vegetative practices is 5 pounds pure live seed per acre drilled and 7 pounds pure live seed per acre broadcast.
Prior to maturity, Western needlegrass is considered good forage for cattle, horses, sheep and deer. Western needlegrass also provides good protection from soil erosion.