Shade-tolerant forage seed species and sources?

As I thin some woods and open up some edge lines, I'm hoping to seed some perennial shade-tolerant forages. I'm mainly focused on wildlife at this point (I don't yet own livestock), and hope to get perennial or re-seeding annuals with substantial root mass to break up heavy clay North Carolina soils. Recommendations for species / mixes / seed sources? I've done some preliminary research, but am hesitant to buy mixes without specific input from silvopasture practitioners.

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Hi Benjamin, here is MI, our forage specialist recommended Orchard Grass as one of the grass species. Not sure what you would plant in your area. Good Luck! 

Thanks, Kable. I've looked at orchard grass, and it's towards the top of my list. If only it spread more prolifically... That it's so deep-rooting is appealing, for sure.

Again, I am not sure where you are located, but in my regular pastures in central MI, i have a fair amount of trefoil, which i like. I wonder how that would perform in a silvopasture. If any on this forum can weigh in, i would like to learn about your experiences. Forages%20for%20Silvopastures%202019%20Kim%20Cassida.pdf

Limited shade tolerance studies indicate that Reed Canary, Orchardgrass and Tall Fescue and Bluegrass are amongst the most shade-tolerant cool season grasses, roughly in that order.  However, varieties within species seem to matter.  

The same studies suggest that red clover is bit more shade-tolerant than white clover, and both are less tolerant than the above grasses.  I've observed both doing ok in silvopastures, but they seem to just survive vs. grow well without at least ~ 50% sunlight.  

Trefoil is abundant on our farm, but I've never seen it grow anywhere other than full sun, which makes me think it has low shade-tolerance.  

I have yet to see a true forage mix advertised for silvopasture or light shade applications, but I have to believe someone has come up with one.  "Shade lawn" mixes probably won't work well for a grazing application as they'd contain a high percent of low-growth, fine-bladed grasses that aren't necessarily attractive to livestock.

First thing I would do is look around at what's growing in the sunnier spots of wooded areas, assuming it's not totally choked out with invasive plants.  It's common to see sedges and small bunch grasses (most of which I don't know the names of) in lightly-wooded areas around this area.  But since the deer don't seem to touch them, my guess is that livestock wouldn't find them very attractive either.

Thanks, Brett!

Unfortunately, stilt grass is growing in the sunnier spots right now. BUT in sections of the woods that I selectively thinned 1-2 years ago, the same stilt grass has given way to a much more diverse mix of cool and warm season grasses and shrubs, which the deer seem to love (there's a group of 5-9 deer that I see in the same area every morning). Those woods are in the floodplain though, and this year I'm more focused on the highest points of the property, so I probably won't see the same seed bank up there.

Below is a panorama photo from this early spring, probably early March, before everything really leafed out... it's not that sunny in there anymore!


Brett Chedzoy said:

Limited shade tolerance studies indicate that Reed Canary, Orchardgrass and Tall Fescue and Bluegrass are amongst the most shade-tolerant cool season grasses, roughly in that order.  However, varieties within species seem to matter.  

The same studies suggest that red clover is bit more shade-tolerant than white clover, and both are less tolerant than the above grasses.  I've observed both doing ok in silvopastures, but they seem to just survive vs. grow well without at least ~ 50% sunlight.  

Trefoil is abundant on our farm, but I've never seen it grow anywhere other than full sun, which makes me think it has low shade-tolerance.  

I have yet to see a true forage mix advertised for silvopasture or light shade applications, but I have to believe someone has come up with one.  "Shade lawn" mixes probably won't work well for a grazing application as they'd contain a high percent of low-growth, fine-bladed grasses that aren't necessarily attractive to livestock.

First thing I would do is look around at what's growing in the sunnier spots of wooded areas, assuming it's not totally choked out with invasive plants.  It's common to see sedges and small bunch grasses (most of which I don't know the names of) in lightly-wooded areas around this area.  But since the deer don't seem to touch them, my guess is that livestock wouldn't find them very attractive either.

Ben,

From the photo, it appears that your nice trees are well-spaced for silvopasture, but that there are still a significant number of small-diameter stems - most or all of which are probably non-commercial species and/or suppressed shade-tolerant species that don't have much future beyond becoming slightly larger firewood trees.  I suggest focusing on removing more of this "low shade" which can be quite detrimental to forage growth. 

I don't have any personal experience with stiltgrass, but have seen it growing in the silvopastures of two forester friends in central PA.  They use of combination of well-timed grazing with pigs and cattle to reduce the reseeding and encourage other forage plants to become established in the mix.  From what I've seen, they've been successful - but it require skill and diligence and isn't a quick and easy process.  

Yeah, lots of understory trees, for sure; I've tried not to open things up too fast. A good portion of them are shell bark hickory and pawpaw, which I like for the wildlife value (and, for myself...pawpaws are delicious). Many are other beneficial natives (like dogwood, cedar, spicebush, beech). One of those super thick overstory trees is a massive sweet gum, which I plan to fell and have milled in the next year or two.

Without livestock, my main goal for this portion of the property is to slow the floodwaters when the river rises to trap sediment and debris (free dirt and mulch!), in part by maintaining adequate ground cover to prevent erosion. That the grasses and forbs aren't as thick as they could be is fine with me for the time being, and most of those small-stemmed trees end up with little debris piles around them after floods recede. I want to see what things look like next year, and how it responds to flooding this fall and spring. Hopefully one day I'll have some pigs to eat up all those thousands of hickory nuts and dig through the composting debris piles.... and then smoke them over hickory wood to complete the circle.

Hey Ben,

Your forest looks great so far after your selective tree thinning! Were those grasses that you currently have already present when you thinned or did you plant them?

We have a few goats and have been selectively thinning our woods and using the goats to eat the trees and clear low growing shrubs. Our woods do not have nearly as much light as yours yet since we are in our first season of thinning, but trying to figure out if we should seed this year since we just removed tree crops, or wait and see what comes up naturally.  What did you do?

I welcome anyone else with thoughts as well.

Thanks!

Hi Sienna,

I haven't planted anything, just created the opportunity for the seed bank to express itself. This area is in a floodplain along a riverbank that usually floods at least once/year, often 2-3 times per year. A few years ago, this was all Japanese stilt grass. As more sun got to the forest floor, native grasses and forbs started popping up, and now there's very little stilt grass.

That's great!

Thanks for the feedback Ben!

Ben Harris said:

Hi Sienna,

I haven't planted anything, just created the opportunity for the seed bank to express itself. This area is in a floodplain along a riverbank that usually floods at least once/year, often 2-3 times per year. A few years ago, this was all Japanese stilt grass. As more sun got to the forest floor, native grasses and forbs started popping up, and now there's very little stilt grass.

Impressive, Ben - and clear that you're carefully thinking it all through

I would agree with Brett, this is pretty impressive Ben. Thank you for sharing your journey. 

Brett, I totally agree with you on trefoil and i have observed the same things here in Michigan, Trefoil is only growing out in the full sun areas of my farm and others that I have seen. 

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