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Protocol Information

David J. Horvath
Nursery Manager
Illinois Department of Natural Resources - Mason State Nursery
17855 N. CR 2400E
Topeka, Illinois 61567
309-535-2185
309-535-3286
dhorvath@dnrmail.state.il.us


Family Scientific Name: Poaceae
Family Common Name: Grass family
Scientific Name: Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash
Common Synonym: Sorghastrum avenaceum (Michx.) Nash
Common Name: Indian Grass
Species Code: SORNUT
Ecotype: Central Illinois, 650 feet msl elevation
General Distribution: S. nutans is found from Quebec and Maine to Manitoba and North Dakota, south to Florida, Arizona, and Mexico.
Propagation Goal: Plants
Propagation Method: Seed
Product Type: Container (plug)
Stock Type: 1+0 container plugs
Time To Grow: 11 Months
Target Specifications: Height: n/a, herbaceous perennial.
Caliper: n/a, herbaceous perennial.
Root System: firm root plug.
Propagule Collection: Seed is harvested by combine about Sept. 22. It is ready when it no longer has a soft, creamy center.
Propagule Processing: Seed sizes change from year to year, so it is important to experiment with screens and techniques.
Run the seed through the Debearder twice. Use the middle screen size with the brushes set out 1/4 inch. Run it through the Crippen twice. The first time use a top screen of 12, middle screen of 8, and bottom screen solid. The next time through, use a top screen of 9, middle screen of 8, and a bottom screen of 1/25. Finally, try running the good seed over the Forsberg gravity table. Seed purity varies from year to year and should be sent out for testing.
Pre-Planting Treatments: 8 ounces of seed is saved to sow one bench in either 64 flats of the Multipot #6, or 24 flats of the Multipot #3 or #4. Seed is damp stratified by mixing it with equal amounts of vermiculite and lightly dampening in a plastic bag or container. Store this seed for 3-4 months in a cold room of 34-36 degrees F.
Growing Area Preparation/
Annual Practices for Perennial Crops:

Propagation Environment: Fully controlled greenhouse
Container Type and Volume: Multipot #3, #4, or #6 are used. Cell volumes are 6 cubic inches, 9 cu. in. and 6 cu. in. respectively.
Growing Media: Sterile, Pro-Mix PGX. Add vermiculite and perlite at a 10:1 ratio. Do not add slow release fertilizer to the grasses, as it tends to burn the young, tender roots. Ensure flats are tapped down to prevent settling.
Total Time to Harvest: 7-11 months, depending on weather and plant/ root development.
Sowing Date: Three crops are started in the greenhouse with the first in late December and the last no later than the end of March.
Sowing/Planting Technique: Sow the seeds by hand by broadcasting. Try to sprinkle 3-5 seeds per cell. Seed purity rates vary from year to year. Cover the seeds to one times their depth with the same growing media. Use a dibble board or roller to gently press seed and cover soil in the cell.
Establishment Phase: Set the greenhouse temperatures to be 70-80 degrees during the day, and 65-75 degrees at night.
75% germination is reached in about one to two weeks.
Plants must be watered by hand during germination. Set the hose on gentle shower to prevent seeds from splashing out.
Active Growth Phase: Once germination is successful, the greenhouse temperature may be turned down gradually depending on outside temperatures. Plants are irrigated in the morning by soaking for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows the foliage to dry out during the day. Once true leaves appear, not cotyledons, the plants may be fertilized. Start with 50 ppm of Rapid Grow or Peter's Liquid Fertilizer once a week. This rate is increased to 200 ppm gradually, and, again, decreased to 50 ppm before moving the plants outside to the shadehouse. It is important to rinse fertilizer residue off the foliage by running the irrigation for 30 seconds.
Grasses are not thinned. When foliage reaches 8 to 10 inches, the plants need to be pruned back to 3 or 4 inches. This is accomplished by turning the flats on their sides and cutting with scissors or sheers. Make sure the clippings are all removed from the flats to prevent disease spread.
Length of Active Growth Phase: 7 months
Hardening Phase: The first greenhouse crop will be moved to a hoop house in late January to February.
To acclimate the plants, the irrigation rate is reduced to 50 ppm before moving and greenhouse temperatures are decreased to 55-60 degrees day. The second and third crops are moved directly to the shadehouse in April and May. Again, greenhouse controls and fertilization rates are adjusted in preparation for the move. Plants that reach 8-10 inches in the shadehouse will require pruning also.
Length of Hardening Phase: 1 month
Harvesting, Storage and Shipping: Harvest Date: Flats may be unplugged in October or November as long as most of the tops have died down.
Storage Conditions: Plugs that are not shipped during this fall's planting season may be stored for spring planting in cold rooms above freezing, preferably 40-50 degrees. Try to remove most of the dead foliage as you can before bagging the root plugs for storage. Store them on plastic bags to ensure the roots do not dry out.
Storage Duration: Approximately 4 to 6 months. Plugs may be shipped at any time as long as the receiver has cold storage.
Length of Storage: 4 to 6 months
Outplanting performance on typical sites: Outplanting Site: Illinois prairie sites to include State Parks, highway roadsides, and limited private lands. Prefers mesic prairies.
Outplanting Date: September to November

Citation:
Flood, Roberta Mountz; Blessman, Gary.; Horvath, David J. 2001. Propagation protocol for production of container Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash plants (1+0 container plugs); Illinois Department of Natural Resources - Mason State Nursery, Topeka, Illinois. In: Native Plant Network. URL: http://www.nativeplantnetwork.org (accessed 30 July 2014). Moscow (ID): University of Idaho, College of Natural Resources, Forest Research Nursery.