Kaw Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardi (Kaw Big Bluestem)

Andropogon gerardi 'Kaw'(Grasses)

Kaw is a cultivar of Big Bluestem that is widely grown for forage, prairie restoration, and wildlife habitat in the central Great Plains.
Big Bluestem for livestock forage offers increased yield and improved digestibility for livestock. Big Bluestem is tolerant of a wide range of soils and was the chief grass of the tallgrass prairie and once covered solid acres. The leaves are very nutritious for cattle, and it is now being rediscovered and widely used for commercial hay and as a forage grass. It begins growth in April and flowers in late summer. The three-branched inflorescence gives it the common name, "Turkey Foot."

If you are seeking forage you should know that unlike tall fescue and other cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses are most productive from June to Sept. A managed pasture combination of separate cool- and warm-season pastures will produce a more constant supply of high-quality forage throughout the season than either cool- or warm-season grasses alone.

Of the many native warm-season grasses, switchgrass, big bluestem and indiangrass show the most potential for good forage and hay production. Forage maturity differs with switchgrass greening up and maturing earliest, big bluestem is intermediate and indiangrass matures latest. Often Big Bluestem and Indiangrass
are planted together as a mix for forage and hay fields.

Native grass seedlings tend to have low vigor and do not compete well with weeds during establishment. The roots develop and begin deep growth before the grass does much growing during the first planted season. Switchgrass, big bluestem and indiangrass are moderately difficult to establish and may need 2 years before they can be hayed or grazed. In exceptional years, plantings may establish well enough to allow grazing in the second year.

Warm-season grass pastures won't withstand continuous, close grazing or close clipping without reducing yield the following year. Rotational grazing is mandatory to keep productive warm-season grass stands.

In return for careful management, a farmer can produce two to four tons of forage per acre on well-fertilized, warm-season grasses between late June and early September. Assuming a mature cow requires 30 pounds of forage per day, one acre of warm-season grass can supply sufficient forage for two cows during the summer.

Excessive weed competition is a major cause of slow stand establishment. Weed control can be accomplished by a combination of timely tillage, herbicides (pre- and post-emergence) and clipping.

Atrazine can be used as a pre-emergence herbicide to control grassy and broadleaf weeds on certain types of soil when establishing big bluestem or switchgrass. However, atrazine is toxic to indiangrass seedlings.

Shortly after planting, apply atrazine on the surface at 1 pound active ingredient per acre. Do not incorporate. Atrazine injury can occur on soils of less than 2 percent organic matter with neutral pH, and where atrazine is in the zone where the root of the warm-season grass emerges. Atrazine injury is more likely when seed is broadcast rather than drilled. Remember, do not use atrazine when establishing indiangrass.

Nebraska research has shown that using atrazine increases big bluestem and switchgrass pasture production in the year of seeding. (Table 1.)

When atrazine is not used, as with indiangrass, the seedbed should be prepared early. Allow the weeds to emerge and then use a burn-down herbicide such as Gramoxone. Grass can then be drilled into the seedbed, which should not be further disturbed. Tillage after burn-down will expose ungerminated weed seed and increase problems.

Native cultivar
Increased yield and improved digestibility
Matures early


5-9 Feet



2-3 Feet

Growing & Maintenance Tips

Can be used in the garden as an ornamental grass or in prairies and other large scale projects.


Interesting Notes

'Kaw' Big Bluestem is a preferred pasture variety and is well-adapted to droughty sites. Warm-season grasses are best established during April and May. Warm-season grasses do not germinate when soil temperatures are below 50 to 55 degrees. Early establishment allows seedings to develop good root systems before summer drought and greatly increases the ability of the grasses to compete with weeds. Native grass seed typically contains higher percentages of dormant seed than cool-season forages. One way to break dormancy is to chill seeds that have absorbed water. Planting early into cool soil will chill the seed and can cause dormant seed to germinate. Seeding into warmer soil in late spring can be helpful in controlling weeds. The first flush of weeds is allowed to germinate and then is killed by final tillage or contact herbicide just prior to planting. Ideally, this practice would result in the shortest period of bare ground and would get grass seedlings up as quick as possible to compete with other weeds. Fertility While warm-season grasses are good producers on low-fertility soils, adequate P and K will increase stand vigor and production when these elements are low in the soil. Having the soil tested is the only way to know the proper level of P, K and lime to use. Lime is not necessary if soil pH is 5.5 or higher. Nitrogen is not recommended when establishing warm-season grasses because it leads to increased weed competition. However, established stands will respond positively to 40 to 60 pounds of N per acre. Nitrogen should be applied when early growth is at least 3 to 5 inches tall. Earlier application will favor weeds and invasion of cool-season grasses into the stand.

USDA Hardiness Zone 3-7

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Characteristics & Attributes

Attracts Wildlife
Upland Birds
Game Mammals
Mass Planting
Drought Tolerant
Foliage Color
Other Characteristics
Cattle Forage
Prairie Restoration
Erosion Control
Season of Interest (Flowering)
Season of Interest (Foliage)
Soil Moisture Preference
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