Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), introduced to North America from Russia and Central Asia, is a cool season perennial grass that grows from 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall. It can survive cold winters, drought and periodic spring flooding, and it will recover after fire. Intermediate wheatgrass is grown for grazing, hay, ground cover and for its grain that is similar to wheat.
Intermediate wheatgrass grows from 10 to 12 inches each spring and matures during the summer. It grows numerous rhizomes, or underground runners, but it also spreads by seeds and by tillers, or shoots that sprout from its base. The smooth, veined leaves of intermediate wheatgrass sometimes droop; they are green to blue-green in color and are 2 to 6 inches long and up to 3/8 inch wide. The grass grows 4- to 6-inch-long spikes of grain.
Climate, Soil and Growing
You can grow intermediate wheatgrass at elevations of 4,000 to 10,000 feet with at least 14 inches of rain a year, but it grows best with at least 16 inches of rain. You can grow it in mildly alkaline soils that are fine textured to loamy and that drain well.
The USDA recommends seeding intermediate wheatgrass at 8 lbs. per acre with a drill at a depth of not more than 1 inch deep in coarse-textured soils and ½ inch deep or less in soils with a fine texture.
Grazing and Hay
Intermediate wheat in irrigated pastures provides grazing for cattle, horses and sheep. If you seed it in dryland, it can provide grazing for antelope, deer and elk. If it is not grazed, intermediate wheatgrass provides cover for the nests of ducks, geese and upland game birds.
Horticulturalists at Utah State University say intermediate wheatgrass makes good to excellent hay if it is cut early in the growing season. You should leave 6 inches after mowing and before the grass goes into dormancy for winter. If you mix it legumes to provide nitrogen, the USDA reports that it will give higher yields than other mixtures of grass and legumes.
The USDA reports that 5-year-old stands of intermediate wheatgrass have produced up to 7,000 lbs. dry weight of roots per acre in the top 8 inches of soil. This makes the grass useful for building soil and providing stability on dikes and along the banks of ditches and the sides of roads.
While the grain from the seed heads of intermediate wheatgrass is smaller than wheat, it has slightly higher levels of protein. You can cook the grain whole or grind it into flour. Horticulturalists at Purdue University say you can use commercially available equipment to harvest and thresh the grain. Purdue horticulturalists report yields of 220 to 1,102 lbs. of grain per 1 hectare, 2.47 acres, in test plots, making intermediate wheatgrass a possible grain crop on land that cannot support annual grains. The USDA reports dryland seed production of 250 to 300 lbs. per acre and irrigated production of 450 to 550 lbs. per acre.