Slender Wheatgrass (Trachycaulus)

The Slender Wheatgrass (Trachycaulus) is generally described as a perennial graminoid. This is native to the U.S. (United States) . Leaves are not retained year to year.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Grazing/rangeland/pasture: Slender wheatgrass is both palatable and nutritious to livestock. Crude protein averages 22 to 25% in the spring and drops below 10% in late summer to fall. Average dry matter yield is between 1000 and 2300 lb/acre.

Wildlife: Upland game birds and small mammals utilize the seed for food and the foliage for cover. Large ungulates, especially elk and bighorn sheep at higher elevations, readily graze this species.

Erosion control: Slender wheatgrass is a short-lived perennial with good seedling vigor. It germinates and establishes quickly when seeded making it a good choice for quick cover on disturbed sites. It persists long enough for other, slower developing components of seeding mixtures to establish.

Reclamation: Slender wheatgrass was among the first native grasses widely used for reclamation seedings in western Canada and the U.S. It has been successfully used for the reclamation of mine spoils, oil sands, roadsides right-of-ways, wildfire areas and other disturbed sites. It is especially valuable for use in saline soils.

General Characteristics

General: Grass Family (Poaceae). Slender wheatgrass is an erect, tufted, bunchgrass ranging in height from 2 to 2-1/2 feet. It is a relatively short-lived (3 to 5 years) perennial, cool-season C3 type, bunchgrass native to Western North America.

Plants are perennial, occasionally producing short rhizomes. Culms are erect or decumbent at the base, reaching a height of 0.5 to 1.0 meters (20 to 40 inches) tall. Stems are noted as having a characteristic reddish to purplish tinge at the base. The leaves are flat, usually 2 to 8 mm (0.08 to 0.31 inches) wide, stiffly ascending or somewhat lax. Sheathes are commonly glabrous or somewhat scabrous with auricles short or lacking.

The inflorescence is a long, spicate raceme ranging from 5 to as much as 25 cm (2 to 10 inches) long. Spikelets are solitary at each node of the rachis, 3 to 7 flowered and about 10 to 20 mm (0.4 to 0.8 inches) long. Spikelets overlap along the inflorescence, the rachis internodes being 5 to 8 mm (0.2 to 0.3inches) long. Glumes are lanceolate to oblong with 5 to 7 nerves. The first glume ranges from 6 to 10 mm (0.24 to 0.4 inches) long, while second glumes are slightly longer, from 7 to 12 mm (0.3 to 0.5 inches).

Required Growing Conditions

Slender wheatgrass is found in many plant communities including Wyoming, basin and mountain big sagebrush, mountain brush, aspen, ponderosa pine, spruce-fir and lodgepole pine. It is found from 1300 to 3500 meters (4,500 to 12,000 feet) in elevation. The species range includes Canada, Siberia, Mexico and all states except those in the southeastern U.S.

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Slender wheatgrass grows naturally in moist to dry sites receiving more than 250 mm (10 inches) annual precipitation. This species is not as drought tolerant as crested, thickspike and streambank wheatgrasses and may succumb to drought due to its late maturation. It prefers loamy to clayey soils and grows at elevations from 1,300 to 3,500 meters (4,500 to 12,000 feet). Slender wheatgrass is well adapted to basic soils (up to pH=8.8) and moderately saline conditions with a salinity tolerance ranging from 10 to 20 mmhos/cm.

Cultivation and Care

Seeds should be planted in a firm, weed-free seed bed. Dormant fall planting is preferred for dryland seedings made in areas receiving less than 16 inches mean annual precipitation. Areas receiving over 16 inches of mean annual precipitation and fields that are irrigated can be seeded in late fall or early spring. (Note: dormant fall seedings are more prone to be negatively affected by soil crusting and mid to late spring seedings are more prone to drying out).

Seeds should be drilled to a depth of ¼ to ¾ inch at a Pure Live Seed (PLS) rate of approximately 6 lb PLS/acre for field plantings.

For critical area plantings, turf applications and broadcast plantings the PLS seeding rate should be 1.5 to 2.0 times the drill seeding rate.

For native seed mixtures, limit slender wheatgrass to 1 to 2 pounds PLS/acre because higher rates effect the establishment of slower developing native species.

Fertilizer is not recommended for establishment, as it usually benefits the weeds. On disturbed sites fertilizer should be applied according to soil test results.

General Upkeep and Control

Slender wheatgrass is best suited as a filler component in seed mixtures containing slower establishing long-lived perennials. It does well for hay and pasture when combined with legumes. Because this species is short-lived and only moderately tolerant of grazing, stands should be managed carefully to ensure seed production occurs every other year for long-term survival.

Environmental Concerns Although slender wheatgrass is native to Western North America, it can be viewed as “weedy” due to its ability to quickly establish in disturbed areas.

Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service Office or state natural resource or agriculture department regarding this species’ status and use. Weed information is also available from the PLANTS Web site.

Seed Production Plant at a rate of approximately 3.4 pounds PLS/acre or 25 to 30 seeds per linear foot of drill row at 36 inch row spacing.

For stand establishment, apply 55 lb/acre of 11-55-0 (high phosphorus fertilizer) as a soil amendment prior to planting or during seeding. If planting into grain stubble, after initial seedling establishment, apply 30 lb/acre nitrogen for dryland or 60 to 80 lb/acre nitrogen for irrigated fields. No additional nitrogen is necessary if planting into summer fallow. Irrigate enough to keep soil moist for establishment and to prevent soil crusting. Seeds should germinate within 8 to 10 days. Weeds can be controlled after the 3 to 5 leaf stage with low rates of Bromoxynil. Be sure to read and follow all label directions when using any pesticide. Caution should be exercised when using cultivation on young seedlings because of the possibility of uprooting.

For established stands, apply 50 lb/acre nitrogen each year in late fall on dryland and 60 to 80 lb/acre nitrogen in late fall under irrigation.

On established stands keep soil moisture above fifty percent field capacity during the growth period. Before the flowering stage apply enough water to carry plants through pollination. After pollination, irrigate to recharge the soil profile for seed set. Control weeds chemically (Bromoxynil, Metribuzin, 2,4-D or dicamba), by roguing or mechanical cultivating.

Seed is ready for harvest in late July to early August. The recommended harvest method is by direct combining or by swathing followed by combining. Windrows should be allowed to dry in the field for 6 to 7 days before combining.

Seed yields range from 200 to 400 lb/acre in dryland to 500 to 600 lb/acre under irrigation. Seed should be dried to 12 percent or less moisture prior to storage. When stored properly, cleaned seed should retain its viability for about five years. Stands can be expected to survive for 3 to 5 years.

Pests and Potential Problems No insect or disease problems have been noted for this species.

Plant Basics
General Type Graminoid
Growth Duration Perennial
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Physical Characteristics
Displays Fall Colors No
Flower Conspicuousness No
Gardening Characteristics
Cold Stratification Required No
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 0–0 pH
Precipitation Range 0–0 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Minimum Frost-Free Days 0 day(s)
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA