This is a leafy perennial grass which grows to 30 to 150 cm in height. Their roots have stolons and therefore spread easily in the field. The shoot base is compressed with leaf sheaths popping around.
The grass is extremely adapted to a wide range of ecological conditions and therefore grows in many parts of the country. It can tolerate a wide range of soils. However it prefers well drained fertile soil and an annual rainfall between 600 and 1100mm. the grass is not suited for very dry areas or excessive moist conditions especially where the soils are not free draining. In Kenya Rhodes grass is common in medium dry lands. If well managed they give good pasture all year round.
Rhodes grass has been used extensively for pasture improvement because its seeds being easily available and being easy to establish and manage. Varieties in Kenya produce large bulk of herbage which are good for grazing and hay making. They are readily eaten by livestock even when they are mature although the nutritive value is very low at old age.
The grass is established at a seeding rate of 4 – 6 Kg per Ha. The seedbed should be fine and compact because the seeds are very small. If the seedbed is rough seeds may land in low levels and may fail to come up after germination. Compaction helps to ascertain that most levels of planting are uniform and seeds do not go far deep.
Fertilizers are required moderately. For example during planting time it may be added at 40 – 60Kg of phosphate fertilizer per hectare. If the soil nitrogen is at reasonable levels then there would be no need for nitrates. However nitrates can be applied during the second year after grazing at 60 – 90 Kg per hectare. Time should be allowed to pass before grazing to avoid nitrogen poisoning of cattle.
Yields on well managed Rhodes grass are around 5 – 8 ton/ha/year after the second year although much higher yields can be obtained. The crude protein (CP) content varies with age and nitrogen level in soil. If well managed about 7 – 11% can be obtained after the eighth week of planting.
Commercial varieties in Kenya are
Elma and boma Rhodes are good for regions with good rainfall while the others are drought tolerant.
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