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Characteristics of Timothy

Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) is a perennial, bunch-type, shallow-rooted, cool- season grass which is well adapted to the Northeast and upper Midwest. Its shallow root system, however, make it unadapted to droughty soils. Timothy is popular in the northern half of Pennsylvania and most of New York because of its natural adaptation to moist, cool environments. Timothy is the most popular grass in New York, with the majority of New York's hay crop acerage sown to timothy-legume mixtures. Its sensitivity to high temperatures has limited its productivity in southern Pennsylvania. Timothy stores energy reserves for regrowth and tillering in its haplocorm or corm (enlarged bulbous stem structure) at the stem base. Its energy storage pattern makes it a better hay crop than a pasture species.

Timothy is grown primarily for hay for horses but is frequently included in pasture mixtures. It is less competitive in a legume mixture than most sod-forming grasses and is frequently grown in a legume mixture for hay. However, special attention must be made to match the maturity of the timothy with the maturity of the legume to ensure timothy persistence and quality forage.


Adapted Timothy Varieties

Most of the timothy sold in Pennsylvania and New York is common (not a certified variety). However, seed of several improved varieties is available. Climax is a leafy variety which is rust resistant. Heading occurs during late May or early June which is about a week later than common timothy. Richmond, Toro, and Mariposa are early maturing (about 10 days before Climax) varieties which exhibit relatively rapid regrowth after harvest. Mohawk matures at about the same time as Climax but produces a slightly greater proportion of its seasonal yield in the first harvest than Climax. Champlain is a high yielding variety which matures about 7 days after Climax but has poor seedling vigor.


Timothy Establishment

The best seeding time is before Aug. 1 in northern New York, Aug. 15 in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania and Sept. 1 in southern Pennsylvania.

Timothy can be successfully established in either spring or late-summer seedings. However, fall seedings are more successful because the cooler weather during the fall is more suitable for timothy growth, and weeds are less of a problem. Timothy can be slow to establish and may fail when weed competition is severe during establishment. Grass weeds are especially harmful. Small grain companion crops can be used in spring seedings, but should not be used for late-summer seedings. Oats are the most common companion crop, but early removal for silage or by grazing is necessary to reduce competition for light and moisture. A small grain and field pea companion crop may provide too much competition when establishing an alfalfa- timothy mixture.

If a late-summer seeding is planned, prepare the seedbed 2 to 4 weeks ahead of seeding, if possible. This will allow the soil to become firm and provide an opportunity to accumulate seedbed moisture.

The best stands of timothy are obtained when sown not deeper than 1/2 inch in a well- prepared, firm seedbed. A firm seedbed is essential to the successful establishment of small- seeded grasses such as timothy. A firm seedbed allows greater regulation in seeding depth, holds moisture better, and increases seed to soil contact. Proper seeding depth can be accomplished with band seeders equipped with press wheels. Other seeding methods can be used, but chances of obtaining thick stands and vigorous growth in the seeding year are reduced. Cultipacker seeders and grain drills work well if the seedbed is firm and the seed is covered to a depth not exceeding 1/2 inch. Roll or cultipack after seeding with grain drills not equipped with press wheels or after broadcast seeding. Caution must be used not to bury the seed after broadcast seeding.

Timothy should be seeded at 8-10 lb. per acre when seeded alone. When seeded in a mixture with a legume reduce the timothy seeding rate.

Mixtures of cool-season grass species are generally not recommended for hay or silage production because of the difficulty of managing grass mixtures (e.g. proper harvest to obtain high quality and persistence when the grass maturities are different). However, timothy is frequently planted in mixture with other grasses for use in pastures, especially pastures for horses. A pasture mixture that has performed well in Pennsylvania is 8 lb. of Kentucky bluegrass plus 4 lb. each of smooth bromegrass and timothy and 1 lb. of white clover. This mixture can serve as a good pasture for horses throughout much of the summer.


Timothy Harvest Management

The spring growth of timothy passes through the typical stages of grass development, tillering, jointing (stem elongation), heading, flowering and seed formation. Flowering heads are commonly produced in the summer aftermath growth, in contrast to most perennial cool-season grasses which produce seed heads only during the spring growth. Initial flowering in the spring does not usually occur until late May in southern Pennsylvania and June in northern Pennsylvania and New York, depending on the variety and location in the state.

Timothy is a hay-type forage grass, with relatively few basal leaves below the cutting height. It is easily weakened by frequent cutting or grazing. This is due to its limited storage of energy reserves in the corms, its production of few basal leaves to support regrowth after harvest and its upright growth habit which is generally dominated by a single stem.

Timothy is relatively tolerant of pre-joint harvest in early to mid-May but is adversely affected by harvesting during the jointing stage in mid May. In addition, harvesting at early heading reduced timothy yields and persistence, compared to harvesting at either early or late bloom. Harvesting the spring growth of timothy at early heading reduced first harvest yield and there is generally no increase in yield of subsequent harvests to compensate for this loss. In Pennsylvania, timothy makes relatively little yield after the first harvest because of its intolerance to the hot and dry conditions that prevail during summers. More summer yield can be expected in New York, where moisture and temperature are more favorable for summer growth of timothy. Quality of timothy is among the highest of cool- season grasses when vegetative, but decreases very rapidly as reproductive growth is initiated.

Under grazing management, timothy should not be allowed to progress very far into jointing before grazing. Delaying grazing will reduce the stored energy reserves and ultimately reduce timothy persistence. Grazing in the spring can begin when the timothy is 3-4 inches tall. Timothy will tolerate moderate continuous grazing but rotational grazing with a minimum recovery period of 3 weeks will improve timothy production and persistence.


Timothy Fertility

Fertility needs at seeding should be determined by soil test. Soil pH between 6.0-7.0 is best for timothy. In the absence of a soil test, assuming a medium-fertility soil, plow down 0-45- 135 lb. per acre and apply 20-20-20 lb. per acre at seeding (banded if possible). If timothy is seeded with a legume, eliminate nitrogen application at seeding.

Timothy is responsive to N fertilization whenever the legume content in the stand is less than 30%. Split applications of 100 to 150 lb. nitrogen per acre annually will generally produce yield increases of 1 to 1.5 tons per acre. Nitrogen fertilization results in increased leaf area, leaf size, tillering, and crude protein content. However, high nitrogen applications, greater than 200 lb per acreper year, can reduce storage of energy reserves and reduce persistence. Apply 50 to 60 lb. of N per acre in the spring when the timothy greens up and additional applications of 50 lb. per acre after each cut.

Application of other fertilizers should follow soil test recommendations. Timothy requires a high level of fertility for maximum production. Potassium fertilizer is important to maximize the legume yield in a timothy-legume mixed stand.


Timothy Summary

Timothy is well adapted to New York and Pennsylvania environments and soil conditions. It is winter hardy and offers little competition to a legume in the mixture. However, timothy is intolerant of cutting during jointing or early- heading. This intolerance makes harvest management for high quality in a alfalfa mixture difficult because the alfalfa will generally be ready to harvest before the timothy. Management systems which include harvesting at early-heading in combination with high N fertilization rates, consistently reduce timothy stands. Timothy is the hay of choice for horse owners and can also serve as a horse pasture.


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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002