lespedeza was introduced into the United States from China, Japan and
Korea in the mid-1800s. In these oriental countries, native stands of
this plant are sometimes grazed or harvested for hay, but it is rarely
planted. Interestingly, the plant seems to be even more ideally suited
to climatic conditions in the Southern U.S. than in its area of origin.
lespedeza is a warm-season annual legume that germinates in the spring,
makes its growth during summer, then makes seed and dies in autumn. Dry
matter yields are modest (only about 1 to 2 tons of dry matter per
acre), but the forage quality is excellent. It is surprisingly tolerant
of infertile and/or acid soils; it is a good reseeder and it does not
cause bloat in livestock. It is also a good wildlife plant. Quail are
particularly fond of the seed.
many years, two species of annual lespedeza have been commonly grown in
the U.S. Korean lespedeza, of which there are several varieties, matures
seed in early autumn and is best suited for the upper South and lower
Midwest. Striate lespedeza (of which ‘Kobe’ and ‘Marion’ are
improved varieties) is more disease resistant, persists longer in autumn
and has generally been the preferred annual lespedeza in Alabama.
lespedeza is so well adapted to our climate it can be found in
well-drained pastures, lawns and other areas throughout Alabama, but
especially in about the northern half of the state. It seems to be a
species we have largely forgotten about, as relatively little of it has
been planted on Alabama farms in recent years. However, it may be time
to take another look at it. Now that we know about the endophytic fungus
that infects most of our tall fescue in Alabama, we need to find
companion plants to grow with toxic infected fescue to reduce fescue
toxicity problems in livestock. Also, since nitrogen prices have soared
in recent years, it makes sense to grow forage legumes anywhere we can.
lespedeza can be used for either pasture or hay, but is much more
commonly used in pastures. It fits in best as a companion to tall fescue
in pastures in North Alabama. Part of the reason for this is the summer
growth of annual lespedeza complements the growth of tall fescue, which
is not very productive in summer. A strong argument can be made that
white clover is a better companion legume to tall fescue than annual
lespedeza in many areas, but in places in which clover is unlikely to
perform well (i.e. poor soil, slightly acid soil, droughty hills) annual
lespedeza is a better choice.
University recommendations are to broadcast plant 25-35 lbs. of annual
lespedeza seed per acre in February or March. The seed can be covered
with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil, but will often become established without
being covered if adequate moisture is present and pastures have been
grazed closely. If the plants are not grazed so closely they are unable
to make seed, annual lespedeza normally is a dependable reseeder.