Native to Europe and Asia, timothy grass seed (Phleum pratense) may have unintentionally slipped into North America in a shipment of hay. In 1711, John Herd discovered it growing wild in New Hampshire, and the grass became known as "herdgrass". In 1747, it received the name "timothy" in honour of Timothy Hanson, who encouraged farmers to cultivate the grass for hay. Although growers usually cultivate it as hay for horses, it also grows as a pasture grass.
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Timothy is a perennial bunchgrass which stores nutrients in a bulblike corm at the stem base. Its shallow root system extends only a few inches below the soil surface. Its green basal leaves, which measure up to 4 to 8 inches long, surround a single 2- to 3-foot long stem. Its cylindrical seed head grows up to 5 inches long. According to the Montana State University Extension Service, timothy's nutrient content and erect, easily harvested growth habit make it a popular choice for horse hay.
Timothy grows in a variety of soil types, from clay to sandy and tolerates soaked soil after a spring flooding. However, it prefers well-drained, moist, fertile soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. According to the Washington State University Extension, a fall or early spring application of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) will help ensure a marketable first hay cutting. Your local county extension office can help you test the soil for nutrient content and pH level.
Timothy, which is a cool season grass, establishes best after fall seeding. Proper growing conditions should produce a full yield during the subsequent year. Fall fertilising encourages fall and spring root production and helps the grass survive summer drought. The Washington State University Extension notes that a drought may cause the grass to develop more rapidly than usual in a spring following a drought, resulting in an early first cutting.
Timothy grass establishes quickly and is relatively pest and disease-free. When mixed with other grasses, its shallow root system makes it less competitive with other plants for soil nutrients. The Montana State University Extension Service states that at full bloom, timothy hay contains optimal protein levels for horses. Adapted to a wide range of climates, it thrives in the northern United States and southern Canada at altitudes up to 9,000 feet.
To avoid weakening the plants, do not harvest timothy during the crucial growth period, two weeks before the seed heads appear. Due to its shallow root system, timothy may produce a lower first cutting yield after prolonged drought or summer flooding. After a drought, timothy hay accumulates nitrates, which are harmful to animals; test drought-stressed hay for nitrate content. Timothy pollen is highly allergenic and causes hay fever symptoms in some people.
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- Montana State University Extension: Timothy; S. Smoliak, et al.
- Washington State University Extension: Timothy Hay; Steve Fransen and Tipton Hudson; May 2005
- Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center: Timothy
- Utah State University Extension: Timothy; Mindy Pratt, et al.; 2002
- Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension: Timothy; Marvin H. Hall and Jerry H. Cherney